Today’s Cape Cod house plans are often much more than first meets the eye. Sure, the house designs are steeped in tradition and practicality – that’s what made them so popular for generations. But today’s Cape Cod home plans offer a certain elegance and even modernity in their floor plans design that has homeowners more excited than they have been in decades.
Can you imagine a simple, rectangular frame house capturing the fascination of a nation? That’s exactly what the Cape Cod house did in Colonial times … and continues to do in the 21st century – of course with some significant interior changes! The modest, practical, and mostly unadorned house has been around for more than three centuries and has remarkable staying power. Its relatively low cost of construction has kept it popular as a starter home for many young families. While architects’ and house designers’ ability to creatively adapt the interior’s floor plans to meet the needs of modern families has given it a considerable boost in popularity.
Although the style originated in New England, Cape Cod homes were soon built along the entire East Coast, the South, and eventually, throughout the rest of the country.
Cape Cods began as one-level homes with two or three rooms each equipped with a fireplace. As they gained popularity, the homes were expanded to one-and-a-half story structures with steep, gabled roofs and two or more small dormers. Their exteriors varied from white clapboard siding to brick and sometimes stucco. In their early days, especially in the Southeast, homeowners used timber and log for the exteriors.
Other features included chimneys that were aligned with the front door, which in most Capes, was the only decorated part of the house. Much like the farmhouse, the center of family activity was the kitchen where everyone gathered to socialize and celebrate.
British Roots with an American Flair
When the British settled in the colonies, they brought with them ideas of a simple, traditional cottage that would keep their families comfortable during the summer months and warm in the harsh winters.
The “cottage” – usually two rooms wide and one room deep – was patterned after the mostly functional and practical “hall-and-parlor” home quite common in England.
Resurrection Manor (St. Mary’s County, MD), a brick “hall-and-parlor” in colonial times, lost its historic designation when it was torn down to build a single family home. (Photo credit: National Park Service Photo / Patricia Heintzelman, National Historic Landmarks Program)
True to the American spirit of innovation, colonial builders infused their own touches to the basic “hall-and-parlor” cottages. They added chimneys, expanded floors, experimented with a different alignment of chimney and entranceway; and built wings to accommodate growing families. Windows were widened for more sunlight and air. Some even built white picket fences around their homes.
Captain Edward Penniman’s House in Eastham, MA has been designated a historic American building. Penniman was a very successful whaling captain. His home's architectural style is an early inspiration for the Cape Cod (photo credit: National Park Service Photo).
A “Yalie” Invents “Cape Cod” Term
The term Cape Cod house originated in the 1800s with the Rev. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University. During his travels to New England and New York, Rev. Dwight recorded his impressions in Journey to Provincetown. In one of his entries, he described the houses from Yarmouth to Race Point as belonging to “the class which may be called with propriety Cape Cod houses.”
The term caught on … as did the style.
Today’s Cape Cod Style House: Redesigned for a New Generation
As with the ranch, farmhouse, and A-frame, the Cape Cod house plan had been cast aside, then revived and redesigned. Just when other house architectural styles seemed to overshadow the Cape Cod, architects like Royal Barry Willis came up with new floor plan designs to modernize the style while retaining original features like the gable roof, chimney, and shutter-clad windows.
While it continues to maintain its popularity, today’s Cape Cod is still simple, practical, efficient, and ideal as a starter home. It can also be as elegant, luxurious, and spacious as the homeowner or home builder desires.
This classic Cape Cod (Plan #169-1146) has a front porch and a mudroom area leading to the garage. The second floor (below) offers plenty of extra room for a growing family.
While traditional in many ways, with its familier exterior and two-story floor plan, the interior of Plan #169-1146 offers a rather open floor plan style popular with many families today – including a spacious kitchen, open dining area, and living room with fireplace – not to mention a main floor master suite. The mudroom and laudry room adjoining to the two-car garage keeps the rest of the house tidy and offers great storage and organization for coats and shoes.