Cottages are traditionally quaint and reminiscent of the English thatched cottage. Steep gabled roofs with small dormers and multi-pane windows are prevalent. Cottages often feature stone predominantly, lending to the lived in, historic look.
In modern usage, a cottage is usually a modest, often cozy dwelling, typically in a rural or semi-rural location. However there are cottage-style dwellings in cities, and in places such as Canada the term exists with no connotations of size at all (cf. vicarage or hermitage). In the United Kingdom the term cottage also tends to denote rural dwellings of traditional build, although it can also be applied to dwellings of modern construction which are designed to resemble traditional ones ("mock cottages").
Originally in the Middle Ages, cottages housed agricultural workers and their friends and families. The term cottage denoted the dwelling of a cotter. Thus, cottages were smaller peasant units (larger peasant units being called messuages). In that early period, a documentary reference to a cottage would most often mean, not a small stand-alone dwelling as today, but a complete farmhouse and yard (albeit a small one).