A DIY A-Frame Cabin in the UK, Inspired by Dutch Minimalism
Q&A with furniture maker Heather Scott on building by hand, finding inspiration in art, and drawing influence from the land
At Field Mag we love a good A-Frame. Whether nestled into a snowy hillside in British Columbia or amid a National Park in Chile, the simplicity is inspiring and the functionality undeniable. Much like Andrew Szeto and his sub $10k A-Frame build in Quebec, we found Heather Scott and her custom A-Frame in Cornwall, England on Instagram. Yes, that app is rotting our brains, but boy is it a useful too from time to time, too.
As a furniture maker with proper training in woodwork and a self taught education in metalwork (shout out Youtube), the half British, half Dutch designer draws direct inspiration from her surroundings and influence from her heritage.
One glance at her well-balanced wood work—and this A-Frame in particular—and it’s clear, Scott is a true talent. This isn’t something any one of us could just through together. But at the same time, her efforts in minimalism and purposeful detailing do inspire a sense of approachability. At the very least, one doesn’t need a design degree to find this cute little structure alluring.
To learn more about the build—a commission by a friend set on a farm with views of the rugged Celtic Sea—and the woman who brought it to life, we tracked Scott down and asked her a few questions. Read on for the full story, and to fill in a few blanks on that DIY build you no doubt have floating around your own head.
Why did you select the A-Frame shape for this build?
I chose the A-Frame shape for it’s simplicity and strength. The forces are balanced in a equilateral triangle so it makes for a strong structure and is simpler than considering the junctions betweens a roof and walls.
In my design I’m always looking to pare things back and make things easier to construct and replicate with the intention of making the idea of building a shelter more accessible to people. The designs that stick with me tend to be the most simple, like a canvas ridge tent—a few poles and a bit of canvas that anyone can put up and use. Spot on!
Care to share any sources of design inspiration from the project?
Most of my research came from books of the de Stijl movement—I’m inspired by Dutch design and the key players like furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld—as well as American architect Andrew Geller’s “Beach Houses.” It’s a special one.
In my everyday life it’s the community of makers in Cornwall that inspire me—the independent designers and makers, like Francli, that have created incredible business fueled with integrity.
I rarely do a project without a bit of Youtube support too! I enjoyed Andrew Szeto’s videos about his A-Frame, his enthusiasm is infectious.
What are the cabin dimensions?
The cabin is just under 27-square-meters, including a small deck out front and back. The height of the top of the triangle is 4m and I designed the building by working in multiples of 1.2, which is a common factor of building materials to make efficient use of materials and leave little waste.
For example a sheet of plywood in the UK is generally 1.2 x 2.4m and the rafters are made from lengths of 3.6m timber which is a common length.
How long did the build take, from start to finish?
From finalizing design to installing the furniture it was a five month project, three to four of those were on site building time for me and fellow carpenter, Ben Hobbs, who’s skill and experience was an incredible support.
The cabin is built on a ground screw foundation and uses recycled newspaper as insulation. Can you tell us about these unique techniques?
Both these techniques I chose in part for environmental reasons. It’s much more common to use concrete for foundations but I wanted to use as little as possible in this build so I chose ground screws. They were also a great alternative for a build of this size, because they disrupt the land very little and can be unscrewed. So if needed, the A-Frame could be picked up and moved elsewhere.
The floor insulation was twice recycled, firstly from newspaper and secondly from a building that was being renovated half a mile up the road. It was lucky timing that a friend was looking to get rid of the insulation so we re-used it on this project. We could only use to it in the floor because it was easy to install and would have been a nightmare in the angle of the roof.
I also tried to buy second hand where possible, both for with a concern for environmental issues and to keep costs down. So half the flooring, the wood burning stove, and velux roof window, for example.
With the build complete, looking back, what key learnings have you taken away from the process?
I have worked on a few build projects over the years—including building a single story straw bale house in 2018—but this was the first time I oversaw the design and fabrication of a whole build, starting with initial sketches all the way through to choosing the soft furnishings. With no formal training in architecture, construction or interior design, it was a very steep learning curve!
If I did it again, I would try and be less stubbornly independent and ask for help more! It was a big project to take on, and an impossible one to do alone. The knowledge and wisdom I got from other people working in the field was invaluable, as there are so many elements to consider in creating a building that’s built to last.
What’s next for you? Will we see another A-Frame for yourself built next?
The next few years will hopefully see more commissioned build projects, and I’d like to do more work that engages people in the joys of working with your hands. I’d particularly like to find ways to give women more opportunity to do carpentry.
For now though, I’m back making furniture again. But my head keeps ticking with new ideas. I’d like to scale it up and make an A-Frame cabin with multiple rooms for me to live in one day, but that’s a way off yet!