The Cape Cod home is a colonial adaptation of a very simple European post-and-beam home. Originally the homes were identical to their Old World cousins, but the practical realities of life on Cape Cod produced changes and formed the Cape Cod style.
First of all it has a simple hall and parlor layout. In the standard Cape Cod house the door is centered on the front of the house and opens into a hallway. Rooms are accessed from this central hall. Since the chimney is also centered the hallway is short and ends on the backside of the fireplace, with a hallway door leading past the chimney and into a long room running the length of the back of the house. This was the typical layout in the colonial era.
Above the first floor was either a loft or a half-story with gabled dormers. In the earlier homes the houses lacked the dormers, but these came along in time, and in its Colonial Revival version a house with dormers was probably the prevalent form of the house.
This hall and parlor layout was not original. It was what they were used to back in England.
The innovation came in the materials. The daub-and-wattle walls (mud on sticks) didn’t withstand the strong Northeaster storm winds. Wood was readily available, so clapboard or shingle siding was added. Straw roofs weren’t a good idea in those same storms, so wood roof shingles became the order of the day.
Massachusetts was also much colder than England, so the ceilings were kept low, to hold in the heat, and chimneys were moved into the center of the house. Along with the cold came lots of snow, so roofs were kept steep. The overhang of the roof was minimized, so those strong winds wouldn’t rip the roof off of the house. Shutters were a standard feature to help the windows survive the storms.
Inside, to keep out the damp, wainscoting lined the walls. This was an old trick, and not unique to the Cape Cod house, but it became associated with the Cape Cod. Along with white wood trim on the interior it is one of the telling points of the Cape Cod style.