The Cape Cod, with its boxy footprint, snug proportions, andshingled roof, embodies our notion of shelter. It's common onislands such as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard and, of course, theCape.
Shaped like a Monopoly house, the popular cottage designoriginated centuries ago in New England. Typical of most vernacularforms, it was determined by the region's weather and built to defyprevailing winds. The broad, squat form with a steep-pitched rooffeatures a few informal rooms downstairs and a half-story loft,often with dormer windows. Two or more fireplaces cluster around acentral chimney to warm the home. Exterior shutters, battened downduring nor'easters, often punctuate the facade.
The Cape Cod cottage proliferated during the mid-20th century,thanks to a Colonial revival and a need for low-cost housing. It'sstill known for its compact size and lack of ornamentation. Inwarmer climates, the details may be strictly decorative orperfunctory, but the New England icon still feels like an honesthouse―ship-tight, cozy, even romantic.
The Florida Cracker predates electricity andair-conditioning. "It's a product of the environment," saysMichigan-based architect Michael Poris. "People were trying to staycool."
With wood either tacked on vertically―board-and-battenstyle―or horizontally, in wide-planked clapboards, the modestform rises on brick piers or wooden stilts to avoid floodwaters andtermites. Pitched roofs reach skyward and often vent hot airthrough cupolas or clerestory windows.
Cracker houses cool inhabitants in other ways, as well. Theyusually feature lots of windows, with corner rooms or large,flowing interior spaces opening on two or more sides forcross-ventilation. Because the fiery Florida sun might also findits way in through those windows, deep eaves on roofs or wraparoundporches shade the house. The porches provide cool spaces forrocking chairs and informal dining tables. Screened porches keepbugs away.
The Cracker style's simple layout allows a growing family toattach a new wing to the rear of the house, connecting to the mainhouse by covered walkway. Whether alone or as part of a compound,the Cracker house captures the breezy informality that so manypeople look for in a coastal home.
Most coastal classics evolved from historical traditions. Butcontemporary-style homes, which date to the 1950s, grew out of adesire to shun architectural conventions. These homes also tookadvantage of technological advancements that allowed homeowners tosidestep long-established building techniques. "Postwar America wasa new era with new materials," says architect Michael Poris.
Take windows, for example. Whether the double-hung sashes of aCape Cod cottage or the casement windows of a Mediterranean home,most architectural traditions call for groupings of relativelysmall panes of glass divided by muntins. The advent of strong, safeplate glass gave postwar homeowners and architects license toexperiment with large, unobstructed windows. "In coastal homes, theviews are key. You choose a [site] because of the views, water,breeze―the whole experience of being there," says Michael."In contemporary homes, that experience determines the form."
Other elements of contemporary homes, which helped shape thelook of America's suburbs, are wide overhanging eaves, flat orlow-pitched roofs, and exposed supporting elements (to emphasizehonesty rather than ornamentation). Facades are asymmetrical, andwhile exterior siding materials can run the gamut, many coastalcontemporary homes are made of naturally finished wood, such asredwood or cedar, which weathers nicely when scoured by sandy,salty breezes.
While English colonists battled harsh winters in their CapeCod houses, Spanish colonists faced the otherextreme―punishing heat and often humidity―in Floridaand California and along the Gulf Coast. Spanish vernacularprecedents, mixed with Italian, Moorish, and other more-recentlyimported influences, led to the popularity of another coastalfavorite, the Mediterranean home.
Though the details vary, these homes might feature thick,stucco-coated masonry walls, low-pitched clay-tile roofs, casementwindows, round arches, and heavy, carved doors. Inside, highceilings lift the heat and ceramic tiles cool floors. Mediterraneanhouses integrate indoor and outdoor living, with single-storyasymmetrical wings rambling around shady, fountain-cooledcourtyards. Pools, patios, and lush garden rooms ring thesehomes.
Early 20th-century architects in Palm Beach, including AddisonMizner and Maurice Fatio, receive recognition for the Mediterraneancraze in the United States. Their sprawling, ornate mansionsinspired others to build "villas" for smaller lots and tighterbudgets. Today, the Mediterranean still conveys the slightly exoticexperience of living by the sea.