Cape Cod Houses

The first Cape Codders, sailors and fisherman, built their houses the same way they built their boats: simple, neat and watertight.

In addition, they never built their homes along the shore. While this seems preposterous today, early settlers lived upland away from the water. To take full advantage of solar heat, their homes always faced south and there were no windows on the colder northside.

Most Cape Cod houses were built in stages and followed three typical designs: the Half Cape, Three-Quarter Cape and Full Cape. These unique designs allowed for endless additions, or ells, as the family (or its prosperity) grew. As you travel across the Cape, you can identify these designs by a house's fa├žade. The half house sports two windows to the left or right of the front door. A third, single window opposite the door graces a three-quarter house. A full-Cape features two windows on both sides of the entrance.

The foundations of all Cape houses are low to the ground as protection from winds. Steep roofs prevented rain or snow from accumulating. Exterior paint was uncommon; normally the wooden shingles were left to weather. Depending on how the wind, salt spray and sun blanketed the shingles, they turned a dark gray or brown. Sometimes, though, the shingles or clapboard on the front were painted white, a tradition that continues today.

About the Author

Walter and Pat Brooks of East Harwich, MA, along with Steve Sullivan of Brewster, MA founded Best Read Guide Cape Cod and Best Read Guides, Inc. in July 1988 after 30 years in newspapering and sold the business to industry leader CTM Media Group in 2016. The mission in founding the magazine was to provide a high-quality free publication for visitors to Cape Cod which would show them where to go and what to do in an easy-to-use format. Published and distributed by CTM Media Group, find the printed guide at hundreds of locations both on and off the Cape or find fun fast online at and