Cape Cod House (Style Spotlight)

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By Bud Dietrich


Cape Cod homes can be seen all across America in differing variations to suit differing climates and norms. This is because the Cape Cod is, in its soul, the one house style that conjures for us dreams of seaside holidays, flower gardens, white picket fences and a simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.

Historically, the Cape Cod house started as a modest and efficient design in response to Colonial America's harsh climate. By keeping the design a simple, one-story rectangular box with a steeply pitched gable roof, the Cape Cod house used an economy of materials to achieve a maximum of interior space.

As Americans expanded west, they took this all-American style with them, and now there are examples of Cape Cods across the country. Initially a modest house, the Cape Cod expanded to keep up with the needs of wealthier and larger families.

The addition of roof dormers, both doghouse and shed types, easily added headroom and usable space to the second floor. When needed, a room or two would be added to the sides or backs of these houses. These additions would, in the best examples, be smaller than the original main portion of the house in order to maintain the scale and charm of a Cape Cod.

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Cape Cod House (Style Spotlight)

This is an 18th century, Mid-Atlantic version of the Cape Cod style home in Colonial Williamsburg. The simple rectangular shape of the main level and steeply pitched roof gable that starts at the first floor ceiling line are features of the style. So are the three doghouse dormers that add ceiling height and light to the second-floor rooms.

Unlike the New England version with its central fireplace and chimney, this Cape has the fireplace and chimney placed at the side, a true response to the milder Tidewater climate.

In New England, Cape Cod houses were often built quite small, just two or three rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs. These houses would then be expanded to the sides and back with small and large additions to accommodate the owner's needs. Growing over time in this way infused these houses with a sense of history, with walls and roofs and floors telling the story of their inhabitants.

Here, the back of the same house reveals the explosion of additions and changes this house has undergone. It's as if the house grew organically over time to accommodate some pressing need of its inhabitants. Maybe a new screened porch to enjoy the summer weather. Maybe a new kitchen and family room wing to accommodate a contemporary lifestyle. And a shed dormer to create more bedrooms upstairs.

All proof that a Cape Cod style house is flexible, with the ability to accept and accommodate changes over time.

The interior of these houses was typically a group of small, cozy and comfortable rooms. Dormers, window seats, under-roof storage, and vaulted ceilings all contribute to a Cape Cod home's charm.

Cape Cod houses continue to be built, a testament to our love of this style. But while in the past the interiors were often small and dim, contemporary interpretations include open floor plans, soaring ceilings and extensive window and door areas.

In response to the hot and humid climate, the variation of the Cape Cod style for the Southeastern part of the country includes a large porch to shade the interiors from the sun, and large windows to capture cooling breezes.

This variation also includes lifting the house a few feet above the ground to avoid the often wet surroundings while providing an opportunity for a grander entrance. And often the chimneys were placed at the sides of the house to keep heat out of the interior.

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