Cape Cod-style homes cropped up on the eastern seaboard between 1710 and 1850. Abundant timber resources in the New World encouraged the expansion of these traditional, one-room cottages and marked them forever as the quintessential New England style. Cape Cod homes are simple and symmetrical, usually one-and-a-half stories, without a porch. A dominant roofline extends down to the first floor ceiling level, and often incorporates dormer windows indicating living space under the roof.

  • Steep gable roof with small overhang
  • Symmetrical design with clapboard siding
  • Multi-pane, double-hung windows with shutters

Though the style is quintessentially American, the first Cape Cods were developed by early settlers from England in the 1600s. Partially inspired by the simple, thatched cottages common in Britain, the settlers adapted the style to keep out the harsh New England winter.

The big, central chimney was literally the heart of the home: It provided heat to all the rooms clustered around it, as well as light and, of course, dinner. Cedar shingles on the exterior and the roof also helped cut the cold. A steep roof quickly shed rain and snow. Everything about the Cape Cod style was adopted for its function rather than its form.

The style largely died out until Boston architect Royal Barry Willis reintroduced the Cape in the 1920s as a contemporary housing option. He retained the basic exterior shape of a Cape, but adapted the interior for modern life.

Most of the Cape Cod homes you see today were built after World War II, when thousands of returning soldiers and their young families needed inexpensive housing. The Cape Cod style fit the bill, and it was used to build some of the first major housing developments.

Key Elements
Large, central chimney. The large, central chimney is located directly behind the front door, with the rooms clustered around it in a rectangular shape.
Steep roof. Cape Cods have steep roofs to quickly shed rain and snow, and a shallow roof overhang.
Windows and dormers. A full Cape has two windows on each side of the door, and often has a dormer on each side of the chimney to open up the attic.
Captain’s stairway. “The second floor, often kept for boarders or ‘seafaring’ men, was accessed by a narrow stair, or ‘captain’s stairway,’ which has incredibly steep risers and shallow treads to minimize the use of the first-floor space,” explains David Karam, an architect and builder from Brewster, Mass.
Shingle siding. Weathered gray shingles are one of the most recognizable elements of a classic Cape Cod, but newer homes are built of brick, stucco and stone.
Famous Examples
The Dugan residence. A historic, authentic home of the true Cape Cod period in Cape Cod, Mass.
Levittown. Built by William J. Levitt and Sons in Long Island, N.Y., Levittown was the first major housing development. The company built more than 17,000 virtually identical Cape Cod homes, and the development served as the model for later developments.

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