When I was in middle school, my parents moved from the big city to a small, mountain town in Northern Arizona. While I was devastated to leave my friends behind, it softened the blow when I saw the house we’d be moving into: a wood-shingled, A-frame cabin nestled into a dense, forested plot of ponderosa pines. Having grown up in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, to my childhood self this kitschy A-frame house represented what I always imagined mountain living to look like: quaint, cozy, and adorable with a capital “A.” If we were going to leave the big city behind, I thought, what better place to land than in a storybook-perfect mountain cabin.
More than just an iconic cabin form, A-frames have a strong tie to midcentury modern design. In the mid-20th century, there was a craze for A-frames among the American public. These triangular-shaped houses became so popular that by the 1960s, major department stores started carrying prefabricated A-frame kits that positively flew off the shelves. At that time, many Americans bought A-frames for their second homes, so the A-frame came to represent a kind of leisure and affluence in an era of mass consumption.
Today, A-frames still conjure associations with vacation homes and picturesque ski chalets perched atop remote mountain landscapes. But what about a modern A-frame for the 21st century? When my parents bought our mountain home back in the 1990s, the A-frame appealed to them for the extra space in the sleeping loft upstairs, and the heavy snow loads the steep pitched roof could withstand. Over the last few years, modern design enthusiasts have reclaimed the A-frame yet again, taking the building form to new heights in picture-perfect projects that feel both retro and fresh.
These contemporary examples are popping up around the world, from Japan, Chile, and Spain to places closer to home like Canada and New York. In Whistler, Canada, the Vancouver-based firm Scott & Scott took the A-frame to contemporary heights with their Snowboarder’s Cabin project. Designed to integrate visually with the surrounding 1970s chalets, Scott & Scott incorporated locally sourced materials in their A-frame such as Douglas fir for the structure and wooden shingle roof to help the cabin merge with its mountainside site. Across the globe in Japan, Suppose Design Office abstracted the A-frame form with its Utsunomiya Residence where the extended sloped roof features cutouts that bring daylight to the interior rooms and covered terraces. Clad in white-painted steel sheeting and lined in Japanese cedar, the house demonstrates that A-frames can be both minimal and modern.
In our neck of the woods in the Pacific Northwest, the A-frame cabin is alive and well in places like Snoqualmie Pass, a destination for Seattleites looking for a winter retreat with snow and skiing. In Snoqualmie, The Pass Life has become a favorite landing spot as a 5.3-acre property with residential lofts, restaurants, a brewery, and a ski and snowboard museum. Developed by Evo founder Bryce Phillips with the first set of homes designed by architects Ray and Mary Johnston, The Pass Life is becoming a vibrant mountain community for visitors and locals alike.
Bryce’s vision was to create a place that would reflect the unique character and history of this region, while also keeping a keen eye towards the future. Down the road from Pass Life, in the community of Hyak, a new collection of single-family homes will continue Bryce’s mission, the first of which is a modern take on the A-frame cabin. 160 Cascade Place features a traditional standing seam triangular metal roof along with cedar decks, custom aluminum windows, a wood-burning fireplace, and modern Doug Fir plywood finishes inside. Combining the best of traditional mountain cabin design with modern finishes and materials, this Pass Life home designed by Bellingham-based Bldhouse brings the A-frame squarely into the future.
What do you think? Is the A-frame one of those timeless midcentury modern designs that continues to resonate today? Do you love or hate this modern design? Decide for yourself by visiting the A-frame at 160 Cascade Place today – contact 360Modern to schedule a private tour.