Tag Archives: prefab

Small House Ideas From the Past

In a post on midcenturymoderngroovy.com, I described the Aluminaire House, a prefabricated metal house that could be taken apart, packed up and moved to a different location. I am including the article here on Modern Tiny House because of the Aluminaire House when the garage and deck footage are excluded, is a relatively small house of just a few hundred square feet. Besides the Aluminaire House, I have included information on another modernist prefabricated house by Serge Binotto, an assistant of the famous French mid century modern architect, Jean Prouve. This is a circular house put together using pre-made insulated panels.

The main reason for including such information on Modern Tiny House is the form and nature of these two houses lead to all sorts of interesting ideas in terms of designs for tiny houses. As a further bonus, I have generated a 3D model of a dwelling based upon the concepts embodied in these two houses and will post the article as soon as possible.


Aluminaire House

Early on in my post secondary education I studied architecture. The notion that one can, in artistic fulfillment, create a work that not only others see, but also encapsulates them usefully for work, endeavors or domestic desires, brings a different sort of satisfaction over the embellishments that painting or other two-dimensional productions provide. In my nascent understanding of architecture the lofty goal of the modernists to design an inexpensive and quickly built dwelling that satisfies economic and social needs of the ordinary person, grabbed me as it has many an architect such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller and for differing reasons.


Rosenbaum House, Usonian, Florence, Alabama, Frank Lloyd Wright,1940.
Rosenbaum House, Usonian, Florence, Alabama, Frank Lloyd Wright,1940.


Dymaxion House, Henry Ford Museum, Buckminster Fuller, 1930.
Dymaxion House, Henry Ford Museum, Buckminster Fuller, 1930. (By Rmhermen at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1917827)


The concept of a prefabricated house built of mass-produced and industrial materials that can be packed up and reassembled like a factory made doll house without a lot of consumed time or resources certainly garners fascination and experimentation.


Aluminaire House, Now in Palm Springs, California, A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey, 1931.
Aluminaire House, Now in Palm Springs, California, A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey, 1931.


Asked by Walter Street of the Allied Arts and Industries and the Architectural League of NY exhibition in 1930, A. Lawrence Kocher, who was the managing editor of  Architectural Record, enlisted  Albert Frey, a 28-year-old Swedish architect that had migrated to the US to help in developing a modern design for a house using off the shelf materials. Albert Frey was imbued with the Internationalist Style due to his experience with Le Corbusier’s office. The influence of American manufacture in the ready availability of materials that went into Aluminaire House also strongly pointed Kocher and Frey in the direction of metal and prefabrication.


After this experimental house was displayed at the shows the house sold to architect Wallace K. Harrison for $1000 and was moved to his property on Long Island, NY. There it remained until 1987 when the New York Institute of Technology accepted it to prevent its demolition and for its reassembly next to the School of Architecture by students. Although, annual lectures and events surrounded the Aluminaire House, plans to move the house to a location in New York City were not approved and the house, through the auspices of the Aluminaire House Foundation, was set to be moved to Palm Springs across from the Art Museum in 2017.


The Aluminaire House incorporated mostly aluminum and steel for the skin and framing of the building. Wood in certain places allowed for the attachment of insulation board and the floors were linoleum. At the time, the designers thought that aluminum would become ever cheaper and abundant and quite useful for building construction.


One of the most appealing qualities of the Aluminaire House comes from an overall design that seems in place at a more advanced stage of modernism. In fact, with little modification, this house could be built today and stand critical scrutiny. Of course, the use of steel instead of aluminum and a few other small changes would also result in a dwelling not all that expensive to produce.


Aluminaire House.
Aluminaire House.


Illustration From August 1931 Popular Mechanics Magazine.
Illustration From August 1931 Popular Mechanics Magazine.


It is fitting that the Aluminaire House will exist happily in Palm Springs, California where Albert Frey created notable work.


The Famous Frey House, Palm Springs, California, Albert Frey, 1964.
The Famous Frey House, Palm Springs, California, Albert Frey, 1964.


Interior of the Frey House.
Interior of the Frey House.


Interior of the Frey House.
Interior of the Frey House.


A future article will include further information on Albert Frey and his unique designs.

For more detailed information about the Aluminaire House visit these websites:

Aluminaire Organization.

New York Institute of Technology Aluminaire Information Page.

Curbed Article on Aluminaire. 

Article on Palm Springs Modern Committee about Albert Frey. 

Article on Architectural Digest concerning the Frey House II. 




The Circular House by Binotto


This is a digital walk through of the Binotto circular prefab house:



The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969.
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969.


1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969.


1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969. (Interior)


1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969. (Interior)


1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969. (Interior)





Self-Portrait in Red.
Self-Portrait in Red.

The Mid-Century A-Frame

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.

Elizabeth Reese House, Sagaponack, New York, Andrew Geller, 1955. (Courtesy Jake Gorst)

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.


Leisure House, California, John Campbell, 1950.
Leisure House, California, John Campbell, 1950.

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.


Aspen Inn Motel - Fort Klamath, OR, United States. Super cute A Frame Cabins
Aspen Inn Hotel, Fort Klamath, Oregon.

Because of the unique space of the A-frame, most usually have a loft, typically a sleeping area.

Aspen Inn Motel - Fort Klamath, OR, United States. Upstairs loft in the A-frame.  Great for kids.
Aspen Inn Hotel, Fort Klamath, Oregon. (Loft Area).

The A-frame is extremely simple to construct and kits are still available.

Example of the framing of an A-frame, small house.

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.

cabin fever:

a frame cabin:


Duplex Paris:

Rustic gets a modern edge but keeps its pedigree in a lakeside vacation cabin, thanks to a thoughtful renovation by its architect owner:

Modern A frame cabin:

A-Frame Resurgence - A-Frame House - Bob Vila:

small modern house designs in triangular shape:

10 A-frame House Designs – For A Simple Yet Unforgettable Look:


A mid-century modern A-frame in Atlanta via Northcrest Modern:

Beautiful A Frame in the snow:

Cottage Life-- Mobile -- Straight As for these beautifully designed A-frame cabins:

Before & After: An A-Frame Cottage Gets an A+ Renovation | Design*Sponge:

Contemporary take on A-frame. Architect Kengo Kuma's Y-Hütte, in Eastern Japan:

Modern and Luxurious Tiny A-frame Cabin 001:

An Ultra-Minimalist Cabin Takes A-Frames To The Limit | Co.Design: business + innovation + design:

AMAZING A-FRAME HOMES: mid-century #modern living room with #natural lighting + #retro furniture:

Mount Washington A-Frame:

Catshuis aan Zee - huis in A-vorm:

illuminated A-frame at night:

Desanka's Visionary Lux Lodge — House Tour | Apartment Therapy:

A Frame Home Decorating Ideas | Frame House | Home Exterior Design Ideas:

A Frame | Flickr - Photo Sharing!:

a frame houses | The A-frame is the epic combo of modern meets mountain meets retro ...:

Far Meadow Base Camp, Sierra National Forest:


Contemporary-mountain-House-Design-Ideas-with-Extraordinary-and-Beautiful-View-in-Snowy-image, Pyrenees, Paris:

An A-Frame Cabin for a Snowboarding Family in Whistler:

hiroshi nakamura, hiroshi nakamura & NAP, japanese architecture, nasu tepee, teepee-inspired homes, timber homes, small homes, small homes in the woods:


Here are some mid-century A-frame designs:

Mid-Century Vacation Home Graphic | The Johnsons' Mid-Century Time Travel Guide #midcentury #vacationhome #illustration:


Vintage Cabins | Mid-Century Modern | A-Frame House | Residential Architecture | Home Ideas | Interior Design:

No roof rake needed.:

ARCHINOWHERE 06_study Art Print:

Modern Vacation Homes Atomic A Frames Chalets Eames Era Floor Plans Mid Century | eBay:

Mid-Century Modern Vacation Home Plans, via grainedit.com/2009/05/25/mid-century-modern-home-plans:


a-frame interior:


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:

A-frame Roof Weinerschnitzel Restaurant in Whittier, California.
The Original International House of Pancakes.
The original Tastee-Freez, Perris, California.
A Former Heap-Big-Beef, Mill Brae, California.
A Former Nickerson Farms in Arizona.

Whataburger A Frame
Whataburger in Corpus Christi, Texas.



Modern Prefabricated Houses

 Prefabricated houses with an ultra-modern flair!


The subject of prefab houses may seem out of the realm of modern tiny houses, but the designs and the notion of producing a house in a factory is not. The last article on this website, Mobile Home Conversion, featured changing a mobile home into a modern small house. Of course, the ultimate in prefabricated housing is an RV, mobile home or tiny house on wheels. The whole concept of prefabrication should hit at least one of the buttons that tiny house fans have regarding expense or impact on the environment.

Many of the construction philosophies involved in the production of tiny houses find a place among those producing prefabricated houses. The embrace of modern materials such as steel and composite materials, engineered woods and laminates, and recycled goods delivers the same design elements in a tiny house as they do in a larger dwelling. This is one of the best features of modern architecture; that the design of a museum or an office building on a large-scale can have the same valid artistic expression as in a smaller structure using the same or similar components.

In Prefab Camo Cabin: Modern Mobile Metal-Clad Trailer Home, we see a metal and wood structure with an industrial feel.

The design of this “cabin” is actually straightforward, using the linear quality of the building to emphasize the interior design. Although, for me, I could use the addition of some color, many people find this neutral scheme relaxing.

Also on dornob.com, a story about a flatpack house:  Hivehaus Hexagonal Flatpack Home Hides Lots of Storage.

The Hivehaus

On Mobile Home Living an article describes Modern Green PreFab Homes. Also mentioned is Blu Homes which have some marvelous designs and a Origin Pod only 633 sq. ft., self-contained with a kitchenette, living and sleeping quarters.

Jetson Green has information about a scalable cabin with modern architectural styling.

Scalable off-grid cabin by Eco Living.

To read about some of the pitfalls of a so-called upscale eco house, an article on treehugger.com goes through a few in talking about the Clayton Homes’ ihouse.

Clayton Homes’ iHouse

The article, Sherkston Shores Unveils Black Diamond Park Model, features a Canadian company’s “park model” homes graced with high-end finishes.

Sherkston Shores’ Black Diamond Model.

Here is an article on Dwell about a modern mobile home with an absolutely gorgeous kitchen.


PAD Studio Prefabricated House.

Prefabricated houses come in all sizes. Some companies offer smaller designs that might suit the needs of the tiny house searcher. Yet, unfortunately, many companies create structures on the high-end of the scale, with expensive finishes and a large dollar to square footage price. Some prefabricated houses can reach as high as the $300,000 – $500,000 range for an average size house. Some, though, benefit from factory production and are quite reasonable in cost. There are many companies out there that are willing to offer one with custom as well as manufactured housing in a smaller size. It is just a matter of looking.





Modern Tiny House



Modern Shed

This is a link to a commercial website called Modern Shed that sells and designs small structures. Some of the configurations are quite nice and have a great deal of potential. They offer three models of 10′ x 12′, 10′ x 14′ and 10′ x 16′, but apparently can customize to a great degree. Check out their photo gallery for some extremely pleasing small structures. A quote from their website:

“Modern-Shed provides solutions for limited living and storage space problems. You might be considering a home addition, converting current space such as a garage, bedroom, attic, basement, bonus room or even enclosing a carport in order to give you the extra space you need. You may not have even considered a detached separate structure in your yard. Modern-Shed provides the ultimate solution, as it provides not only more room, but private space only steps from your main home. If you need more room for a home office, an exercise room, craft space, art or music studio, man cave, diva den, photography studio, hobby room, writers den, meditation room, a play room or just a place to hang out and relax in your garden, Modern-Shed was the first and is the highest quality structure of its kind. Pre-fabricated panels can be carried into or around tight spaces for fast assembly. Instead of converting your garage or transforming your carport or turning your spare bedroom or basement into your new, needed space, consider a new style of shed – from the originator of the Modern-Shed concept, completely separated from your home. Imagine a quiet space for yourself or a space to send the kids to play.”