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10 Secrets of Cottage Style

Known for her lively, low-key designs, Jane Coslick shares her trademark tips for adding oomph to plain interiors with salvaged finds and buckets of paint

Mastering Cottage Style

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Jane Coslick, interior designer and serial renovator at janecoslick.com, brakes for weather-beaten cottages, cast-off furniture, sparkly chandeliers, and offbeat art, all of which comfortably coexist in her mind's eye. Several years ago, she spotted a bleak-looking brick house on rustic Tybee Island, Georgia, her favorite haunt. Built in 1946, it had small, dark rooms, a hulking fireplace, and the word teardown written all over it. "It was kind of a mess," she recalls sweetly. "I just decided to make it more functional for me and the way I want to live"—casually but efficiently, in a tidy, charming place. Working with carpenter Peter Dittmar and landscape designer John Dugger, she gutted the house and its garden shed and remade them inside and out, lavishing both with colorful paint and quirky finds—like the salvaged window, complete with curtains hung from an old broomstick, dressing up the fence shown here. A little beadboard here, a little sunlight there, and plenty of cottage-style expertise reflected throughout. Keep reading to draw from Coslick's store of great ideas.

Secret 1: Repurpose Something Unexpected

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

The island in Jane Coslick's cottage kitchen may have begun life as a French washstand. But that was many years ago, and today, minus a towel bar but still boasting a marble top, it provides a surprisingly good fit—and a spot for rolling out pie dough. "Always go for a mix: new with old, and things that aren't perfect," says Coslick. (For more on the pantry's faded-blue shutters, see Secret 7.)

Secret 2: Wash it with White

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Space-enhancing white paint on walls and ceilings—and on some furniture—erased all traces of sad, worn rooms. "Keeping it simple visually makes a space larger," Coslick says. Cut flowers and plush pillows soften this diminutive dining area, accented by a formal chandelier with jaunty black caps.

Secret 3: Unite Mismatched Furnishings with Color

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

When a green wicker chaise made its way into Coslick's life, she began looking for similar porch-friendly pieces. Over time they trickled in—some wicker, some wood, none green. Spray paint (Rust-Oleum's Key Lime) and coordinated fabrics yielded a self-styled suite. "Choose a single fabric for all the cushions," says Coslick, "or a mix of fabrics in the same colors." Then add an accent, like turquoise, to keep it interesting.

Secret 4: Punch Out a Pass-Through

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Sometimes opening a window beats tearing down a wall. The pass-through Coslick introduced here allows air, light, conversation—and plates—to circulate while keeping guests out of the cooking fray. "I use a lot of interior windows to open up rooms and improve the flow of natural light," she says. "If you tear the wall down, you lose a spot for furniture." Here, a counter on brackets has parking for barstools underneath and serving platters on top.

Secret 5: Add a Dose of Beadboard

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Beaded plywood panels line the master bath, reinforcing the house's cottage style. "The panels have 3-inch centers and look like individual boards. They mimic what you normally see on porch ceilings," says Coslick. She painted them one of her favorite blues, Benjamin Moore's Tropicana Cabana, then hung an orange mirror nabbed at an antiques shop; the cabinet migrated from the kitchen, picking up white paint and green-tinted glass knobs en route.

Secret 6: Paint a Plain Floor

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Coastal hues are key to what Coslick calls "an eclectic mix of fun." Here, that includes a wood floor painted blue (Glidden's Aqua Chintz), a dresser in a custom coral, pillows made from chenille shower curtains, and paintings by a friend. "Art is important; it gives a room life and energy," she says. At janecoslick.com, she offers swatches of her favorite colors for sale; they can be matched at a paint store.

Secret 7: Shop the Salvage Yard

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Traditionally a kitchen sink has a window, but here that wasn't an option. So Coslick provided cooks and bottle-washers with a "view" by having a glass shop add mirrors to a salvaged window. Weather-beaten shutters serve as cabinet fronts, and a cornice decorated with a piece of trim, along with cabinet paint matched to the shutters, knits the ensemble together. Another, larger pair serves as the pantry doors (see Secret 1).

Secret 8: Don't be too Matchy-Matchy

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

In the former shed, now a guest room with its own rocking-chair porch (Secret 9), five different fabrics coexist under a shelf unit that once belonged to an organ. "Things don't have to match in the world today," Coslick declares, adding that it helps if they share colors—like the four hues that take turns pairing up with white here. The curtains echo not only the lumbar pillow but also two types of black and white tile that live happily side by side in the kitchen.

Secret 9: Cozy Up the Patio

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Multiple gathering spots make a small yard seem spacious. Coslick turned around this sliver of green by painting the guest shed her own Beach House Blue, putting down paths of vintage brick and adding a table and chairs, lime-green rockers, and Adirondack seating in inviting arrays. Now it's an envy spot for friends who once thought she was crazy to take on this house. "I just knew I could do something with it," she says. And she did.

Secret 10: Google "Funky Chandelier"

Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Friends usually assume Coslick found this fixture, which dresses up her itty-bitty master bath, at one of the salvage yards she frequents. She actually bought it new at a lighting store that now, alas, no longer exists. "I used to be able to go in there and say I wanted a 'funky chandelier with colored glass,'" she says, adding cheerfully, "Now, I just Google it."