Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 23, 2022

Cottage or Cabin?

Husband Art and I recently spent about four weeks at our Wisconsin getaway - a place of family retreats for three decades. It's located 30 miles from the Upper Michigan border and five miles west of the Nicolet National Forest and is nestled close to birch and evergreen trees just 100 feet from a lake.

In the early years, escaping the demands of work and watching the kids swim whenever the mood hit them was a major element of the fun. But with the kids grown and my being retired, another element has moved to the fore. My Wichita friend Deb touched on it when she texted me during the road trip north: " ... You are lucky to dodge this last blast of summer. ..."

Indeed! While we've had more opportunities to spend time there during different seasons in recent years, it has become a particularly welcome spot in August, when the temperatures in Kansas hover in the 90s and 100s for weeks. In contrast, the mercury at our Wisconsin place this year showed temperatures in the 70s during the day and 50s at night. It couldn't have been more perfect.

But the remainder of Deb's message got me thinking. She said, "Will you be at the cabin ... Or is it a cottage? ..."

I hadn't really thought much about whether to use "cabin" or "cottage," so I responded: "It's a cabin to me, but they call them cottages up there. Guess if it has a bathroom and isn't too rustic, it's a cottage."

Deb said, "I like cabin too ... cabin in the woods with a lake. A cottage sounds smaller and meek. Yours is more of a warm home ... yep, cabin."

When I repeated Deb's comment to Art, he frowned and told me his response to the two words is the mirror-opposite. To him, a cabin is a cramped space, such as a place to sleep while you spend your days hunting or fishing. A cottage, in contrast, is made for relaxed water-side living.

He added that in Wisconsin, water is the critical aspect. If a place is on or near a river or a lake, it is a cottage; others are called "cabins."

Looking for a more "official" take on the cabin-versus-cottage question, I turned to cabinlife.com. It said the three most common generic designations for a getaway are: cabin, cottage or camp. Other variations include mountain home, desert home, lake place, lake home and so on. The one you use depends on where you live or what your parents called their getaway place.

It added that if your place is somewhere in the Maine woods, it would likely be called a camp. But if you put it on a flatbed truck and moved it to the Atlantic shore, you'd say it was a cottage. Generally, cabin is the more common term in the western half of the U.S., as well as in mountain locations - whether you're talking about the Appalachians or the Rockies. Cottage is more likely to be used in the eastern half of the nation. In the Midwest, both cabin and cottage are common.

In contrast, villageandcottage.com had an entirely different take on the question, maintaining that construction materials utilized are the determining factor. It asserted a cabin is typically made of logs or timbers, while a cottage has walls constructed from various types of masonry, such as stone, brick or stucco.

It said cabins include hunting lodges, houses by the sea, hut villages used by shepherds, safari lodges that house tourists, summer homes near beaches or mountain ski resorts and farmhouses.

Farmhouses? I cannot imagine calling the farmhouse I grew up in a cabin.

The latter site also asserted that cottages can be summer residences in the U.S., homes near beaches, and old English cottages.

Hmm. When I picture an English cottage, I think of a charming house with a plastered exterior, a thatched roof, and a beautiful flower garden. That certainly does NOT describe our cottage. Ours is cozy and has modern amenities such as electricity, running water, an indoor bathroom, kitchen appliances, a gas heating stove, and electric heat registers in the bedrooms. While it's not made of logs, it is covered with planks of lumber painted brown to give it a rustic look.

Dale Mulfinger, the co-founder of Minneapolis-based SALA Architects and author of "The Cabin," "The Getaway Home" and "Cabinology" had yet another take on the matter. He said, "A building situated in, say, northern Wisconsin may be called a cottage if the owner lives in Milwaukee, but if the owner is from Minneapolis, that same building is called a cabin."

While chasing my cabin/cottage question, another arose. The proximity of water, as with Art, often seems to be an important factor in the word you choose. I don't think of Kansas as having many lakes, so I was startled when the University of Kansas website relating to geology said we have 120,000 of them. Art laughed when he heard that. "We call most of those ponds, and very few are natural," he commented.

True. The 10 largest "lakes" in Kansas are all reservoirs and the great majority of the "lakes" are farm ponds of under an acre in size. Art objects to calling them lakes as he believes a body of water should be natural to get that title. Even though the state of Wisconsin refers to the body of water formed by damming the Wisconsin River as Rainbow Lake, he calls it a reservoir.

Gee, this is all getting so clear that maybe I should take on the question about if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, was there a sound?

In the end, maybe old Will Shakespeare had the best grasp on these issues. He asserted that "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." So call our Northwoods retreat whatever suits your fancy. The days spent there will still be as sweet.

Top (l-r): sun setting over the lake; Art holding a small northern pike with fisherwomen Mariya and Katie; cottage, looking from the northwest. Bottom (l-r): small, but cozy living room; Mariya, Katie, "adopted German daughter" Nadja and Art's mother Donna outside the cottage; "adopted" German "kids" Nadja and Tim play Clue with Mariya and Katie during an evening at the cottage.

Comments? [email protected].
Other columns from this year may be found at: Current year Index.
Links to previous years are on the home page: Home