17 Cape Cod Houses That Showcase Classic American Style

Grey cape cod home
Photo: Michael Partenio

A close relative of the Colonial-style homes scattered across the East Coast and the South, Cape Cod houses were an economical answer to Americans' homeowning ambitions. With roots in the 17th century, this classic American style remains popular today. These Cape Cod-style homes showcase several of the key elements that distinguish this traditional style.

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History of Cape Cod Homes

blue gray home exterior ocean front yard
David A Land

The origins of Cape Cod houses date back to the 1600s when the first Puritan settlers arrived in America. The humble architecture is similar to an English cottage, but a few features were adapted to better withstand the harsh New England climate. The steeply pitched roofs, for example, are designed to allow heavy snow to slide off more easily in the winter. Shutters were installed to help block strong winds.

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Simple Cape Cod Houses

black farmhouse exterior with teal door and white trim windows
Kritsada Panichgul

Cape Cod homes are defined by their simple shapes and limited exterior ornamentation. They are typically built with side-gabled roofs, which feature sloped sides along the front and back and pitched triangular areas on either side of the house. This stripped-down roofline distinguishes them from the cornucopia of roof angles and details often found in Victorian homes.

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Small Cape Cod Houses

trees in front of house entryway front door front yard landscaping
Edward Gohlich

Historically, Cape Cod houses were modestly sized homes with one to one-and-a-half stories. The relatively low ceilings made the buildings easier to heat during the winter. Today, the house style's sturdy, practical appearance maintains its simple appeal.

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Symmetrical Cape Cod House Plans

Grey cape cod home
Michael Partenio

Many Cape Cod houses are recognizable for symmetrical front windows: two windows on one side of the front door and two on the other side. This is referred to as a full Cape. Other variations include half Cape, with windows on only one side of the door, and three-quarter Cape, which features two windows on one side and one on the other.

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Modern Cape Cod Houses

Home deck exterior
Joseph Keller

A lack of resources, time, and money were some of the factors that originally made the intimate size of Cape Cod-style houses so popular. You'll now find modern Cape Cod houses with much larger proportions. The style has since been adapted to today's tastes and lifestyles, but many of its simplistic charms remain.

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Additions to Cape Cod Houses

Cape cod home exterior
John Gruen

Unlike the Victorian homes popular in the earlier part of the 20th century, Cape Cod homes are distinguished by their symmetrical designs. This often applies to the exterior as well as the interior layout. Because of their modest geometric forms, Cape Cod houses are particularly well-suited for additions.

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Cape Cod House Updates

White cape cod home
Laurie Black

Traditionally, the space under the roof of a Cape Cod house wasn't used as a livable second story. Later, dormers became a useful solution for many Cape Cod homeowners to expand living space. These pop-out windows allow some breathing room for the half-floor on the second level, making it suitable for bedrooms and bonus spaces.

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Cape Cod-Style Entrance

Charming grey home exterior
Emily Followill

Most Cape Cod-style homes have a plain front entry with little to no trim or details. Later versions became more decorative, sometimes featuring a small portico. Some also have painted pilasters or, in the case of very elaborate setups, porch columns.

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Cape Cod House Sizes

Brown home with wrap around deck

A half story on a second floor was a way for Cape Cod homeowners to gain square footage but save on building costs. Although there are some usage limitations, the half story is well worth it for the extra space. The low ceilings keep the space cozy and easy to keep warm.

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Colonial Cape Cod Homes

Single-story home
Richard Leo Johnson

Originating around the same period, Cape Cod and Colonial-style homes share many notable characteristics. The historical tie between the two styles is apparent on the pitched roofs on many of these houses. They offer practical drainage as well as height for the half story typically included in a Cape Cod home.

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Cape Cod House Colors

Home exterior with circle driveway
Michael Luppino

Like many of the style's other characteristics, Cape Cod homes typically feature neutral exterior color schemes. The original shake shingles are often left to weather gray, while other Cape Cod homes sport painted shingles. Most of the color schemes, like those of Colonial-style homes, are very neutral and austere.

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Cape Cod House Floor Plan

Front yard landscape
Philip Harvey

The front doors of Cape Cod houses are commonly centered on the facade. Inside, their modest size often includes just a few simple rooms. A traditional Cape Cod floor plan includes a living room, kitchen, and bath downstairs with two small bedrooms upstairs.

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Cape Cod House Siding

Home on waterfront
Tria Giovan

Shingle shakes and wood clapboards are additional distinguishing features of Cape Cod-style homes. For those just settling on the East Coast, wood was a plentiful local material. Before premilled lumber, cedar shakes were hand-split from blocks of wood using a mallet.

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Cape Cod House Position

Shingle style home
Tria Giovan

The modest size of Cape Cod homes often translated into modest use of details. Houses of this style are often sited to maximize available sunlight, with the biggest windows facing south. This positioning helps minimize heating costs while bringing ample natural light into rooms.

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Cape Cod Chimneys

Tan shingle style home exterior
John Bessler

Originally Cape Cod homes could be heated efficiently because of their small size. Many of these homes had only one fireplace, often in the center. In modern versions of the style, the chimney was often positioned just to one side or sited to both ends of the home.

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Cape Cod Home Windows

Brown shingle home with brick walkway
Edward Gohlich

A modestly scaled interior meant that original Cape Cod homeowners had to maximize whatever details they included in their homes. To gain sunlight whenever possible, windows were often extended very high, often up to the roofline. Gabled dormers within the roof also invite in more light.

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Cape Cod House Variations

Cape cod home with flower boxes
Susan Gilmore

Many Cape Cod-style homes were built before the Civil War. Although the style faded a bit in popularity, it found a resurgence in the early to mid-1900s, when it was called Cape Cod Revival. Even though the styles were separated by about a century, they still share several commonalities, including a conspicuous lack of exterior details.

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