Indrek Kuldkepp: “An A-frame house is a home for those who (can) calculate”
“The A-frame house is an A-shaped building which, back in the Soviet era, was familiar to people as a building typology that had the roof touching the ground, or Rannapiiga. This typology is not known for its trendiness but rather for being, by square metre, at least half the price of a normal new building,” claims Indrek Kuldkepp, the founder and one of the owners of Avrame.
When designing his own house Kuldkepp followed the principle that the building is meant to worship its residents, not the other way around. He does not consider it reasonable to take bank loans with high interest for decades to live in an unreasonably huge building; instead he focuses on the feasibility of the building from the very beginning of the design process. As his own home exceeded expectations and proved to be comfortable as well as profitable, he decided to start producing the A-frame houses for the market as well.
Visualisation of new A-Frame Trio model
How did you come to the (idea of the) the A-frame building?
I was looking for a fast and economic solution that would mean I could afford a house without a bank loan and found an A-frame on Pinterest. I studied the history of this type of building and it impressed me a lot. Already back in ancient times buildings used to be triangular, although the style reached the peak of popularity in the US in 1960s and 1970s during the poorer post-war era. Here in Estonia such houses were built in 1970s for the same reason of limited resources.
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In the US these buildings lost their popularity because of the absence of insulation. The thermal insulation materials used back then were not good for insulating inclined planes; the houses built in Estonia had poor insulation as well. Today the building materials have improved – we use SIP-panels for their off-peak price and very good thermal insulation characteristics.
What standards did you set for yourself when designing your house?
One of the conditions was that it should be reasonable enough to be built on my own. It is always hard to find good contractors. I do hear it often that people had bought high-quality materials, but in the end the building itself is still of poor quality. Therefore I was looking for a type of construction that could be built solo.
There were no major setbacks during the construction and this encouraged us to start to resell. I have 18 years of sales experience in wooden houses and also had the support of experienced specialists. Constructing a house on your own is always difficult and it is common to be unsure about it.
Of course, one can always buy a ready-built house with a price that includes everything, including the profit made by he contractor, developer and real-estate agents. When money is not in question then why not, but when you are looking for favourable solutions then this is a subject for consideration.
How much did you save with an A-frame house?
The price for my house was about half the price of the market price, making it a bit less than 600 Euro per square meter. One of my friends asked me whether I stole the materials – how else did my project turn out to be so beneficial? But of course I bought all the materials, and stayed away from cheaper options with the details as well. I have wide pine boards on the floor and the walls are covered with Spanish clay paints.
When your budget is 1500 Euros per square meter then you do not have to cut corners – you will get high-quality collaboration and you can make something cool and stylish. When your budget is 1200 Euro then you will miss out on the coolness. But with a budget of less than 1000 Euros then you either have to build it yourself or save on materials. I gave up the coolness and acted on my own. As the whole building is basically an attic, then it can also be regarded as a kind of renunciation, because it gets complicated when trying to fit the furniture.
How long did it take to realise the original idea(s) when building the prototype?
I was searching for ideas for about 9 months, and the building took as much again. When I offer the same model to clients today, then the first nine months can be skipped - we have been through that already, and the construction itself takes much less time now because there were many things that we decided upon during that period. When ordering a house from us the foundation has to be ready, then it takes about 4 to 6 months to finish the construction. With a handy head contractor it is even possible to finish the house with 3 months.
If someone orders a house from you, what do they get?
As a basic configuration we have the frame of the building (windows, doors and the undercoating of the roof) so it is possible to assemble the so called envelope. But it is also possible to have the frame with SIP-panel insulation, the assembly of which takes only a couple of days. The client has to take care of the foundation, infrastructure and interior finishing. We offer roofs as well, meaning that clients get a prefabricated building. The large packages arrives at the construction site. The builders then raise the triangular frame on the foundation, followed by the roof boarding, then the insulation, and so on.
It is not a modular building with all the rooms ready-made where only the modules need to be joined (and which therefore have much higher prices per square metre).
Large windows on the southern facade open up views to the surrounding forest
Would an average handyman be able to accomplish the construction on his own?
It is possible, as our drawings are very simple. So if you really would like to have the hands-on experience of building your own house then it would be a reasonable choice. Our sales are based on the fact that our frames have been thoroughly constructed in collaboration with engineers and architects and this part can thus be skipped.
You were collaborating with architect Tiit Sild – what kind of advice did he give?
I think that due to his supervision my house is much more functional and also more beautiful. There is more light in the house as we went for full-length windows and changed the locations of the doors, as he suggested. In addition we opted for the same size windows on both sides of the building, which saves expense during production as well as during construction.
You will soon be celebrating the first half year in your new home – what is your impression?
I am very pleased - the building is warm and functional, and as I previously lived in a very small house the contrast is noticeable. I was amazed by the functionality of my new house – it has just a little more than 70 square metres yet it is more than enough for three people. Not once have we had moments of commotion, we have everything and nothing is lacking. The heating uses firewood: there is a heat-proof wall and a very efficient Italian cast iron stove that keeps the house warm for about a day and a half in one go.
When did you came up with the idea to start selling this type of house to others?
Pre A-Frame era sauna and A-Frame era shed in Indrek's courtyard
My whole working career has been based on designing and selling wooden houses so already during the construction phase I was thinking how, if everything turns out well then, I would start offering it to others. We have now been marketing the house for couple of months and there are already couple of houses in production, all within a very short time.
Our main focus is on export. Yesterday we were negotiating with our potential re-sellers in Japan and South Korea – they have grand plans. We are sticking to our schedules and can manage on our own.
There is tight competition in the housing market, why should one choose an A-frame house from Avrame?
In the Estonian market we have mainly been asked for summer houses as the economic welfare is quite high and people are looking for something larger and more interesting for a dwelling. Our concept lies in a very reasonable solution: the design is not cool, but first and foremost it is very functional.
When the next economic recession hits, then the A-frame would do well as a dwelling. Soviet era people tend to think of private houses as a luxury, but actually a house is still just a necessity and it should be affordable also in terms of lower budgets. It is easy to go for a bank loan, but when times are harder, then people are willing to contribute more themselves – this is where the saving comes from.
When ordering a house from you now at the beginning of the summer, would it be possible to move in for Christmas?
Absolutely, there are no obstacles on our side.
Interview by Liina Pulges (www.unistusteagentuur.com)