The Cozy House


You will remember Walden Pond near Concord, “the shot heard round the world,” et cetera.  You will recall the disagreeable recluse, Henry David Thoreau, who composed Walden: or Life in the Woods, a book that recounts a simple, retiring life in the one-room, 150 square foot cabin Thoreau built with his own hands.  Most do not know that when lonely, Thoreau would take himself into town where with sharp words he would insult his former neighbors.  When satisfied with himself, Thoreau would return to his cabin and there compose lovely prose fantasies of idyllic loneliness.

We yet fantasize the reclusive life, though in truth we are a people of the polis, of the “city”.  As Aristotle observed, “Man is by nature a social animal,” as are bees and swans, “He who is citiless by nature or by chance is either a god or a beast.  Society precedes the man.”  When last I was at Walden, some 150 years after Thoreau composed his book, I was not surprised to find psychedelic, rusting VW busses decorated in that 1960s presumption of daises, “Peace” symbols, and bumper-stickered opinions, and there, streaming past these, hundreds of city people in blue-jeaned farmer-drag, disheveled hair and superior attitude, the proud ascendants of Henry David Thoreau.

Seems there is something in we Americans that is both communitarian and contrarian, as in the current Tiny House movement, a form of social protest by people who gas themselves to cities and work, then gas themselves back to far-away tiny houses (houses of less than 400 square feet) where, self-satisfied, they save the world by eating and sleeping and serving need in a miniature energy footprint, artsy and high-styled.  Well enough, though in truth most up-and-comers are neither energetic nor socially committed, so these restrict themselves to life in white-walled, glass-fronted, boxy towers, cold and steeled and isolated.  And who can blame them.


Cozy House, Walden

Cozy House, Thoreau Cabin, Walden, Concord, Massachusetts. credit: Alizada Studios


Each year houses grow larger, and as houses grow larger, houses grow more expensive per square foot.  Lately, the average house is some 2,550 square feet, and this at a purchase price of $350,000.  After a 20%, $70,000 downpayment, there is the $1,816 monthly payment over 30 years at a 6.50% mortgage that raises the cost of a typical house to $653,786.  Right, plus the land, the landscaping, the furnishings, the insurance, etc., etc.  So, yes, a 55-years adult life in a boxy apartment seems logical.  But then, there is the affordable, cozy house alternative, the charming cottage, the efficient shotgun, the snugly bungalow, the practical Cape Cod, and the solid ranch house.  Truly, if the young are to grow in wealth, health, and friendship, and if we are again to be a prosperous nation, we must design and build cozy houses for singles, for families, for communities, as once we did.

When next you walk, drive or bike through the near country, town, or small city, you might notice a wealth of cozy houses, older homes designed for the frugal, the young, the retiring.  This guide will help you identify a few types, know their histories, appreciate their virtues, and, if inclined, make note of their suitability to your need, want, or desire.  Too, at bottom there will be a mention of specialty houses, the campground cottage, the Sunday house, the guest house, the ADU, “Accessory Dwelling Unit”, a second, small house on the property of a larger existing house.  ADUs are fine starter houses, houses that if suitably designed and sited, enrich communities, especially towns where energetic young families make tired old places lively again.


*   *   *


Cozy House, Cottage

Cozy House, Cottage with Garden, Carmel by the Sea. photographer unknown



The cottage is the cozy house of a cottager, a serf, a person and family of England’s feudal period (AD IX – XVI) who hadn’t a right to land yet was permitted by the Lord to occupy a house and lot sufficient for a sustaining garden, and that in exchange for the Lord owning the cottager’s labor.  You will recognize in the cottager the slave, a person subject to the will of the Lord, a person forbidden travel except by permission, marriage but by permission, a person subject to hard labor and severe punishment, et cetera.  As in our nation, the English cottage was composed of materials at hand, if agrarian, thatched roof, if near woods, wood log, if in an area stone rich, of stone.

A cottage might be a one-room house expanded with time and generations.  Often, a cottage is four rooms, two up, two down, not unlike our Cape Cod.  With industrial increase, cottages were abandoned for the promise of liberty and regular wages, and these abandoned cottages then became weekend or seasonal retreats, rentals, leases, and occasionally, purchases for ownership.  This later sense, the summer residence, is often what is intended by “cottage”, though the cottage of the wealthy might be a 20,000 square foot marble summer palace, though for most Americans “cottage” retains the romance of the homey, simple seasonal retreat.

An American, English style cottage might be four to six rooms up and down within 800 to 1,200 square feet.


Cozy House, Presley

Cozy House, Elvis Presley birthplace, Tupelo, Mississippi. credit: Markuskun



The shotgun house is long and narrow, typically door aligned room to room … I met a fellow in Tennessee who claimed he shot a back-porch roosted turkey from his front-porch rocker, but then he also said he “got three turkey with one shell.”  Best not to believe all boasts.  The shotgun house seems to have been born of early New Orlean’s fire codes, the requirement of long and narrow houses separated to prevent leaping flame (circa 1830).  It is often rumored that the shotgun house originated in Africa, though engravings and archaeology seem not to support this thesis—the long narrow, front entrance house is typical of European settlements in Africa and the Caribbean.  Native West African houses tend to be round or amorphous or side entered.  And yet, there are but a few basic house forms, square, round, rectangular.  No single genesis is certain.

Typically, the shotgun house is pretty, decorative, even formal with a front porch of some Greek or Roman Order.  Sometimes, a two-story “camelback” (rear addition) is found, and a few shotguns feature spindled, wraparound porches.  The double shotgun is extra-wide—a duplex with the central, dividing wall beneath the gable.  Nineteenth century shotguns can be found from Texas east to Florida, north to New York, across our northern border through the Great Lakes, and many places between.  My mother was born in a Michigan shotgun house; Elvis Presley was born in a now famous Mississippi shotgun.  For the most part, shotgun houses declined in popularity by mid-XXth century, though there have been revivals, as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Best contemporary shotgun houses tend to three or four rooms (one room might be the combination kitchen family room, with rooms connected by a side, privacy hall) within 700 to 1,000 square feet.


Cozy House, Bungalow

Cozy House, Bungalow, Carmel by the Sea. credit: M. Curtis



From the Hindi, the bangala, the “bungalow” of the Raj, a small, one-story house often surrounded by a veranda, a form imported from India to Britian to the Americas.  Bungalows of the United States were first realized in the Arts & Crafts style (circa 1915), though a bungalow might take the form of a ranch, a chalet, or Tudor.  Each region, sometimes each city, enjoys its unique bungalow style.  The bungalows of my native Michigan are very much Arts & Crafts, as influenced by the school where I taught, the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts, a handcrafted aesthetic sympathetic to Morris and Stickley.  Chicago bungalows tend to be heavy, solid and narrow.  The California bungalow tends to the woody, bracketed with eaves purlin, as in Asia.  In Florida, the bungalow is sometimes rather Cracker or Tidewater, at other times partaking of the Spanish.  Also in Florida, the Outwater bungalow of inland lakes, as are found in Oceania.

Perhaps the most charming American bungalows are Spanish influenced, as in Pasadena, Las Vegas, and Coral Gables.  These bungalows give a romantic, almost storybook impression, charming with full arches, shadowed courtyards, bold awnings, and shaded veranda.  The white walls, red tile roofs, and bold accentuated forms give the Spanish style bungalow a sense of mini monumentality both charming and inviting.  A bungalow is typically five cozy rooms (living room, kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms) within 900 to 1,200 square feet, though my first bungalow was four rooms within 650 square feet (plus basement).


Cozy House, Half Cape

Cozy House, Half Cape, Massachusetts. credit: Carol Highsmith


Cape Cod

Modest, practical, and accommodating, the Cape Cod house is the honest expression of Puritan home, a house form most typically American.  Similar to our English hall and parlor homes but squared, lower, tighter … had to be in defense against New England’s harsh winters and punishing ocean winds … the Cape Cod is constructed in post and beam, shuttered, skinned in clapboard or shingle, materials readily available in our dense northern forests.  Originally a fisherman’s house, water-near, sanded and tall-grassed, its shingles recall the scales of a fish, simple beauty in the way of God.

The Cape might be a quarter, half, three-quarter, or full Cape.  As you would expect, the quarter is miniest, the full, largest.  Typically, the quarter has one bay (one window … a baying opening alike the open mouth of the baying dog), the full, four bays.  These full, refined, four bay Cape Cods are most common today, popularized during that great era of American house building, the American Revival, 1890 to 1940.  The old, plain quarter Capes are few because of expansions both typical and accordion (alike an expanding accordion), additions formed by need, spreading out as conditions or tastes were inclined.  The Cape Cod form has become a style, the style common to beachy vacation and easy refinement, a style that calls to mind the Kennedys and Bushes (massive), Cotton Mather and John Winthrop (modest), and others of our Puritan fathers.

A Cape Cod house might be two rooms in 400 square feet, as in the quarter Cape, or if a full Cape, eight rooms in 2,800 square feet.  Generally: quarter Cape, 400-700 square feet, two down, one up; half Cape, 600-800 square feet, two down, two up; three-quarter Cape, 800-1,400 square feet, three or four down, two up (a possible four-bedroom house); a full Cape Cod, 1,100 to over 3,000 square feet, four or five down, two or three upstairs.  And too, should mention the Cape Cod “Keeping Room”, the combination kitchen, living room, family room typical of New England life, the comfortable familiar, a familial informality suitable to contemporary living.


cozy house, Johnson

Cozy House, Ranch, Lyndon B. Johnson birthplace “reconstructed”, near Johnson City, Texas. credit: EWY Media



The ranch is a house style native to these united states, a style born of hard scrabble Western horse and cattle ranches, a style matured in the technological suburb of 100 years ago.  The ranch is common to areas of rapid expansion after WWII, city, town, and outskirt where land was cheap, suitable to expansive or expansive seeming yards.  The ranch might have a California feel, open, easy in the way of a hacienda.  The ranch might be a Mod, hipster in the cool cat, mid-century manner, glassed with extravagant eve.  Steel Mod ranches are seen in earlier Beautiful Home editions.  The ranch might be suburban, low-slung, variable in material, as influenced by Frank Loyd Wright, as typical of the Mid-West.  The ranch might be a tract, a Colonial or a Western moded, built by the millions in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, garages posted to the front or side.

Once, ranches by the hundreds were plopped upon farmland cleared for development, lined in straight, concrete barren streets, but that was long ago.  In time, neighborhoods developed, amorphous gardens grew to maturity, shade trees reached a generous expanse, and ranch houses learned over decades how best to rest themselves comfortably near neighbors.  Now, the efficient, family-friendly ranch is appreciated for its American memory, our expansive history, a gift returned from Pacific to Atlantic, and the final settling of our nation, a single, unifying house style coast to coast.

The ground-hugging, unpretentious ranch is usually one room deep, vaulted, shaped in an I, L or U.  Later and contemporary ranches tend to the two-room oblong, and these seem to lose the ranch charm, because these lose the vaulted, vertical expanse.  Typically, the 900 square foot ranch has two bedrooms, kitchen, living and dining rooms; the 1,400 square foot ranch has three bedrooms, an extra bath, a keeping-like living-family-dining room adjacent to a closed or open galley kitchen.  And too, the ranch likes an extending veranda, outdoor rooms, a pool, and a garage.  Picture an old horse ranch, its stable, water, outdoor eating and living rooms, its informality and plain construction, and you can understand why the ranch idea suits the American personality.


Cozy House, Tiny

Cozy House, Tiny Houses, Dutch Village. credit: Wolf-photography


Tiny House

The Tiny House is a socio-political movement, an eco-friendly opinion popularized by Progressive media, universities, and social influencers.  The tiny-house is romantic, though unpractical; perhaps more spacious than a cave, but too tight for all but the single bear; children, husbands, wives need stepping and sanity space.  In truth, the tiny-house on wheels is a mobile home, a travel trailer, alike an Airstream.  An Airstream is the most modern, most efficient of tiny houses; 6’-6” to 8’ wide by 16’ to 32’ long, 104 to 256 square feet.  Mass manufactured tiny-houses (to meet the tiny-house 2018 International Residential Code Appendix Q standard) top out at 400 square feet, but within that small footprint hundreds of styles are available, as in early 20th Century Sears House catalogs.  A tiny-house might be styled like a shotgun house, a Thoreau cabin, an Airstream; in fact, many tiny-house floor plans seem to have been lifted from manufactured home, mobile home, Airstream, and travel trailer catalogs.

If mass manufactured, construction costs of tiny houses are sometimes less per square foot than standard sized and cozy houses.  Though if architect-designed one-offs, tiny-house costs skyrocket with material waste, trucks going and coming, runs to the hardware, and the thousand details of house construction.  If assiduously frugal, sustained energy saving is possible though difficult, most always both troublesome and troubling.  As you would guess, the tiny-house is an excellent weekend cottage or ADU.  A tiny-house allows miniature experiments in design, minor exercises in idiosyncrasy, and extravagant fulfillment of wishes, not unlike Marie Antonette’s Hameau de la Reine, the picturesque Versailles cottage where she could pretend innocence, wish for simpleness.

The most common tiny houses contain within 400 square feet a keeping room and loft, a standing shower and composting toilet.


*   *   *


Cozy House, Campground

Cozy House, Campground Cottages, Marthas Vineyard, Massachusetts. credit Amy Lutz


Other cozy houses uncommon though worthy of mention are the Campground Cottage, the Sunday House, the Dune Shack, and the ADU Guest House.

The Campground Cottage was born of the summer Revivals, religious (most often, Methodist, as at Chautauqua), educational retreats where families would put up tents that in time became permanent wood houses that offered the appearance of gay, colorful tents, mini houses in the Queen Anne and Carpenter Gothic styles.

Sunday Houses are like the first townhouses, town homes where those of the country would stay when in need of gathering provisions, doing business, and deepening acquaintance.  Most often simple, plain, honest in style; sometimes dressed in the common, local style.


Cozy House, Dune Shack

Cozy House, Dune Shack, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. credit Chris Bradshaw


The Dune Shack is a weekend getaway on New England’s Eastern shore, a mini, sometimes tiny-house in the Cape Cod style, a house fashionable for writers, naturalists, ne’er-do-wells.  Of this type are other summer houses and fishermen’s shacks, places of retreat from duty and responsibility, and these in whatever style was local and timely.  Another of this type is the charming, romantic Honeymoon Cottage, a love nest suited to the ceremonies of affection and generation.

The Guest House (ADU) was once named the Mother-In-Law Suite, a small, detached home where mom might retain her independence and dignity.  The Guest House might also be the Caretaker’s House, a home for one who serves the estate, as once the cottager served the Lord and manor.  The Guest House might be a short-term rental, as through Airbnb or VRBO, or a guest house might be a long-term rental through an independent agency.  An ADU is an “Accessory Dwelling Unit”, a form of house made possible by zoning adaptations in 35 states, made affordable by bank heloc or FHA-backed loans.  As with other cozy houses, the ADU is rather more of a form than a style; the form is typically a one-bedroom Cape Cod, the style a mirror of the existing master house, as oaklet is to oak.


*   *   *


Cozy House Gallery


Cozy House, Georgian

Cozy House, Georgian, Williamsburg, Virginia. credit: M. Curtis


Cozy House, Hoover

Cozy House, Herbert Hoover birthplace, West Branch, Iowa . credit: Bill Whittaker


Cozy House, Edison

Cozy House, Edison’s birthplace, Milan, Ohio. credit: M. Curtis


Cozy House, New Orleans

Cozy House, Shotgun Duplex, New Orleans, Louisiana. credit: M. Curtis


Cozy House, Eclectic

Cozy House, Spanish Eclectic Bungalow, Miami, Florida. photographer unknown


Cozy House, Michigan

Cozy House, Shotgun, Stockbridge, Michigan. credit: M. Curtis


Cozy House, Mount Pilot

Cozy House, Andy Grifith’s home, Atomic Ranch House, Mount Airy, “Mount Pilot”, North Carolina. credit: M. Curtis


Cozy House, Stone

Cozy House, Stone Thoreau Cabin “replica” crafted by Benswood, New Hampshire. credit: Dick Sthurters


*   *   *

Featured image, Cozy House, Arts & Crafts Cottage; first house on Lake Lure, North Carolina. credit: M. Curtis

More on the Cozy House can be found at The Beautiful Home.


*   *   *