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Cape Cod Homes: from Puritans to Seattleites

Posted by Johnine Larsen on August 14, 2019
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Popular with the Puritans, and popular again with WWII vets, Cape Cod houses (like this one) have established themselves as charming and practical homes filled with nostalgia and personality. From 17th-century Cape Cod, Massachusetts to today’s Seattle, Washington, these homes have grown from cramped, practical refuges to American icons. But from then to now—even over a three-and-a-half-century timeline—anyone can identify a Cape Cod.


Tell-tale signs of a Cape Cod house

  • 1 or 1.5 stories
  • Wood siding (often shingle or shiplap siding)
  • Symmetrical exterior and interior layout
  • Centered front entry
  • Steep roofs with side gables (meaning the triangle parts of the roof are on the sides of the house)
  • Centralized chimney
  • Open-concept living space
  • Clean lines, little aesthetic detailing



These homes originated with New England colonists. The half-timber cottages of the their English homeland served as the architectural starting point. The symmetrical layout centered around a large, open living space (back then, they called that space a “hall”). These houses were low and broad with flat-front facades—you’ll see similar features in the colonial homes built farther south, as well.

But from there on, the design was pragmatic. New England winters dropped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, snow piled up several feet high, and harsh winds battered the landscape. A giant chimney that connected several rooms spread warmth throughout the house, and low ceilings conserved heat. A steep roof kept snow from building up and collapsing the ceiling. Shutters kept out the fierce wind. Decoration didn’t matter as much in Puritan New England as did survival and setting up civilization, so homes lacked ornamentation, and the space above the first floor was often left unfinished. Building materials came from the local area: oak or pine framing, covered in cedar shingles or clapboard.

These homes didn’t become known as “Cape Cod houses” until the early 1800s, when the Reverend Timothy Dwight IV, President of Yale University, visited Cape Cod and gave them the moniker that has since stuck.


Today’s Cape Cod Homes

Cape Cod homes were eclipsed by Victorian homes styles, but they came back in vogue in the 1920s and 1930s during a Colonial Revival period. The revivals, though, looked a bit different. Free of the practical demands of early New England, these contemporary versions were larger, the second story under the eaves was finished (usually bedrooms), and dormers were added. More ornamentation appeared, like exterior trim, and the shutters became decorative.

These revived homes spread across the country. They boomed after World War II, since the simple layout made them ideal starter homes for returning soldiers. Although not nearly as austere as tradition Cape Cod homes, the new ones were still a manageable size, efficient to heat, and easy to expand with additions down the road as a family grew larger. Put a white picket fence in front of a Cade Code home, and you have a movie-worthy picture of the American Dream.


If you want a tour, we just put this charming Cape Cod on the market. Email to find out about our next open house!

  • Sarah Donaldson
    Sarah Donaldson
    18:44 18 Jul 19
    Darcie was such a joy to work with. She felt like family during the sale of our house and the search for our new home. We may have found our forever home, but if we ever need a Realtor in future, Darcie from Real Estate Gals will be our first call.
    Brian Heagler
    Brian Heagler
    16:55 02 Jun 19
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    Anne Slater
    18:03 25 May 19
    Johnine Larsen is fabulous! She listened and came up with ways we could get what we wanted in a house and stay within our limited budget. When we found the house we wanted, she moved super fast to get the house inspected and implemented creative ideas to make our offer appealing. And out of 13 offers, we were selected and got our house. I recommend her to anyone buying a home.
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    Amy Burdick
    19:13 24 May 19
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    Beth Guerra
    01:14 18 May 19
    Johnine was a breath of fresh air in the real estate market. She listened intently to our wishes and goals, and was tireless in her search for our perfect house. She is well versed in both Seattle and the surrounding areas. She made sure all the details were taken care of after the inspection, and made the closing process seamless. She even gifted us with a housewarming present. Nearly 7 years later, we still receive holiday cards and well wishes. I highly recommend Real Estate Gals and will look no further in the future.
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    Aidan Key
    15:44 17 May 19
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