House Styles: Cape Cods and Dutch Colonials

Learn how Colonial houses were adapted for modern life.

Cape Cod and Dutch Colonial Houses

Look Up at the Roof
The roof says it all when it comes to Cape Cod and Dutch Colonial houses. The Cape Cod house has a gabled roof, which means the roof has two sloping sides that meet at a ridge. In the case of the Dutch Colonial house, the roof has a gambrel roof: There are two sides and each side has two slopes.  The first slope is shallow and the second is steep.  While the Cape Cod roof is triangular, the Dutch gambrel roof is bell-shaped.

In the 17th century, both types of roofs were common in the English and Dutch settlements because they prevented the accumulation of snow and rain. They were used on the rudimentary one and one-and-a-half story structures that sheltered the inhabitants.

The Revival of the Cape Cod House
The Cape Cod house was revived between the 1930s and ’50s. The functional floor plan and compact size inspired architects of mass housing.  Nonetheless, modern Cape Cod houses differ significantly from the Colonial originals.  They retain the characteristic gabled roof and white-painted clapboard or shingle siding.  But the modern versions are bigger than the historic two-room model. Frequently, there is a second story with dormers, and the chimney is no longer in the center of the house but at one end.

The Transformation of the Dutch Colonial House
The Dutch Colonial house was also transformed, beginning in the 1890s. The dark, cramped, and badly heated prototypes were expanded with second and third stories, and clapboard and fish scale shingles were used instead of brick and stone.  The modern Dutch Colonial has a gambrel roof with flared eaves, dormers with eight-over-one sash windows, and off-center chimney.  The central entrance has a Dutch door (that is, a door with two separate leaves). A taste for the picturesque is also reflected in the intersecting gables and bay windows.

Dutch Colonial House Kits
Sears Roebuck sold Dutch Colonial house kits in the first decades of the 20th century. The “Martha Washington,” which was promoted “as a design that will delight lovers of the real Colonial type of architecture,” had a porch with fluted columns, decorative shutters, and lots of windows.  According to the floor plan, the ground floor is dominated by the living room with a sketched-in grand piano.  A smaller and less expensive model (“The Puritan”) was also for sale.  In this plan, the living room piano has been downgraded to an upright.

Cape Cod and Dutch Colonial Houses Today
In the older suburbs, there are many varieties of Cape Cod and Dutch Colonial houses.  Nostalgia, patriotism, and an appreciation of good design ensured the continuance of American’s earliest houses.