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A Cape Cod house is the most recognizable style of house in America. They are simple in style and ornamentation. They have remained a popular and beloved style home since the colonial era, and it is worth exploring to understand why these homes have such universal appeal.

Cape Cod Style Houses

Cape Cod Houses

Cape Cod homes give the impression of idyllic living with their white picket fences and picturesque flowerbeds. These homes have been around for a long time, morphing from simple and practical to charming to sleek and modern. If you love these homes as much as we do, here’s everything you need to know about these homes so you can begin your search for one.

History of the Cape Cod House

History of the Cape Cod House

Cape cod style house with narrow pathway

Patriotic cape cod style home

Harbour cape cod style home

Cozy cape cod style home

Puritan carpenters brought the Cape Cod architecture style to America from England. The many homes of this type built in New England helped to popularize the style. With the harsh climates to contend with, it was imperative that building choices were easy and durable.

The common wood of oak and pine found throughout the area was used to build the homes. They were covered in cedar shingles or clapboard. Also, these homes had a symmetrical appearance with a central front door and windows on either side. The basic square shape usually held one story and maybe a couple of bedrooms hidden under the eaves.

Low ceilings and a large central chimney indoors provided the warmth that the residents needed during harsh winters. They added shutters to protect windows from the elements. So where did the name “Cape Cod” come from? We can thank Reverend Timothy Dwight IV for that, coining the phrase during his visit to the Cape in New England in 1800.

Cape cod style home decor

Tiny cape cod home architecture


Cape cod style home with flowers on window

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Over the years, we see that Cape Cod homes have morphed from very plain square structures to larger abodes. It was common to add wings to the basic square frame, either on the sides of the back, to accommodate space for modern amenities like garages and large dining areas.

If a traditional Cape Cod house had an attic bedroom, dormers might be added to provide more space and light to the second story. You might even find a porch on the front or back of a modern Cape Cod. All additions increased the living space of the home but by no means took away the charm.

The Exterior of Cape Cod Houses

Cape cod home with small fence

When a home is small like some of the historic Capes, you need to think hard about the exterior design since there isn’t much space to work with. Natural shingles can give your home the style of yesteryear and provide an eye-catching pattern amidst rows of cliche siding on your street.

Tri dormers cape cod

In the past, Capes were all about symmetry. So it’s easier to keep this in mind as you update or build your Cape Cod house because of the examples available. Since dormers are a more modern thing, you’ll probably be adding two or three, depending on the size of your house.

Working on wooden shutters cape cod

You might have noticed already that almost all these homes have shutters. The originals could open and close them, depending on the weather. Tip your hat to the asset and install working shutters on your Cape Cod cottage, whether you actually need them or not.

Blue accent window shutters

Of course, most of our shutters today are purely decorative and there is nothing wrong with that. If that’s where you’re leaning for your home, you might as well make those shutters bright and happy. They’ll make your house stand out for sure.

Natural landscape cape cod

So many Cape homes have beautiful gardens with minimal lawns. Draw on the area you live in and make your front yard a field of wildflowers. Not only will it thrive but your yard will be a safe haven for the bees and butterflies in the area.

Cape cod bushes exterior

If you prefer the more restrained and classic front yard, you’ll want to consider roses. While that might seem intimidating, with a little effort to educate yourself on care, you’ll have a beautiful blooming front lawn worthy of any feature film.

Cape-exterior picket fence

There is nothing like a Cape Cod home with a white picket fence. They seem to be a match made in heaven. Whether you live in the country or in town, a picket fence will give you a nice border to edge your landscaping and guests will know exactly what kind of charm they’re in for.

Cape exterior front porch

Some Cape Cod style homes have a front porch, giving the whole house more of a farmhouse feel. Embrace that space and make it a part of your living area. Hang a swing, place some rockers, go all out for Halloween. We’re not sure who will enjoy it more, you or your house.

Cape exterior black accents

Maybe you’re looking for a way to bring a little modern style to your old Cape house. You can never go wrong with black. Just a little black on the front door, shutters, and any trim around the house will give the whole facade a brand new look.

Cape exterior retreat cottages

Who would say no to a vacation in a Cape Cod house? If you want your Cape to feel like a vacation retreat, you’re going to have to partner with the neighbors. With similar siding and some climbing roses, your street will look like a vacation community, with our without the beach.

Cape Cod House Interior

Open space kitchen cape cod decor

If you thought we were going to leave the wood to the outside of the Cape Cod home, think again. Wood was traditionally used for the flooring indoors as well. Since wood floors are currently on-trend, that shouldn’t upset you much though.

Cape cod interior home with pastel color

Pastel color palettes were another common find inside this type of home. With low ceilings and small rooms to contend with, you really wouldn’t want something dark and heavy anyway. Embrace those sage greens, sky blues, and butter yellows for a charming historically true home.

Cape cod interior with yellow accents

Pastels might make you think of your Grandmother’s house that hasn’t been updated in several decades. Opt for a white palette that will capture all the natural light. Thus, this will make even the smallest home look bright and airy.Cape interior shiplap walls

When the outside of your home is shiplap, why not continue the trend on the inside as well? Especially if your home is next to a body of water, that simple linear design will give you the perfect fresh clean seaside feel.

Cape interior chair rail

With such a plain exterior, it makes sense that even historical homes would spruce up the inside. You’ll often find beadboard or board and batten somewhere in these homes. It’s an easy way to make a big impact with very little time and money.

Cape interior built ins

Craftsman homes aren’t the only ones that feature built-ins! With such a small space to work with, it’s imperative to use every nook and cranny for a practical purpose. Built-in bookshelves and china cabinets achieve the goal and provide some really serious charm to your space.

Cape interior classic kitchen

While you’re still thinking about beadboard, you’ll want to consider where you can add it into the kitchen when you’re trying to create a classic style. Cabinet fronts, cabinet backs, even the ceiling, that creamy texture will only add to the whole look.

Cape cod interior design

Your kitchen doesn’t have to be traditional just because you live in a Cape Cod house. A sleek and modern kitchen will be a nice surprise when the outside of your home seems so charming and quaint.found on AD.

Cape interior open living

Open living plans are a thing of recent times but using the style in a small home, like a Cape, can really give your space the facelift it needs. Go all Joanna Gaines and see how many walls you can tear down before you have to quit. Your house will breathe again and thank you for it.

Cape interior statement lighting

Looking for a quick fix to bring your home up to date? Look overhead. Change the builder-grade lighting for something new and exciting. A good piece of statement lighting will give you new eyes to see your space and what changes can be made on a dime.

Attic room for kids

When there is a second story on a Cape Cod style home, it’s more like an attic room than a full story with all kinds of nooks and crannies stuffed tight under the eaves. Building your own beds, shelving and other storage can help you use the space to its fullest.

Dormer attic room

Many of the newer Capes have a dormer or two to add to the height and light of the second story’s floor plan. If that looks like your bedroom, use that dormer to create the coziest nook with a desk or chair. It will be a favorite place to work and read and spend all your time after that.

Cape Cod House Plans

In the construction of Cape Cod cottages, there are different floor plans that are common. There are a full Cape, three-quarters cape, and a half cape. A full Cape, also known as a double cape, is what you think of when you think of a Cape Cod cottage and is the most common type of Cape today. It has perfect symmetry with a central door, windows that flank the door, and a large central chimney.

Three-quarter Capes and half Capes are not symmetrical in appearance and are smaller in size. Three-quarter Capes were the most popular form of the home in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A half Cape is a small Cape Cod style house that was the starter home in historic New England.

Two Beautiful Cape Cod Houses

This charming picture-perfect style has been kept alive and is still the inspiration behind many houses being built today. The aesthetic has changed a bit over time so you can expect some of today’s Cape Cod homes to have a more modern look and feel and a more imposing overall appearance. Here are a couple of examples.

Modern Cape Cod House in California

Modern Cape Cod House in California

The inspiration for this beach house was the classic style home but a contemporary spin was added to its design. Studios Brandon Architects and Spinnaker Development worked together to give this house from Newport Beach a unique style.

Beautifully designed Cape Cod in California living area

Beautifully designed Cape Cod in California dining with bench

At the same time, the designers wanted to keep it simple, elegant and to make it feel like a home. It’s a home that promotes outdoor living and given its proximity to the beach it was important to take advantage of the views.

Beautifully designed Cape Cod in California kitchen decor

Beautifully designed Cape Cod in California patio

Beautifully designed Cape Cod in California office

Beautifully designed Cape Cod in California bedroom

Beautifully designed Cape Cod in California bathroom

Inside there’s a big open kitchen, a living area, and double doors leading out to a small porch. Upstairs the master bedroom has a beautiful screened balcony and big doors and windows that bring the outdoors in and create a breezy ambiance suitable for a beach house. The use of natural wood adds a really nice and warm touch to the décor and the white walls and ceilings help the rooms seem bigger and brighter.

A Renovated Cape Cod Home in Canada

Cape Cod style waterfront estate in Vancouver

Once again, the views are amazing here. This house is located in Vancouver, Canada, and is a waterfront home with beautiful trees and vegetation all around it. It was the perfect spot for creating an inviting family home and this style really suits the place.

Cape Cod style waterfront estate in Vancouver interior

Cape Cod style waterfront estate in Vancouver bedroom decor

When asked to renovate it, studio Jodi Foster Design + Planning made sure to take advantage of the views and to find new ways to emphasize the relationship between the indoor spaces and the surroundings.

Cape Cod style waterfront estate in Vancouver bathroom decor

All of the interior spaces have access outside. They connect to a series of wraparound terraces on both the ground floor and the upper level which make it easy and convenient to enjoy the lovely vistas and the fresh air at any time.

cape cod style house renovation

The exterior of the house retained its classic flair with the white frames and trims around the doors, windows, and everything else. The interior was updated and simplified with a more modern aesthetic. It relies on light and neutral colors and natural materials.

Cape Cod Beach House Rentals

cape cod style house on the beach
Image source.

If you want to experience a vacation that is truly restful. Try a Cape Cod beach house. These homes are built on quiet and picturesque oceanfront locations like Martha’s Vineyard and, of course, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. You can find Cape Cod beach cottages on large rental sites like Vrbo or Airbnb. Also, you can go to sites that are more specific to these types of houses at Vacation Cape Cod. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What is a Cape Cod house?

A Cape Cod house is a classic style home design built with one or one and a half stories, with a high pitched roof, a central chimney, and a symmetrical design. Also, Cape Cods use building materials that weather well like cedar shakes with little decorative detailing.  

 Are Cape Cods good houses?

As stated, Cape Cods have a classical shape, and their design stands the test of time. Cape Cods, like all other homes, can be built with poor or good-quality construction material. A historic Cape Cod will use better quality material than newly constructed Capes. 

Is a Cape Cod house a cottage?

A small house is referred to as a cottage. Many Capes are cottages in the sense that they are small; however, not all cottages are Capes. 

Do Cape Cods have basements?

Most modern Cape Cods have basements. However, most historic Capes do not have a basement. Rather, they feature a bricked crawl space that has room for a few modern necessities like a water heater and electrical panel. 

Are Cape Cods popular?

Cape style homes have been popular throughout history and remain popular today. They are a classic style house that has little ornamentation. Thus, these homes can be adapted to many different geographic contexts. Its versatility is one of the reasons that it will continue to be popular. 

Is a Cape Cod two-story?

Most historic Cape homes were one story; however, many modern Capes have two stories with dormer windows built into the roof to bring added light to the second story. 

How big is Cape Cod? 

A Cape Cod will vary in size. Full Capes can be large with two stories and many rooms. However, the front of a full Cape is symmetric in its design. Many half Capes are the smallest versions of these homes. These were considered the starter houses in historic New England.

These style homes do not have a symmetric front. Three-quarter Capes also do not have symmetric front; rather they have two windows on one side of the door with one on the other.

However sometimes, the names full, half, and three-quarter have more to do with their front symmetry than their size.  


Cape Cod homes have a quintessential style that has both historic character and modern appeal. They are simple in appearance and lack the external ornamentation that can date other house styles over time. Don’t let the plain style put you off; rather, think of it as an opportunity to add a unique character with a brightly colored door or a lovely garden design. In the end, you will have a home that you can enjoy for many years to come. 
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