It wasn’t so long ago that the humble A-frame house — so named because of its silhouette’s similarity to the triangular letter — was a bygone architectural relic. These small chalets, which flourished in the 1950s and ’60s as inexpensive vacation homes for America’s booming postwar middle class, were largely forgotten by building buffs who regularly waxed rhapsodic about other, more popular midcentury structures.
But in recent years, the A-frame has experienced a huge resurgence in popularity, particularly among design-minded New Yorkers seeking refuge in regions outside the five boroughs like the Hudson Valley and the Catskills.
That was the case for Jeremy Parker and Carlos Breton, the owners of what is perhaps New York’s coolest A-frame: a circa-1961 Catskills cabin they’ve dubbed the Black A-Frame due to the color of its facade. The property in the newly trendy hamlet of Kerhonkson, NY, has become an Instagram sensation, with more than 92,000 followers. Parker, a 39-year-old photo studio owner, and Breton, a 38-year-old medical researcher, bought the house in 2015, intending to fix it up and use it as a weekend getaway from the city. They transformed the once rundown structure into a sleek two-bedroom retreat that’s since become hugely popular on Airbnb (reservations that average $266/night are booked solid through the end of the year). Its social media fame means that the pointed home has appeared in many an influencer’s dreamily lit photos.
“We were committed to [renovating the cabin] and we were enjoying the process, and once it was done we just decided to put in on Airbnb just to see what happened,” Breton says. “All of a sudden, it was booked solid.”
Social media has helped propel these often diminutive homes to what is essentially architectural stardom — particularly on Instagram, where A-frame enthusiasts share snaps of their quirky finds across the United States. With their attractively sloped sides, bucolic rural settings and interiors that are often inspired by Scandinavian or Japanese design, these homes are basically engineered to take in the likes on the image-heavy platform. Dedicated fan accounts like A-Frame Addicts, A-Frame Daily and Stay A-Frame showcase some of the most stylish specimens out there. A-Frame Dreams, meanwhile, posts exclusively about angular abodes that are on the market.
“Once somebody buys an A-frame, they start their account, [and] everybody follows them,” says Leah Bopf, 37, who runs A-Frame Dreams from her (non-A-frame) home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “It’s like you’re in a club together — that’s how it was in the ’60s, and that’s how I feel the A-frame community is.”
The enduring popularity of midcentury modern architecture and design is another factor in the A-frame renaissance. As the bold, often groovy styles of that period came back into fashion over the past decade, so too did the clean lines and simplicity of the A-frame. And for city dwellers who want to invest in their own weekend hideaway — or enterprising buyers looking to make some extra cash from a rental property — A-frames are both attainable and practical.
“The diminutive size, rustic, often do-it-yourself construction, and off-the-grid location of many postwar A-frames has endeared them to those exploring alternative ways of living,” writes author Chad Randl in a new preface to his 2004 book “A-Frame,” which was reissued this month by Princeton Architectural Press.
For Adam Paiva, who says he’s “always been obsessed with A-frames,” that accessibility was part of the appeal. He purchased a dilapidated A-frame home in the Catskills hamlet of Greenfield Park, NY, in 2015, and has spent the past five years fixing it up with help from his father. (And the A-frame obsession runs in the family: Paiva’s dad built an A-frame for the family in his native Paraguay in the 1980s.)
“I liked the idea of doing it myself, and my own blood, sweat and tears going into the cabin,” says Paiva, a 36-year-old acoustical engineer. “I’m taking pride in it, and I like the working-hard-to-make-it-mine aspect of it.”
Paiva has been living in his A-frame full time during the coronavirus pandemic, and has used lockdown as an opportunity to accelerate his renovation, which has included creating a new, lofted bedroom and gutting the kitchen. “The A-frame is a blessing and a curse,” he says. “Dealing with the angled walls just makes all of it more challenging. I have basically one wall to put up art, so I have to be very selective on what to hang. There’s just not many flat areas to use. It makes setting up my furniture kind of tricky. But for me it’s worth it, because I like it so much.”
The A-frame’s newfound renown, however, cuts both ways: The homes are getting more visibility than ever, which makes them harder to snag when they come onto the market. According to Megan Brenn-White, a broker at Keller Williams Realty Hudson Valley North, these houses move fast in the already-hot upstate real estate scene, and potential buyers should be prepared to pay a premium because they’re so popular.
“You take what’s happening in this market,” Brenn-White, 46, says, “and then you give it steroids when you have something that’s a particular architectural style that has a ton of people who love it right now.”
Appraisals for these properties can also get complicated. “The appraiser could go in and be like, ‘This is dumb. This living room is oddly shaped. Where are you putting a sofa?’ ” Brenn-White adds. “But an actual buyer might value something that looks like an A-frame at $100,000 more than something that would have the similar square footage and bedrooms and bathrooms — because it looks so cool. To someone who’s buying a weekend home, that could be worth a lot of money.”
Another thing to consider: The characteristics that make A-frames so buzzy — the cool shape, the architectural history and the intangible nostalgia factor — can also make them tricky DIY projects. “There are certain things about A-frames that people either love or hate,” Bopf says. “Sometimes the kitchens are really small, and people can relate with each other when they have to deal with those quirks of the home.”
Parker and Breton of the Black A-Frame chose to completely gut and reconfigure their house, turning a structure that was “in really terrible shape” into a super-stylish sanctuary. “For us, it was a learning experience because it’s not a simple square house,” says Parker. “There’s a lot of challenges that you have to incur with the angles of the roof. We had a contractor who was chill and able to work with us, but Carlos and I were in there like crazy, doing as much of the work as we could ourselves. It was definitely a very hands-on project.”
It can also be tough to make A-frames work as a family home. Architect Edgar Papazian bought a Hamptons A-frame in 2013 with his wife, Michelle, and spent several months — and about $300,000 — making it livable for their family of four. That included removing an enclosed porch that had been tacked on illegally, adding insulation (which is often missing from midcentury A-frames) and finishing a basement, which holds the home’s three bedrooms. “We were able to basically maximize the square footage of the original A-frame house so that every function and every use can be accommodated,” says Papazian, 47. His family’s “triangle house” in Sag Harbor was featured in a 2018 book, “The Modern A-Frame.”
But even with those foibles, A-frame owners have no regrets about pulling the trigger on their square foot-starved purchases. “It’s a place [where] you are always interacting,” Papazian explains. “We have a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old, and especially during this whole coronavirus situation, we’ve been in the same room all day, every day for the past four months. I think it’s brought us closer in a way that people who live in typical suburban houses aren’t necessarily.”
Parker and Breton’s A-frame days will soon be coming to an end: The couple listed the Black A-Frame earlier this spring, and recently accepted an offer on the house that they say is “well over” the asking price of $595,000. “We got to be so busy with other things that we started to rent it more and more, and then it just started to become more of a full-time rental situation,” Parker says.
But they’re hopeful that the new owners will keep the cabin — and the community that’s sprung up around it — alive.
“We’ve given so much love to that space, there’s literally I don’t think there’s anything more that we could do,” Parker says. “It’s kind of perfect.”
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