Ralston Independent Works Palace of Fine Arts and Ferry Tower, San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Cape Cod style architecture refers to early homes constructed by European settlers after arriving in New England in the late 17th century. Traditional Cape Cod houses were very simple: one and one half stories, symmetrically designed with a central front door surrounded by two multi-paned windows on each side. Homes were designed to withstand the stormy, stark weather of the Massachusetts coast.

The Pilgrims designed houses that provided safety from New England's severe winters. Temperatures in January and February can drop to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, and multiple-feet snow pile-ups occur frequently. To fight the chill, the Pilgrims built extensive central chimneys and low ceilinged rooms to conserve heat. Most Cape Cod homes faced the south, which allowed sunlight to enter the windows and provide additional heat.

Santuit, Cape Cod. The white doorway. A well stocked wood shed behind its white picket fence.

The steep roof characteristic of New England homes also prevented excessive amounts of snow from accumulating on the house. Fluctuating Cape Cod temperatures presented the problem of moisture within interior walls, which was addressed by using wainscoting, a design element still prevalent today. Finally, the Pilgrims dealt with stormy winds by installing shutters on the windows. A trademark of Cape Cod home design, the shutter is now an aesthetic element instead of a functional one. Early New Englanders used available natural resources for building materials; shingles were made out of cedar trees, while pine and oak were used for flooring.

Glass from England was costly, so New Englanders arranged small panes (six inches by eight inches) in patterns to form large windows. The smaller panes were less likely to break during the long voyage from England to the colonies. The decorative highlight of Cape Cod homes is the front door, which is painted in distinct colors, has an ornament or wreath, and intricate carving.

The simple six-paneled door. Dennis, Cape Cod ---------A Pediment doorway with shutters is something of a rarity.

The flawless Cape Cod cottage. South Yarmouth, Cape Cod.

The plump white chimney, the subtle bow to the roof.

The front façade is faced with clapboards, and the sides are shingled.

After prolonged exposure to natural elements, the wood obtains an earthy gray color.





Old shingled house, Chatham, Cape Cod.






The house has not only a bow roof apparent at each gable, but also a gentle sag in the middle. There are two chimneys. The houses usually lack front porches. The windows of the home are surrounded by shutters that either match the front door or are painted white.

One of the most important design elements specific to Cape Cod homes is the trim color. Interior doors, cabinets, and mantels are painted white, and most rooms are finished with white crown molding. The clean look of the white detailing draws attention to another important feature: hardwood flooring.

Matching hardwood floors run throughout the entire house except the kitchen, which is usually floored with linoleum or ceramic tiles. The white finishing also accentuates the wall colors, which often reflect the colorful Cape Cod seaside, including ocean blues, sand beiges, and sunset reds.

The homeowners experimented over the years by doubling the full Cape Cod and adding new wings onto the rear end. Homeowners also added roof dormers for increased space, light, and ventilation. Despite the changes, one and one half story Capes are still a popular, affordable style on the housing market.

Istham, Cape Cod. Lighhouse and keeper's house.







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