Cape Cod house style – the ultimate guide to what it is and how to get the look (2022)

When it comes to architecture, Cape Cod house style is as all-American as a fresh slice of apple pie.

Dating back to New England during the 17th century, this classic style proves that keeping it simple is anything but boring. In fact, it’s not too hard to see how Cape Cod homes have deftly surpassed the test of time.

Want to get acquainted with the beloved architecture style? Keep reading for an in-depth look at Cape Cod homes.

  • See more: House Styles - the complete guide to architectural styles and eras

What is Cape Cod house style?

Cape Cod house style – the ultimate guide to what it is and how to get the look (1)

(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

Before you dive into all of the nuances and rich history surrounding Cape Cod house style, it’s important to understand how it is defined.

Generally, Cape Cod homes have a steep roof, shingled exterior, symmetrical façade, and large chimney in the middle. While Cape Cod houses can have multiple floors, most residences are single-storied. Additionally, Cape Cod house style is notoriously free of any superfluous ornamentation, making them versatile enough for a variety of homeowners.

Nowadays, Cape Cod house style falls into one of three categories: a full Cape, three-quarter Cape, and half Cape. While full Cape houses boast a picture-perfect symmetry that is commonly associated with the style, three-quarter and half Capes are smaller, not to mention their entryways and chimneys are slightly offset. (You can also think of it as three quarters or half of a traditional Cape Cod house.)

According to Barry Goralnick (opens in new tab), a New York-based designer who grew up surrounded by Cape Cod houses in Massachusetts, these smaller iterations have their perks.

'They’re perfect for today’s younger buyers who don’t want the ostentation of a McMansion,' he says. 'They want to live honestly in multifunctional spaces. Not only are these homes space efficient, they are energy efficient – something we are all more conscious of these days. The rise of the "tiny house" culture is a perfect parallel.'

When did Cape Cod house style originate?

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(Video) Curb Appeal Tips: Cape Cod House Makeover

(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

While Cape Cod house style is typically synonymous with American architecture, it actually dates back to the Puritan colonists back in the 17th century. When early settlers came to the United States, they decided to model their new abodes after their half-timbered homes from England — with a few upgrades to suit their new surroundings. Thus, Cape Cod house style was born.

'Their origins are practical, simply adorned and designed to stand up to the difficult weather of the climate,' says Goralnick. 'Pitched roofs shed snow. The shingles, which weathered to an earthy gray color, also shed rain and are sturdy and practical.'

But just because Cape Cod house style has been around for nearly 400 years doesn’t mean it's lost its luster. While it fell out of trend in the 1850s, the style had a major resurgence between 1925 and 1955. According to the United States’ Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (opens in new tab), this style was the last type of colonial-era homes to be revived to modern times.

Why is Cape Cod house style so popular?

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(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

Since Cape Cod house style is typically free of any ornamentation, it’s easy to write it off as bland. But, as architect Kevin Lichten (opens in new tab) argues, its simplicity has made this a lasting home trend.

'The Cape Cod house endures because it is simple, inexpensive to build, directly responsive to its harsh New England environment,' he explains. 'It’s also flexible in how it can be configured and beautiful for all of those reasons.

'Thanks to its enduring versatility, Cape Cod houses are suitable for an array of regions, types of families, and, of course, materials.

'At its best, when it is properly proportioned and the right materials are handled correctly, it can be gracious, elegant, and even luxurious,' Lichten adds. 'It has dignity. Even at its worst, with bad proportions and vinyl siding, it provides an unpretentious and honest home to the average American family.'

Where can Cape Cod house style be found?

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(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

As its name suggests, Cape Cod house style is most common in Massachusetts and the greater New England region. While these types of residences are still be found in the Midwest and along the west coast, they might look different from their traditional, New England counterparts. According to ThoughtCo (opens in new tab), modern-day Cape Cod spaces are often mixed with other architectural styles like Tudor, Ranch, Arts and Crafts, or Craftsman.

Though Cape Cod homes are known and loved for their simplicity, they were ultimately designed for colder, snowier climates — right down to their steep roofs. But, when you mix it with another architecture style, you can create a home that feels authentic to your neck of the woods.

What to look for in a Cape Cod home

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(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

When looking for a Cape Cod house, the façade is usually the first that will come to mind. Though most residences often feature unpainted side shingles and a clapboard or cedar shake roof, its symmetry will likely catch your eye.

'Perfection of proportion is the key to a beautiful full Cape Cod,' Lichten explains. 'The roof’s slope can’t be too shallow and shingle exposure should be four to five inches, not the 10 inches of modern clapboard. The eaves must be low, so the building hugs the ground in defiance of northeasters. And, above all else, the chimney must be robust to anchor the entire building to the earth!'

Most Cape Cod exteriors have a similar look and feel, making them easy to spot in your neighborhood. And, as it turns out, their interiors are just as streamlined as their facades.

'A true Cape Cod home has four rooms downstairs and four rooms upstairs with a fat chimney anchoring it in the middle,' Lichten says. 'Its flexibility can allow a family to grow with simple additions. A full Cape has an entrance door in the middle with a staircase immediately inside.'

Of course, different iterations of the Cape Cod home will feature varying layouts.

'For a half Cape, the front room is the living room and the back room is the kitchen,' Lichten explains. 'A three-quarter Cape has two windows to one side of the front door and one on the other. Upstairs, the attic-like bedrooms can grow with dormers. Ultimately flexibility: half-Cape, three-quarter Cape, full Cape!'

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How to decorate with Cape Cod house style

As the old adage goes, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder – and your home décor is no exception. However, if you’re looking for ways to decorate your Cape Cod home, here are some stunning ideas to try.

See: Cape Cod living room ideas – elegant, timeless ways to decorate

1. Opt for traditional accents

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(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

Since Cape Cod house style is known for its rich history, why not lean into the style’s storied past?

If you fancy a walk down memory lane, consider pieces and elements that harken back to colonial America. From lantern pendants, to handsome wooden accents, to a stately grandfather clock, antiques and traditional décor will fit nicely with this beloved architecture.

2. Get creative with ship style

Cape Cod house style – the ultimate guide to what it is and how to get the look (7)

(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

Cape Cod residences can be found throughout New England – and various parts of the United States – but the style feels most at home along the sandy beaches of Massachusetts.

We love how this space uses boat motifs to bring this space back to its coastal roots.

3. Keep it neutral

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(Video) Cape Cod Hardwood Flooring - Make Your Home Look Bigger With Hardwood Floors

(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

A fresh coat of paint has the power to make or break a space, but don’t worry; when it comes to Cape Cod houses, it’s perfectly fine to keep your color palette simple.

Not only do neutral colors pair nicely with Cape Cod’s simple structure, but they can also act as a blank canvas, ready to evolve as your style does. On the other hand, anyone who wants to embrace the style’s coastal roots will find a lot to love about a palette of light blues and soothing, seafoam greens.

4. Unexpected exteriors

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(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

If you want to breathe a new life into your Cape Cod property’s exterior, reconsider its color scheme.

White paint and black shutters was a popular pairing during the Cape Cod revival. However, you can always reinvigorate your façade with a different combination. The space here features natural siding and rich, forest green shutters.

5. Beautify your backyard

Cape Cod house style – the ultimate guide to what it is and how to get the look (10)

(Image credit: Kevin Lichten)

Don’t let their simple reputation fool you: Cape Cod houses offer plenty of opportunities to give your space some personality.

(Video) 3 tricks for the best looking dormers. Scale and proportion are key!

'Once the full Cape is achieved with four windows in the front, it can grow in the back with an extension or a connection to the barn or today to the garage,' Lichten says.

From matching Adirondack chair to a pristine picket fence, you can easily bring that Cape Cod charm to your backyard.

FAQs

What are the characteristics of a Cape Cod style house? ›

Cape Cod style homes are traditionally single story homes with a low and broad rectangular profile, a central chimney, and a pitched, side-gabled roof. In later years, dormers or second stories were often added to Cape Cod homes, though other primary features were maintained.

What design style is Cape Cod? ›

Inspired by the traditional English cottages already present in the region, the newcomers built similar homes with distinctive aesthetics that would become known as the Cape Cod style. These homes feature steep roofs with gables, large dormer windows, and double-hung windows complemented by wood shutters.

What is the layout of a Cape Cod house? ›

A Cape Cod house is a low, broad, single or double-story frame building with a moderately-steep-pitched gabled roof, a large central chimney, and very little ornamentation.

What basic house design is a Cape Cod style house? ›

A Cape Cod house is typically single- or two-story, wide and rectangular-shaped, and features symmetrical windows on either side of the central front door. Cape Cods are often defined by their practical gabled roofs with dorm windows, which are composed of two sloping sections that meet in a roof ridge at the top.

What is the difference between a Cape Cod and Cape Ann style home? ›

A rectangular house, commonly one or one and a half stories high, that is similar to a Cape Cod house, but has a shingled mansard roof rather than a shingled gable roof.

What are the windows on a Cape Cod style called? ›

Double-hung windows are the predominate window type for both the front and back façade of the Cape Cod home. A popular variation of the double-hung window has the top and lower sash of different heights.

Should a Cape Cod house have shutters? ›

Whether they're functional or purely aesthetic, shutters are common elements on Cape Cod-style homes and can also make windows appear larger. While the Cape Cod-style home is generally unembellished, you won't break any rules by adding exterior shutters. If you already have them, a new paint job is always a safe bet.

What is the difference between a colonial and a Cape Cod? ›

The Cape Cod house has a gabled roof, which means the roof has two sloping sides that meet at a ridge. In the case of the Dutch Colonial house, the roof has a gambrel roof: There are two sides and each side has two slopes. The first slope is shallow and the second is steep.

Why do houses in Cape Cod have cedar shingles? ›

The roof and sides of Cape Cod homes are typically covered with clapboards or cedar shake shingles. These are a low-maintenance alternative to modern home siding and protect the house from harsh weather. The cozy size of a Cape Cod-style home allowed people to purchase one affordably and expand onto the home later.

How much does it cost to build a Cape Cod style house? ›

Cape Cod. The average cost to build a Cape Cod home in California is around $350 to $500 per square foot.

How much would it cost to build a Cape Cod style house? ›

ft. Cape Cod-style 2-bedroom home located in Northern California. The high cost is $2,400,000 for a 3,000 sq.
...
Cost per Square Foot to Build a House in California.
SizeCost to Build (Modular)Cost to Build (Stick-Built)
900 sq.ft.$180K - $270K$360K - $540K
13 more rows
29 Jun 2022

Why do they call it a Cape Cod house? ›

The term “Cape Cod house” wasn't given to these cottages until the 1800s. The Reverend Timothy Dwight IV, President of Yale University, named them after a visit to Cape Cod. His observations from his visit were published posthumously in “Travels in New England and New York” (1821-22).

Does a Cape Cod always have dormers? ›

Unlike the American Foursquare or other Colonial Revival house styles with one centered dormer on the roof, a Cape Cod style will often have two or more dormers. Dormers come in all shapes and sizes, however.

Why are Cape Cod houses so popular? ›

Cape Cods are a manageable size, efficient to heat, and conducive to additions. The reasons behind their popularity haven't changed since their humble origins in the 17th century, where they were born in—you guessed it—Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

What are Cape Cod houses made out of? ›

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.

Do Cape Cod style homes have basements? ›

Many 20th century Cape Cod homes were built with basements. Though this style eventually gave way to larger, Georgian Colonial and Federal style homes, followed by the Victorian, the early and mid 1900s ushered in a renewed interest in several Colonial Revival style homes, including the Cape Cod.

How tall is a Cape Cod house? ›

The homes are typically 1 or 1 1/2 stories, usually featuring low ceilings, although modern Capes have increased the ceiling height. The living area is on the main floor, which consists of a living room, dining room, kitchen, and an optional bedroom. All additional bedrooms are on the second floor.

What is a craftsman style house? ›

The common features of the Craftsman style include low-pitched gable (triangular) roofs, overhanging eaves with exposed rafters and beams, heavy, tapered columns, patterned window panes and a covered front porch.

Where are Cape Cod houses most common? ›

As its name suggests, Cape Cod house style is most common in Massachusetts and the greater New England region. While these types of residences are still be found in the Midwest and along the west coast, they might look different from their traditional, New England counterparts.

How wide is a Cape Cod house? ›

Generally, Cape-style house are 24-, 26- or 28-feet from front to back, a modest size for a typical American family. They're usually 32-, 36- or 40-feet wide.

What is a double hung window? ›

Double-Hung windows have two operating sash that move up and down allowing for ventilation on the top, bottom or both. Single-Hung windows allow ventilation through a single operable lower sash. Both offer easy cleaning from inside your home and remain flush with the wall, making them ideal for patios or walkways..

What style house sells best? ›

Looking locally, ranch-style houses currently have the highest sale-to-list ratio in a handful of cities, meaning this style of house is more likely to sell above the list price.

Is it cheaper to build a ranch or Cape Cod? ›

That being said, ranches typically cost more than Cape Cods per square foot, per Craftsman Custom Homebuilders. This is because ranch-style homes require the same amount of roofing for less living space.

Why are split-level homes cheaper? ›

Since they seem a little out-dated, split-level homes actually tend to be cheaper since there is less demand in some markets and, since there are many of them following a 1970s building boom, there's ample inventory. It's a particularly smart option for first-time homebuyers.

How long does it take for cedar shakes to turn GREY? ›

Answer: Because bleaching stain requires sunshine to change your shingles' color, it depends on the amount of sunlight that hits your home. On the South Shore, it takes about six months- 12 months to turn cedar shingles from their natural color to gray.

Why do cedar shakes turn GREY? ›

As cedar wood ages it begins to turn grey and matures to a silvery-grey sheen. Sun, rain, and age work to dry up the natural oils and degrade the cells of the cedar wood, which in turn is what eventually turns it grey. Pressure washing cedar can help restore its natural color.

Do cedar shingles turn GREY? ›

Letting Shingles Age Gracefully

Left unfinished, cedar shingles will change color, gradually turning into that familiar weathered gray. The color of naturally weathered shingles can vary greatly based on exposure to moisture, sunlight, and salt water.

Is 2022 a good year to build a house? ›

Yes 2022 can still be a good time to build your custom forever home, despite rising costs and interest rates. Building your custom home is an investment in your family's lifestyle and should be looked at as a long term financial & lifestyle decision of living in your forever home for 5 or more years.

How much does it cost to build a 900 sq ft house? ›

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of building a new home is $100 to $200 per square foot.
...
The cost to build a house, per square foot.
Square feetAverage cost
800$80,000 - $160,000
900$90,000 - $180,000
1,000$100,000 - $200,000
1,200$120,000 - $240,000
8 more rows
26 Jan 2022

How much does it cost to build a 800 sq ft house? ›

Cost By Size
SizeAverage Cost Range
800 sq. ft.$80,000 – $160,000
1,000 sq. ft.$100,000 – $200,000
1,200 sq. ft.$120,000 – $240,000
1,500 sq. ft.$150,000 – $300,000
3 more rows
15 Aug 2022

How much would it cost to build a Cape Cod? ›

New Home Construction Cost by Style
House StyleAverage Prices (Modular)Average Prices (Stick-Built)
Cape Cod$148K - $185K$222K- $323.75K
Modern$100K - $460K$240K - $710K
Duplex$225K - $430K$285K - $537K
Victorian$100K - $460K$375K - $625K
11 more rows

Is it cheaper to build or buy a house? ›

As a rule of thumb, it's cheaper to buy a house than to build one. Building a new home costs $34,000 more, on average, than purchasing an existing home. The median cost of new construction was $449,000 in May 2022.

How much does it cost to add 1000 square feet to a house? ›

Home addition costs by square footage
Square feet addedTypical cost
500$40,000-$100,000
600$48,000-$120,000
800$64,000-$160,000
1,000$80,000-$200,000
6 more rows
9 Jan 2020

Who created Cape Cod architecture? ›

The first Cape Cod style homes were built by Puritan colonists who came to America in the late 17th century. They modeled their homes after the half-timbered houses of their English homeland, but adapted the style to the stormy New England weather.

Is a Cape considered 2 stories? ›

A Cape Cod is a rectangular-shaped two-story home with a symmetrical floor plan and a center entry hallway. The ground floor consists of four major rooms on the first floor, with a bathroom.

How do you expand a Cape house? ›

Open Up Walls

One of the best ways to create the illusion of more space is by opening up your space and removing walls. The Cape Cod home traditionally consists of enclosed spaces. By opening walls, you're not actually adding square footage, but you improve flow and brighten the space by letting in more light.

What are the advantages of a Cape Cod house? ›

Symmetry and Elegance

Cape Cod style homes are known for their symmetry, as it creates the perfect aesthetic quality. The rectangular shape of the home is coordinated with its other features to ensure smooth geometry.

Why do they call it a Cape Cod house? ›

The term “Cape Cod house” wasn't given to these cottages until the 1800s. The Reverend Timothy Dwight IV, President of Yale University, named them after a visit to Cape Cod. His observations from his visit were published posthumously in “Travels in New England and New York” (1821-22).

What is considered Cape Cod? ›

The Cape Cod Region includes the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. MassBays' Cape Cod region includes the 11 out of 15 Cape towns in the Cape Cod Bay watershed.

What is Cape Cod known for? ›

Cape Cod is famous for sandy beaches, lobster rolls, and laid-back fun. But the Cape and Islands have also been the inspiration for some incredible, unique brands and products inspired by seaside life. Read our "Made on Cape Cod" blog spotlighting dozens of homegrown brands.

How do you modernize a Cape Cod exterior? ›

Contents
  1. Add an attractive fence.
  2. Put in bigger windows.
  3. Use planter boxes to make windows appear larger.
  4. Upgrade or paint your shutters.
  5. Keep your outdoor decor simple.
  6. Throw in just a touch of color with flowers.
  7. Reveal the original wood siding.
31 Jul 2019

What is the difference between Cape Cod and Colonial? ›

The roof says it all when it comes to Cape Cod and Dutch Colonial houses. The Cape Cod house has a gabled roof, which means the roof has two sloping sides that meet at a ridge. In the case of the Dutch Colonial house, the roof has a gambrel roof: There are two sides and each side has two slopes.

Is it cheaper to build a ranch or Cape Cod? ›

That being said, ranches typically cost more than Cape Cods per square foot, per Craftsman Custom Homebuilders. This is because ranch-style homes require the same amount of roofing for less living space.

Why do Cape Cod houses have shingles? ›

The roof and sides of Cape Cod homes are typically covered with clapboards or cedar shake shingles. These are a low-maintenance alternative to modern home siding and protect the house from harsh weather.

Do Cape Cod style homes have basements? ›

Many 20th century Cape Cod homes were built with basements. Though this style eventually gave way to larger, Georgian Colonial and Federal style homes, followed by the Victorian, the early and mid 1900s ushered in a renewed interest in several Colonial Revival style homes, including the Cape Cod.

What are Cape Cod houses made out of? ›

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.

What is the wealthiest town on Cape Cod? ›

Yarmouth @ $455,000

All figures are based on the median sales price for the year to date, September 2021.

What are the four portions of Cape Cod? ›

The Cape is split into four different regions: The Upper Cape, Mid Cape, Lower Cape and Outer Cape.

What is the difference between upper and lower Cape Cod? ›

The Upper Cape refers to the area including Falmouth, Bourne, Sandwich and Mashpee. Barnstable, Yarmouth and Dennis are considered Mid-Cape. Brewster, Harwich, Chatham and Orleans comprise the Lower Cape area and the Outer Cape includes the towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown.

What does Chequessett mean? ›

Description. Chequessett Chocolate is based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and named after the Wampanoag language's “rushing water”.

What is the best time of year to go to Cape Cod? ›

The best time to visit Cape Cod is May, June, September or October. These shoulder months usher in pleasant temperatures for outdoor pursuits, fewer crowds than the busy summer season and reasonable room rates.

How warm is the water in Cape Cod? ›

Average annual water temperature on the coast in Cape Cod is 52°F, by the seasons: in winter 41°F, in spring 44°F, in summer 65°F, in autumn 57°F. Minimum water temperature (36°F) in Cape Cod it happens in February, maximum (72°F) in July.

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