Somewhere, I felt that whenever an idea gets older, the promoters lose interest and even disown it, but a new generation, based on its merits or nostalgia, brings it back with better designs. Whether we talk of interior designs like mid-century modern or 80s interior design and architecture, they grew to fall behind as soon as someone rediscovered them, following which homeowners started to see their advantages. One of the topics that we are discussing today has similar roots. After it became ordinary and cliche in the early period, it was disowned, but now it is revived as the new generation reinterprets its meaning according to contemporary priorities and tastes. It is none other but the triangular homes, commonly called A-frame houses. This structure was initially built as a shelter during the Neolithic era and used for storage, stables, and shrines. By the early twentieth century, most precedents had been forgotten, but enough remained to trace the lineage of a new revival. A-frame houses became one of the most recognizable and malleable types of buildings in the 1950s and 1970s, a time of optimism, abundance, and play. We will learn more about them in upcoming sections of this article, and then we will see some of the most beautiful A-frame homes for inspiration, along with learning their pros and cons.
The Beginning of Modern A-Frame.
Stepping inside an A-frame house with a warm and cozy wood interior housing a fireplace and cozy seating sounds stunning. Therefore, these became a sensation for Americans in the 1950s. It was first known to the people when Sunset magazine put David Perlman’s Squaw Valley A-frame on its cover. Now, David wasn’t the first one who made this A-frame house for himself, but it became the most acceptable and successful design, balancing the visual drama of the triangular form with all the functional requirements needed for the home. Originally, built in the summer of 1955, a science writer for San Francisco Chronicle, Perlman wanted a vacation home for his family, which is close to the newly carved ski runs of the Squaw Valley. Hence, Architect George Rockris came up with a design to provide a dynamic triangular structure with a T-shaped floor plan, barn-like board, batten sliding, and a cedar-shingled roof, well suited to the house surroundings and spacious light-filled interiors. Further, he used a glass-walled gable end to open an expansive deck and thinned the line between inside and outside to give this A-frame home openness and informality, perfect for the vacation. Thousands of people then admired this concept since they had a different multifaceted design showing informality, and they were modern and traditional at an economical rate, making them a perfect choice for post-war vacations.
The A-frame house came into the era of the second everything, where the postwar prosperity made two televisions, bathrooms, and cars an expected arrival of the middle-class American life. Chad says in his book that every magazine declared,
“Every family needs two homes! One for the work week and one for pure pleasure.”
Hence, in the 1950s and 60s, more and more Americans tended to have their own vacation homes. But since these A-frame houses were the most economical solution for them, alongside their amazing design, Americans went into the race to own one. Perhaps, its greatest appeal was that it was different and an expression of individuality to relax and escape the worldy tension.
But wait, these designs didn’t come into the air in the 1950s only. The history of these triangular structures did not hold these connotations. In ancient China, the “Roof huts” turned up, which majorly functioned as cooking houses, farm storage sheds, animal shelters, peasant cottages, and ceremonial structures. In the US, these came only after World War 2 in a utilitarian form. And soon, it became a national phenomenon. A common sight in resort communities and forests and on back roads between Stowe, Vermont, and Squaw Valley, California, it decorated ski slopes. There was a touch of the leisure lifestyle in suburban backyards with triangular pool cabanas, garden sheds, and playhouses. Early in the 1960s, it became a symbol of the good life. Besides A-frame houses, there was an increase in triangular restaurants and churches.
The term A-frame only included the vacation home with a low-slung and steeply pitched roof. But this doesn’t define the term, so I am chasing down a narrower definition so that you can understand it clearly in terms of its meaning during the postwar period. In essence, an A-frame is a triangular structure constructed from rafters or trusses joined at the peak that descends to the main floor level without intervening vertical walls. Chad Randl describes the rafters,
“the rafters are covered with a roof surface that ties the frame together and usually continues to the floor. Though some are steeper and a few are lower to the ground, most A-frames have roof rafters and floor joists of the same length, connected at sixty-degree angles to form an equilateral triangle. These rafters are then connected to the wood sill plates at the floor level or to take full advantage of the triangle’s innate strength, bolted to floor joists to form trusses.”
In addition, the horizontal collar beams strengthen the frame while functioning as the floor joists for the second-level loft in these A-frame houses. Now, when you define an A-frame house during the post-war era, they were constructed without any collar beams running across the center mostly.
Historical Background Of Triangular Buildings
I earlier stated that A-frame houses didn’t come into existence from anywhere. From the earlier centuries, this design had its different forms. The historical examples of this triangular building shed light on the claims made by the postwar A-frame boosters. According to history, the early triangular structures illustrate how humans who were separated by thousands of years due to differences in cultural and environmental differences were drawn ultimately to the same basic form. A-frame construction was attractive in ancient Japan and medieval England for the same reasons that made them famous in American culture. However, in the post-war descendants, the A-frame builders linked a significant cultural symbolism with them, a meaning that was far beyond utility and convenience. A triangle always symbolizes the Holy Trinity.
If one checks for the historical provenance of these A-frame homes, he will notice that various architectural historians like Vitruvius, Marc-Antoine Laugier, and Gottfried Semper thought that the humans evolved straight from the cave to the primitive huts (which had four columns and pitched roof). In the classical Greek temple, these similar primitive huts, which were made of timber, bundled reeds, or stones, were the shelter of their worship. Then, coming to northern China, they had triangular shelters that functioned as coverings for the pit dwellings. Like they were not completely homes but part cave and part structures. In Neolithic China, the pitched-roof and post-and-beam forms had their descendants from the trees rather than growing upwards. In all these cases, the prototype remained an equilateral triangle with a thatched roof.
As per the Japanese building traditions, the prehistoric inhabitants of the island built structures called tenchi-kongen tsukuri, or a palace construction of heaven and earth. These structures consisted of two vertical pillars that were supported by a ridge pole. Rafters extended from the ground to this ridgepole, while forming the basic triangular shape.
Hence, we understand that there is an enlarged history behind these triangular structures.
Exemplary A-Frame Houses From Early Times.
Though numerous A-frame houses from the 1950s and 60s exist and are still outstanding, I will tell you about the three of the best ones that intrigued architecture. These successfully integrated the contemporary functions and priorities with a form pulled from the vernacular past. Also, these were efficient, accessible, and attainable.
1. Wally Reemelin’s A-Frame Duplex.
In 1948, Wally bought some land in Berkeley, California, which he determined to change into some modest and inexpensive houses that could be rented to students. Since Wally was trained in art and industrial design, he developed a house that could fit these sloppy lands and even ride out the earthquakes.
Hence, in late 1948, he began the construction of his first A-frame house on Keith Avenue in Berkeley, and following the spring, he built three more. It has A-shaped trusses, with tie beams dividing the space into lower and upper loft. These beams then extend beyond the main rafters on one side, forming the roof of a main-level glazed dormer. Chadd describes its features in his book,
“The Douglas fir frames were bolted together and covered with two-inch tongue and groove sheathing; floor joists and cross-ties were doubled up for additional strength. After careful calculation, Reemelin spaced the A-frame trusses at wide, seven-foot intervals. This spare but sturdy structural arrangement minimized material costs, reinforced the impression of a simple design, and created a natural module by which to subdivide the interior.”
2. John Campbell’s Leisure House.
Campbell’s design of his house is based on the equilateral triangle. With the help of Terry Tong, he made a relatively simple and monastic A-frame house, which is affordable and attractive in design. In early 1952, he built his own Leisure House on a wooded hillside in Mill Valley. The Leisure House became so popular that it continued to appear in magazines, including Sports Illustrated, True: The Man’s Magazine, and The American Home. Additionally, it also featured in the United States pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Exposition. Then, in the 1962 book Vacation Houses, the author William Hennessey described it as,
“perhaps no Leisure House design that gained as much popularity as the A-frame during recent years. It is attractive to look at, easy to live in, and inexpensive to build. Here is the grand-daddy of them all, designed in 1950 by Campbell and Wong, San Francisco architects.”
3. George T. Rockrise’s Perlman House.
In the early 1950s, David Perlman, a science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle leased a small plot of land offered by the United States Forest Service, not far from the valley.
The triangular scheme was thus chosen by Rockrise for this vacation house. His version of an A-frame allowed additional light to enter the interiors and provided four bedrooms and two baths, which met the Perlmans’ need for space and economy while also addressing their concern over a potentially dark interior. The basic A-frame shape was not compromised to achieve these benefits.
One the other examples of A-frames from early times is Henrik Bull’s Flender A-frame.
Advantages of A-Frame Houses.
- Cheap and easy to build by a professional or hobbyist person.
- Appropriate in a variety of locations as it can be altered, expanded, or reconfigured at most budgets.
- The equilateral truss, on which the A-frame house stands, has excellent stability, which makes it one of the strongest forms of construction. So, these structures are mostly resistant to earthquakes, tornados, and heavy snowfall.
- It is a lightweight and simple house, which is environmentally friendly.
- Since plywood, masonite, formica, and homasote panels are used in the construction, the skill level required for construction is minimal which reduces the labor cost.
Disadvantages of A-Frame Houses.
- It has a lack of space in the lower corners, heating and cooling difficulties, and a dark interior.
- If the design has a pure triangular shape, there will be a lack of natural light in the interior. A Sunset vacation home guide says, “Intense light from the end wall almost always has to be balanced with light from the center, or else the center of the building tends to be gloomily dark.
Though it has a few more flaws, the designers have now added various ways to cope with them making them trivial.
8 A-Frame Houses to Delight Your Eyes.
1. House Wolin.
This A-frame house is a stunning piece of architecture due to its vivid shapes. I was struck by the genius loci of the House Wolin through the separation of the living and private spaces by a ladder. In addition to the excellent shapes, glass facade, and unique color contrasts, the property seems to be inspired by industrial designs. Personally, I was most impressed by the bathroom, where the bronze-red wall tiles and bulging triangular ceiling look absolutely stunning.
2. A Frame Weekender.
One thing that keeps most people away from the A-frame houses is its space management, as it is too small for an average family. In contrast, the A-frame weekender demonstrates excellent space management since a square extension from one slant side of the triangular house reduces the cornered space and makes it a more liveable area. The entire interior of this cabin house has a wood texture, which makes it even more tempting. One of the key takeaways that you can take from this A-frame cabin for inspiration is its utmost simplicity with the square extension to manage space well. Also, if you loved this A-frame house, then you can get this exact one for yourself as it is an A-frame house kit. And for more A-frame house kits like this, you will have to wait for the next sections.
SULA is a prefabricated A-frame cabin, which defines the convention as a test of sustainable human living. Built with a blend of wood, stone, metal, glass, and PVC, it is made of 2000 custom-made components, held by over 17000 screws and pins. One of the foremost features is this A-frame cabin is that it is temperature-controlled, demonstrating a high-quality, sustainable infrastructure without negatively impacting the environment. SULA is not a traditional A-frame house, which has an accurate tall and triangular roof, but it has a flat top that has “A” in a different font. As more and more designs and necessities change, we can have a few changes around.
4. Farouche Tremblant.
Farouche Tremblant is an agrotourism site that you can visit for a soulful experience with nature. Nestled within the Devil’s River Valley, this property consists of a Nordic farm, a cafe bar, four-season micro refugee A-frame residences, and an outdoor basecamp. Now, if you look at these A-frame houses, they just consist of a cozy bedroom. Nevertheless, we could use this project as an inspiration to create our private territories where we own these residences as singular bedrooms, with a separate kitchen and dining area just like the cafe and bar.
5. Deylaman Cabin.
Deylama Cabin is a tiny home, located in a forested and mountainous area (under construction). One of the significant things about this A-frame house is that metal is the main material of the building to raise it like trees, creating a suspension from the ground. Though the cabin is small-scale, it has a presence of a large balcony, connecting the occupant with nature. It is also possible to take inspiration from this A-frame house if you have a backyard and would like to use it as a playroom, garage, or home office. The interiors of this cabin are pretty sophisticated with easy furniture and wooden finishing.
6. Klein A45.
Klein A-45 is a 144 sqft small A-frame house. Its interiors and exteriors have the look of a cabin house with a rotated 45-degree A-frame, having an entire wall of glass to connect nature with modern living. Made with wood, glass, cork, Douglas pine, and metal, this A-frame house shows warmer interiors with higher ceilings, making the space look bigger but cozy.
7. Casa Rosalie.
Due to its soulful surroundings and spectacular exteriors, this A-frame house is my favorite out of all the ones on this list. An interesting aspect of this AirBnB is that its facade has two half- one with an exterior sitting area and another with an interior sitting area. The interiors feature soft blush pink walls with triangular-shaped ceilings, creating a warm, homey atmosphere. As well as having enough space at each corner of the home and a great reach to the natural light through the glass panels, every room has a great view of the outside.
5 A-Frame House Kits Worth Considering.
1. A-Frame Bunk Cabin by Den Outdoors.
Certainly a mesmerizer, this A-Frame cabin is modest and simple, with heaps of natural light from its facade. What I love about this A-frame house kit is its convenient furniture for the kitchen and living downstairs with the upstairs bedroom. Like, I personally think it’s best for a couple (2 persons) or a single person for a weekend stay. Furthermore, you can always get it for yourself if you are seeking your own office in your backyard or at a vacation cottage.
2. System 00 by Backcountry Hut Company.
This A-frame is the most convenient cabin house with a bedroom and living space adjoined together. Now, there is no upper space or dorm, unlike other A-frame house kits, but it is a great place for someone who enjoys starry nights with a soulful reading. These A-frame cabins are best for remolding an extra space for your backyard or a meditation and yoga space. Perhaps it is also best for students as a residence.
One significant thing about this cabin is that it is quite compact, approximately 10 x 10 feet at the ground level, making it better for smaller purposes.
3. The Trio by Avrame.
Among the entire long list of Internet for A-frame house kits, The Trio is the best option available for a modular A-frame house, which has enough space. Once you step into this cabin A-frame house, you are instantly greeted with a spacious living room adjoined with a kitchen and dining room. Of course, the space is larger than it looks. Whether you do some kickboxing or invite your large group of friends, this A-frame house can hold everything. The bedroom is upstairs with a spacious passageway, separating your private and social space. For small families and couples, it is a great weekend house and probably the best.
4. M60 by MADI Home.
If you are looking for an off-grid, self-sufficient, and energy-independent house, then M60 by Madi Home is a good option to consider. With a small per square area, it is suitable for any place, whether Trekking or riverside woods. It is safe and cozy, with extreme comfort and affordability. One good thing about this cabin house is that it can be customized, as per your budget and needs.
Also, if you are probably renovating your home and you need a place for temporary living, then it is the best option. I feel it is a great off-grid option for housing.
5. Bivvi Camp Cabin.
If you are among the outdoor freaks who love camping and spending time with yourself, then Bivvi is an excellent A-frame cabin for an on-off grid purpose with mobility. The quality of this on-wheel cabin house makes it perfect for all seasons, whether it is heavy rain or shivering cold. The architects and manufacturers have designed this A-frame cabin with a great understanding of the land, making it environment friendly. It consists of a small bedroom, a work desk with a stove, and a small bathroom, all needed for a safe-camping.
A-frame houses are good-looking, efficient, and most durable housing. With this article, I have tried giving you a brief on these types of houses with their purposes and historical provenance. If you are looking to read more about them or small DIY projects, then you can refer to the following resource.
A Frame by Chad Randl.
Frequently Asked Questions.
A few disadvantages of an A-frame house are a lack of space in the low corners, temperature control difficulties, and a darker interior. Additionally, its diagonal walls limit interior space, and despite its high ceilings, the storey height is low and somewhat impractical.
A-frame houses were meant to serve as a vacation retreat in snowy areas and woods where one wants to live with nature. Today, its purpose expanded to yoga studios, meditation, and art spaces or offices.
A few advantages of the A-frame structure include cost-friendliness, environment-friendliness, and stronger construction. Furthermore, it is like a DIY project, which can be made by even a hobbyist, without the need for a professional helper.