Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

The A-frame effect

No. 381 A-frame cabin, 1967. Denver Post/Getty Images.

Picture it: a triangular wall of windows and a sleeping loft; sliding glass doors out to a terrace; deck chairs, a barbecue grill, a picnic table, a dinner bell to call you in from the forest, the lake, or the beach.

With a braided rug on the floor and heart-shaped cutouts on the balcony balustrade, the house is all ready for a Sunset magazine close-up—until your child folds that terrace up, trapping the Play Family inside, lifting his Fisher-Price A-frame up by its convenient carrying handle. Getting home from vacation was never so easy.

This A-frame dollhouse looms large in the imagination of children of the 1970s. Manufactured only from 1974 to 1976, the house, described in the catalog as a “ski-chalet,” was the company’s first set to include bunk beds and a picnic table, the furniture avatars of a leisurely lifestyle, as well as one of the first to be entirely made of plastic, lightweight and low maintenance.

From its accessories to its portability, the toy A-frame closely resembles its full-size inspiration, a house that continues to serve as a symbol of an era when leisure—and second homes—was available to a much larger swath of the American population.