Foundations of Construction: Regency Cottages, an Ontario favourite since the 1800s

regency ontario
“Regency Cottage plans for a small and charming Bailiff’s home, 1817,” Rudolph Ackermann, “Architectural Hints: A Cottage,” The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashion, Manufactures, &c., The Second Series, Vol. IV, No. XXIII, Sherwood & Co. et al, November 1, 1817: 248-249 Retrieved from

By Susanna McLeod
Special to CaDCR

Charming and appealing, the Regency Cottage architectural design sprouted up in the early 1800s with the foray of European colonists to Upper Canada. Rectangular and featuring one-and-a-half storeys, the small frame homes are dotted across the countryside. In later years, the style evolved into the Ontario Cottage, the Gothic Revival Cottage, and other designs.

“The Regency Cottage has a low profile, usually provided by a low-sloped hipped roof,” said Harold D. Kalman in A History of Canadian Architecture (Oxford University Press, 1994). Wings were frequently added to the sides, and “a broad veranda extending along one or more sides, and oversized windows, giving the house an intimate relationship to the landscape—often picturesque, and near water.”

Influenced by local styles of the Caribbean and India, Regency Cottage design was first brought to England by soldiers stationed in foreign lands. Named for architecture during George IV’s reign as Prince Regent, the Regency Cottage reflected “the Prince’s exotic tastes,” said the Ontario Heritage Trust, It “blended neoclassical architectural elements with Gothic motifs and/or oriental motifs such as Chinoiserie and the ‘Hindoo’ style.”

Introduced as cottages and homes, the symmetrical five-bay design featured “tall windows extending almost to grade, and often operating as French doors.” Cross ventilation was an appreciated advantage. The recessed entry door was enhanced by a gable on the front façade. A smaller window and bargeboard added elegance, and a chimney or two graced the roof.

Building materials varied depending on the location in the province, and “wood shingles
or slates were originally used to protect roofs, although asphalt shingles have increasingly been used as a replacement material,” wrote Lynne D. Distefano in “The Ontario Cottage: The Globalization of a British Form in the Nineteenth Century,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 12, No. 2, 2001.

Exterior choices were clapboard cladding, stucco, or stone, such as limestone or sandstone, and wood shutters highlighted the many-paned windows. Restrained in early Regency Cottages, exterior decoration became more dramatic by the mid-1800s. Influenced by cheerful American styles, some incorporated elaborate Italianate trim.

In 1864, a comparable architectural style was advertised as a “simple farm house” in Canadian Farm Magazine. Unpainted board and batten covered the exterior, and the interior was subtly decorated, avoiding costly enhancements with inexpensive styling.

Affordable and quick to construct, “the house should cost between $600 and $800,” stated the Ontario Architecture website. “In towns, factory owners built rows of worker’s cottages which were preferred living space for good workers.” A single-storey Regency Cottage encompassed two small rooms at the rear and two larger rooms at the front; a storey-and-a-half model may also have three small rooms upstairs. As well, “a small kitchen cooking area out the back provided shelter for anywhere from 4 to 10 workmen.”

Farmers constructed labourer’s cottages, and if family members were capable workers, “they would take over residence in a cottage on the farm.” The men worked in the fields and the women became workers at landlords’ households.

“If the situation would admit of digging for under-ground cellars, they might be formed beneath one or more parlours, as the family to occupy it might require,” said Rudolph
Ackermann in The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, &c., November 1, 1817.

Water-closets were optional in early 19th century, with no dedicated spaces as bathrooms in early Regency Cottage drawings. Outhouses were constructed, and in urban areas, “most buildings had no indoor plumbing, and it was common to store human waste in pails which were dumped in the streets or emptied into the nearest body of water,” mentioned William James in “A historical perspective on the development of urban water systems,” University of Guelph, 1998.

Emerging from Regency Cottage plans, the initial Ontario Cottage design was a three-bay single storey home, most often with a hipped roof. Interiors resembled Regency styles.

“The kitchen usually takes the form of an added ‘tail’ attached to the mail block at the rear or, less frequently, at the side,” said Distefano. If the kitchen was included in the main house, “it might be found in the basement or on the ground floor,” but wherever it was located, “the core of the cottage remained symmetrical inside and out.”

As decades passed, extant Regency Cottages underwent modernization. Raised to accommodate taller foundations or basements, wings were enlarged and dormers installed.

Roofs were raised to accommodate full second floors; cherished family homes were moved to new locations. While dotted throughout the province, southern Ontario is rich with fine examples of Regency and Ontario Cottages.

A small number of churches were built reflecting the Regency style, utilizing “pointed window openings, crenellations and fine ornamental woodwork in superficial applications of Gothic motifs,” stated Ontario Heritage Trust.

Compact and cozy, Regency Cottages were favourites as comfortable homes, now
representing a lasting legacy of pioneer life in Upper Canada.

© 2024 Susanna McLeod. McLeod is a Kingston-based freelance writer who specializes in Canadian History.

Suggested Image:
“Regency Cottage plans for a small and charming Bailiff’s home, 1817,” Rudolph Ackermann,
“Architectural Hints: A Cottage,” The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashion, Manufactures, &c., The Second Series, Vol. IV, No. XXIII, Sherwood & Co. et al, November 1, 1817: 248-249 Retrieved from


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