After spending an adventurous summer traveling in a van with their dog, Richmond, Virginia–based couple Grace Kuhn and David Phinney wanted to take their van life adventures to the next level with an Airstream trailer.
"We knew that we could travel full-time if we had something larger," Grace says. She works remotely for a wildlife protection agency—and she also knows where she can park for free. Just like that, the Richmonders were prepared to untether and hit the open road.
The couple found a 1973 Airstream trailer for sale on Craigslist. Located just down the road in Henrico, Virginia, the 31-foot trailer was completely intact with the original interior for just $5,000. "They go pretty quickly," Grace says, "so we totally lucked out."
Grace and David got to work, and it took them 18 months of weekend work to renovate the trailer from top to bottom. "In order to make them safe, you have to gut them," says Grace. "We ripped up the floor and found rotting wood, and the frame was corroded."
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With some help from family members, the couple were able to DIY the entire trailer renovation. David’s brother handled the welding, and Grace’s stepdad, a retired cabinet maker, helped to create storage throughout.
All the interior walls were torn down to create an open-concept space with all of the designated areas—bedroom, kitchen, dining/workspace, living room— flowing into one another. The team also relocated the bathroom from the back of the trailer to the middle, adjacent to the kitchen.
"The layout was really boxed in. People want privacy, but how do you have privacy in 190 square feet?" says Grace. "So we just kept it open."
Since it was their first trailer rehab project, naturally there was trial and error. For instance, patching the aluminum hull took some additional effort. "It was the rainiest winter that Richmond had seen in 30 years, so we were testing for leaks every single day," said Grace with a laugh.
The interior walls were stripped of dark MDF boards, and then the aluminum was sanded and painted in a flat white. The warm white walls set the tone for a pared-down and tranquil aesthetic.
"I started resonating with colors like browns and grays found in nature," says Grace. "Nature makes makes people feel calm and collected. I wanted to have a space that gives me that feeling."
The Airstream’s organic material palette includes maple wood cabinetry and cork flooring and shower tiles. "I thought, let’s go really neutral and calm," Grace says. Earthy textiles were layered in as well—like the sandy-colored cushions on the convertible couch, and the rust-colored bedspread, inspired by the couple’s trip to Utah’s Valley of the Gods.
"When we designed our bathroom, the goal was sustainability," says Grace. The door is covered in rice paper to create privacy, while simultaneously welcoming in natural light. The space features a high-quality composting toilet, and the shower is covered in soft cork tiles that—unlike ceramic—won’t crack from the trailer bouncing up and down on the open road.
In the kitchen, maple cabinetry is topped with a thin Corian countertops. A floating ledge gives the galley a minimal feel while also offering up plenty of storage.
The couple recently lived in the trailer for 9 months—two of which they spent traveling out west. "Your home should be your sanctuary," says Grace. "I wanted to be somewhere that makes me feel calm."
Interior Design: Grace Kuhn and David Phinney
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