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Here's How the Mighty Cape Conquered American Suburbia

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What do the Pilgrims, suburban sprawl, haute historic districts, and Yankee thrift all have in common? The Cape Cod style house, of course. Simple and symmetrical, the Cape, as it is better known, has been a fixture on The Cape since the 17th century. Although the style looks as though it might have been crowdsourced in a kindergarten, there's purpose behind the Cape's clean lines and form definitely follows function.

Like so much else, English colonists took their architectural cues from their old digs across the pond and adapted the plans for use with local materials and to withstand the new-to-them harsh climate. Early Cape exteriors lacked unnecessary ornamentation and were designed above all to keep the Pilgrims safe from the snowy, stormy inclement weather. Thus, the homes were often built south-facing, a story and a half high and featured a central front door with two multi-paned windows on either side, steeped pitched roofs, exterior shutters, and covered in cedar shingles or clapboard.


Inside, a large central chimney and low ceilings helped conserve heat during the colder months and south-facing front windows assisted with both additional heat and daylight.


The main floor usually consisted of living areas and a bedroom with a central staircase leading to the upper level bedrooms.


Like the exterior, there was no superfluous ornamentation and interiors were adorned with wide pine flooring and practical built-ins.


Since snowy and stormy was followed with hot and humid (with a week of spring and fall, respectively, in between), interior walls were covered with wainscoting to help deal with the constant moisture issues of the coastal climate.

While the popularity of architectural styles ebb and flow, the Cape has remained a fixture for centuries, most likely due to its low production cost. Considering that a foundation and roof are the two priciest parts of constructing any home, it's no wonder that the rectangular Cape with its low, broad frame is one of the least expensive to build. Hence, thanks to the booms and busts of capitalism, the affordable Cape is pretty much guaranteed prevalence. Obviously, being associated with New England thrift and, subsequently, the Great Depression didn't exactly make the humble Cape an object of desire, but thanks to a dearth of affordable housing and a few architectural tweaks, its popularity would surge post-World War II. From low-cost planned communities of suburban sprawl (hello, Levittown) to the high-end replicas from architects such as Royal Barry Wills, the mid-twentieth century was a nationwide heyday for the Cape.

These days, builders continue to churn out new Capes, from the blank slate basic to the totally tricked-out, but thanks to an abundance of historic districts, Cape Cod has no shortage of quintessential examples from the 17th and 18th centuries. Here are three classic Capes, updated and upgraded for 2015, that are on the market right now:


Provincetown's 1790 beauty with a very 2015 price tag is an example of a Cape with an asymmetrical façade with two windows to the left side of the front door and just one on the right, likely indicating that the original owner/builder was trying to save a couple bucks. Clearly, that's not the case for the current seller, who has added a high-end kitchen and baths while managing to preserve much of the gorgeous original detail. · 1640: The Oldest House For Sale on Cape Cod Was Once Owned by an Ancestor of Three U.S. Presidents [Curbed Cape Cod]
· 1747: 459 Old Harbor Rd, Chatham, MA [Historic Homes of Cape Cod]
· 1790: 225-Year-Old Provincetown Beauty Has a Very 2015 Price Tag [Curbed Cape Cod]
· Cape Cod (house) [Wikipedia]
· The Low Down on Cape & Islands Historic Districts [Curbed Cape Cod]