Cape Cod, California Ranch

The Cape Cod is typically seen as a cozy cottage-style home. -Annie Schwemmer

Understanding the history, style and architecture of your home — and the other homes in your neighborhood — is crucial in designing an addition or renovation.

Ignore this principle, and you’ll end up spending a lot of money to decrease the value of your home, not to mention those of your neighbors.

Last week, we discussed the Tudor revival and the craftsman bungalow. This week, we will go coast to coast to introduce two more styles: the Cape Cod and the California ranch.

The Cape Cod

The exterior of a Cape Cod home is generally symmetrical — usually rectangular boxes with steep roofs and a simple 1½-story form. The roofs are typically gabled (in which the sides come to a triangular point), but variances include gambrel (in which the roof slope has a change in pitch part way down, similar to a traditional barn roof shape) and bowed roofs (in which the sides of the triangle are curved).

These homes are typically sided with shingles or clapboards, although they are sometimes seen with brick, stucco or stone.

You’ll also commonly see a brick chimney and decorative shutters. (Remember the shutter rule: Each shutter should be wide enough to cover half of the window it abuts.)

Inside the Cape Cod, if there is a second story, it is tucked within the roof structure. This requires knee walls (3-foot to 5-foot vertical walls constructed inside the roof plane) so the room doesn’t end in an unusable triangle space along the outside edge and dormers (windows with their own roof) to gain headroom on the second floor.

The interior woodwork is typically painted, not stained, and the staircases are simple. If you will be renovating a Cape Cod, note that details matter on this simple style.

Rake boards (trim under the roof on the gable ends), corner boards and window and door trim are required to give the home added character and distinction.

Original Cape Cod homes were generally built without porches, but because of the simple exterior, the style lends itself to adding one to embellish the blank look of the simple roof line.

In its simplicity, the Cape Cod tends to be seen as a cozy cottage. It combines characteristic Yankee practicality with a timeless aesthetic and has become an enduring symbol of domestic comfort.

The California ranch

The Ranch’s exterior style is typically asymmetrical with a one-story rectangular or L shape. The ranch is long, narrow and low to the ground, with a strong horizontal emphasis.

It features strip or ribbon windows, a low but visible chimney, a very visible garage, a recessed entry door with flanking sidelight and a low-pitched roof with projecting eaves.

Harking back to its California indoor/outdoor roots, the ranch often has partially enclosed courtyards and patios.

Inside, you’ll find an open, free-flowing floor plan. The rambler interior typically includes a simple room arrangement, minimal trim and floor-to-ceiling views of the backyard. Because it evolved in warm-weather climates, the typical rambler home has both visual and literal connections of the major living spaces to the outdoors.

If you have one of these American originals in need of remodeling, we recommend capitalizing on its simple features and clean design.

While the essential details are typically not ornamental, they do not need to be boring, either. Today, we have a variety of materials to choose from, like metals or engineered woods, to add flair — not decoration — to your rambler.

We also recommend embracing the indoor/outdoor elements unique to this design. We live in an area famed for its amazing outdoors, and this home style allows you to connect to them every day.

Remember, your home may be a combination of several styles. Once you determine its predominant style, it is up to you to decide whether to revive it and enhance it or change it completely.

Just understand that applying good design regardless of the house style will enhance the value of your home and the other houses in the neighborhood.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group,, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.

Renovation Solutions: The Cape Cod and the California Ranch