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Pamper yourself at your cottage

by Cheryl Cook

When we go on vacation, we expect certain amenities—fluffy towels, crisp linens, and those small touches that remind us we are escaping from everyday life. When we retreat to the cottage, why should we expect less? OK, you may not be able to access 24/7 room service (or you may not want to provide it!) but that’s no reason not to enjoy your cottage as much as would a getaway at a spa. Let’s up the game and create a true retreat where you feel relaxed and pampered, and your guests feel welcome. 

Key Elements

To transform a cottage into a relaxing retreat, we have to think like a host—or rather, like a hotel. What turns a good stay at a hotel into a great stay? Typically, it’s the bed, the bath, the setting, and the small, thoughtful details. Let’s translate that to your cottage

Time for a bit of honesty here. Many of us let our cottages become dumping grounds for everything we can’t or won’t use at home. Old sheets, odd bits of cutlery no one wants, and the pots that even your kids wouldn’t take with them when they headed out on their own. Make way for the new, or the newly refurbished.

Your first step is to take a cold, hard look at what has accumulated in your cottage over the years and steel yourself to clear out things that are not truly used or useful—like those juice glasses I ranted about in a previous column. Cottages can be places full of memories, but you don’t need to keep every small item to preserve special moments. Curate a collection of the best items from over the years and create a plan to display these. Anything from photos to seashells can be part of smaller, more thoughtful displays throughout the space.

Lighten Up

A cozy retreat with dark wood might suit in the winter, but if your cottage is primarily a summer home, then show it to its best and brightest. Consider freshening everything with a coat of light or white paint.

Take a bit of time before you begin to plan a colour palette, thinking of fresh and clean colours. Having a palette of colours to work from will help you throughout the entire space.

Have a look at your furniture and windows. Curtains and upholstery that have seen better days can be replaced with new fabrics that fit your colour scheme. If you can’t easily reupholster furniture, try slip covers, throws and new cushions.

The Bedroom

The retreat within the retreat, your bedroom is key to creating a space you love. Treat it to the same tough-love clear out and freshening that the rest of the cottage gets, and then turn your eye to the main element: the bed. Are you sleeping on a sagging, older mattress and tired box spring? Replace it with an inexpensive platform bed with a memory foam mattress, no box spring required. If the room feels cramped, use light colours and consider eliminating old wardrobes and even closets, in favour of under-bed storage. Rolling containers can be used to hold extra sheets and linens, or you can simply use a bedframe with drawers or other storage built in.

If you are short of sleeping space and have a loft or attic, think about clearing it out and creating a loft-style bedroom.

Don’t forget to upgrade your bed linens. Keep the family quilt you can’t part with, but make sure you and your guests slide between soft, 600-thread count sheets at the end of the day. Ensure that you are putting your head down on something better than a lumpy old pillow. One of the best things about a hotel stay is the plump pillows, so bear that in mind when choosing replacements.

Replace old bedside lamps with new ones, or simply get new, white shades. Add some greenery, but if you are lacking floor space, consider hanging plants from the ceiling, near a window.

The Bathroom

There is a lot you can do to make your bathroom a more luxurious, spa-like experience without renovating. Decluttering is a must, as no spa worth their salt would have six nearly empty bottles of shampoo and three slivers of old soap crowding the shower, and neither should you. Make sure you have adequate storage for what you are keeping. Use a rolling caddy or storage baskets to contain toiletries and keep them from cluttering the sink or shower.

As with the rest of the cottage, try light, calming colours to create a fresh look. Pale walls and a new shower curtain and mate are a great start, but don’t rule out some fun wallpaper, especially if you have a smaller space.

To complete the spa experience, swap out your old shower head for one with a few bells and whistles. Go for a rainfall shower head or one with a massager. If you lack a tub at your cottage, this is a logical way to upgrade your experience.

Turning your eye to smaller details, consider adding a bit of greenery, and even a few decorative touches from the local flea markets. Swap out your old waste basket for something new, replace your mirror or give the frame a fresh coat of paint.

For a final touch, keep the beach towels for outdoors and add a ladder rack or heated towel rack for plush bath towels for yourself and your guests.

Is your outdoor space as relaxing and functional as your indoor space?

Photo credit: jonny caspari


Take stock of your outdoor space. Is it as relaxing and functional as your indoor space? Considering how much time we spend outside in the summer, this space deserves the same attention as the indoors.

If your deck or patio is looking a bit tired, give it a wash and take a moment to consider the layout of the space. Function first. If it’s a cooking and eating area, make sure you are adequately equipped for both.

Adding workspace near the barbecue can be as simple as benches or tables or can go as far as building an outdoor kitchen to suit your needs.

Ensure the space where you eat is large enough to accommodate your family and guests. A new suite of furniture can be purchased, or you can use local thrift and vintage shop finds paired with some paint to create something new to you. Add string lights, hurricane lamps, and candles for evening light, and throws on the chairs for cooler nights. Work with the palette you created indoors or devise a new colour scheme for the outdoor area, and apply this to any cushions, throws, or accessories as well.

If your eating or lounging space is open to the elements, considering adding umbrellas, sun shades, or even a pergola to offer shade in mid-day and some shelter from the elements on rainy days.

Bluetooth and wireless speakers have made it easier than ever to bring your favourite tunes with you in any part of the cottage, but the quality and affordability of these are now such that it’s easy to purchase multiple speakers to allow for a seamless indoor-outdoor music experience.

Speaking of lounging space, if you have a firepit, this is a natural area to create a bit of luxury, with lower, more comfortable seating, along with small tables for drinks and snacks. Hammocks can added, either freestanding or slung between trees.

And if lounging in water is your thing, adding a hot tub to your cottage experience is a great way to accomplish this without the more considerable investment of a pool. Hot tubs come in a wide variety of models, from three-person soakers to larger models than can seat a dozen people, with multiple jets, music, illuminations, and even waterfalls. You’ll need access to an electrical hook up and the willingness to do a bit of maintenance, but there are fewer more enjoyable things than sinking into swirling water with a cocktail in hand after a hard day of cottaging. 

The Details

Once you have the larger elements in place, take another look around, checking for small details that can make all the difference. Have extra rain gear and umbrellas on hand for family and visitors. Use small metal buckets and chalkboard paint to create a pail of toys for every child, with their name written on it. Cushy slippers and robes in guest rooms, and candles throughout will help everyone feel refreshed and relaxed, you included!

Whether you tackle a little or a lot in creating your dream summer space, aim for a cottage that feels like you’ve arrived at a luxury hotel; one filled with great memories of summers past.   

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