Five easy DIY ways to add welcoming cottage curb appeal to your house and landscaping, no matter when your home was built with before and after photos from our 1970s ranch-to-cottage remodel.
As you’ve probably figured out, I like a bit of cottage around here – or farmhouse cottage as I like to call it now. To me a cottage isn’t necessarily a certain style, but more a mixture of a lot of styles – a place where everything you love lives together beautifully.
It usually includes at least some classic, vintage, and time-honored decor and architecture, both inside and out. And the outside of a farmhouse cottage should be welcoming, cheerful, and, yes, even a bit imperfect (which is perfect for me…).
But what if you don’t have a cute, old house? What if it’s a 70’s or 80’s ranch? A plain white builder’s special?
There are a few key things you can do yourself to add cottage curb appeal to your home regardless of when it was built and increase the value while you’re at it!
Brian and I set out to do just that with a 70s rancher we bought – while it had a few key things going for it that I knew we could work with, it also had a lot of the exterior characteristics you often see with houses from that era – mainly a prominent garage and a front door that wasn’t easy to see or get to. Both of which aren’t very curb-friendly.
I’ve always been drawn to bungalows, farmhouses, and other small, older houses but when we bought our second home to move from the big city (an actual bungalow in Portland) to my semi-rural hometown, the exterior looked like your typical ranch house built in the late 70s to early 80’s.
The main impression it made was a large garage with a house attached somewhere. This was not only because of the architecture, but also from the plantings that obscured the windows and doors. Which was not very welcoming, to say the least.
Why did we buy it? Well it was what we could afford, was in a great area, and met our needs (with the changes we knew we could make).
However, since what I really wanted was a cottage – remember, not just a certain house style, but a mentality that welcomed people from the outside in – I saw the potential in our home’s good bones and large windows.
Through our subsequent DIY remodeling, we discovered that it takes relatively simple changes to help a plain-Jane house become the cottage you’ve always wanted – really! One of the biggest compliments I ever received was when a visitor asked when our home was built, since it looked old. Mission accomplished!
Here’s how you can do the same thing, using pretty simple DIYs to make any home have cottage curb appeal.
5 Ways To Add Cottage Curb Appeal
1. Make The Entry Welcoming
When we moved into our house, friends and family couldn’t find the door. Literally. Once they figured out it was behind the tree (yes, it really is somewhere there in the left photo), they’d often wade through the ground cover and duck under the tree in order to get to the door from the circular drive.
Since wanting people to feel welcomed was a top priority for us, this was one of the first outside projects we accomplished. We cut down the tree, built a wood porch right over the cement stoop, added a step leading to the door and a path from the circular drive made out of broken concrete from an unused dog run on our property.
Tips for Making a Welcoming Entry
Other than making sure people can find your front door, simple ways to create a welcoming entry can include:
- Painting the door a contrasting color.
- Including a pot of seasonal flowers or greenery.
- Making room for a bench or chair (we used our bench for leaving items out for people, setting down bags to unlock the door, and taking off muddy shoes).
- Updating the light fixture.
- Sweeping out the cobwebs regularly.
2. Plant a Welcoming Flower Garden
Don’t underestimate the power of plants and flowers to make a house feel like a home. And to welcome – or not – people to that home.
Notice in the before picture above how the original plantings hide not only the door but the windows. We’re not even talking about how dark and dreary the inside would be – only how it seems to visitors.
Keeping plants low to allow the windows and doors to be visible creates a “please stop by for a chat” message rather than a “shades drawn, don’t bother me” one.
Tips for Creating Cottage Curb Appeal Landscaping
A front garden doesn’t have to be big or complicated. Here are some ideas to keep it simple and easy-care:
- Use evergreen plants like boxwood, arborvitae, or bird’s-nest spruce.
- In the shade garden above, you’ll find spirea, hostas, hydrangeas and Jack Frost brunnera – all needing only a once-yearly shearing and adequate water. (See more shade garden plant ideas here.) For sunny gardens, consider yarrow, daylilies, sun-loving spireas, Autumn Joy sedum, and low growing roses (the Knockout variety are some of the easiest care roses). (See the easy plants I’d grow in every garden here.)
- Fill in with a few inexpensive annuals for spots of color that last all season.
- Make upkeep easy by watering with soaker hoses and using newspaper and mulch to keep the weeds down and hold in moisture.
(You can find more of my easy-care gardening ideas and tips here – it’s the only way I garden!)
3. Beef Up Window Molding
Replacing narrow window moldings with larger ones goes a long way to helping your windows become more prominent and open, not to mention make your house look older and better made.
In the picture on the left, it’s easy to tell our house was built in 1982, isn’t it? The windows have almost non-existent trim, which to me was even more noticeable because the front included a set of three windows. Having siding between the windows and minimal trim really minimized them.
Less than $50.00 of trim later and about a days work, the main window could be on a craftsman-style house, or farmhouse from years ago. I loved the difference! We also removed the lap siding that was only on this section and continued the board-and-batten siding which helped the front of the house look cohesive.
We also eliminated the small, plastic shutters on all the front windows and increased the width of the trim on the two front bedroom windows (which you can see in the previous pictures of the garden).
Making the window trim wider was one of the best simple, inexpensive updates we did to the front – it really made a difference in bringing cottage style to this rancher!
4. Add a Porch
Okay, a porch is maybe not the simplest or least expensive way to add cottage character to your home, but it really provides a lot of bang for your buck, doesn’t it?
And in the case of our original ‘porch’ the less-than-four-foot-wide walkway to the door seen on the left above was actually a hinderance to getting things, as well as people, in and out the front door. Since the porch roof was a bit more than 6 feet, we just moved the posts and beams out 2 feet and gained a functioning porch.
We did add a porch floor right above the concrete steps and siding, along with railing which again goes a long way to creating that great curb appeal. If I were to do it again, I probably wouldn’t go to the expense and maintenance of railing since it was less than a foot to the ground – hindsight is 20/20 here!
For our garage addition’s porch, we lowered the expense some by constructing a simple pergola structure that connects to the original porch, since adding a roof is one of the most costly parts of a new porch.
We chose to cover ours with a clear roofing because we live in a wet climate, but it would also look lovely left open or used to grow grapes or a flowering vine.
5. Freshen With Paint
Lastly, a time-honored way to update a house is with paint! As you can see in the above photos, our house went from gray to butter yellow. What I like most about the brighter, cheery color is how the plants and flowers stand out against the yellow background.
How to Pick a Paint Color
Think about upkeep, how plants and greenery will look, and your climate. For me, that meant I didn’t want a gray house because our skies are often gray. I also wanted a color that would make the garden around it pop a bit more.
In the end, choose a classic color you love that will complement all the other steps you’ve taken to give your house cottage character- a place where your friends and family will feel welcomed – and you will, too.
What ways do you like to add cottage curb appeal – or any kind of curb appeal – to your home?
Want to see more of our ranch-to-cottage remodel? Check out the full tour here. We’ve since purchased a 100 year old farmhouse – you can see the before tour here – be sure to follow along as we remodel it by subscribing!
This article has been updated – it was originally published in June of 2013.