What are Cape Style Houses?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2019
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Cape style houses are straight-lined home building designs that are associated mainly with the New England area of the United States. Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is specifically where the name of this house style comes from, but the home design is also associated with the other five states that make up New England: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. New England is the name given to the region by English colonists who settled there in the 17th century. These colonists designed the first Cape style houses.

Using the basic British house style of a rectangular shape with a pitched, or slanted, roof, the colonists added exterior, wooden slatted window shutters. The shutters were made to be held open in fine weather, but be latched closed when the frequent New England storms hit. These early Cape style houses featured a door in the center of the front exterior as well as a chimney in the middle of the roof. Hardwood floors were featured extensively in the interiors of these homes. The name "Cape Cod house" originated with Reverend Timothy Dwight, who was the president of Yale University for many years; he coined the name when he traveled to the area in 1800.


Cape style house designs became popular again in the United States in the 1930s. These home styles were known as Colonial Revival Capes and were trendy in many suburban areas. Many of the 1930s Colonial Revival Capes were affordable, attractive homes of a modest size. They had the same basic look of the original Cape style houses first built by the colonists, but with some notable changes.

The Revival Capes were usually one and a half stories tall and most had two dormer windows at the top. Dormer windows are set in a rectangular frame that juts outward and is topped with a peak. The chimney of the Revivals was placed not in the center as in the 17th century Cape style houses, but rather on one end of the rooftop. The Revival Capes had the trademark window shutters, but they typically didn't open and close. Rather, the shutters were placed for decoration only to complete the Cape Cod look.

Clapboard is the traditional exterior covering, or siding, used for Cape style houses. Clapboards are wedge-shaped wood pieces designed to allow excess rain or melting snow to drain away from the home. Some Revival Capes featured brick exterior sections along with the clapboard. Classic colors for Cape Cod homes are white with black shutters, but mostly any combinations of neutral colors are considered acceptable for the style.


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