What is Cape Cod Interior Design?

Dreaming of coastal charm and timeless elegance? Discover the secrets of Cape Cod interior design and how it transforms any home into a serene retreat.

10 July 2024

The Cape Cod home is an icon of American design. Named for the sandy Massachusetts peninsula where it originated in the 17th century, it’s characterised by functionality, minimalism, and a strong connection to the surrounding landscape. Born of the necessity of surviving harsh New England winters, its elegant simplicity has rendered it timeless, able to shift with the centuries.

So, what is Cape Cod interior design? And how has the classic version adapted to modern tastes?

The Origins of Cape Cod House Interior Design

Classic Cape Cod cottage (Credit: KenWiedemann via Getty Images)

Cape Cod interior design can be traced back to the early 17th century when English settlers first arrived on the shores of New England. Their approach to housebuilding was purely pragmatic, focused on creating simple, durable structures that would withstand the harsh coastal weather. This can be seen in traditional Cape Cod homes, where embellishments and ornamentation were ignored. Instead, it was all about utilitarian value, with every feature serving a purpose.

The classic Cape Cod house was one or one-and-a-half stories tall, with shingle cladding to repel the wind and rain, steeply pitched roofs to drop off heavy snow and large central chimneys to keep the homes warm during the cold winters. This practicality extended indoors. Rooms were small and cosy, with low ceilings to retain heat. Natural materials, such as wood, were used extensively, both for their local availability and for their insulating properties.

Updating the Classic Cape Cod Look

Modern open plan style kitchen (Credit: Jacek Kadaj via Getty Images)

Over the years, the character of Cape Cod changed, becoming a tourist hotspot where some forty percent of houses are holiday homes. While maintaining many of the original features, the houses became bigger, more ostentatious, and luxurious. In terms of Cape Cod style house interiors, these became sleeker and airier with open floor plans. Modern touches were added, incorporating contemporary furniture alongside classic wooden pieces, or integrating state-of-the-art appliances into a traditionally styled kitchen. So, what are the features of Cape Cod interior design today and what’s fallen away? Let’s explore.

Key Elements of Cape Cod Style House Interiors

Neutral colour palette of a Cape Cod style living space (Credit: onurdongel via Getty Images)

The Cape Cod style house interior is defined by several key elements that together create its distinctive charm and appeal, evoking the tranquillity of coastal living.

Natural Materials

Natural materials are a cornerstone of Cape Cod interior design. Wood is used extensively, from hardwood floors to exposed beams and wooden furniture. The use of shiplap walls adds texture and a sense of history, evoking the craftsmanship of early settlers. This emphasis on natural materials helps create a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Neutral Colour Palette

A neutral colour palette is a hallmark of Cape Cod home interiors. Shades of white, beige, and soft pastels dominate, reflecting the sandy beaches and serene waters of Cape Cod. These colours not only create a calming environment but also serve as a versatile backdrop for various decor elements and personal touches.

Simple & Functional Furnishings

Furnishings in a Cape Cod house interior are characterised by their simplicity and functionality. Slipcovered sofas, wicker chairs, and vintage pieces are common, blending comfort with elegance. These items often feature clean lines and minimal ornamentation, aligning with the overall aesthetic of understated beauty.

Nautical Accents

Nautical accents play a significant role in Cape Cod interior design, reinforcing the coastal theme. Elements such as seashells, driftwood, and maritime artwork bring a touch of the ocean indoors. These accents add character and a sense of place, making the home feel closely connected to its surroundings.

Cosy Fireplaces

Once at the very centre of the house, fireplaces remain a staple in Cape Cod homes, often serving as the focal point of living rooms and bedrooms. Typically framed with brick or stone, these hearths provide warmth and a cosy ambiance, especially during the colder months.

Abundant Natural Light

Originally constructed with small windows and low ceilings, nowadays Cape Cod house interior design maximises natural light through the use of large expanses and plenty of glass. These elements not only illuminate the space but also offer breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Soft Ambient Lighting

In addition to natural light, soft, ambient lighting is used to create a warm and inviting ambiance in Cape Cod homes. Table lamps, floor lamps, and chandeliers with simple, clean lines complement the overall design. This type of lighting adds to the cosy and intimate feel of the spaces, especially during the evening.

Touchable Textiles

The use of textiles is another way to infuse warmth and personality into a Cape Cod house interior. Soft, cosy fabrics like linen, cotton, and wool are commonly used for upholstery, curtains, and throw blankets. These materials not only provide comfort but also add layers of texture, contributing to the overall aesthetic.

Decor and Personal Touches

Coastal style artwork in a relaxed living space (Credit: Boris SV via Getty Images)

Personal touches are essential in creating a truly unique Cape Cod home interior. Family heirlooms, antique finds, and handcrafted items can add character and tell a story. Personalised artwork, such as coastal-themed paintings or photographs, can further enhance the connection to the sea and make the space feel more intimate.

Outdoor Spaces

Outdoor space of a Cape Cod style home (Credit: KenWiedemann via Getty Images)

The charm of Cape Cod interior design extends beyond the four walls of the home, seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor living. Many Cape Cod style houses feature spacious porches, patios, and gardens that are designed to be enjoyed year-round. These outdoor areas often reflect the same design principles as the interior, with comfortable seating, natural materials, and coastal-inspired decor.

Summarising the Cape Cod Look

Stunning house overlooking Cape Cod (Credit: ideeone via Getty Images)

In conclusion, Cape Cod interior design is a timeless and versatile style that combines simplicity, elegance, and a deep connection to the coastal environment. Whether nestled along the New England coastline or in a suburban neighbourhood, a Cape Cod home interior offers a serene and welcoming retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.


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