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A-Game A-Frames

Same shape, different vibes: two homes point to good times in the Idyllwild pines.

Lisa Marie Hart Current Digital, Home & Design

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Modwild cabin built in 2020.
MODWILD PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEPHEN SCHAUER

The real estate boom in Southern California has shrunk the region’s housing inventory to record lows. For those in the market for vintage A-frame cabins in Idyllwild, the shortage has been in effect for years. The iconic wood triangle of 1960s woodland leisure time has become somewhat of an endangered species. They’re not extinct in the wild, but the chances of spotting one offered for sale is akin to a booking a safari in hopes of seeing a mastodon. They’re all gone.

Tony Durazzo and his girlfriend, Kiki Giet, purchased theirs in December 2016 after a long search. “We got very lucky with the timing,” Durazzo says. “And, yes, we’ve definitely had offers.”

But they wouldn’t dream of selling. They call their home away from L.A. Idyllhaus. The chalet-style cabin welcomes 10–15 reservations (mostly couples) per month as a part-time rental on Airbnb.

Nick “Biggie” Grimaldi built his own A-frame, modifying a kit he purchased from a company based in Estonia. Modwild is the first of its kind in the area.

Their journeys to wooded bliss share a commitment to strong architecture and thoughtful details. Yet where Idyllhaus is prized for its vintage appearance, Modwild sought modern perfection.

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The modern orange entry door.

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A large boulder dictated the placement of the Modwild cabin (which sits behind it). “The reverence given to the existing trees and rocks on the site is great,” notes photographer Stephen Schauer. “And helps it feel less like a new build.”

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Modern and Modified

Avrame is not a household name in the United States. If you ask Grimaldi, it may not be anytime soon. Founded in Estonia in 2016, the company produces a series of A-frame kits in varying sizes and plans. Several years ago, they opened an outpost office Salt Lake City, Utah. Flooded with stateside requests for A-frames, they are still, he says, getting their legs under them in terms of American permitting, standards, preferences, codes, and general red tape.

Even so, Grimaldi was persistent and worked with his general contractor to make one of the kits work near the Pine Cove side of Idyllwild. Not only work, so much, as accommodate his ideas and bend to his every structural wish.

The 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom cabin is full of surprises. A spiral staircase, double dormer, loft with closet and attic, custom balcony, Dutch doors, custom bunk beds and play nook, a wood-burning stove converted to propane on a remote control, and “shiplap everywhere, which is a geometrical nightmare,” are among his refinements.

Grimaldi isn’t new to real estate. With homes in Newport Beach and Rancho Mirage plus The Three Ten boutique hotel in Palm Springs, he has been buying and selling for 15 years, since he was 25 years old. Now, he and his wife, Heather, are in it together, as time allows. Grimaldi owns the management company Good Fight Entertainment; Heather’s career with autistic children led her to create a supplement for those on the spectrum. Almost every weekend, while others are flocking to the ocean near their main residence, the couple and their daughters, ages 4 and 7, turn the car toward Idyllwild. Sledding in winter and a zip line incoming this summer await.

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What was a propane stove on the kit plans now burns wood. “I can turn it on with a remote control, and it’s perfectly situated to warm you on the couch,” he says.

Everything we added or modified had to be worked through.
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Above the dining area hangs a custom antler chandelier. Built-in shelving and shiplap to the ceiling are among Grimaldi’s upgrades.

Grimaldi discovered Avrame online when the kits were exclusively available in Europe. He peppered them with questions and eventually ordered the Trio 120 design, fine-tuning the layout of the bedrooms and bathrooms in addition to his custom adds. “The company tries to play up the DIY aspect like you can grab a buddy and put your house together,” Grimaldi says, “but this is a full-on house up in the mountains where you need to consider snow, fire, and a septic tank. We had bulldozers, cranes, and eight professional construction guys getting it done.”

The build dragged out longer than expected and he didn’t use all of their materials. “Anything you adjust in the kit causes different types of engineering situations,” he explains. “Everything we added or modified had to be worked through. We got very lucky with a good GC who wasn’t afraid of tasks like that.”

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A spiral staircase — Grimaldi says he always wanted one — leads to the loft and the couples’ bedroom. The girls’ bedroom and guest room are on the first floor.

Grimaldi is often asked about how the costs shook out. “The sticker price is not anywhere close to where we wound up, and that’s partially on me,” he says. “I could have spent way less, but I wanted certain things. I obsessed over every detail for 18 months, and I’m elated with the overall design.”

Now, he isn’t eager to rent it out as planned just to have someone scuff the walls. “Every single inch of that cabin is like my baby,” he says. “I designed it with no wasted space. It’s perfectly laid out, down to every switch.”

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At one end of the loft, set above the great room, a custom skylight pushes out to become a small balcony.

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IDYLLHAUS PHOTOGRAPHY BY DARREN BRADLEY
The couple appreciates the red cedar planks stretching across the great room, noting similar midcentury A-frames are lined in pine. “And we love that the architect perfectly lined up the point of the cabin with the point of Marion Mountain,” Durazzo says.

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A Climber’s Legacy

Durazzo and Giet are longtime desert visitors and frequent guests of Two Bunch Palms. “For a while, we were looking at a lot in Desert Hot Springs,” Durazzo says. “We intended to build a place where we’d have our own private hot spring.” On a scorching day too hot for a hike, they headed for Idyllwild to cool off. “We instantly fell in love with the mountain and the town. Hiking up there was magical. So quiet and peaceful. I remember turning to Kiki and saying, ‘Listen, all we can hear is wind and birds.’”

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Idyllhaus cabin built in 1962.

They refocused their search and by chance spotted the listing for an A-frame built in 1962. “The cabin was in original condition but in bad disrepair,” Durazzo says. “Initially, I was delusional about how long it would take to redo it and how much it would cost.” He estimated six months to complete; it took two years. They saved money by tackling the redesign themselves, aside from an architect’s help with the bathroom addition. Durazzo is a film editor at Walt Disney Animation Studios and Giet’s skills as a production designer for commercials and music videos made steering the project second nature.

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The desert stone fireplace is large enough to warm a ski lodge.

“Our approach was to maintain the feel of the cabin while giving it some modern conveniences and contemporary upgrades,” including a new bathroom pop-out where they watch the snow falling and the squirrels scampering past while soaking in the tub. Poring over old books, magazines, and illustrations of vintage A-frames, the couple sat in awe of the modern interiors. “You have these little rustic cabins with midcentury modern pendant lamps and furniture, and incredible fireplaces,” Durazzo says. “We leaned into the midcentury modern aspect of early A-frame cabin culture while adding our own touches.”

Equally significant is what they refrained from doing. Bucking the trend to whitewash walls and beams, they kept the orange beams and the original wood. “A lot of people thought we were crazy, but the color is so warm and rich,” Durazzo says. “That’s what makes a cabin a cabin.” Monochromatic wood walls, floors, and ceilings made a design challenge they embraced. In the kitchen, for example, they balanced new mahogany cabinets with white countertops and a white ceiling.

And they personalized the décor. “We purchased the cabin from Mark Powell, a legendary rock climber,” Durazzo says. “He left us many cool items, including his vintage ice axe,” which is on display. Giet believes that’s what makes for five-star rental reviews: the true feel of a climber’s cozy lair. “We place amazing things we love throughout the cabin that could easily be stolen or broken,” she says. “But people appreciate them.”

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The original orange beams remind Durazzo and Giet of some of their favorite vintage hotels, including Hope Springs in Desert Hot Springs.

The couple kept the orange beams and the original wood.
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Views are integral to the experience, even from the main bedroom upstairs. The original owner purchased the adjacent lot, creating double the privacy and seclusion.

Now advocates for their adopted town, the couple sampled the new doughnut shop as soon as it opened and encourage guests to explore the town’s restaurants. They love the story that shortly after Elvis Presley spent three weeks in 1961 filming Kid Galahad, Idyllwild surged with tourists and a fresh crop of now rare A-frames. “I spent four months at the cabin working from home,” Durazzo says. “I thought I might get sick of it, but I never did.” Here, where deer, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and the occasional mountain lion are spotted on camera crossing the property’s wildlife trail, a hot spring seems less important.