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What Is Cottagecore? Escape into the “Whimsical Countryside” Aesthetic

Cottagecore: The movement that took over a certain social media platform (ahem, we’re looking at you, TikTok). If you’re confused about what exactly it, well, is¸ you’re not alone. Strictly speaking, it’s a style – but when you get down to specifics it tends to be a little more whimsical, a touch more nostalgic and a lot more niche than what most of us are used to. Here, we take you through a tour of the aesthetic, along with tips on how to incorporate a “toned down” but still very in version of it into your home.

To understand cottagecore, one must first break down the name. First, there’s “cottage,” meaning a home in a countryside, and then (and most importantly), there’s “core” – “core” here meaning the purest form of something. Once you take core to mean heart, unadulterated, you start to get a sense of the meaning of cottagecore. Unlike cottage-chic or country-cottage, cottagecore doesn’t mess around with modern elements (or even familiar elements). It’s pure radical – taking the cottage aesthetic (light color palettes, countryside flowers and old-fashioned home goods) to the extreme. In some versions, it can be a little in-your-face, on purpose. The point of cottagecore is to completely overtake the viewer; you want to feel lost in a cottagecore aesthetic.

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1. Cottagecore Is Simple

Well, a version of it is. (But even the non-simple version is still pretty simple.) Alright, if that was confusing, here it is in other words: cottagecore celebrates simplicity, to the extreme. One of the ways it does this is by getting back to nature. It turns its nose up to the bustling city and favors instead the simplicity of farmland – but in doing so, celebrates farmland hard. In a sense, it creates a sort of “story” out of nature, or, to be more precise, storybook. If you can imagine woodland fairies as they have been depicted in movies and lore; if you can imagine them and the things surrounding them (i.e., the kinds of flowy, woodsy garments they wear and their flower crowns and wood-stump furniture), you get another sense of the cottagecore aesthetic. It’s charming with a love for subtle whimsy. Naturally, it brings out the magic of nature.

cottagecore style

2. Cottagecore Likes "Enchanted" Nature

Ask any cottagecore fan if, given the choice between living in an actual prairie and living in a home decorated like a prairie, which they would choose, and the majority of them would probably choose the actual prairie. To love cottagecore is to tap into your inner child – the one who spent most days daydreaming about magic and ethereality and imaginary critters. (Things like walls, doors, locks and roofs only inhibit and detract from the idea.) According to this source, 41% of TikTok users (where cottagecore exploded) are between the ages of 16 and 24; whether or not there’s a correlation between entering early adulthood and the “fairy tale” nostalgia aspect of cottagecore is yet to be proven, but it’s a thought worth exploring. Perhaps it can be said that cottagecore is the inevitable outcome of a generation raised on social media and personal branding – and longing for a physical, tangible escape from the “real world.”

cottagecore defined

3. Cottagecore Is Comforting

Cottagecore may push the limits of the “real word,” but it does so while feeling cozy and comfy. (If there’s one thing a cottagecore fan is, it’s happy.) A cottagecore aesthetic should make you feel like you fit right in, as if you’ve known it your whole life. To do this, opt for plush pieces like sofas and sofa chairs, and keep the color palette in light, creamy neutrals. (A cream color, instead of pure white, feels a tad more old-fashioned, resembling, almost, the palette of a sepia photograph.) Note, above, the warm brown wooden hutch and how it plays to the soft white sofa chair; it’s a mix of colonial-style furniture and nostalgically soft, head-in-the-clouds-type seating, respectively.

cottagecore defined right

4. Cottagecore Takes Inspiration From Arts and Crafts

In keeping with the simplicity theme, when it comes to furniture, cottagecore favors simple wooden designs – similar to the Arts and Crafts movement. Wood furniture isn’t just the only thing the two movements have in common: both draw inspiration from the colonial aesthetic of early America. What life would have been like on the prairie – devoid of smartphones, technology and screens, for one – is the idea behind Arts and Crafts furniture, glamorized and taken to a whole new level in cottagecore. The panel wood coffee table above would fit right into either style. (In Arts and Crafts, pair it with a plain wood decorative bowl or industrial metal accent; in cottagecore, pair it with floral-patterned ceramics or a lacy runner.)

cottagecore style term

5. Cottagecore Is Bright

In keeping with a sort of storybook feel, choose light, bright colors for a cottagecore aesthetic. The end goal is to make a room feel almost like a “dreamlike countryside.” First, wash out a room with natural light. (While cottagecore gets most of its lifeforce during the day’s sunshine, the night’s dampening effect on cottagecore’s bright, light aesthetic is nothing a few string lights can’t fix!) Keep the color palette light to enhance the glow, and incorporate nature wall art as a “portal” to cottagecore’s deepest love.

cottagecore explained

6. Cottagecore Is "Baking"

Yes, baking! Baking isn’t just an example of the kinds of elements associated with the cozy, homey, cottagey vibe that is cottagecore – rather, it’s a crucial part of it! Specifically, baking sourdough bread is a “top five” requirement of cottagecore life (and no, we’re not making this up). There are many theories floating around the internet as to how and why sourdough bread and cottagecore went hand-in-hand, but the generally-accepted explanation has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic; cottagecore rose to popularity around the start of the pandemic, quarantine, lockdown – and when people were turning to more domestic activities.

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7. Cottagecore Is Always Ready for "Tea Time!"

Since the whole idea of cottagecore is an antidote to a fast-paced lifestyle, a reminder to slow down and tap into the little joys of a simple life, it makes sense that the cottagecore enthusiast would appreciate a good cup of tea. (Tea time can be thought of as a byproduct of embracing cottagecore as a lifestyle versus just as a décor aesthetic.) It’s not just a thought experiment, though. As chance would have it, a tea set, and the art of enjoying tea (because it is an art), is, objectively, part of cottagecore.

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8. Cottagecore Celebrates Hobbies

The cottagecore movement is not just another décor aesthetic. It wasn’t invented for social media and the feeds. It’s not for other people – it’s for you. The idea is to adapt a new, simpler way of living – to put down your smartphone and pick up a pair of knitting needles or gardening shears, while living and breathing the beauty of a natural aesthetic. It promises calmer moods and sunnier outlooks, and, in return, asks only for commitment.

The Ten Commandments of Cottagecore

If all of this seems fine and dandy, but you simply have no clue where to start, we get you. As with any new design aesthetic, adapting to a cottagecore lifestyle can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to seem so. To recap the above and spell out exactly the steps you can take to achieve a cottagecore life, we chose the top ten most important qualities in cottagecore.

1. Bake Your Own Bread. Sourdough is considered the pinnacle, but, really, any form of baking will take you one step closer to living out the cottagecore way. Try the types of goods that would have been popular in 19th- or 18-century American farmhouses, such as muffins, cakes and/or biscuits. (This one’s probably our favorite commandment – in the home, nothing’s better than the smell of something baking in the oven!

2. Bring in Plants. The cottagecore aesthetic thrives on indoor plants. Plants are the easiest part of nature to bring indoors. They’re also pretty, won’t make a mess and smell great (depending on the variety). Use a large indoor pot or planter to contain – the larger the pot or planter, the more “plant” you can bring in; the more “plant” you can bring in, the more whimsical the look and the more natural and cottagecore the vibe.

3. Don’t Strive for Perfection. Farmland and forests may seem perfect from a distance, but up close and personal, there’s a lot going on – there’s creeping bushes and fallen twigs and weeds and webs and moss and vegetation. Its imperfections, though, are what make it beautiful. Take a lesson from nature and don’t strive for perfection; a home without mistakes would be the “b-word” (a.k.a. boring, a swear word in the world of cottagecore)!

4. Adopt a Light Color Palette. Cottagecore should feel joyful and fresh. Choose colors based on how they make you feel and how well they brighten up a space. Incorporate splashes of pastels to mimic nature and keep an ethereal feel.

5. Cozy Up with Textures. Don’t forget the layers. Add on a wool throw blanket and pillows. Choose textures like sheepskin for its ties to farm life and cozy feel. Place delicate table runners or cloths over tables – this layer of fabric will add a simple “homemade” charm to a hard furniture piece, while providing aesthetic contrast.

6. DIY It. Get comfortable with DIY-ing. (Cottagecore favors a quainter, more imperfect aesthetic.) For best results, think in terms of a stereotypical grandma (cottagecore is often also referred to as grandmacore).Hobbies like knitting, crocheting and embroidery aren’t just fun – once you get the hang of them, they can also provide you with your next cottagecore home décor accent piece, free of charge!

7. Add Some Charm. So far, this list gives you a certain aesthetic that really falls under the same category as farmhouse-chic and cottage-chic. Where cottagecore really turns into its own and distinguishes itself from the rest, though, is through “charm.” A little bit of enchantment – like a string of fairy lights or a flower crown or wand – is deliciously cottagecore, and what you won’t find in the others

8. Establish a Reading Nook. This step kills two birds with one stone (but not really, because cottagecore loves birds!), in that it makes the home feel even cozier while encouraging yet another cottagecore hobby. Start with a cozy armchair and rug, and line a wall with a few floating shelves or a bookcase filled with books on your favorite fairy tales, gardening or forestry! Complete the look by hanging up an art piece inspired by nature.

9. Invest in a Good Tea Set. A good tea set complete with a sugar bowl, creamer and trays adds to a quaint charm. A floral-patterned china set feels old-fashioned in all the right, cottagecorish ways. But don’t just use it for looks. Cottagecore is all about the art of doing, so, drink the tea! Make it a ritual to drink “high tea” or “afternoon tea;” you just might find yourself all the more de-stressed (the ultimate goal of cottagecore), if for no other reason than the fact that drinking tea can be incredibly good for your health.

10. Lighten Up at Night. Finally, don’t let nightfall bring down your style. Mimic the big-sky stars with string lights, nightlights, and table lamps, sconces, chandeliers and pendants wherever possible.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.