Cape Cod (house)

A Cape Cod house is a low, broad, single-story frame building with a moderately steep pitched gabled roof, a large central chimney, and very little ornamentation. Originating in New England in the 17th century, the simple symmetrical design was constructed of local materials to withstand the stormy, stark weather of Cape Cod. It features a central front door flanked by multi-paned windows. The space above the 1st floor was often left unfinished, with or without windows on the gable ends.

The style enjoyed a boom in popularity and adaptation to modern needs in the 1930s-1950s, particularly with Colonial Revival embellishments. It remains a feature of New England homebuilding.

Hartford Residence, Bridgton, ME
Cape Cod–style house c. 1920


Ephraim Hawley house circa 1880
Ephraim Hawley House built c. 1683

The Cape Cod cottage style house originated in the wood building counties of England and was brought to America by Puritan carpenters. The harsh climate of New England tested the pioneers ingenuity, and by lowering the house and pulling its plan into more of a square footprint, they transported the English Hall and parlor house we call the Cape Cod cottage.[1] The style has survived and emerged as a 1- to ​1 12-story house with wooden shutters and clapboard or shingle exterior. Using local materials – cedar for roofing and siding shingles, oak and pine for framing and flooring[2] – settlers built houses locally adapted to New England's extreme winter climate. Temperatures in January and February can drop to -20F, with snow accumulations often reaching several feet.[3] To fight the chill, they built massive central chimneys and low ceilinged rooms to conserve heat. The steep roof characteristic of New England homes minimized snow load. Finally, colonists installed shutters on the windows to hold back heavy winds.

The Reverend Timothy Dwight IV (1752–1817), president of Yale University from 1795–1817, coined the term "Cape Cod House" after a visit to the Cape in 1800. His observations were published posthumously in Travels in New England and New York (1821–22).[4] The style was popularized more broadly in a slightly more elaborate Colonial Revival variant popularized in the 1930s–50s, though traditional unornamented capes remain common in New England.

Hoyt-Barnum House built c. 1699

Colonial and Federal Capes (17th century–early 19th century)

Oldest House in Brockton Heights, MA
A traditional Cape Cod style farmhouse in Brockton Heights, Massachusetts
Harlow Old Fort House in Plymouth MA
Harlow Old Fort House, an example of the rarer Gambrel-roofed Cape

Colonial-era Capes were most prevalent in the Northeastern United States and Atlantic Canada. They were made of wood, and covered in wide clapboard or shingles, often unpainted, which weathered grey over time. Most houses were small, usually 1,000–2,000 square feet in size. Often windows of different sizes were worked into the gable ends, with those of nine and six panes the most common.

The style has a symmetrical appearance with front door in the center of the house, and a large central chimney that could often accommodate back-to-back fireplaces. The main bedroom was on the first floor, with an often unfinished loft on the second. A typical early house had no dormers and little or no exterior ornamentation.

Framing and layout

Standard Floor Plans for a Cape Cod Cottage- ca. 1940
1940 Federal government plans for a three-quarter house designed by Eleanor Raymond

The overwhelming majority of early capes were timber framed, with three bays formed by four bents. A few late examples of early capes used stud framing, and plank frame was also used.

The first Cape Cod houses fall into four categories: the quarter, half, three-quarter, and full Cape. The comparatively rare quarter cape is a single bay, usually a wider "outside" bay that would become rooms. It has a single door and a single window on the front, but is full depth. The half Cape is two bays, with a door to one side of the house and two windows on one side of the door; the three-quarter Cape has a door with two windows on one side and a single window on the other, while the full Cape consists of a front door in the center of the home, flanked on each side by two windows.[5] Otherwise, the three categories of early Cape Cod houses were nearly identical in layout. Inside the front door, a central staircase led to the small upper level, which consisted of two children's bedrooms.[5] The lower floor consisted of a hall for daily living (including cooking, dining, and gathering) and the parlor, or master bedroom.[6]

Some use a different naming system, and call the full-size version a "double cape", but this is used more often for an extended duplex structure.

"High post", also known as "kneewall", capes were originally an uncommon variant, but became more so into the 19th century, and became a feature of cape-derived vernacular architecture in the Midwest. The posts extend vertically past the first floor, increasing usable space on the second floor and simplifying joinery, at a cost of structural rigidity. The kneewall was often fenestrated with small low windows.[7]


Over the years owners doubled the full Cape and added wings onto the rear[6] or sides, typically single-storied. Dormers were added for increased space, light, and ventilation. A screened-in porch was sometimes added to one side of the home, rarely the front.

Colonial Revival (1930s–1950s)

Colonial Revival Cape Cod houses are very similar to Colonial Cape Cod houses, but some have the chimney at one end of the living room on the side of the house. Elaborate replicas were designed for the affluent, while architects such as Royal Barry Wills modernized the Cape for middle-class families[8] by including modern amenities that addressed demands for increased privacy and technology, including bathrooms, kitchens, and garages.[9] Adaptations proliferated throughout suburbs which emerged after World War II, and planned communities like Levittown, New York offered Cape Cod styled tract housing, particularly to returning soldiers.[10]


1 12-story Capes remain a popular, affordable style on the housing market.[11]

See also


  1. ^ William Morgan, The Cape Cod Cottage, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006
  2. ^ Ballinger, Barbara. "Cozy Cape Cods." Realtor Mag 01 May 2007.
  3. ^ "Winter in New England." New England Travel Planner.
  4. ^ Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, William Baynes and Son, London, 1823
  5. ^ a b Ross, Chuck. "Cape Cod-Style Houses: The Colonists' "Starter Homes"." HGTV Pro.
  6. ^ a b Pilgrim Hall. Pilgrim Hall Museum, 18 May 2005.
  7. ^ "New Hampshire Architectural Survey Manual" (PDF). Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  8. ^ Wilson, Richard. The Colonial Revival House. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 2004.
  9. ^ HPRO_20174_5384502,00.html - "Royal Barry Wills & the History of the Firm." Royal Barry Wills Associates, inc
  10. ^ Pilgrim Hall Museum, The Cape Cod House Archived May 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ - "Cape Cod Home Architecture and Design Features." Rafter Tales.

External links

American colonial architecture

American colonial architecture includes several building design styles associated with the colonial period of the United States, including First Period English (late-medieval), French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, and Georgian. These styles are associated with the houses, churches and government buildings of the period from about 1600 through the 19th century.

Several relatively distinct regional styles of colonial architecture are recognized in the United States. Building styles in the 13 colonies were influenced by techniques and styles from England, as well as traditions brought by settlers from other parts of Europe. In New England, 17th-century colonial houses were built primarily from wood, following styles found in the southeastern counties of England. Saltbox style homes and Cape Cod style homes were some of the simplest of homes constructed in the New England colonies. The Saltbox homes known for their steep roof among the back the house made for easy construction among colonists. The Cape Cod style homes were a common home in the early 17th of New England colonists, these homes featured a simple, rectangular shape commonly used by colonists. Dutch Colonial structures, built primarily in the Hudson River Valley, Long Island, and northern New Jersey, reflected construction styles from Holland and Flanders and used stone and brick more extensively than buildings in New England. In Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, a style called "Southern Colonial" is recognized, characterized by the hall and parlor and central-passage house types, which often had large chimneys projecting from the gable-ends of the house. In the Delaware Valley, Swedish colonial settlers introduced the log cabin to America. A style sometimes called Pennsylvania colonial appeared later (after 1681) and incorporates Georgian architectural influences. A Pennsylvania Dutch style is recognized in parts of southeastern Pennsylvania that were settled by German immigrants in the 18th century.Early buildings in some other areas of the United States reflect the architectural traditions of the colonial powers that controlled these regions. The architectural style of Louisiana is identified as French colonial, while the Spanish colonial style evokes Renaissance and Baroque styles of Spain and Mexico; in the United States it is found in Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California.

Bill Koch (businessman)

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Cape Cod (disambiguation)

Cape Cod is a peninsula in southeastern Massachusetts.

Cape Cod may also refer to:

Cape Cod (house), an architectural style

Cape Cod style, an 1800s lighthouse design once typical of Cape Cod that today only exists on the U.S. West Coast

Cape Cod National Seashore, a federally protected seashore in Massachusetts

"Old Cape Cod", a 1957 song popularized by Patti Page

Cape Codder (cocktail), an alcoholic beverage

Cape Cod Potato Chips, a potato chip brand

Cape Cod style

Cape Cod style was a style of lighthouse architecture that originated on Cape Cod in Massachusetts during the early 1800s, and which became predominant to the West Coast, where numerous well-preserved examples still exist. In such lighthouses, the light tower was attached directly to the keeper's dwelling, and centered on the roof; entry was achieved through a stairway in the top floor of the dwelling.

No lighthouses built in the Cape Cod style exist today on the East Coast. The original Alcatraz Island Light, the first lighthouse to be built on the West Coast, was built using this style.

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Hall and parlor house

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Thacher remodeled the interior in order to provide an appropriate early American backdrop for the display of her collection. Woodwork was stripped, smaller-paned windows installed, and a fireplace rebuilt to contain a beehive oven. The result is a colonial Cape Cod house with a 20th-century flavor. Thacher's collection of furniture, accented by colorful hooked rugs, ceramics, and pewter, presents a thorough survey of early American styles, from Jacobean, William and Mary, and Queen Anne to Chippendale. Today the house is owned and operated as a historic museum by Historic New England.

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