A Cape Cod house features a style of architecture originating from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Practical and with little ornamentation, these simple structures share the following qualities:
- A steep roof to keep snow from piling up
- A large, central chimney and low ceilings to keep the house warm
- Shingle siding and shutters to protect the home from harsh weather
Puritan settlers first built these homes in the 17th century, adapting the half-timber, hall-and-parlor homes of England to the bitter winters of New England.
Cape Cod architecture has survived for centuries, spreading throughout the U.S. to become a timeless American style. Though the style has evolved, many elements of modernized Cape Cod homes echo the original structures of the settlers.
These Cape Cod homes have remained well liked for their simplicity, charm, and ode to American roots.
- Cape Cod style is an American architecture style known for being timeless, simple, and charming.
- A Cape Cod house usually includes a steep roof, a central chimney, shuttered windows, and a symmetrical façade.
- These homes spread across the U.S. during the Colonial Revival period in the early 1900s. If you like the style, you might be able to find a Cape Cod home near you!
What are Cape Cod house characteristics?
The windows on a Cape Cod home are often multipaned and shuttered. The shutters originally served as a way to protect the home against foul weather. Today shutters are more of a design element.
A Cape Cod roof is high pitched (steep) to keep snow from accumulating on top of the house. The roof is also side gabled, meaning it forms a triangle shape on the sides of the building.
A common feature of revival homes, add more space in the attic, making the upper level usable as a living space.
The chimney is a prominent feature of traditional Cape Cod style. Large and in the center of the house, the chimney kept settlers warm during harsh winters.
In modern homes, the chimney is smaller and on the side of the house, especially in warmer climates where it serves as an element of design rather than function.
Shingleshelped protect Cape Cod homes from the inclement weather in New England. The original color faded over time from exposure to salty air, leaving the shingles silvery gray — a shade now considered iconic for the exterior of Cape Cod houses.
Many revival homes have a white exterior with black shutters. This classic color combination remains popular, but other colors suit the style as well. Today, a green Cape Cod house or a red Cape Cod house isn’t uncommon.
Cape Cod homes can be listed as 1 story or 1.5 stories. The half story references the attic, which was traditionally used for storage but is now often used for extra bedrooms.
Modern Capes are more likely to have a full basement than traditional Capes. Older homes have a “Cape Cod basement,” or small stone or brick enclosure big enough to fit an electrical panel, boiler, and water heater.
Historical Capes feature a steep and narrow staircase called a captain’s staircase. These steps lead to the second level right when you walk in the door.
Traditional Cape Cod homes have a symmetrical interior centered around a living space.
Many settlers added to their homes as their families grew. Today, additions to Cape Cod style homes can include a garage or front porch. You can also add an extension to the back of the home for a larger kitchen and a new primary bedroom, making the original primary bedroom a guest room.
Are there different kinds of Cape Cod houses?
Cape Cod homes have three commonly identified variations. You can recognize the different types most easily by looking at the door and window placement on the façade.
|Full (or "Double Cape")||🪟🪟🚪🪟🪟||Most common modern variation |
Least common variation among settlers (only the wealthy could afford them)
Most iconic, recognizable layout to Americans today
|Three-quarter||🪟🚪🪟🪟||Most popular variation in the 18th and early 19th centuries|
|Half (or “Single Cape”)||🚪🪟🪟||Served as a starter home among settlers|
Why is it called a Cape Cod house?
The term “Cape Cod house” was coined by Reverend Timothy Dwight IV, the eighth President of Yale University, during his extensive travels in New England around 1800.
When he visited Cape Cod, where this style of home originated, he recorded:
“The houses . . . may be called with propriety Cape Cod houses . . . . Generally they exhibit a tidy, neat aspect in themselves, and in their appendages, and furnish proofs of comfortable living.”
This observation and many more about the area were published after his death as an encyclopedic work, Travels in New England and New York (1821–1822).
Cape Cod homes became popular across the U.S. in the early 1900s as part of a larger Colonial Revival period in American architecture.
Royal Barry Wills, an architect from Boston, reintroduced Cape Cod house style as a simple, contemporary housing option. These houses often became starter homes for soldiers returning from World War II. The modern versions of the homes were adapted from the original design to modern living.
|Large chimneys||Smaller chimneys because of advanced heating technology|
|Small bedrooms (original layout had only one bedroom)||Larger bedrooms|
|Attic used for storage||Attic used for extra bedrooms|
|No dormer windows||Dormer windows|
|Little ornamentation||More exterior ornamentation|
|Compact layout||Often double the space of the original layout|
What are the pros and cons of Cape Cod architecture?
Cape Cod style has endured for a reason — it’s well liked for its simplicity and charm. But without a major remodel, a historical Cape can have the downsides of an older home.
- Usually part of established neighborhoods with parks and sidewalks
- Energy efficient (easy to heat)
- Timeless style
- Small rooms
- Low ceilings
- Outdated kitchen (if not remodeled)
- Hard to cool
What are similar styles to Cape Cod architecture?
It’s easy to confuse Cape Cod-style architecture with other styles of homes, likeand . While these styles share some characteristics, you can tell them apart by looking for key differences.
Cape Cod vs. bungalow
- Both styles are traditionally one story.
- Both can feature dormers.
- Bungalows often have a covered porch in the front or corner of the house.
- A bungalow chimney is less prominent, or sometimes there’s no chimney.
- Bungalows don’t have a captain’s stairway.
- A bungalow roof isn’t as steep as a Cape Cod roof.
Cape Cod vs. Colonial
- Both styles have a central door flanked by windows.
- Both are symmetrical.
- Both have a captain’s staircase.
- Colonial homes have paired chimneys.
- A Colonial roof isn’t as steep as a Cape Cod roof.
- Traditional Colonial houses have five windows on the top floor, with one directly above the door.
» LEARN: Want to learn more about other house styles? See what makes a house a ranch style house.
If I like Cape Cod style, how can I find a Cape Cod home for me?
While this style is most prevalent in Massachusetts and the greater New England area, Cape Cod homes are located throughout the U.S. You might be able to find a Cape Cod house close to where you’re already living!
FAQs about Cape Cod houses
What makes a house a Cape Cod house?
Cape Cod houses usually include these defining elements: a steep roof, a large chimney, a symmetrical façade, shuttered windows, and dormers.
Where are Cape Cod houses most common?
Cape Cod homes are most common in Massachusetts and the greater New England area, but you can find them across the U.S.
How many stories is a Cape Cod house?
Cape Cod houses are usually listed as 1 story or 1.5 stories. The half story references the attic, which can be converted to extra bedrooms by adding dormer windows.
Is there such a thing as a Cape Cod style mansion?
Yes! These sprawling homes can have multiple chimneys, additional wings, balconies, and more. You can find them in places like Martha’s Vineyard and even Nova Scotia.
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