'It's decorating like The Holiday' - 5 style lessons to steal from English cottages that feel cozy and quaint, yet still modern

Dreaming of Kate Winslet's charming English countryside cottage in the beloved rom-com? We asked the experts how to capture the essence of this look

a cottage kitchen with colorful cabinets
(Image credit: deVOL)

It's the time of year I like to cozy up and sit down to watch ‘The Holiday’, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be dreaming of Kate Winslet’s charming cottage look. It's a look that's very specific to the English countryside, and a certain type of home, but it's also a feeling you can create in any sort of home.

From mismatched fabrics and antique furnishings, to a roll top bath and lamps galore; we’re looking for that delightful, timeless feel focussing on the details that make our homes so warm and welcoming. These cottages often have crooked walls and features such as beams, are what give a cottage its quirky character - no two are the same, so when it comes to the interior design it can be a delicate process. 

'A cozy English cottage is my favourite kind of space; the charm, wonkiness and warmth of the materials and distinct features,' says Holly Vaughan, Director of Vaughan Design. 'However, with a huge lack of straight sizeable walls, and often beams everywhere you look, it can prove tricky, and I do see it as a fun challenge to work with the features and not against them.' 

However, these cottages don't just have to be limited to purely traditional style, either - there are many designers who are mixing classic with the modern for a new take on cottage style decor. 

1. Mix old and new 

an english cottage

(Image credit: Gunter & Co)

An eclectic mix of old and new gives the feeling of cozy and welcomes you into the space. Older pieces will boast of stories to tell, and modern details will bring you into the present, and not left feeling like you’re in an abandoned and forgotten home. 'A vintage kitchen table and chairs are a must, all cottages need a spot for chatting and drinking tea and the ubiquitous jug of wildflowers,' says Helen Parker, creative director of deVOL Kitchens, a kitchen brand with showrooms in England and in New York. 'A pretty wall cupboard is another perfect choice., chippy paint, filled with a collection of your favourite hand thrown mugs and you have set the scene for the perfect hideaway.”' 

To achieve a chic, modern cottage-style, a strong focus on natural materials is an absolute essential. 'Embracing real wood, exposed brick, and stone can take on an old-meets-new approach,' Irene Gunter, founder, Gunter & Co suggests. 'We introduced bespoke cabinets into this kitchen, made from reclaimed oak with leather pull handles, and topped with either a wooden or Belgian Blue stone worktop. The vegetable drawers, featuring bronze wire fronts, add to the homely cottage vibe, as does the butler sink. However, there are also modern touches thrown into the mix, such as the ribbed glass fronts of the wall cabinets.' The glass finish transforms the space in such a modest manner, and features such as the bronze wire drawer fronts and butler sink give strong hints of the English countryside. 

2. Be bolder with color

a red kitchen cabinet

(Image credit: deVOL)

When designing a cottage, perhaps the braver you are in your color decisions, the better. 'Adding reclaimed materials that have interest and pops of colour, as well as a bold color through fabrics and wallpaper where possible (wonky walls don’t always allow it!), can really modernize a country cottage,' says Holly Vaughan from Vaughan Design. As you can see, this can lead to a striking design that you’ll love day in, day out. 

3. Layer materials

a kids room in a cottage

(Image credit: Vaughan Designs)

Layers of materials are a necessity for that ultimate cozy feeling. 'When it comes to fabrics, it’s all about the weathered linens and warm velvets,' Jojo Barr, founder and Lead Designer at House Nine Design explains. 'We always draw inspiration from the outdoors, using colours that appear in nature, no matter what project we are working on. Think forest green, ochre and rust.'

A glorious palette we always see working so well in Jojo’s designs. Think crisp linen at the window, and Helen Parker, Creative Director of deVOL Kitchens encourages throwing a vintage liberty tablecloth over the table to set the scene perfectly. 

4. Introduce feature lighting

a cottage-style bathroom

(Image credit: Jojo's Home)

Feature lighting is a great way to add a modern twist to a cottage and with low ceilings, it can be difficult to know what’s right for the space.  'It’s better to use feature wall lights and lots of lamps,' Holly Vaughan advises. 'Layering with lamps is one of my favourite things to do.  They come in particularly handy during those Winter months as most cottages have smaller windows and are lacking light.' 

One important thing to consider when designing a listed cottage is the strict rules and regulations that protect the building's integrity. Irene Gunter gives the example of downlights. ;We couldn't add downlights to the kitchen ceiling, so to increase light levels, I opted for a pair of wall-mounted lamps positioned on either side of the extractor.' 

This can work in so many spaces, often seen in the bathroom, and a little symmetry is quite pleasing in places like this. 

5. Introduce characterful antiques

a modern cottage bedroom

(Image credit: Jojo's Home)

So, what furniture should we be bringing into our delightful country cottage? Jojo from House Nine Design recommends antique fairs for furniture with character and personality. 'A bedside table, for example, look for one with a fun detail on the feet or even a wave edge on top. The minor details make a huge difference to the feel of the room.' That one piece of furniture may well be enough to get the room talking, and with clean modern elements such as wall lamps pulled in to situ, you’ll begin to create that quintessential cottage you’ve always loved.

'Choose things that are absolutely perfect and beautiful, never settle for ok in a cottage as it will end up looking mismatched and messy,' Helen Parker from deVOL Kitchens advises. You don't have much space in a cottage so make every vignette and surface look as beautiful as you can, and don’t forget the fun you’ll entail when sourcing all of these things. This kind of style just doesn’t go out of fashion.

Portia Carroll

Portia Carroll is an interior stylist, writer, and design consultant. With a background in interior architecture and design, she has a plethora of creative experience in the industry working with high end interior brands to capture beautiful spaces and products and enhance their qualities.