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Whether you call it Cape Cod, cottage, shingle, or just “home,” New England style architecture captures an easy, breezy feel that conveys warmth, character, and the essence of Americana. Ironic for a style that didn’t even originate in the states. “Though the style is quintessentially American, the first Cape Cods were developed by early settlers from England in the 1600s,” according to Wikipedia.

Originally designed in a simple style intended to insulate residents against harsh weather outside, “Everything about the Cape Cod style was adopted for its function rather than its form,” said Front Door.

Current adaptations across the U.S…and even in places like California have kept the original spirit of the style while adding modern elements—and tons of space—more suitable for today’s lifestyles (Exhibit A: Sweetbay, a contemporary Cape Cod in Atherton, Calif. that reveals grandeur and warmth in equal measure).

Draw: For quaint style and relaxed comfort, it doesn’t get much better than the New England style. And, a house can sometimes be had for a song if you stick to the original concept of the Cape Cod. “Both historic Cape Cods and revivals were originally starter homes, and they’re still good options for cash-strapped buyers,” said Front Door. But if you’re looking for Cape Cod style in a larger home, shingle-style, offering “home plans (that) are informal and highly imaginative—a summer ‘cottage’ style often built for wealthy clients, may fit the bill,” said Wikipedia. Adding Houzz: “Nothing says ‘home sweet home’ quite like Cape Cod cottages”—in any size.

Elements to Look for: The Cape Cod cottage “is a style of house originating in New England in the 17th century, and is traditionally characterized by a low, broad frame building, generally a story and a half high, with a steep, pitched roof with end gables, a large central chimney and very little ornamentation,” said Wikipedia.

Many of the same charming design and decorative elements we connect with New England style homes today have arisen out of necessity. “Fluctuating Cape Cod temperatures presented the problem of moisture within interior walls, which was addressed by using wainscoting—a design element still prevalent today,” said Wikipedia. “Finally, the Pilgrims dealt with stormy winds by installing shutters on the windows. A trademark of Cape Cod home design, the shutter is now an aesthetic element instead of a functional one.”

Other details of traditional New England style or Cape Cod homes, according to Better Homes and Gardens, include:

  • Steep roof with side gables, chimney usually on one end
  • Double dormers
  • Sided with wide clapboards, wood shingles, or brick
  • Centered front door, most often plain, but sometimes with portico
  • Hardwood floors and center hall floor plan
  • Multi-paned, double-hung windows with decorative shutters (“especially in a Colonial-Era Cape Cod house,” said Better Homes and Gardens)
  • Cedar shake shingles for the roof and siding
  • Clapboard siding
  • Window boxes
  • Wide front porch

Architects: The most famous of American Cape Cod architects is Boston architect Royal Barry Willis, who “reintroduced the Cape in the 1920s as a contemporary housing option” after interest in the style had waned, said Front Door. “He retained the basic exterior shape of a Cape, but adapted the interior for modern life. The Cape Cod …was used to build some of the first major housing developments. Wills’ legacy is in modernizing the style and “promoting an appealing living option for middle-class families, said Wikipedia.

Architects McKim, Mead and White and Peabody and Stearns “helped to popularize the Shingle style, through their large-scale commissions for ‘seaside cottages’ of the rich and the well-to-do in such places as Newport, Rhode Island,” said Wikipedia.

Neighborhoods: Although New England style or Cape Cod-style architecture is most often attached to the East Coast (and rightfully so—after all, it is named after the region), homes can be found all over the country. In Southern California, homes can be found in beach communities such as Laguna, Malibu, Carpinteria, and Santa Barbara. The Inland Empire college city of Claremont is a storied hamlet developed as a New England style town.

Farther north, Cape Cod homes dot the landscapes of Los Altos, Atherton, and Mendocino, whose settlers built homes in the New England style to reflect their Northeast heritage.

Are you a fan of the New England architecture? Do you prefer the classic cottage or the grander shingle style? What do you think of this example below?


2225 Featherhill Rd
Montecito, CA 93108