Cottage-style decorating has one consistent design fundamental -- to create a casual and informal home environment. That design fundamental also applies in decorating a cottage in a modern style. What distinguishes a "modern" cottage is how you converge and adapt traditional cottage styles with what's new and "modern." You can still select French, Tuscan, Swedish, rustic, shabby chic, rustic or retro as your design aesthetic and unifying theme, then give it a twist by incorporating modern selections in terms of furnishings, paint colours, artwork, lighting and accent pieces.
Take inventory of items that you want to keep to anchor your design style, such as shabby chic or country. For example, if your cottage has heirloom furnishings from your family that you wish to keep, incorporate new accent pieces for a modern look. Set a new pewter lamp atop a turn-of-the-century chest of drawers. Replace muted, needlepoint pillows with bright and colourful pillows. Replace lace curtains with sheers or linen curtains. Use modern curtain rods and rings instead of old-fashioned window treatments and hardware.
Paint the cottage in colours that will give it a modern look, such as brighter versions of classic cottage colours. Older cottages are typically painted in muted colours or pastels, or in the traditional English and French Country combinations of blue and white or blue and yellow. Modern cottages are lighter, brighter and colour choices are wider.
Use white to add light and create a backdrop for colour. Paint your walls white and introduce vivid, citrus colours of lime-green, lemon-yellow and orange, or a bright palette of fuchsia and turquoise for pillows, plates and decorative accents. As an alternative to white, use creamy, neutral shades of beige and grey for wall colours.
Revise woodwork finishes. Paint baseboards, doors and floors in dark colours for a modern and neutral look. Dark colours also give the cottage an urban flair and work well with grey-toned fixtures, such as stainless steel kitchen appliances, pewter faucets, fixtures and doorknobs, and rooms with leather furniture or modern micro-fabric furnishings in earth-tone colours.
Incorporate media and technology. Cottage rooms are generally small, so repurpose wall space and use ceiling space. For instance, mount a flat-screen television on the back of a bedroom door. Add hooks on rafters and exposed beams in the kitchen to hang pots and pans.
Replace gold filigree picture frames with basic, flat frames. Use wide mats to centre photographs and artwork. Go frameless altogether when it comes to oil paintings and simply display them as they are.
Use eco-friendly and natural flooring. If the cottage does not have usable wooden flooring that you can paint or stain, convert to modern and environmentally-friendly flooring materials such as bamboo or stone tiles. Use pavers to create relaxing outdoor patio spaces, and furnish with traditional Adirondack chairs and small bistro tables. Make a pathway that leads to your door with recycled brick or flagstone.