With its white picket fences, window boxes and dormers, the Cape Cod cottage is undeniably one of the most charming and recognized house styles in America. Originating from the 17th century when the pilgrims started building homes resembling traditional English cottages, Cape Cod style houses stood the test of time due to their elegant simplicity and practicality.
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Frances Schultz’s Bee Cottage (via)
Even though they are quite similar, there are two different types of Cape Cod homes to admire: the original or Colonial Cape Cod house (built between 1690 and 1890) and the Revival Cape, a 20th century adaptation of the Colonial version.
COLONIAL CAPE COD
Using materials they had readily available, the first colonists adapted the typical ‘Hall and Parlor’ English cottage to the harsh climate of the North Atlantic coast and within a few generations, a new style of house was born. The term Cape Cod was coined by Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale University, in 1800 during his travels to the Cape to describe the modest and practical homes he saw built in the area. Based on the position of the front door, the original Capes can be distinguished as:
Half Cape (Single) – front door on the side with two multi-paned glass windows on the other side.
1/2 Cape Cod
Three Quarter Cape- front door with one multi-paned window on one side and two on the other.
3/4 Cape Cod
Full (Double) Cape – with a central front door and two multi-paned windows placed symmetrically on either side.
Full (Double) Cape Cod
The half and three quarters Capes are typical for Colonial times, while the later with its symmetrical layout is popular among the Revivals. One and a half story high (with an unfinished loft), timber framed and rectangular, the Cape Cod was built primarily for shelter, with little or no exterior ornamentation. With every single detail designed in the spirit of efficiency, here are some key design elements that define most Colonial Capes.
Characteristics of Colonial Cape Cod Houses
- Unpainted cedar shingle/ clapboard siding (ages better in proximity of salty air, otherwise needs sealing)
Shingle Siding (via)
Clapboard Siding (via)
- Colorful front doors
- Multi-paned windows (smaller pieces of glass were cheaper/ easier to bring from Europe) that go all the way to the roof line, facing South in order to maximize sun and daylight exposure
- Wooden shutters (protection against the elements and attackers)
Revival Cape w/ dormers, colorful front door, portico, shutters multi-paned windows (via)
- Large central chimney. The rooms of an original Cape Cod were radially placed around a large central chimney. Such a floor plan was both economical and efficient in equally heating all the rooms of the house.
Colonial Cape Cod Floor Plan
- Hardwood floors and wainscoting. Wainscoting was used not just for its aesthetic value but also to keep moisture away and help trap the heat inside.
REVIVAL CAPE COD
The Cape Cod style house regained its popularity back in the 1930s, when architects like Royal Barry Wills brought refinement to Colonial Capes and started building high-end replicas throughout the United States. While retaining its original charm and the cozy floor plans, the Revival Cape Cod had all the conveniences of modern living. The addition of dormers to the upper story for ventilation and sunlight increased the square footage of the home, while central heating and the use of new materials have made shutters and chimneys mostly decorative (in some Revival Capes you’ll see the chimney moved to one side of the house). Several new architectural details can be found in Revival Cape Cods such as porches (especially in the warm climate areas), columns, pilasters, porticos, garage and sunroom additions…
Revival Cape with ample second story, dormers, portico
Revival Cape with chimney moved to one side and a sun porch addition
Revival Cape with dormers and a portico
Aside from their homey character, Cape Cods represent an environmentally friendly choice in a society increasingly concerned with the effects our life styles have on our planet’s limited resources. At a time when, architecturally, bigger is no longer the better, here we have a house that is both picturesque and immensely practical. With a convenient layout that is comfortable without being wasteful, homeowners throughout the country looking to downsize are finding the good old Cape a smart and stylish choice.
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