A-frames make a comeback

For years, A-frame houses dotted lakeshores, ski towns and mountain resorts, looking like moldy leftovers from the 1960s and ’70s, the architectural equivalent of shag carpet and hot tubs. Many were drab-brown, cheaply constructed of plywood and converted over the decades from groovy weekend getaways to down-market year-round housing.

Then, suddenly, headlines like “23 Dreamy A-Frame Cabins We Love” and “This Couple Built a Tiny A-Frame Home for Only $700” began appearing on design blogs and in magazines, along with chic-looking modern examples photographed in serene woodland settings.

Now comes a new photo book, “The Modern A-Frame” (Gibbs Smith) by photographer Ben Rahn with an introduction by Chad Randl, that affirms the comeback.

“Part of the re-emergence is piggybacking on the broader interest in midcentury modern,” said Randl, an architectural historian teaching at the University of Oregon.

For all their outdated associations, A-frames can, in fact, be made strikingly modern. Like Mr. Potato Head, a basic form allows for add-ons: floor-to-ceiling windows, second-story decks, solar panels, cozy front porches.

They are also economical, environmentally low-impact and cute like tiny houses. But today’s design cognoscenti may like the modest dwellings for the simple reason an earlier generation did. As Randl put it, “A-frames are distinctive-looking.”


Purple comes home

Since Pantone announced Ultra Violet as its Color of the Year in December, retailers and manufacturers have been peddling enough purple products to encourage the look of running a grape press in your living room.

Many of these products are not so much Ultra Violet as plain old purple.

“It’s a risky color,” said Kare Arndt de Thurah, creative director of e3light, which partnered with Pantone on a lighting collection. But “David Bowie, Prince and Jimi Hendrix loved the color, so hopefully some of their fans will buy it.”


Demand for dog showers

“The fact is, when you walk a dog, whether you’re out in fields or walking on the sidewalks, your dogs pick up salt and mud,” said Ken Malian, an owner of GreenRose Fine Homes and Design in New Jersey.

Which is why Malian is building two homes with dog showers: one in a mudroom off the kitchen, the other in a three-car garage.

According to Malian, dog showers have become so commonplace — like a powder room or upstairs laundry room — that going forward, all of GreenRose’s $800,000-and-up home designs will include one. Adding a dog shower to an existing mudroom costs upward of $5,000, depending on the quality of tile used, he estimated.

Toll Brothers, the national luxury homebuilding company, also offers a dog shower option in many of its homes.

For Lisa Christie, an architect in Portland, Ore., the idea of installing a dog shower came gradually. An outdoorsy client wanted a spot in the mudroom to rinse off his climbing gear. About a month into the project, he declared his intention to get a dog, so she raised the floor of the mini-shower to make it more comfortable for soaping and rinsing a pet, and added a towel rod.

“If someone buys the house in the future and they don’t have a dog, it’s still a really useful thing,” she said.


Backyard work sheds

In a cozy backyard in Chico, Calif., Hans Stullken, an executive with a company that installs solar-electric equipment, built a 10- by 12-foot shed that functions as a detached work space — he and his wife call it their “casita.”

The stucco-and-concrete exterior mirrors the look of the main house, and hovering over the desk inside is a 15-foot loft with a queen-size bed for guests. “The shed is a good way to compartmentalize work and home. You don’t have any distractions, and you can leave your work there, not on the dining room table or bedroom,” Stullken said.

Sheds, which have traditionally been used for stowing lawn mowers, tools and cobwebs, have become convenient garden domiciles, often designed without the headache of permits (height limits apply). These micro-footprint extensions appeal to the rising number of Americans who are working from home.

Whether converted, constructed or prefabricated, the space must be outfitted for comfort. “Most sheds aren’t designed for human habitation,” said Eric Enns, owner of Modern Spaces and Sheds, which built the Stullkens’ shed.

Heating and cooling units, electricity, insulation and skylights are typically enough to transform most people’s dank outbuildings into work spaces that ideally make use of the yard’s natural landscape.

Alessandro Orsini, from the New York firm Architensions, tore down and reconstructed a shed in Brooklyn as a writer’s studio. “You can rent an office, but generally speaking, people, especially in the creative field, feel better in their own environment,” Orsini said.