Bringing Their A Game
A new wave of owners is modernizing Maine’s A-frame camps — are you ready to join them?
TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
For Miroslav and Svetlana Ladan, A-frames are synonymous with the simple life. “They’re popular in Europe, where we come from, as second homes or where you go to relax,” says Miroslav, who, like Svetlana, hails from Bosnia and fondly remembers the curious triangular structures he saw dotting the mountains as a child. Now based in Massachusetts, the Ladans fell for a 1968 A-frame with a pair of peaked dormers and large stone chimney tucked into the forest along Newry’s Great Brook. Since purchasing it in 2007, they’ve added new pine siding, roof shingles, windows, and doors, along with a rear deck and firepit. The result? “It’s like a fairytale house,” Svetlana says.
“They’re very coveted,” says Ali Goodwin, of Haven Homes + Lifestyle at Keller Williams Coastal Realty, who specializes in Maine and New Hampshire A-frames (and was recently outbid on one herself), most of them constructed between 1950 and 1975 and clustered around lakes and ponds. Characterized by precipitously pitched roofs that stretch all the way (or nearly) to the ground and horizontal beams (the cross of the “A”) that typically support sleeping lofts, the cottages became popular in post-war America as mass-produced blueprints or kit houses a new, young leisure class could DIY. Left to languish in Retroland after rising oil prices during the Carter administration undermined their viability as weekend retreats, the structures have recently spawned a new generation of A-frame-aholics drawn to their easily rehabbable mid-century shapes and relative affordability (from about $200,000 to upwards of $300,000 for a refurbished place).
ABOVE 1) Miroslav and Svetlana Ladan’s Newry A-frame features an intriguing juxtaposition of angles and a chimney crafted from stones collected on their property. 2) An A-frame cabin at Waldoboro’s Tops’l Farm.
“If somebody is looking for a renovation project, there’s not much to them,” Goodwin says. “All the interior bits and pieces, like electrical and plumbing, are usually exposed.” Buyers can expect to restore the foundation, which is often rotting post-and-pier, she says, as well as septic and well systems. Some need new roofs and insulation. Expanding is where things can get tricky. “The problem with A-frames is you’ve got a normal-size footprint” — typically 600 to 1,000 square feet — “but your volume’s half of what it normally would be” because of the sloped walls, says Chase Morrill, the lead contractor on DIY Network’s Maine Cabin Masters, who has renovated four mid-century A-frames in Maine, including his own in Carrabassett Valley. “They’re super solid, but because your walls are your rafters, as soon as you start cutting out some of those legs to put on a dormer and stuff, you can compromise the strength and integrity of the frame.” In other words: It’s probably best to leave additions to the pros.
Caitlin and Erik Mushial’s updated 1975 A-frame in Mount Vernon demonstrates how a smart expansion can complement the structure’s sturdy geometry. Working with local contractor R.A. Construction, they added a cubist bump-out that “intersects the triangle without changing the triangle” and accommodates a living room and master bedroom. White-gray cement-board cladding on the cube subtly contrasts with charcoal clapboards on the main volume — a pairing that “visually and functionally just works,” Caitlin says.
ABOVE At Waldoboro’s Tops’l Farm, A-frame cabins are outfitted with twin beds, indoor-outdoor rugs, and flea market finds.
Owners of a revamped 1960s A-framesque camp in New Vineyard, Sarah and Josh Pike stuck to purist forms when designing the five pointy cabins built by Cushing carpenter Jay Jones at their rustic Waldoboro resort, Tops’l Farm. Their only tweaks to the A-frame tradition: three-foot-high knee walls at the base to eke out more interior headroom and Plexiglas or screened gable walls, depending on the season, that emphasize the surrounding forest. “We gave a lot of thought to what the A-frame represented,” says Sarah, who landed on “a nod to an adventurous escape that at the same time feels like camping.”