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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.