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Defining the Design: Cape Cod Architecture

Written by Kelly Weimert on Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 at 3:07am.

Source: housemethod.com

Unsurprisingly, Cape Cod-style homes were founded in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the 17th century. They were originally built by the Puritan colonists with practicality in mind, using regional materials that were well-suited for the climate. The colonists modeled these early houses after the half-timbered homes of their native England, keeping them simple, unadorned, and durable enough to withstand cold New England winters.

While Cape Cod architecture has evolved quite a bit over the decades, the early versions were typically very modest, often just one room deep, with low, one-story structures, flat facades, and clapboard or shingle siding. Today, you’ll find Cape Cod homes of every size, from simple and practical to grand and elegant, but they all retain a distinct set of characteristics that define the style as uniquely its own.

Features of a Cape Cod Home

Cape Cod Home Architecture Features
Source: thoughtco.com

Central Front Door

All Cape Cod homes feature a central front door, typically with at least two windows on either side, giving them a symmetrical appearance.

Large Central Chimney

Most Cape Cod homes come with a large chimney near their center, originally intended to heat the entire home.

Shingle Siding

For a long time, weathered gray shingles were among the most recognized features of the home, but newer versions may be built from stucco, stone, or brick.

Cape Cod-style home architecture

Steep Roof with Shallow Overhang

Cape Cod homes often have steep roofs that are designed to shed rain, sleet, and snow effectively and efficiently.


Modern Cape Cod houses typically have dormers, which are paired windows that protrude from the home’s roof.

Minimal Ornamentation

Most of these homes come with unadorned exteriors, letting the symmetrical structure, striking in its simplicity, speak for itself.

Famous Cape Cod Homes

Wing Fort House

Wing Fort House Cape Cod Architecture
Source: wingfamily.org

Built in 1641, the Wing Fort House is the oldest home in New England and it’s been owned and operated by the same family line since its original construction. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is open to the public for tours during the summer months.

Isaac Small House

Isaac Small House Cape Cod Architecture
Source: loc.gov

The Isaac Small House is among the oldest, largest, and least-altered homes in Cape Cod. Built in 1798 by a family of prominent farmers, it’s now classified as a historic structure.

Levittown Houses

Levittown Houses Cape Cod Architecture
Source: statemuseumpa.org

During the housing boom after World War II, architecture firm William J Levitt and Sons in Long Island, New York, created a mass production of Cape Cod tract homes that were widely accessible—so accessible, in fact, that the company ended up building more than 17,000 nearly identical Cape Cod homes in the eastern United States.

Richard Wills House

Richard Wills House Cape Cod Architecture
Source: nehomemag.com

This home was designed by architect Richard Wills, who’s the son of famed Cape Cod architect Royal Barry Wills. Royal Wills is largely attributed as the person responsible for the popularity of 20th-century Cape Cod-style homes. Richard built this home with much of his father’s distinctive design elements in mind, such as the full-length shutters and quoining along the corners of the house.

Fun Facts About Cape Cod Houses

    • Reverend Timothy Dwight IV, former president of Yale University, coined the term “Cape Cod House” after visiting Cape Cod in 1800.
    • Modern versions of Cape Cod houses are often called Colonial Revival-style homes, as their size and modern amenities set them apart from the modest homes they were derived from.
    • Original Cape Cod homes often featured “Captain’s Stairways,” a steep and narrow staircase to the upper level that was used to board traveling sailors.  

Cape Cod Homes for Sale

If you're in the market for a new home and Cape Cod is your style, head over to our innovative Search With Style® tool where you can search all Cape Cod homes for sale near you

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