New England Style

I, along with a husband, a baby, and five cats, live in what is known as a Revival Cape Cod. People who aren’t from the Northeast (especially those from the left coast) may read that and scratch their heads. It’s not that they don’t have Cape Cod architecture, from what I can tell, but rather that they aren’t in the habit of calling the houses Cape Cods or just Capes.

Our Cape is in good company, when you considered that we’re in New England the architectural style originated right here in the 1600s. These little symmetrical one-and-a-half story cottages weren’t called Capes until the 1800s, however, when the Reverend Timothy Dwight IV, president of Yale University, made a visit to Cape Cod and coined the term “Cape Cod house.”

Cape Cod Architecture

Nowadays one finds Capes with many different dormer styles, like shed dormers, gabled dormers (also known as dog house dormers), and recessed dormers. And yet there’s something about walking into a Cape Cod. I grew up in one and have found that I can walk into most Capes and know where the bathroom is and where the kitchen will be. The one difference is the fireplace orientation — historic Capes had a large central chimney that allowed for fireplaces in multiple rooms, while revival Cape Cods usually have a single fireplace with the chimney on one side of the house. My Cape? It has no fireplace at all, though I hope to rectify this someday.

HGTV’s Front Door put together a list of the defining features of traditional Cape Cod architecture that reads perfectly, so instead of rewriting it I’ll just excerpt it here.

Large, central chimney The large, central chimney is located directly behind the front door, with the rooms clustered around it in a rectangular shape.
Steep roof Cape Cods have steep roofs to quickly shed rain and snow and a shallow roof overhang.
Captain’s stairway “The second floor, often kept for boarders or ‘seafaring’ men, was accessed by a narrow stair, or ‘captain’s stairway,’ which has incredibly steep risers and shallow treads to minimize the use of the first-floor space,” explains David Karam, an architect and builder from Brewster, Mass.
Shingle siding Weathered gray shingles are one of the most recognizable elements of a classic Cape Cod, but newer homes are built of brick, stucco and stone

Most of the Capes you’ll see today are revivals built after World War II as affordable housing for returning Vets, which might not have been the case if Boston architect Royal Barry Willis hadn’t reintroduced the Cape Cod as a modern housing option in the 1920s. These are a great first-home option for those who are happy living with about 1,000 sq. ft. of living space since they tend to cost less than larger houses. Ours was quite reasonably priced and when we fix up the upstairs properly will have two whole stories rather than one and a half.

4 Responses to “New England Style”

  1. Phyllis December 17, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    I live in a mid-century modern house near Boston but I love Capes! When you renovate *please* hire an architect so that you preserve those wonderful proportions. There is nothing sadder than seeing a tidy post-war Cape that has the top floor blown out the back so that the the roof looks horizontal like the flap on a box. Builder’s do that all the time my town that but an architect never would. An architect will give you modern space and yet your little gem will keep that Cape look; I’ve seen it done.

  2. Never teh Bride December 17, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

    I hear you loud and clear, Phyllis! I cannot stand dormers and extensions that look tacked on or weird. Right now, we have no plans to grow beyond our house’s walls or ceilings, but we do want to raise the roof eventually… just enough so the walls upstairs aren’t slanted. I want to raise the entire roof, making our house just a teensy bit taller without changing the pitch of the roof itself. Though I’ll admit I’m a fan of crazy triangular window dormers that make a house look surprised.

  3. Jerald Falacco December 23, 2009 at 10:34 am #

    I’ll apoligize for my opinion, but I think Capes are boring. I’m also in New Engladn and there are other houses that are traditionally found here that I like a lot more. Don’t get me started on Capes with ridiculoous dormers, though. I hate the flap back dormers, give me a boring Cape any day over that.

  4. Luetta October 13, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    Wouldn’t this only be relevant in the States?