What Is Cape Cod Style House?

If you have been down New England or Massachusetts, you have probably been at awe with lines of English cottage looking homes. If you have, you should be familiar with how Cape Cod style houses should look like.

Cape Cod style homes are considered as one of the most familiar architectural designs in the United States and in this post, we will highlight everything there is to know about this home style. 

If you have an interest in this type of architectural design or intend on considering one for your new home, this post lists some cape cod style ideas for you too so read on.

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What is a Cape Cod style house and what does it look like?

Basically, a Cape Cod style house is the US version of traditional English cottages. They feature dormer windows, double windowed central door, large chimneys, and steep, gabled roofs for snow to easily slide off. It has a symmetrical appearance, with an angled roof with multi-paned, shuttered, double hung windows. 

Traditionally, Cape Cod homes just play around white, gray, or black color palettes but since its architectural revival, you could find different colors of Cape Cod homes as well as variations including the incorporation of other architectural designs. 

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History of Cape Cod architecture

The cape cod architecture is considered as a quintessential as it has been around the United States since the 17th century by English colonizers. This original cape cod style home started from 1690 up to 1850. The term Cape Cod only existed after 1821 when then President of Yale University, Timothy Dwight IV, visited old Puritan Cape Cod homes. 

He made a book out of these homes, coining the name Cape Cod architecture for these homes along New England, Boston, and New York. However, with the onset of changing architectures and an independent state, it was abandoned a bit until the style was revived from 1920-1950. 

The cape cod architecture revival was pushed primarily by an association called the Depression and Colonial Revival because it was found to be an economical architectural design. Hence, it became the standard of post-war housing in the US. Since then, it has thrived across the country, leaving a regal statement to those who pass by. 

Interesting facts about Cape Cod homes

Cape Cod homes owe their popularity in America to some astonishing backstories associated with this architecture. So, before we go deeper into Cape Cod homes, here are some interesting facts about this home style. 

  • It is considered as the ‘true American architectural design’. 
  • The peak of its popularity happened after the Great Depression and WWII when soldiers and middle-class families were scouring for beautiful and comfortable yet affordable homes. 
  • The spread of Cape Cod homes in America is associated with Boston architect Royal Barry Wills. He was also the one who standardized the amenities that should be found in a Cape Cod home. 
  • You can find at least 17,000 identical Cape Cod homes in Levittown, NY. 
  • The most popular Cape Cod homes would be The Levittown House in Long Island, NY and the Dugan residence.

Why is a Cape Cod style house so popular?

The popularity of Cape Cod style homes often goes unnoticed because they are very simple, and they do not have a lot of ornamentations. However, its ‘style blandness’ is what makes it a timeless design. The materials used for it and its simplicity make it not just an economic choice but also very durable which fits harsh climates. 

Also, it is known for its enduring versatility. A half cape can easily be transformed into a three-quarter cape to hold more family members. This has been a practice in the past and it continues to be a trend nowadays. Because of all of this, the Cape Cod style has easily become the standard of middle-class American families ever since the 1950s revival. 

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Key elements of Cape Cod house

Being one of the most recognizable US architectural styles, there are key elements of the cape cod house that makes it a standout design, among others. The key elements of a cape cod house would be the following: 

Exterior

  • Centered front entry and a symmetrical appearance 
  • Pitched, steep roof with side gables and an overhang
  • Shuttered, double hung windows
  • Gabled dormers
  • Central door with double windows on each side
  • Central chimney
  • Unadorned exterior; no ornamentation

Interior

  • One or one and a half story
  • Symmetrical interior featuring a central hall and parlor
  • Open floor plan for the living space
  • Low ceiling
  • Minimal aesthetic details
  • Two bedrooms and one master’s bedroom (bedrooms are under gables or dormers)

As architectural forms change, there have been different modifications to the traditional elements of a cape cod house. For one, the chimney has been reduced in size due to the onset of centralized heating technology and is now positioned at the side for the architecture to be suited for warmer climate states of the US. 

As a visual hallmark of a colonial past, you should also know the common materials used in constructing a cape cod house. 

  • For the flooring, beams, and posts: oak or pine wood
  • Fireplace: brick
  • Roof and side shingles: cedar or clapboard
  • Color combination: black shutters and white exteriors 

Variations of Cape Cod homes

You should also note that there are other architectural variations to a cape cod home than one would notice. The three major variations of a cape cod home would be the half cape, the three-quarter cape, and the full cape.  

  • Half cape: These are cottages with a central front door and two symmetrical, multi-paned windows on each side. They are used by single household families and are also called single capes. 
  • Three-quarter cape: This one has a floor plan that is way larger than half cape homes. Its main distinguishing characteristic would be its two multi-paned windows on each side. The three-quarter cape became the standard Cape Cod revival design. 
  • Full cape: Also known as the double cape, this design became a prominent status symbol for wealthy American families during the 20s, onwards. This one does not only have two multi-paned windows on each side but also features a large central chimney and a steep, gabled roof. 

What is the difference between Cape Cod and Colonial homes? 

Because of their European look, Cape Cod and colonial style homes are often confused with one another especially for untrained eyes. In terms of features, both have a symmetrical, clean, and geometric look.

They also both feature front porches and columns. Perhaps, the main difference between them would be that colonial homes are essentially larger. 

More so, colonial homes do not have dormers like Cape Cod homes. When it comes to exterior design, Cape Cod homes have a more coastal, Scandinavian flair compared to the warm, Greek tones of colonial homes. 

Do Cape Cod style homes have basements?

Yes. Traditionally, cape cod basements are just small brick enclosures where water, food stuff, and small items can be stored. But modern cape cod revivals do have larger basements which are comparable to the basements that we know now. These large cape cod basements are usually found in warm climate regions. 

Where are Cape Cod houses most common?

With their simple design, Cape Cod homes are usually found in colder, snowier regions of the US. It is a common architectural sight around Boston and New England. You could also find them along the midwestern region and other parts of the US but in a non-traditional Cape Cod form. 

By non-traditional, we mean that the Cape Cod style is mixed and matched with key elements of Craftsman, Tudor, and Ranch style homes. 

Problems with Cape Cod houses

As simple, elegant, and sustainable as they may seem, there are still some architectural drawbacks to Cape Cod houses. 

  • Difficulty in cooling: There is a reason as to why Cape Cod homes are built for the cold because during summer, insulation is really a problem. Because of the low ceiling, the heat cannot pass through the attic space immediately. As such, ACs need to be installed in these regions. 
  • Heat distribution: Experiencing uneven heat distribution is also a major problem for Cape Cod homes. Traditional designs install heating systems and water pipes in the wall cavity, outside the attic’s insulation space. Because of this, heat loss is disparate around the home, making heat distribution very uneven. 
  • Leaky knee walls: Because of the first two impurities of a Cape Cod home, a leaky knee wall could also be a problem in the long run especially when long frosts thicken up in the attic wall. The reason for this is that the wall around the attic usually does not come with insulation. When air seeps in, the moisture is trapped, hence, leaky knee walls during winter. 

22 Cape Cod house ideas 

Sure, everything that we have covered here could be bleak without a visual reference so in this section, we narrow down some Cape Cod house ideas which you could draw inspiration from.

If you are out here to check for some modern modifications, there are also design schemes here which you could check out. 

Traditional Puritan columns

Note that traditional Cape Cod houses were built for early Puritan settlers in the US. Here, the traditional columned, wrap-around porch is maintained but instead of two dormer rooms, this one has three. The use of natural stones is also a modern touch to this design. 

Speaking of traditional, this is another Cape Cod style home featuring a wrap-around porch, multi-paned windows, dormers, side shingles and of course, a central chimney. 

Cape Cod home at the cape

If you intend to incorporate a Cape Cod style to your beach house, you can do so with some significant modifications. 

In this idea here, the bungalow style is still maintained but it is a few feet elevated for moisture to be balanced. The roof is also a bit curved for better insulation. 

This other one here completely veers away from the use of oak and pine wood for the exterior. Instead, full brick is used to give it a sturdier build to protect it from high acidity and salt from the sea breeze.

Aesthetically, it might no longer look like traditional English cottages but still has in it a lot of warm tones and lots of historical charm. The windows are now full fiberglass and less paned. 

Large Cape Cod homes

In the olden times, Cape Cod homes are just modest, single homes with a perfect symmetry. Now, modern Cape Cod homes could be a duplex, or a three-section home like this one here. 

The wrap-around porch is foregone but all else follows the traditional form of Cade Cod designs. 

This one on the other hand, is another full cape style but with a distressed, natural stone, rustic charm. It has the symmetrical layout of a traditional three-quarter Cape Cod design with the two windows on each side. 

It is a 1.5-storey home with a modified half with a rooftop porch instead of the usual wrap-around style and a side chimney instead of a central one. 

Small and simple appeal

The humble charm of Cape Cod homes made it one of the finest architectural designs in making modest homes. If you are eying for a small Cape Cod home, this stone Cape Cod home should make a fine choice. 

It maintained the central door but dropped the double windows. It still has the multi-paned windows and the dormers but the attic is now on the side gable and the wrap-around porch is gone. 

Modern Cape Cod designs

Of course, Cape Cod homes are now modified in a more modern way to satisfy a wide range of lifestyles. Design-wise, the simple layout and key elements of a Cape Cod home is still maintained. 

This mid-century style beach house here retained the symmetry of the traditional design but with modern paned windows, a glass window, a deck, and elevated porch. 

Another modern modification that one can incorporate in Cape Cod houses would be pop-out windows, higher ceilings to accommodate a two-storey home, more dormer windows, and a small porch instead of a wrap-around. This one here features a lot of inclusions making it a Cape Cod Craftsman design combo. 

Here is another Cape Cod style featuring pop out dormer windows and a farmhouse appeal. 

Modern Cape Cod homes now are also featuring more decorative entrances instead of the modest, unornamented ones in the traditional layout. 

Some also entirely dropped the porch columns and made it look more of a Tudor style with Cape Cod aesthetics like this home design here. 

For a barn style home with Cape Cod aesthetics, here is another modern design for you to consider. It features multiple dormers, and it is multi-angled, and sectional compared to the symmetrical and open floor plan of traditional Cape Cod homes. The columned porch also looks more of a deck or a lanai. 

Double chimneys

One of the key elements of Cape Cod homes would be the large central or side chimney. In here, not only is the roofing curved gabled but it also features two chimneys positioned in a symmetrical layout. 

This one here on the other hand features not just a double chimney but ones that are made of natural stones. The symmetry is maintained but the entrance became more decorative, dropping the wraparound porch. The chimney stones give it a timeless, old school ranch look on a Cape Cod layout.  

Southern flair

Sometimes, the tone used in a Cape Cod home could exude a different vibe. This one here features dark brown, white, and a flair of gold instead of the traditional black and white colors. 

One could say that the tone is more reminiscent of Southern, coastal homes like suburban California or Florida. 

Farmhouse undertones

The versatility of Cape Cod homes is somewhat undermined. But contrary to what most people believe, it can be incorporated into other home designs or be the layout of another architectural scheme. 

For this one, the gabled roof and traditional Cape Cod columns are around but the steep top and weathervane instead of a chimney gives it away. 

Pastel colors

Sometimes it is not the form or layout that produces the modification in a Cape Cod home style. The colors used in building one could have a massive effect on its appearance. 

For one, this pastel-colored Cape Cod home looks more of a refurbished urban English home with its bright yellow main door and complimenting navy blue and gray tones. 

And since we have already touched color palettes in modifying a Cape Cod home, the conventional brick and white grout exterior and bright white walls and columns of this one here gives it a more woodsy, colonial charm. 

Prominent columns

While most no longer see the relevance of columned, wraparound porches as aesthetically prominent for Cape Cod homes, installing one along with thick, bright colored columns create a timeless revival look for this home style. 

The bright yellow tones, shutters and pop out dormers are enough modern additions to an old school Cape Cod vibe.

Post-revival

Some post-revival Cape Cod home designs sometimes do not look anything like the traditional look. 

However, since key elements are retained like porch columns, steep roofing, dormers, and multi-paned windows are present, they can be considered as post-revival Cape Cod homes. This one here is a prime example of such Cape Cod design.

New England Cape Cod home

This one here already veered away from the traditional Cape Cod plan since it no longer features columned porches. 

Nonetheless, the presence of roof drips by the door entrance is a flashback look to classic New England Cape Cod homes of the early 19th century. 

Tudor portico

The easiest design to mix with Cape Cod would be the Tudor style. In here, the pointy, temple-like porch of this home evokes the vibe of a Tudor cottage in a Cape Cod layout. It can be considered as a half cape style featuring more modern windows. 

How do you design a Cape Cod home interior? 

The magical thing about modern Cape Cod homes is that, while the exterior has a minimal and traditional look, you can splurge on interior design to make it cozier and homier. Here are some interior design tips for a Cape Cod home. 

  • Color schemes: We have mentioned here that Cape Cod homes are reminiscent of a coastal refuge. To keep the interior balanced, warm, and airy, use natural tones like beige or tan. You can also consider washed colors of blue or yellow, green and orange tones. 
  • Fabric and patterns: When it comes to throw pillows and furniture cover, the use of woven, embroidered fabric would be a spot of choice. Floral, geometric, and nautical patterns for the fabric are also encouraged for a Cape Cod interior. 
  • Furniture: To set a balanced tone, you should also use wood, wicker, or rattan furniture. This goes well with the fabric and patterns that we mentioned previously. This type of furniture also brings in a light and airy feel, fit for a rustic, coastal feel. 
  • Lighting: To keep the vibe in place, you can use warm glowing lamp posts by the porch, lantern lighting inside, some sconce lighting and decorative candelabras by the living room and the bedroom. 

These are just some of the interior design tips following the traditional Cape Cod home design. You can still add in modern and alternative styles as long as it matches the layout of your Cape Cod home. 

Conclusion

Cape Cod homes might be the simplest designed architectural style out there, but it sure has a timeless kick. It is neat looking, thanks to its color combo and symmetrical look. The fact that they have been around since the 17th century is enough proof of how enduring their layout, design, and appeal would be. 

Other than their timeless charm, they have been the standard of middle house housing in America and for that alone, it should already affirm how sustainable its build and charm are. With all things considered, we could say that a Cape Cod home is worth a shot.

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