before and after

Before & After: An A-Frame Cottage Gets an A+ Renovation

by Annie Werbler

If you’re someone with a huge imagination, everything you’ve ever wanted can fit in a dream home that’s quite small. Case in point: Astrid Insieme and her husband Brian, who whipped their seasonal 1969 New England A-frame cottage into permanent-residence shape with their own gloved hands. In only 800 rustic square feet, the couple envisioned a home that felt “global, a little chic, and very cozy,” and yet also appropriate to its surroundings in the remote town of Sanbornton, within New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.

The building was not originally equipped for year-round living, so a comprehensive scheme addressed both functional and cosmetic issues, inside and out. Installing proper insulation for frigid winters and reworking the floorplan (including a weekend bedroom for Brian’s 11-year-old daughter, Bella) were fundamental to the plan. Astrid, an interior decorator and stylist, and Brian, an interactive graphic designer and musician, did all of the work — except plumbing and electrical — entirely themselves. This is especially impressive considering they went beyond the basics to revamp the kitchen and bathroom with tons of amenities, and design clever built-ins that make use of wasted nooks and crannies. Most remarkably, the couple also added a stately, barrel-vaulted foyer addition onto the kitchen entrance of the structure.

However powerful the sense of accomplishment feels, Astrid admits that DIY has its drawbacks, like a three-year timeline for a project that was expected to take one at the outset. Going into the job, the couple knew that renovating any home was guaranteed to be rife with challenges. But as Astrid recalls, living in a construction zone inside “a tiny home with wonky, angled walls presents a whole array of unexpected ones.” In the end, Astrid and Brian are so glad they put a personal stamp on the home they created together. –Annie

All photos courtesy of Astrid Insieme.


Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
The post-renovation decor of the Insieme house is "global, a little chic, and very cozy."
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
Area rugs help to define independent zones in an open plan.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
An A-frame wall is made to feel plumb using built-ins designed to maximize storage.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
A look at a seating area under the stairs shows how small-scale furniture can layer on the luxury.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
The front door previously opened right into the kitchen, but now a barrel-vaulted foyer addition lives beyond the revamped room.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
Contrasting colors make the foyer addition feel larger than it did while still under construction.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
The other rooms make use of conventional wisdom to paint small spaces in light colors, but this dramatic jewel box of a bathroom breaks all the rules.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
What was once a dizzying array of paneling is now a photo gallery full of life and light.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
The master bedroom has an exotic, North African vibe.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
A canopy over daughter Bella's bed turns the awkward, sloped wall into an advantage.
Before & After: A-Frame Cottage, on Design*Sponge
The exterior of renovated Insieme House, before and after.

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      • Agreed! A shame: such a loss of authentic sense of place and of original modern character; so much effort, even in good taste, but applied to totally the wrong setting: all that fuss belongs in a beautiful Georgian row house, not an A Frame cabin. Still, if the owners like it…! Hope someone salvaged those clean cool steel stair rails…

  • Thanks so much for the feature…we’re absolutely elated with how it came out!

    Lexi, we used Valspar Ultra White Interior Flat Paint (from Lowe’s) throughout…hope that helps!

  • I absolutely adore following this A-frame cottage via Instagram. Happy to see it featured on Design Sponge!

  • The after is great, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer the “before” as well. I am, however, in the camp of “never paint wood if you can help it.”

  • Wow! A seriously gorgeous renovation. It was definitely worth the three year wait! Love that they were able to maximize their small space in such creative ways.

  • This is STUNNING. Amazing job. I’m sure it was such a labor of love. You should be so proud! Wow. I want one on a river out here in Oregon, please.

  • I agree with those preferring the before. It was simple and cozy. The after treatment may have been better suited to a different space.

  • Holy cow, this is like snooping through a fancy jewelry box, so many treats for the eyes! Love the sloped wall storage- those hanging shelves in the kitchen-swoon! those gorgeous black curtains (i’m guessing more ingenious storage lurks behind)! the high contrast colour! Beautifully done.

  • Oh! Really nice job! Not the easiest space to work with but you made it cozy and fun. Congrats! And Bella must love the place.

  • Absolutely beautiful! The before and afters are remarkable. What extraordinary vision! So clean, yet lush and colorful. Worth the wait, I agree!

  • A cabin doesn’t necessarily mean being confined to living in a tree house, so I applaud the Insieme’s courage in taking this somewhat difficult reno to a whole new level. And wow, have they done just that! The result is a home that is light, airy, clever and on trend. Love it.

  • This is 10,000 times better than the original! I can see all of the time and effort they put into this renovation. Such a great use of space!! The outside is also perfection. Taking the rails make the deck look so much bigger and more inviting!!

  • The colors are beautiful and so clever to plumb the wall with bookcases. Please tell us more about the couch throw and the vanity in the bathroom. I wish the pics were bigger.”jewel box’ is an apt description for this lovely home.

  • The work done and the vision that the couple had is definitely impressive, but as a few others have mentioned, I liked the cottage better before. It had a lovely cabin-like simplicity.

  • I love it.! Living in a 100 year old wood everywhere cabin in the mountains myself I appreciate all the work this took! To those who loved the before….when I moved into my cabin I loved it too for the first year or two. But living year round in a sea of wood with limited natural light gets to you after a while, especially in the winter, and the cozy cabin begins to feel like a dark depressing dungeon. I really believe it was making me depressed! Painting it all white has literally changed my life!

  • Amazing makeover, the colors are so vibrant and the accessories are truly unique and bring an upscale bohemian vibe, although jewelry box is a great description too. Love it!

  • Wow, this is beautiful! The “before” had a lazy weekend charm, but I do not imagine all the dark wood and old paneling would be enjoyable year-round. The “after” is much lighter & brighter. So pretty.

  • I love it! I’ve never been a huge white paint person….but think I’m now a convert. My only nit-picky comment is related to the addition of the front entrance, as it doesn’t seem to suit the house. Love the exterior colour though.

  • I love this. My grandfather ran a campground and lived in an a frame just like this, but seriously didn’t have this amazing style. I have been on the hunt for a large ocean photo like on your wall. Could you tell a good source to find one. Yours is great. I live in Arkansas and really miss the ocean. Thanks!

    • Hi Kelli…thanks so much for your kind comment! That particular photo is actually one I took myself which we had blown up and framed within that hinged cabinet, which actually conceals our pull-out ironing board…haha! You could always use your own photography, or find something through sites such as Etsy and 20×200.com, for example, that offer affordable and varied options. I understand your nostalgia for the ocean…that is precisely why that one is hanging in our home!

      • I was wondering what was behind that hinged cabinet! I love everything you guys have done, and the use of mirrors on the angled wall and throughout the home is genius. Especially love your master bedroom…how cozy yet lux.

  • Can you tell me where the black and white photograph in the first picture is from please??? Its stunning – and I have been looking for a similar dimension picture for ages!


    • Hi Lauren! Thanks so much for your kind comment…I really appreciate it! That particular photo is actually one I took myself which we had blown up and framed within that hinged cabinet, which conceals our pull-out ironing board. We just resized the image into the desired poster size and had it printed on matte photo paper! Hope that helps!

  • I love the transformation! I know it is heartbreaking to some people to see the wood painted but when I look at the before pictures, it feels SO HEAVY to me! This feels fresh and vibrant…and looks very interesting with the due to the decor selections. Kudos on the DIY approach! You can tell it was a labor of love!

  • Hi Astrid,
    You have done a great job. Living for 18 years in an Aframe that we have not tackled remodeling I am jealous!
    Please let me know if you have any additional photos of the kitchen. This is the area we are struggling most with and it looks to me like you have done an amazing job with an awkward space!

    • Hi Pam! Thanks so much for your kind comment…it is very much appreciated! It’s so wonderful to “meet” a fellow A-frame dweller! I would be more than happy to share more photos of the kitchen with you. Please feel free to contact me via astrid@insiemehouse.com and we can go from there!

  • Your remodel knocks me out. My husband and I have lived in a small mountain town for the past twenty years and our houses have always been too dark because every wall is covered in cedar or pine. I have painted several of the rooms white, much to the dismay of our friends who believe it’s unthinkable to paint wood. Currently we have an old cabin we use as a guesthouse, also all wood walls and floors. Your reno has inspired me to paint every wall white and the floors black. I LOVE the dark bathroom. What paint color did you use on the floors and the darkroom? I’m heading to the paint store!

    • Thanks so much for your incredibly kind comment, Anne…it is very much appreciated! We used Valspar paint from Lowe’s throughout: the black used on the bathroom walls is Valspar Interior Satin Paint in Dark Kettle Black, and we used Valspar Porch and Floor Latex Satin Paint in New Black for the floors. We let the painted floor cure for some time before applying three coats of polyurethane for added sheen and durability. Hope that helps!

  • Gorgeous and inspiring!

    In the first photo is a beautiful sea-blue pillow with orange on the back side. Where did you purchase?

    • Thanks so much for your super kind comment, PJFB…I really appreciate it! I wish I could help you out with a retailer/vendor for the two-toned pillow, but I made it myself!

  • One of my favorite makeovers ever! I live in a Western state with tons of these A-frames nearby, and they’re surprisingly dark inside with the wood exposed and the slanted walls.

    But this is so light-filled and inspired, it’s wonderful! What a happy space!

  • Oh I absolutely love this. What a cute roof design, this renovation worked out so well. The interior was pretty shabby before hand, but I love what they did with the flooring and walls. I especially love the bathroom.

  • I really like the practical things they did, too, like the insulation, and closing in the back of the staircase (no more dust from the stairs falling into the living area, and safer.) To me, there’s wood, and then there’s good wood. I wouldn’t paint my solid wood, well cared for old furniture, but the ‘before’ wood looked dark and dried out and rough. The ‘after’ is a happy, welcoming place.

  • However powerful the sense of accomplishment feels, Astrid admits that DIY has its drawbacks, like a three-year timeline for a project that was expected to take one at the outset.

  • No doubt they worked hard on this, but the loss of the original charm of a mid-century A-frame makes me wince. Even with the white paint it feels so claustrophobic after…. as long as the owner is happy in their space that’s all that matters I suppose… but those stairs and that wood before gah! It had so much potential! Still, I am happy for the owners to have accomplished such an undertaking. I know from experience that renovations are not exactly a good time.