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Many house styles get their names from the periods that made them popular. Victorian houses came to fashion during Queen Victoria’s reign, Colonial houses boomed during the Colonial Revival, and Craftsman houses took off during the Arts and Crafts movement. But the A-frame house? It got its name because it looks like the letter A.
Known for its steep sides and A-shaped peak, the A-frame house is sleek, simple, and often affordable to build. These features have made the A-frame house a favorite among practical architects, budget-conscious builders, and fans of striking design, alike.
What Is an A-Frame House?
An A-frame house is a house with steep sides and a pointed top. Its slanted roof often starts at the ground, creating a house shaped like a triangular prism.
What Makes a House an A-Frame House?
A-frame houses are easy to spot. They’re shaped like triangular prisms, with two steeply slanted sides that begin at the ground and meet in an A-shaped peak. These sides double as the house’s roof, and they may be lined with small windows.
Along the front and back of an A-frame house, you’ll find two triangle-shaped walls. These walls sit underneath the A-shaped roof. And they’re often lined with large windows to let in lots of natural light.
Thanks to their unique shape, A-frame houses tend to be tall but cozy. They’re usually 2–3 stories tall, with a tiny top floor that often acts as a sleeping loft. Because A-frame houses are so easy to build, their interiors tend to be no-frills: They’re lined with exposed wood paneling, structural beams, and rafters.
- Triangular prism shape
- Two steeply slanted sides (the home’s roof)
- A-shaped peak
- Large windows
- Open slanted ceiling
- Exposed wood paneling
- Natural light
The History of A-Frame Houses
Early A-Frame Houses
A-frame houses are simple structures that are easy to build. So unsurprisingly, they’ve been around for a long time. Some have dated A-frame houses back to ancient civilizations in China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands. Others have noted that A-frame houses look a lot like the grubenhaus—a structure popular in Europe between the 5th–12th centuries.
Despite all this, A-frame houses didn’t become popular in the United States until the 1900s.
Modern A-Frame Houses (Early to Mid-1900s)
In 1934, architect R.M. Schindler designed and built one of the first modern A-frame houses in the United States. The house was perfect for its snowy setting in Lake Arrowhead, California: Its steep roof was great at shedding snow, and its window-lined walls offered stunning views of its surroundings.
Two decades later, other architects began designing A-frame vacation homes. And in 1955, architect Andrew Geller designed the now-iconic Elizabeth Reese House in Sagaponack, New York. The A-frame house earned widespread attention, and it’s often credited with popularizing A-frame houses in the United States.
Modified A-Frame Houses (Mid- to Late 1900s)
After World War II, the A-frame house maintained its popularity, and architects began playing with the style. Some stuck to the classic A-frame silhouette, creating second homes that were quick, easy, and affordable to build.
But others adapted the A-frame, pairing it with other architectural structures. Instead of being the whole house, A-frames became part of the house. A-frames were expanded with extensions, designed with traditional ground floors, or modified to become a mere motif in a dynamic and spacious house.
Contemporary A-Frame Houses (Today)
Since then, the A-frame house has remained a fan-favorite. Modified A-frame houses are still popular in snowy, woodsy areas—though these homes are often much bigger than the A-frames that came before them. And more classic A-frame houses are beloved by the tiny home and off-grid communities.
Because A-frame houses are so easy to build, many enterprising property owners have designed and built their own. And some companies have even begun selling prefabricated A-frames—houses you can order online and assemble at home to save money and time on construction.
The Difference Between A-Frame Houses and Chalet-Style Houses
A-frame houses and chalet-style houses are remarkably similar. Both are shaped like triangular prisms. Both boast steeply pitched roofs. And both are often made of exposed wood, lined with windows, and found in snowy areas.
An easy way to tell the difference between the two? Chalet-style houses have an overhanging roof that sits on top of four straight walls. A-frame houses have a roof that starts at the ground—creating two slanted walls and two straight walls.
The styles are tougher to tell apart when you’re looking at a modified A-frame house, instead of a classic one. Modified A-frame houses don’t always have roofs that start at the ground, so you can’t rely on that rule of thumb. In these cases, it helps to remember that the two styles aren’t mutually exclusive. (Once the roof is no longer touching the ground, the styles aren’t all that different.) So it’s possible you’re looking at a home that’s drawn inspiration from both.
MasterClass staff, 2022. A-Frame House Guide: 5 Tips for Building an A-Frame Home. MasterClass.
Lange, A., 2017. The A-frame effect. Curbed.
Tipton, R., 2022. Grubenhaus. Past to Present Archaeology.