This Is What It’s Like to Build an A-Frame With a Kit — And Without

published Nov 25, 2022
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The A-frame house trend took off over the past few years as people retreated to their minimalist, calming hideaways in the mountains looking for views and style. With clean lines, retro vibes, and treehouse appeal, the A-frame maximizes a connection to its surrounding environment while providing just enough space to spread out.

Take those qualities and add in the, “We built this on a mountaintop with no running water, no electricity, and just our own two hands!” attitude of home renovation shows, and it seems like everyone is searching for their slice of wooded land to build their own stunning A-frame.

I found two people who’ve actually done it — one who used a kit and one who went without — and like most things, the experience wasn’t exactly what they imagined. Here’s what they had to say.

Credit: Courtesy Airbnb

“There’s a lot more to account for in designing a building that has to stay dry.”

Heather Scott designed the A-frame she built while she was living in the Netherlands, and much of the inspiration for the design came from her time spent there. “I would cycle past Rietveld’s incredible ‘Schröder House’ a couple of times a week, and I learned about the Dutch Hikers’ Cabin, Trekkershutten. These cabins are built for hikers and campers as a basic shelter, with minimal but adequate facilities,” says Scott. 

She drew her ideas from those forms — and also from the bold shapes of Andrew Geller’s beach houses and the lines and colors of De Stijl Architecture — and applied them to her cabin. In her vision, Scott wanted to bring together playful colors with a striking structure, bridging the coziness of home with the serenity of minimalism. 

And, while many of those who build A-frames embark upon the journey as part of a larger move away from the hustle and bustle of a big city, Scott had already lived in Cornwall, U.K. for a decade. She was ingrained in the community and commissioned a friend to build the structure.

A carpenter by trade, Scott came to the project with experience that included rebuilding a timber framed glasshouse that is less than a mile down the road from her now home. But most of her experience is in furniture making, so she brought in the help of a fellow carpenter. While Scott had a leg up on someone with no building experience, she quickly found that there are elements to account for when building a structure, specifically when it comes to the weather. 

“There’s a lot more to account for in designing a building that has to stay dry in the horizontal Cornish winter rain and cool in the heat of the Cornish summer,” says Scott. And, if the weather wasn’t enough, there’s also the landscape. An A-frame in the woods looks beautiful, but rarely does a builder find a perfectly flat plot of land. Scott hit a reality check with the slope of her plot and had to adapt, adding steps and railings just to make the home accessible. 

Nevertheless, Scott says building her A-frame was a dream and she’s grateful to have seen it come to life. 

“I’d love to do it again, this time with a bit less worrying about things I didn’t know about at the time,” she says. “I’d have a bit more faith that, with help when needed, I could overcome the challenges that would inevitably present themselves.”

Credit: Kate Johnson

 “It was a relatively smooth process — as smooth as building projects can be.”

Julia Sherman didn’t build an A-frame as a primary residence, but instead, she created a small structure to serve as her home office. She knew she wanted something with clean lines to complement the sleek silhouette of her home, but she couldn’t find anything that worked.

“A lot of the options out there were sort of absent of style, which didn’t feel right against the main house,” says Sherman. In the process of looking at small house kits, she realized an all-black A-frame would look architecturally cohesive, while also blending into the lush yard.

She ordered a kit from Den, which now only specializes in selling plans rather than full kits. But at the time, Sherman was able to order a kit with all of the structural pieces arriving on palettes and with a detailed manual. There were a few pieces that were not in the kit, including special-order Pella windows, staining and finishes, lighting, insulation, and electrical. This gave her the option to slightly customize details to fit her style. “I ended up choosing to stain the floor myself, which I like a lot, as well as the light fixtures,” says Sherman.

Similarly to Scott, she found that the landscape posed one of the immediate challenges. First, there was excavating the yard to create a space where a structure could be built. Then, there were the logistics of actually getting the palettes to the location. 

An A-frame is meant to have a view, but often that means hauling materials up through challenging terrain. For Sherman, that included navigating the materials from the front yard where they were dropped off, through her house, and up the hill in her backyard. Yes, she transported a house through her house. 

When it came time to pick up a hammer and nails, Sherman and her husband hired a handyman to help. It was DIY, but thanks to her husband’s skill and experience, it wasn’t too difficult to get to the finish line. 

“It was a relatively smooth process — as smooth as building projects can be,” Sherman says. “We have a tricky topography here, so the issues were probably unique to us. The instructions were easy to follow, especially if you plan to hire a contractor to build.”