A Photo Gallery of Cape Cod Houses

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Building a Dream

Weather-worn beach house on Cape Cod
The Cape Cod House Weather-worn beach house on Cape Cod. Photo by Kenneth Wiedemann/E+ Collection/Getty Images

Small, economical, and practical Cape Cod houses were built all across America during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. But the Cape Cod style began centuries before in colonial New England. This photo gallery shows a variety of Cape Cod houses, from simple colonial Cape Cods to modern-day Cape Cods with dormers and shutters. Select any photo or Enter the Gallery for more information.

Anyone who was raised in the American Northeast has held fast a dream - the little cottage on the beach in the form of what's become known as the Cape Cod.

The appeal of the Cape Cod style home is its simplicity. For many, that absence of ornamentation translates into a great Do-It-Yourself project with the associated financial savings—save money by building your own house, just like the pioneers of America!

In reality, the history of what we call the Cape Cod style is not a pure and simple revival story, but more of a survival story. European immigrants to the New World brought building skills with them, but their first dwellings were more Primitive Hut than bold, new architectural style. The first houses in the New England, like in the settlement at Plimoth, were simple post-and-beam shelters with one opening—a door. Settlers used the materials at hand, which meant one-story houses of white pine and dirt floors. They quickly realized that their own ideal of the English cottage would have to be adapted to the extremes of the New England climate.

The Nostalgia of the Cape:

As historian William C. Davis has written, "Being a pioneer is not always as rewarding as nostalgia...."  As the colonists settled into their new lives in a new land, their dwellings quickly enlarged to accommodate more and more family members. Original Colonial houses in New England are more often 2 stories than the traditional 1 or 1½ story homes we call Cape Cod. And many of the homes we call Cape Cod style actually are found on Cape Ann, northeast of Boston. So, what's up with that?

Cape Cod House Plans for 1950s America was a marketing scheme for a booming housing market. Just like the dream we have of the seaside cottage, the GIs coming back from World War II had the dream of families and home ownership. Everyone knew Cape Cod, nobody had heard of Cape Ann, so developers invented the Cape Cod style, loosely based on reality.

But it worked. It's design is simple, compact, expandable, and, for mid-20th century developers, the Cape Cod could be prefabricated. Most of the Cape Cod houses we see today are not from the Colonial era, so they are technically revivals. Like dreams are revived.

Here is a gallery of Cape Cod dreams.

Source: Historical Introduction by William C. Davis, Survey of Early American Design, The National Historical Society, 1987, p. 9

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Adding Dormers

Cape Cod House With Dormers, 3 over house and 1 over garage
Cape Cod House With Dormers. Photo by J.Castro / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)

Twentieth century Cape Cod houses were often given large dormers and decorative shutters.

The most obvious difference between today's Cape Cod style and an equivalent true colonial home is the addition of the dormer. Unlike the American Foursquare or other Colonial Revival house styles with one centered dormer on the roof, a Cape Cod style will often have two or more dormers.

Dormers come in all shapes and sizes, however. When dormers are added to an existing house, consider the advice of an architect to help choose an appropriate size and optimal placement. Dormers can end up looking too small or too large for the house. The dormers seen here match the windows on the first floor and are equally spaced. An architect's eye for symmetry and proportion was probably used in this design.

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Adding Sidelights

Sandwich, New Hampshire Cape Cod With Sidelights
Cape Cod House Pictures Sandwich, New Hampshire Cape Cod With Sidelights. Photo © Jackie Craven

Narrow side windows flank the front door of this historic Cape Cod style house in Sandwich, New Hampshire.

Cape Cod style homes of the 20th century are often more than revivals—they are evolutions of the plainness and lack of ornamentation of Colonial American homes. Entry door sidelights—the windows on either side of the door frame—are great additions for homes today. They aren't from a colonial era, but they bring natural light to interiors and enable occupants to see the wolf at the door!

Learn More:

  • Sidelights, Fanlights and Transoms Stained Glass Pattern Book, Dover, 1987
    Buy on Amazon
  • Entry Doors with Sidelights
    Buy on Amazon

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Georgian and Federal Details

Cape Cod with 18th century decorations - A bright red door adds a welcoming touch to a traditional Cape Cod home with pilasters
Cape Cod House Pictures: Cape Cod with 18th century decorations A bright red door adds a welcoming touch to a traditional Cape Cod home with pilasters. Photo © Jackie Craven

Pilasters, sidelights, and other Georgian and Federal Style refinements decorate this historic Cape Cod home in Sandwich, New Hampshire.

Architecture Words to Know:

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Adding a Pediment

Cape Cod House with Pediment, built in the mid-twentieth century
Cape Cod House Pictures Cape Cod House with Pediment. Photo © Jackie Craven

A pediment and shutters dress up this simple twentieth-century Cape Cod house.

This pretty, green Cape Cod home seems very traditional—no dormers, clapboard exterior siding, center chimney, and appropriately sized window shutters. The one splurge of ornamentation is the little pediment above the door. Any home can look like a Greek temple.

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Cape Cod With Stone Siding

Cape Cod house with mock stone siding
Cape Cod House Pictures Cape Cod With Stone Siding. Photo © Jackie Craven

The owners of this traditional 20th century Cape Cod house gave it a brand new look by adding mock stone facing.

A decision by every homeowner located in the snowy northern environs is whether or not to put a "snow slide" on the roof. It may be practical, but is it ugly? On a Cape Cod house with side gables, the metal border on the roof looks anything but "colonial."

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Cape Cod Home With Patterned Brick

This Cape Cod has Patterned Brickwork and a Slate Roof
Cape Cod House Pictures Cape Cod Home With Patterned Brick and Slate Roof. Photo © Jackie Craven

Patterned brickwork, diamond-paned windows, and a slate roof give this 20th century Cape Cod the flavor of a Tudor Cottage home.

At first glance, you might not think of this house as a Cape Cod—especially because of the brick exterior. Many designers use the Cape Cod as a starting point, embellishing the style with features from other times and places.

An unusual feature of this home, besides the slate roof and brick exterior, is the small, single window we see to the left of the door. As the symmetry is thrown off by this opening, this one window may be located in a stairway leading to a full second floor.

The original homes of Cape Cod tried to emulate the architecture left behind in the British Isles. This later home seems to be trying for an even later Tudor Cottage look.

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Adding Tudor Details

Brick Cape Cod House With Tudor Details and Patterned Brickwork
Cape Cod House Pictures Brick Cape Cod House With Tudor Details. Photo © Jackie Craven

A tall pediment and elaborate brickwork give this 20th century Cape Cod home the appearance of a Cotswold Cottage.

The roof of this brick home has a slight saltbox shape (view image of saltbox-style Daggett Farmhouse). The saltbox was a style that quickly evolved from the Cape Cod "hall-and-parlor" homes of colonial times.

Besides the patterned brick, prominent dormers, and corner quoins, architectural details that suggest a different, later time period include the extension of the front porch or vestibule. Like the dormers, this may have been added at a later time, especially because of its Tudor Cottage look.

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Adding the Vestibule Portico

Modified Cape Cod with Tudor-style, Patterned Brickwork, and Gabled Dormers
Cape Cod House Pictures Patterned Brick Cape Cod House With Portico and Dormers. Photo © Jackie Craven

A temple-like portico (porch) with a steep pediment gives this Cape Cod house the appearance of a Tudor Cottage.

The entrance vestibule is often an add-on to a colonial-era home and by design for a newer home. "Sometimes, in tearing down or altering an old house, the attachment of these vestibules to the house, and particularly in their under-floor and roof construction, becomes definite and plain," writes the Early American Society in Survey of Early American Design. The vestibule, which added interior space where most needed, was very popular in the early part of the 1800s (1805-1810 and 1830-1840). Many were Tudor pitched as well as Greek Revival, with pilasters and pediments.

Learn More:

Source: "Early American Vestibules" in Survey of Early American Design by the staff of The Early American Society, Arno Press, 1977, pp. 154, 156.

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Colonial Cape Cod House

Colonial Cape Cod House, white, unadorned, center chimney, workable shutters on windows
Cape Cod House Pictures White Colonial Cape Cod House. Image courtesy Jupiterimages Corporation

Remembering that the original colonists of the New World took the journey because of freedom of religion, we should not be surprised at the Puritan-stark nature of New England's first homes. There were no dormers. The center chimney warmed the entire house. Shutters were made to actually close over the windows. Exterior siding was clapboard or shingle. Roofs were shingle or slate. The home had to function in the heat of summer and bone-chilling New England winters. Today's mid-century Cape Cod style has evolved from this.

Learn More:

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Cape Cod House With Center Chimney

Cape Cod House With Center Chimney and Patriotic colored bunting over the front door
Cape Cod House Pictures Cape Cod House With Center Chimney. Photo © Jackie Craven

In Colonial New England, Cape Cod homes were heated by a single fireplace with a chimney rising from the center of the house.

The American Cape Cod house style is often considered the first American independent style. Of course it isn't. Like all architecture, it is a derivative of what has come before. Nevertheless, homes are often enveloped in the red, white, and blue of American colors.

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Embellished Cape Cod House

New Hampshire Cape Cod House with pilasters and sidelights, making it a Colonial Revival home with 18th-century embellishments
Cape Cod House Pictures New Hampshire Cape Cod House with pilasters and sidelights. Photo © Jackie Craven

Pilasters and sidelights are Georgian and Federal embellishments on the Cape Cod style. This historic Cape Cod is in Sandwich, New Hampshire.

The variety of Cape Cod house styles is enormous. The styles of doors and windows seem to be different on every home. The number of "bays" or openings on a facade vary. The house shown here is a five-bay, with sidelights surrounding the doorway—architectural details that define a homeowner's personal style.

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Brick Cape Cod House

Cape Cod from the mid-twentieth century
Cape Cod House Pictures Brick Cape Cod House. Photo © Jackie Craven

Dormers were often added to the Cape Cod style houses built during the mid-twentieth century.

Cape Cod style characteristics may be obvious, but how they are implemented affects the aesthetics—the beauty of the house, or how it looks to you and your neighbors. Where are the dormers on the roof? How large are the dormers in relation to the rest of the house? What materials (including colors) are used for the dormers, windows, and front door? Are the windows and doors appropriate for the historic period? Is the line of the roof too close to the doors and windows? How is the symmetry?

These are all good questions to ask before you buy or build your first Cape Cod house.

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Plimoth Plantation

Plimoth Plantation recreated homes of the Pilgrims
Cape Cod House Pictures Plimoth Plantation recreated homes of the Pilgrims. Photo by capecodphoto/E+ Collection/Getty Images

The architectural style of the first houses near and on Massachusetts' Cape Cod has long been the starting point for designing the American home. The architecture defines a people and a culture—unadorned, functional, and practical. Can the Cape Cod style also be beautiful?

Learn More:

  • Stranded at Plimoth Plantation 1626 by Gary Bowen, 1998
    Buy on Amazon

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Keeping Tradition

The Cape Cod House, a classic wooden house in Provincetown, Cape Cod
Cape Cod House Pictures The Cape Cod House, a classic wooden house in Provincetown, Cape Cod. Photo by oversnap/E+ Collection/Getty Images

Like the homes at Plimoth Plantation, the landscape of the traditional Cape Cod home often includes the picket fence or gate. But traditions are difficult to keep pure. Many of the homes of the past have been modified through architectural details or building additions. When does one style become another?

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The Beach House

Updated Seaside Cottage, the New Cape Cod
Cape Cod House Pictures Updated Seaside Cottage, the New Cape Cod. Photo by Kenneth Wiedemann/E+ collection/Getty Images

The front porch has become as traditional an element as the weathered shingle siding or the dish antennae on the roof of a Cape Cod style home. The style of Cape Cod is America's style.

Learn More:

  • The Evolution of the Cape Cod House: An Architectural History by Arthur P. Richmond, Schiffer Publishing, 2011
    Buy on Amazon
  • The Cape Cod House by Stanley Schuler, Schiffer, 2007
    Buy on Amazon
  • The Cape Cod Cottage by William Morgan, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006
    Buy on Amazon