Skip to main content

Cape Cod vs. Colonial homes: What’s the difference?

These two home styles do differ, so find out how here

Blue cape cod house
rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock

Cape Cod and Colonial houses look vastly similar to one another. For the untrained eye, it might seem the only difference is their size. However, while these two home styles share a similar origin, their history over the years differs, giving each domestic architectural design a unique story.

Here, we’ll discuss the difference between Cape Cod vs. Colonial homes to help you navigate these aesthetics.

Recommended Videos

What is a Cape Cod house?

White Cape Cod-style house with a red roof
Hussain / Adobe Stock

Cape Cod homes are a classical American design. They are often one-and-a-half stories with distinct features, such as:

  • Steeply pitched roofs
  • Dormer windows
  • One or more gabled roofs
  • Central chimney
  • Rectangular floor plan
  • Symmetrical design
  • Central front and back door
  • Central hallway through the house
  • Smaller homes in square footage

Cape Cod homes are often categorized into quarter cape, half cape, three-quarters cape, and full cape, depending on their size.

History of Cape Cod houses

Cape Cod homes originated in New England in the 17th century. As one of the first styles of home to enter the U.S. from abroad, this home aesthetic was greatly influenced by the English cottage.

However, Cape Cod homes, while inspired by the English cottage, have unique features that make them a better fit for the New England environment. Some examples are steeply pitched roofs, a central fireplace, and a centered front door.

During the early and mid-20th century, architecture experienced a Colonial Revival, in which homes like Cape Cod were reimagined, bigger and better than before.

What is a Colonial home?

dutch colonial with gambrel roof in southern US
AbbieeOfficial / Pixabay

Colonial homes were inspired by original colonist designs of the 17th and 18th centuries, like the Cape Cod. However, today, when referring to the Colonial home style, many architects speak of the style that emerged during the Colonial Revival period or of specific Colonial homes ranging from English to Dutch.

Some features of a Colonial home are:

  • Symmetrical layout and exterior
  • Rectangular floor plan
  • Gable or gambrel roofs
  • “Flat” exterior (or a lack of dormers)
  • Often two stories
  • Central front door
  • Upscale crown molding
  • Grand fireplaces
  • Larger rooms and more space

There are several different types of Colonial homes. English American, French, Dutch, Georgian, and Colonial Revival are all examples of this style.

History of Colonial homes

Colonial homes coincide with Cape Cod architecture, often spanning a period from the 17th to 18th centuries. As Dutch, British, French, and Spanish colonists entered the U.S. and settled, they brought similar architecture from their homeland.

Colonial homes had a resurgence during the Colonial Revival era of U.S. domestic architecture. Colonial designs have existed since the 17th century, though many Colonial-style homes were reimagined in the 19th century. Colonial homes today still feature the central front door, rectangular shape, and symmetrical layout. However, they are much bigger and meant to accommodate larger families with more open space than earlier homes.

Colonial vs. Cape Cod home

English American colonial home exterior
michaelspamela / Pixabay

Colonial and Cape Cod homes share many similarities. As both evolved from the domestic architecture of the original New England settlers, they have a lot of common characteristics. Typically, their greatest difference is their size.

How they are the same

  • Colonial homes include a “Revival style,” which is considered an offshoot of Cape Cod homes and original colonial architecture.
  • Both home styles focus on symmetry in their designs, often featuring a central front door and inner hall.
  • Both home styles have a rectangular shape to their layout and a central chimney.
  • Capes and Colonials use single and double-hung windows.

How they are different

  • Colonial houses are often two stories, while Cape Cods are single or one-and-a-half stories.
  • Capes Cods have steeply pitched roofs with more gables. Sometimes, They also have a few dormers, which Colonial homes often lack.
  • Colonial houses are usually bigger than Cape Cods when it comes to square footage.
  • Colonial homes might have gambrel roofs, while Cape Cod homes usually have gables.

How to style these homes

Gray-blue house exterior
Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

While styling these homes can be quite similar, many people have begun to lean toward the cottage aesthetic with Cape Cod homes rather than traditional aesthetics, which have been the go-to for both home styles for the past few decades.


There are several types of Colonial homes, each with unique characteristics that help differentiate them. However, no matter what Colonial home you own, traditional aesthetics are always a safe choice when styling your interior.

Colonial Revival homes paved the way for New Traditional American architecture. Both styles do well with symmetrical interior layouts and traditional designs. For example, when designing your Colonial Revival living room, you might opt for two neutral-toned couches on either side of the central fireplace to provide symmetry to the space.

Cape Cod

As mentioned above, Cape Cod homes have often been paired with traditional aesthetics. However, many homeowners have shifted to give these quaint spaces a more cottage-like feel in the interior design. Leaning into the small nature of the Cape Cod home, simple cottage kitchens and elements have provided a soft and more natural feel to this home style.

Additionally, Cape Cods have also seen a surge in modern coastal designs. As many Cape Cod homes are located along the coasts of New England, it’s no surprise that coastal themes and grandmillenial decor have found their way into these spaces.

Cape Cods and Colonial homes are very similar, all originating from 17th-century colonist home designs. However, both designs have changed and shifted over the years to take on either a more simplistic and quaint aesthetic or a grander and more spacious look.

Whether you have a Colonial or a Cape Cod, choosing a traditional style is always best. However, as with any home, you can decorate it according to your personal preferences and benefit from the unique symmetry of these houses.

Editors' Recommendations

Amelia Wilson
Amelia Wilson (author pen name Amelia J. Wilson) is a content writer in Greenwood, IN. She often enjoys topics on…
Your complete guide to Scandinavian design: A gorgeous, simple home aesthetic
Interested in Scandinavian design? Here's everything you need to know about it
Modern Scandinavian living room style

Whether you want to honor the landscape with natural home decor or cozy up indoors to enjoy the concept of hygge, Scandinavian design offers gorgeous simplicity in the home. This design aesthetic is more than just IKEA furniture. Scandinavian design focuses on functionality and simplicity to help connect us with nature while offering a comforting interior to withstand even the darkest of winters.

For those who want to embark on uplifting their minimalist aesthetics or are curious about this beautiful style, here is everything you need to know about Scandinavian design.

Read more
5 clever Christmas tree decorating ideas that will wow your friends and family
Your guests will be impressed with your unique Christmas tree
Christmas tree in living room surrounded by presents

If you want to shake things up with your Christmas tree decorations this year, then we’ve got just the list for you! Decorating the Christmas tree is one of the things we look forward to the most during the holidays. It’s a chance to show off your personality and blend tradition with items passed down through generations. So, if you’re struggling to come up with the perfect way to wow your friends and family this year, check out our top five Christmas tree decorating ideas.

Add your holiday cards to your Christmas tree
Each year, families receive holiday cards by the dozens. This tradition has transcended the digital age and proven to be a nostalgic and heartwarming experience for many. If you have a few holiday cards sitting around on your table or mantel, why not put them to use as part of your tree decoration?
Place them on your tree
One simple way you can use holiday cards on your Christmas tree is by nestling them between the branches. Scatter them around the tree alongside ornaments and garland to create a beautiful and cohesive look. This option is excellent for those who are running short on time but still want to add something special to their tree. And just think, when your family and friends come around for a holiday get-together, they’ll be overjoyed that you put their cards on display.
Turn them into ornaments
If you'd prefer something smaller — or are looking for a way to repurpose the beautiful cards you got last year, you can always turn them into ornaments. Pick up some flat wood discs from your local craft store, some glitter, glue, and twine. Cut the card a bit smaller than the disc, glue it, and trim the edge with glitter. Once you glue a loop of twine to the back, it'll be ready for your tree.
Create garland
Alternatively, you could create a fun garland out of your holiday cards. If you want to get crafty (and have plenty of cards and a little time on your hands), gather up the necessary supplies to create a holiday card garland.

Read more
What colors go with gray? How to make a neutral hue pop in your home
Make gray walls work for your home decor with complementary colors
Modern living room with gray walls and yellow furniture

Neutral colors like gray and taupe are always popular options for your home's interior design. Both are versatile shades that can go with a plethora of other hues, which means you can easily change up the look of your decor with gray walls and a rotating rainbow of accessories like colorful throw pillows. With all the different shades of gray paint available, from matte to glossy, warm to cool, and brownish to blueish, it's certainly possible to find the one that's perfect for you and your home.

Of course, you can always have too much of a good thing. While gray can be a sophisticated and elegant shade, too much gray can wash out a room or make it feel dull and dingy or cold and unwelcoming. Think of gray as the neutral backdrop on a canvas that lets your color palette shine, and you can't go wrong. So, it’s important to incorporate other colors into the decor, whether it be with pieces of furniture, art, or throw blankets -- but what colors go with gray? If you're looking for the best options to brighten up your current decor, keep reading to find out how to accent this elegant tone.

Read more