Your Architectural Style Guide to Cape Cod Residential Design

cape cod house
Photo via louisfeedsdc.com

Cape Cod style residential homes have been a staple in the U.S. since the mid-20th century. Perhaps because of its uncomplicated design, this architectural style was and still is widely popular. Its clapboard siding and gabled roofs lend a quaint look that seamlessly fits into New England’s charming setting.

Not for the Northeast alone, Cape Cods can be found on the coasts of Massachusetts to the Florida bay. This style is timeless for it’s open design, with living areas such as the kitchen, dining, and great areas flowing into each other. Let’s get a quick overview on the basics.

Cape Cod style: A brief history

Although the popularity of this residential architectural style didn’t rise until the 20th century, the term, “Cape Cod House,” was used as early as 1800. These types of houses – structures with steep roofs, center chimneys, and shingle siding – popped up all across New England, as well as on Long Island, New York.

Over the years, variants on the traditional Cape Cod house started to appear, such as the Colonial Revival-era Cape (circa 1930s). In turn, different framing methods, staircases, and aesthetic details have been incorporated into Cape Cod architecture. However, it still remains one of the most recognizable house styles today.

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What you need to know before you start renovating

It is not uncommon to find a “keeping room” in a Cape Cod style house. This room typically has several doors, and it was used as the kitchen, living room, and family room. As you renovate, you may want to designate this space to serve only one purpose.

While the central chimney may have been important to New Englanders of the past, we have heating systems today that eliminate the need to use fire for warmth. This doesn’t mean that removing a chimney is necessarily beneficial for you ROI. Considered a luxury piece, a chimney can often center a room’s design, and give a focal point to an entire area. If you still want to remove your central chimney, you will need to consult an expert. They will be able to give your the numbers behind your decision.

Finally, consider some of the fixtures that have become synonymous with Cape Cod style. Shutters, for instance, may not be used frequently today, but they are a hallmark of this architectural style. Many modern homes will use “immobile exterior shutters” to achieve the cape cod style. These cost-effective pieces provide the design appeal of classical shutters in a world that has outgrown the use of exterior shutters.  Using multi-pane windows (rather than single pane windows) that are typical of Cape Cod houses can achieve a classical design while saving on your bills with energy efficient windows. You could possibly even get approved for a LEED approved residential structure.

Complementing Cape Cod style

Just because your Cape Cod home has exposed shingles doesn’t mean it can’t have a contemporary look. For example, adding white trim along the outside of your house can give your structure a fresh appearance. Incorporating pops of color on items such as your shutters and doors can also keep your home from feeling drab. Finally, don’t be afraid to go a little rustic inside. Incorporating a vintage feeling into your Cape Cod style home will only make it feel more authentic.


Your Architectural Style Guide to Cape Cod Residential Design was last modified: February 21st, 2017 by Krystle Vermes
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