Five easy DIY ways to add welcoming cottage curb appeal to your house and landscaping, no matter when your home was built! Includes before and after photos from a 1970s ranch-to-cottage remodel for cottage exterior ideas.
As you've probably figured out, I like a bit of cottage around here - or farmhouse cottage as I call it since moving to a 1900's farmhouse.
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 most importantly, 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 1970's or 80's ranch? Or a plain white builder's special?
There are a few key things you can do yourself to add cottage curb appeal to your home no matter when it was built and increase the value while you're at it!
How To turn a Ranch Style House Into a Cottage
Our first home was a 1940s bungalow in a large city - it had cottage charm built in that we could easily bring back to life.
But our second home ended up being a 1982 ranch house.
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 access.
Both of which aren't very curb-friendly.
I've always been drawn to bungalows, farmhouses, and other small, older houses but this ranch house was in my semi-rural hometown - and we could afford it - so even though the exterior looked like your typical ranch house built in the late 70s-early 80's, I knew it would work for us.
The main impression you got from driving up 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.
However, since what I really wanted was a farmhouse/cottage - and for me it's not just a certain house style, but a mentality that welcomes people from the outside in - I saw the potential in the home's good bones and large windows.
Through our years of DIY remodeling of the house, 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 what year the house was built, since it looked old. Mission accomplished!
Here's how to make the outside of your house look like a cottage, using pretty simple DIYs projects to make any age home have curb appeal.
5 Ways To Add Cottage Curb Appeal To Any House
1. Make The Entry Welcoming
When we first moved into this house, our friends and family couldn't find the door.
Once they figured out it was behind the tree (yes, it really is somewhere there in the left photo above), 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.
Cottage Exterior Ideas: 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 left, 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 (Best Way to Make the Outside of Your House Look Like a Cottage Inexpensively)
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 above, it's easy to tell our house was built in 1982, isn't it?
The windows have almost non-existent trim, which was even more noticeable because the front included a set of three windows. Having siding between the windows and small 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 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 - Any Size
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?
While a long or wrap around porch is a dream, any size porch adds character, even if it's a simple roof over a front door.
In the case of our ranch's original 'porch,' the less-than-four-foot-wide walkway to the door seen on the left above was actually a hinderance to getting things and people in and out the front door.
Thankfully, the porch roof was just wider than 6 feet so we could simply move the posts and beams out 2 feet to gain an actual, functioning porch.
We then added a wooden porch floor right above the concrete steps and siding, along with porch railing which went a long way to creating great curb appeal.
TIP: If I were to do it again, however, I probably wouldn't go to the expense and maintenance of adding a railing since it was less than a foot to the ground - hindsight is 20/20 here!
Simple Pergolas Add Character, Too
For our garage addition's porch, we lowered the expense some by constructing a simple pergola structure that connected 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 House Paint Color
Things to think about when choosing a paint color include:
- Upkeep (the dirt on lighter colors vs. darker; fading in strong sun, etc.).
- How plants and greenery will look against the color.
- Your climate.
For me and where we live, that meant I didn't want a gray house because our skies are gray for probably 8 months of the year.
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.
Then you will have a place where your friends and family will feel welcomed - and you will, too - no matter what year your house was built.
What ways do you like to add cottage curb appeal - or any kind of curb appeal - to your home?
This article has been updated in 2019 and 2022 - it was originally published in June of 2013.