We’ve all seen them before–peculiar, yet charming triangle-shaped houses–as we ventured farther into the mountains or took that scenic car ride around Lake Tahoe. These pleasant little oddities of the architectural world are known as A-frame houses, and they have been seeing a resurgence from their heyday of the mid-1950s through the 1970s.
While some say this is due to a rise in disposable income, it’s hard to deny that people, Americans especially, are drawn to their warm, rustic aesthetic, their cozy accommodations and, yes, even their unconventional shape. Whatever the reason may be, A-frame houses have a special place in our culture, representing that home away from home, that simple getaway we all long for but rarely visit.
Before A-frame houses became popular in the United States, they had existed many years prior in Europe, China and the South Pacific Islands as purely utilitarian structures. They were economical, sturdy and fared well against the elements that might otherwise accumulate and erode its outer perimeter.
It wasn’t until 1934 that R.M. Schindler built the first modern A-frame house in America along Lake Arrowhead in California, offering a fresh, even luxurious perspective on these old form structures. Their popularity reached new heights in the economic boom following World War II, eventually being featured in The New York Times on May 5, 1957 and gaining mainstream appeal that lasted several decades.
Trends are often difficult to pin down, especially when it comes to design and architecture. There is the element of nostalgia, where one might seek to recreate that perfect summer home from their childhood. There is also an experiential factor to consider where, as Canadian architects David and Susan Scott intimated that, once you’re vacationing, “Your only task should be lighting a fire.” And, there is a technology factor to consider, especially now in this digital culture of ours where images dominate and are regularly shared throughout a global network of family and friends.
While arguments could be made for each of these reasons, as they relate to the uptick in demand for A-frame houses, I believe that all apply to varying degrees.
Those people who were children in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s have children of their own now–perhaps even grandchildren–and would love to rent or buy an A-frame house to recreate fun social interactions in those familiar cozy quarters with their own family.
Let’s also not forget the appeal of “roughing it” in the great mountain landscape or the dense lakeside forest. The A-frame house certainly has that alluring cabin-feel, primarily built from wood or stone, with a single door and a couple of small, unassuming windows. These rustic norms have been challenged recently with a growing emphasis on luxury. However, they still remain hallmarks of the A-frame house, making it the cabin-of-choice when you’re looking to reconnect with nature.
There’s no doubt that the internet and, more specifically, social media have their positives and negatives as far as the human experience is concerned. But one thing is absolutely clear, they serve as free advertising the world over. There are Facebook photos, Instagram photos and Pinterest photos that make the A-frame house look positively mythic.
They capture your interest and imagination, especially when there’s a thin layer of snow coating the roof and the ground beyond a small wooden porch. You want to be there. You want to experience that house because you know it is going to be something special, something you might remember for the rest of your life.
According to Architectural Digest, A-frame architecture is “perhaps one of the most distinctive forms in modern architecture” that “[appears] to be undergoing something of a renaissance in today’s residential work.”
By nature of its iconic shape, rustic aesthetic and altogether warm atmosphere, this is hardly a surprise. While trends come and go, it’s clear that A-frame architecture continues to make an impression on American and international culture, serving as that unmistakable beacon of tranquility, simplicity and, yes, even a bit of luxury if you have the wallet for it.
Nate Sverlow is a Senior Product Content Publisher at YDesign Group, writing copy, brand statements and department procedures. He enjoys lighting and design that inspires, that has a story to tell. He currently resides in the Sacramento area with three cats and an incredibly supportive wife.