Massachusetts Real Estate- Merrimack Valley

Cape Cod Home- The Original American Cottage

Cape Cod Home- What makes a cape a cape?No matter where you turn in New England you will find a Cape Cod home.

The Cape’s charm starts with its earliest roots in our country.  Which of course is the region it is named after…  Cape Cod in Massachusetts. 

The Cape Cod-style home is the classic American Cottage. 

Really, who doesn’t love a weathered shingled Cape Cod home with a white picket fence? 

Yes, the Cape Cod home style has tons of charm and it certainly is one of the most romanticized homes. 

Better yet, picture one set on New England’s coastline overlooking the breezy salt marshes scattered throughout New England. Designed to withstand the harsh weather of the New England shoreline, the Cape stands up to the task.

Did you know the houses in the Monopoly game are Cape Cod Homes?

Many New England Lighthouses have a Cape Cod style house attached as the lightkeeper’s residence.

Sciuate Lighthouse


Nauset light

Cape Cod House History

The Cape house started with the first settlers in the 17th century.  Starting with the Pilgrims first settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which makes up the western shore of Cape Cod Bay.

Early carpenters adopted the traditional English Cottage to the weather and resources found on the shoreline of New England and made it their own.  The Cape Cod home was very pragmatic for the early settlers of our nation. 

They were simple to build and were of a design that stood up to the bitter winters and harsh weather that can be found on the open shoreline and marshes.

Capes were simple and modest like the Puritans who first settled America.

Originally we mostly saw half Capes with the door offset from the center chimney.  Then it eventually grew, as families and finances grew, to three quarter or full Capes.  The modern Cape Cod home is usually a full Cape and is what we typically see today in modern capes, where the front door is centered in the front of the home.


Half Cape Home

The antique Cape usually centered around a large central chimney and the keeping room or kitchen, which were the mainstays of the Cape Cod home.  Bedrooms, parlors and pantries, as well as rear entry, were all off of the central keeping room, the center of a family’s daily activities.

The Cape Cod home’s interiors were sparse and simple just like the first settlers. If you are lucky, you may find an antique Cape home with its original, old-growth pine floors, sometimes reaching a width of up to 12-14 inches.

They were one or one and a half story homes.  Often the “attic” or upper level was used as sleeping lofts or storage for the home.

Cape Cod-style houses were the starter homes of the 17th and 18th century and were eventually replaced in popularity by the colonial in the 19th century as the countries wealth grew.

Post World War II 

Post War Starter Home

Post World War ll brought a huge resurgence of small Cape-style home to help house the returning veterans and their families, not only in New England but across the country. 

They were modest and inexpensive to build.  The floor plan was usually in the 1000 square foot range and had a rectangular footprint.  Often these home had 5 to 6 rooms

Small Cape Cod Homes Built Post War was the starter homes of their time.

It was not unusual for a post-war Cape home to be delivered with a finished downstairs and un unfinished upstairs for the owners to finish later.  This helped keep the cost of construction down.

The small Cape Cod homes built post-war is still very popular in many communities as they make up some of the lower-priced inventory that is popular with first time home buyers.  Their simple construction and small size keep them affordable.

Today’s modern Capes can range from a simple small Cape Cod home, to large custom Capes with only a small resemblance to it’s earliest routes.  To identify a modern Cape home easily, you will find that the majority of the second floor will be under or partially under the roofline.

What Makes A House A Cape Cod Style Home?

Modern Cape Home

Modern Cape Cod style houses can now come in all different designs and shapes but the early pre-colonial Cape Cod homes shared certain features.  Modern Capes will still have remnants of their earlier brothers. So what m

  • One to One and Half Stories-  The second floor is completely or partially under the roofline.  Again, practicality was the driving force of the 1 to 1.5 story home.  A home needs a roof so why not utilize square footage under the roofline, without creating an entire second floor.  Remember early settlers were escaping persecution and were generally not wealthy people.
  • Shingle or Clapboard Siding-  Cape homes are often shingled with cedar shakes or with simple clapboard siding.  A classic Cape Cod home will have weathered shingles.
  • Symmetrical Facade-  Symmetry is what you will find in a Cape home.  From a centered front door to evenly spaced windows and dormers, the basic Cape home offers balance and symmetry.
  • Simply Adorned-  There is no fancy trim or detail that you would find on a Victorian home.  The clean lines and lack of detail helped keep the cost of a Cape down as well as making it faster to build.
  • Steep Gable Roof-  The gable roof of a Cape Cod style home was steep.  The steep pitch of the roof helped battle the ice and heavy snow loads of the harsh New England winters.
  • Wood Frame-  Wood was plentiful in New England.  The first settlers found dense, untouched forests.  This made wood the material of choice for the cape cod style home.
  • Cozy-  Early Cape homes were small in size often having lower ceilings.  The small design was practical.  It made the home simple to build, could be built faster and used fewer resources to heat.  They were large enough to just meet the needs of a family.
  • Dormers-  While the early Cape did not have dormers, the protruding windows from the roof became a popular feature in the 20th century.

Dormers Are A Perfect Addition

Dormers are a vertical structure that protrudes from the sloped pitch of a roof.  A dormer can increase the usability of a home’s space under the roofline by making the headroom higher.  You will often see one or more windows in a dormer

A Cape Cod house is perfect for the addition of a dormer to help increase the usable living space on the second floor.  Because much of the upstairs living space is under the pitch of the roof and can be unusable on a small Cape Codder, dormers help add usable floor space and windows.

Dormers became popular in the mid-century Capes to increase the design appeal and usefulness of the second-floor living space.

Dormers are also a very popular addition to a Cape Cod style house.  Often full or 3/4 dormer will be added to the back of a cape to improve the floor space and often give the additional space to add a full bath.

Gable dormered Cape Cod Style Home
3 Gabled dormers across the roofline of A Cape-style home.

Cape Cod Homes for Sale In Massachusetts

Why Buy A Cape Cod Style Home?

If you are in the market to buy a home in my part of the world, Northeastern Massachusetts, consider a Cape Cod home.

If you truly love the roots of a Cape consider buying an antique Cape that has all of the characteristics of an early Cape but has been modernized for today’s home buyer.  Ipswich or Essex Massachusetts are perfect towns to find an antique Cape home.

A post-war Cape Cod style home can be found all over neighborhoods in towns like Tewksbury MA.  A small simple, post-war cape can meet the budgetary needs of a first time homebuyer.

If money is not an issue,  head to the coastline of Massachusetts and you can find large, modern Capes overlooking the salt marshes in towns like Newburyport, or Newbury.

Modern Cape Cod Home on the Salt Marshes of New England
A Modern Cape Cod Home built on the salt marshes of New England

A Cape home has something to offer for everyone. 

Other Real Estate Resources:

The Quintessential Cape Cod Home is provided by Kevin Vitali a Massachusetts REALTOR located in Tewksbury MA. If you would like to sell your home or buy a new home give me a call at 978-360-0422 and let’s get the process started.



1 comment

  • Vicki Moore
    August 24, 2020

    One of my favorite styles of home. We have them here and they were also built post-war for the Veterans and their families returning home. Thank you for the background history!

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