A-frames are nothing new. There are reports of triangle-shaped dwellings existing in ancient Japan and medieval England. Their journey in American culture began in the 1950s. During this period, architects began experimenting with this simple form. They found it to be just the right amount of eccentric, playful and geometric to garner interest. Their work began to cause a stir as the homes were featured in popular design magazines of the time. Still, A-frames did not catch on right away. The public found them foreign and odd. However, as the ’50s continued, this sentiment began to change.
Post-war America saw the rise of the middle class, a 40-hour work week, and a new highway interstate system that made travel that much more alluring. Suddenly households had disposable income and plenty of leisure time. Vacation homes became a tangible luxury for those looking to enjoy their newfound free time. The media, lumber companies and real estate agents pulled together to market A-frames as the quintessential vacation starter home. The structures were relatively inexpensive and easy to build, especially with the emergence of kits that provided plans and building materials. For about a 25-year period, A-frames popped up all over the country and were the embodiment of post-war America. If you owned an A-frame for your vacation home, you were telling the world you had made it to middle-class status. You had the second home, the time and the modern vision to show for it.
This leads us to today, where A-frames have found themselves in the spotlight once again. There are three major reasons for their resurgence. The first is the revival of mid-century modernism. Over the last few years, designers and retailers have been promoting clean simple lines, chairs with flared backs and pops of color, and furniture with minimalist, geometric designs. This all leads back to our beloved triangle-shaped building–another key icon of the era.
A-frame owner (and Airbnb host) Brooke Woodham explains, “I think all things with style circle around again. I’m not sure we will see the '80s split-level home resurface in high demand, but home designs that always had great style will have their moment in time. If they were truly great, they will come back and become a classic of a particular era.”
Woodham lived in an A-frame for a short period of time in her childhood. She decided to enter the vacation home rental game and knew right away she wanted to purchase A-frames for this venture. She now owns and rents out three such homes: Aspen Chalet, Tamarac Chalet, and Sun Valley Chalet. She says, “When I think of a cabin that I want to escape to, an A-frame is a perfect match. You don’t want to go on vacation and feel like you are in a basic home with basic furniture. It should be a little extra in every way.”
The second reason A-frames have skyrocketed to prominence in today’s culture is their visibility on social media. Platforms like Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest have popularized a cabin adventure lifestyle. Users see photos of A-frames in beautifully wooded destinations on Instagram accounts like the Cabin Chronicles. These accounts highlight the A-frame’s eccentric whimsy. It sparks a sense of adventure in viewers and a desire to own one themselves. Emily Long is the owner of Michigan A-frame. She is a prime example of this phenomenon.
She told me, “When I was younger I remember my sister pointing out a small A-frame cabin just off a lake near where we grew up. She thought it was the coolest cozy cabin and I didn't get it. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to live in such a weird shaped house. After that, I would think about her comment every time we drove by that small cabin on the lake, and I was still confused. Fast forward about 20 years, and she was talking about A-frame cabins again. This time I was more intrigued and started to follow a few on Instagram. I was hooked. As a child, I couldn't see past the weirdly shaped house, but as an adult, I saw these triangle shaped houses in a new light. I loved the simple, sleek and modern coziness, and for me, what felt like a house that was an extension of nature.”
Lastly, Airbnb and other vacation rental sites have played a role in the return of the A-frame. Although the middle class income is no longer what it was in the post-war era, the desire to own a second recreational home has never gone away. Yet these days it is difficult for people to purchase a second home. Most do not have the disposable income that was common in the '50s and '60s. Luckily, the advent and rise in popularity of rental sites have given buyers the ability to pay off the mortgage using funds from renting out their homes.
Woodham describes her experience: “A year after we moved into our permanent home, we purchased Sun Valley Chalet. Sun Valley was easy because it only required some styling, it was our perfect second home, and we agreed to rent it some to supplement the mortgage. It didn’t take long before we realized how cool it was to share this little slice of heaven with others. And our guests were so appreciative of everything we offered.” Indeed, rental sites have brought back the idea of owning a second home and with it, the iconic A-frame.
A-frames have certainly experienced a rollercoaster ride in popularity over the last few decades. From being hailed as the embodiment of the middle class in post-war America, to their demise in the ’70s, and then rising back into popular American culture recently. The return of mid-century modernism, their success on social media platforms and the ever-growing prominence of vacation rental technology have turned them into a phenomenon in modern society. This time, we hope they're around to stay!
Gina Valente lives in Ferndale, Michigan and runs the cabin blog, Moody Cabin Girl. She has a love for unique dwellings, adventures, and all things whimsical. Follow her cabin adventures on Instagram here. When not running around renting cabins, she is trying new restaurants in the Detroit area and posting about them on her Instagram account, Girls Gone Hungry.