Even if you've never been to Cape Cod in your life, there's a good chance you're familiar with its eponymous style of architecture. Simple, charming, and quintessentially "New England," this historic home style is growing in popularity—even in places far from the coast. (It's not unusual, for instance, to find yourself touring a quaint Cape Cod cottage in the landlocked Midwest.) But this style of home can often fall under the "I'll-know-it-when-I-see-it" category of architecture. So what is it that makes a Cape Cod, a Cape Cod?
The Characteristics of a Cape Cod Home
Perhaps the most distinctive part of a Cape Cod house is the roofline. This style of home is often characterized by a somewhat steep gabled roof that pitches down toward the first story—in fact, you'd be forgiven for assuming Cape Cod homes are always one story, since the second story is often obscured by the roofline.
Though this historic style originated as far back as the 17th century, it has experienced resurgences in popularity many times since then—and now is just such a time when we're seeing interest in this type of home spike. The design is usually very symmetrical and simple, with shuttered windows flanking a front door and a chimney accenting the roofline. An iconic Cape Cod will be covered in wooden shingles which are weathered to the classic hue of distressed grey-blue, though today a Cape Cod house may be any color or have any style of siding. (Which is good news for those who hope to move away from the labor of maintaining real wood shingles.)
Gable or gabled roofs are one of the most popular roof styles, owing to their simple, unornamental style and practical, weather-friendly pitch. They are composed of two sloping sections that meet in a roof ridge at the top—the pitch, or angle, of the sections can be customized for climates that experience a lot of snow or rain.
A Cape Cod Floorplan
Inside, the external symmetry is kept up with a "center hall" design similar to Colonial styles, but usually with a more modest footprint. The second floor was historically accessible by a steep staircase, and was sometimes left unfinished, with the only light coming in through windows at the side of the house. Later styles of Cape Cod homes remedied the issue of having little upstairs light by cutting into the roofline to create dormers.
As one would expect with a building style that originated with the Puritans in New England, the house size is usually modest—however, in the 1900s the classic Cape Cod was often expanded upon or redesigned to accommodate more affluent families. But today, we're still just as charmed by the small footprint of a historic Cape Cod home. Their unique character, homey feel, and shabby-chic aesthetic makes them an appealing antidote to cookie-cutter tract homes that first became popular in the 1950s.
Half, Three-Quarters, or Full?
Cape Cod houses are usually divvied up into different categories: half-Cape, three-quarters, or full Cape. Though the taxonomy seems strange for a house, the naming system actually just refers to placement of doors and windows. A half-Cape is the smallest variation, which would often be built by early American settlers as the beginning of a larger home. As such, it's not as symmetrical as what we consider a Cape today. It features a door on one side and windows on the other, which would then be expanded as the family (and their wealth) grew.
A three-quarters home, on the other hand, would have two windows on one side of the door, and a singe window on the other. A full Cape, then (also confusingly sometimes referred to as a double-Cape) is completely symmetrical, with two windows on each side of the front door, which is centered on the home and on the single chimney.
Complementary Styles to a Cape Cod
The appeal of a Cape Cod cottage is in its simplicity and unassuming design—which makes it a great style of home for anyone still refining their personal aesthetic. Unlike a true Colonial, which may suggest an interior design style to match, Cape Cods are highly versatile because of their clean geometric look. Certainly, they lend themselves to coastal elements inside, but are just as easy to decorate in an eclectic, new traditional, or Scandi-inspired scheme. With a look that's both historic and understated, it's easy to find a design aesthetic that will be harmonious with a Cape Cod cottage.