When thinking of the mid-century, one rarely thinks of the A-frame. Yet the A-frame was a familiar notion at the time, mainly as a mountain getaway. Indeed, even to this day, the A-frame’s association with the woods and mountain cabins, strikes people as unusual when seen in other environments. Nevertheless, the A-frame has certain advantages over traditional forms.
The A-frame became very popular around 1957 after an article in the New York Times appeared about a beach house built by the modernist architect, Andrew Geller, on Long Island known as the Elizabeth Reese House.
The main interest of an A-frame house comes from the ease and inexpensive construction. Like a dome, the A-frame forms the roof at the same time as the walls, thereby, making the building quicker and less costly. A little time after the publication of the New York Times article, even Macy’s got in on the act and began offering A-frame kits. In fact, purchasing in kit form was quite common as the A-frame reached a peak in popularity.
In 1950, San Francisco architect, John Campbell, designed and built the 540 square foot Leisure House. This led to kits for sale for $5000 and acclaim for his design, further fueling the modernist interest in this type of building on the west coast.
Modernists enjoyed working with the A-frame because of its basic artistic nature. The triangle finds a supreme place in the arts. From the pediment of the Parthenon to the design of a Renaissance painting, the triangle, along with the rectangle and circle, forms one the simplest and fundamental shapes.
The A-frame, as the result of odd space near the bottom sides and at the very top, were incorporated into larger structures in hotels, resorts, shops and gas stations. Many times the triangle formed a central area with an extension or extensions radiating outward. The most iconic image of the A-frame in the United States is the lodge or hotel cabin.
Because of the unique space of the A-frame, most usually have a loft, typically a sleeping area.
The A-frame is extremely simple to construct and kits are still available.
The A-frame can have a very modern look with plenty of glass and some slight modifications to the basic design.
Or one can settle for a rather plain, common look for the A-frame.
Here are some mid-century A-frame designs:
The A-frame makes a good fit for a tiny house. The open plan and the lack of expensive and time-consuming labor, allow for a modern house requiring less maintenance. The fact that the roof is the walls means less painting, for example. For a house off the grid, the angle of the roof permits the perfect collection of solar energy if pointed in the right direction.
The construction of an A-frame house does not demand sophisticated knowledge of techniques as used in an average house. Rather, it is like two lean-tos built against each other or a hard shell “tent”. Once the few angles are known, the building becomes rather simple.
Artistically, a modern style comes just as easy as the construction. Roofing made of modern materials such as steel and interiors utilizing the many modern surfaces available today, plus the edition of mid-century modern furniture, takes the A-frame from backwoods cabin to modern dwelling.
Just a treat, if you are from the US, especially from the western US, you remember the ubiquitous at the time Der Weinerschnitzel: