A-Frame House in Japan Is a Minimalist Dream

Hara House isn't your cheap and cheerful little cabin, but there is a lot to love.

The interior of the Hara House. Pictured here is the dining area.

Isamu Murai

In a time when every design website loves little boxes, I love an A-frame. For the cost of your typical tiny house and probably not much more material, you can have far more floor area. I previously noted:

"A-frames are all about minimizing one’s footprint, about using as little material as possible. They are incredibly efficient, easy to build. Roofing is the cheapest material in a house and they are mostly roofing. You don’t need a crane and you don’t need to be a welder."
Hara House from exterior

Isamu Murai

And then we have Hara House, a modern A-frame with a capital A in Nigata, Japan, designed by Takeru Shoji Architects. Like most A-frames and most Japanese interior photographs, it is seriously minimal. As Alexandra Lange wrote in Curbed, "Staying low, and furnishing minimally, is the best way to take advantage of an abundance of floor and a pittance of wall."

View of full tent with office

Isamu Murai

Hara House is built out of 5-inch square timbers set 6 feet apart. "That structure creates an image of a large tent; a stiff, yet giving structure that assimilates all human behaviors," said Takeru Shoji Architects in a press release. "Storage, partitions, and private rooms have been removed as much as possible in order to simulate one large open space that adapts to the user’s needs."

That makes life easier. As Lange notes, there often isn't much storage.

"In an A-frame, there are few closets, so it must remain eternally Kondo-ed. In an A-frame, there’s little privacy, so the family has to gather around the fireplace or run around outside. Indoor-outdoor living and informal entertaining were the style of the day in the 1950s, as they are now, and you cannot be any other way in an A-frame. Leisure is part of their very character."
Storage under floor

Isamu Murai

There is an interesting storage feature under the living room floor, which is raised to bench height and acts as seating for the dining room. You can't get more minimal than that.

view down from loft

Isamu Murai

Hara House benefits from the fact that it is apparently part of a group of buildings that were already present on-site, including "a parents' house, storage areas, and private rooms." This is probably how it can be so minimal.

"The aim was to create a way of life that is never complete within just this one structure, but rather forms a piece of the greater architecture; a house that is part of a group of buildings," said the architecture firm in a release.

interior with workspace

Isamu Murai

A look at the plan shows it to be dominated by that grid; everything is a multiple of six feet, which makes an awfully tight bedroom. There is also a workspace on top of the bathing area and a kid's bedroom on top of the kitchen.

Plan of building

Takeru Shoji Architects

The bathroom arrangement might look odd to a western eye. You pass through the datsuiba, or changing area, to get to the bedroom and the bathing room, while the toilet is at the other end of the house.

view of sliding wall and terrace


There are dormers on the sides, covering exterior terraces, and the A-frame is large enough that there can be full-height walls that slide open on either side of the living area. This is a big A-frame.

Building section

Takeru Shoji Architects

Note how the terraces cantilever out, and how there are actually snow melters built underground at the edges. This is an expensive A-frame.

interior on angle

Isamu Murai

A-Frames were popular because they were cheap and easy to build—Hara House probably was neither. But I have never had much good to say about shipping container homes, and have watched tiny homes get bloated and expensive. Both are pitched as a way to live modestly and inexpensively. And while it is true that an A-frame has a lot of surface area for the volume that is enclosed, it is a great alternative to a little box.

interior with man and TV

Isamu Murai

We have been talking a lot recently about simplicity: "Designing and building as simply as possible" and material efficiency, and "using as few materials as possible to achieve the design." It's time to have another look at the A-Frame: It is simple and efficient and can be gorgeous too.

arial view

Isamu Murai