A Look at Architectural Styles in the US: Cape Cod

Every house has a style. Sometimes it has two or more due to renovations or new, eclectic design styles. This can make fitting a home into one specific category a daunting task! In this series on architectural styles, we’re going to take a look at the most popular home styles in the U.S., their history, and the key elements of each style. First, here’a look at a style that has endured through the ages, the Cape Cod.

Colonial Era Cape Cod Homes

The Hoyt-Barnum House built in 1699 at 713 Bedford St. Stamford, Connecticut
The Hoyt-Barnum House built in 1699 at 713 Bedford St. Stamford, Connecticut (Photo by By KForce at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The first Cape Cod homes were built in new England in the 17th century. They were modeled after the half-timbered thatched cottages of England, but were adapted with steeper roofs and larger central chimneys to withstand cold Northeastern winters. Unlike later revivals, Colonial-era Capes did not have dormer windows.

Features of Colonial Era Capes

  • One and a half stories
  • Narrow roof overhang
  • Steep roof to slough off heavy snow
  • Plain exteriors with little ornamentation
  • Rectangular shape
  • Center front door, flanked on each side by two windows
  • Shutters on windows
  • Exterior siding of unfinished clapboard or shingles that turn grey with exposure
  • Low ceilings and central chimney for more efficient heating
  • Center hall floor plan
  • Center stairway leading to a small unfinished loft

Colonial Revival Cape Cod Homes

Colonial Revival Cape Code Style~Exterior by Boston Architects & Building Designers Patrick Ahearn Architect

A renewed interest in America’s past inspired a variety of Colonial Revival styles in the late 1800s and became especially popular during the 1930s. After World War II, the architect Royal Barry Wills promoted the Cape Cod style in suburban developments throughout the country. Inexpensive and mass-produced, these 1,000-square-foot houses filled a need for the rush of soldiers returning from the war.

Revival Capes are very similar to their colonial forbears, but some have the chimney at one end of the living room on the side of the house, rather than the center. A modern-day Cape will usually have dormers, and the window shutters are strictly decorative; they can’t be closed during a storm.

Features of Colonial Revival Capes

  • Finished bedrooms upstairs
  • Dormers to expand living space on the second story
  • Decorative shutters that do not close
  • Exterior siding in wood, shingles, brick, stone, aluminum, or vinyl
  • Garage or additional room attached to one side or the rear

Today, the Cape Cod lives on, with both vintage versions and new remodels inspired by the classic look.

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