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.”
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.