Design & DIY

Young couple upgrades ’80s A-frame on a budget

Julia Pittman, 31, and her husband, Adam, 37, spent years looking for the right cabin. Like many young urbanites, they were renting in the city and ready to buy, but wanted to skip the house and go for a cottage. “I searched every day,” says Julia. “I thought I had looked at everything within three hours of Toronto, but somehow missed this one.” It was a score: a road-access, two-bedroom, four-season cottage right on the water, two and a half hours from the city, with no major renos required—for only $200,000. Adam found it in an area they had overlooked, on the Moira River, near Tweed, Ont. The best part of all? It was an A-frame, Julia’s favourite. “I love the slanted walls, the loft-like feel,” says Julia. As they started to renovate, they posted their progress on Instagram, and eventually, requests started coming in to rent the cabin. “We hadn’t even considered it,” says Julia. “But we realized that making a little extra money will help us pay for future projects and repairs down the line.” Now, they use the cabin on weekends and rent it out on weekdays.

It took months for Adam and Julia to get used to the slanted walls. “I kept bumping my head when I woke up in the morning,” says Adam. “You cannot have tall furniture.” The same goes for hanging art and installing storage units. To squeeze in extra stuff, Adam filled a kitchen nook with pantry shelves supported by brackets painted white to blend in to the wall for a floating look (top left). The couple has plans for a full kitchen reno down the line, but for now, since the appliances still work, they’ve updated the space with white paint and replaced the hardware with vintage cabinet pulls. “Living with the kitchen, we’re getting an idea of what would work,” says Julia.

For the most part, they’ve transformed their cabin with vintage furniture. “I enjoy the hunt,” says Julia. “I spend hours before bed scrolling Kijiji and online auctions. Typically, I choose an auction that ends in the evening, so I can make my move at the last possible chance.” She found the teak sideboard that holds the record player (p. 51) for $80—it was a display unit at an antiques mall. “We don’t have Wi-Fi or TV, so when we have guests we’re more focussed on being in each other’s company than being on our devices,” she says. “We spend time sitting by the fire or playing board games while listening to records, fully present and closer together.”

What it cost
Well reinforcement $5,000
Pressure tank replacement $1,000
Upstairs carpet removal and
replacement $3,000
Paint and supplies $250
Living room furniture $630
Record player $510
Kitchen island $0 ($420, gifted)
Kitchen accessories $100
Bedroom furniture and
accessories $1,540
Outdoor furniture and
accessories $650
Vintage finds $520

Approximate total cost

Susan Scott, a Vancouver architect, remembers the glory days of the A-frame, when that iconic triangle (originally from Europe, China, and the South Pacific Islands) was the main silhouette you’d find in ski towns such as Whistler, B.C. in the ’70s. She grew up visiting her family’s A-frame on the weekends. “It had orange shag carpet,” she says. “And it was always dark. The only windows were little squares at the ends.” Now, she and her partner, David, as founders of Scott & Scott Architects, design modern A-frames for mountain-loving clients, and their versions include a few design updates. Full-wall windows on the front and rear allow for more light, as do dormer windows on the sides. Some of their cabins are designed on a tilt, aptly called italic A-frames, and almost all have built-in storage units against the walls to capitalize on that sloped space. “The upstairs is always going to get hot,” says Susan, “so you need to design for cross-ventilation.” Even though new A-frames are rare these days, Susan and David see the benefit of the design. “You can’t beat them for sloughing off snow,” says David. “Some people with flat roofs end up spending their entire weekends shovelling themselves out. The A-frame sends the snow where you need it to go.” 

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