Budget Breakdown: This Completely Restored $500K Airstream Is Built Like a Yacht

Drawing inspiration from boat design, Innovative Spaces rebuilds a 1953 trailer from top to bottom with a custom mahogany interior.
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About a decade ago, Airstream enthusiast Nate Stover found himself disappointed by some of the lackluster camper revamps he’d spotted on the market. "I saw a lot of subpar work," he says. "The quality was poor, prices were not being properly communicated to clients, and there was a general disconnect between those clients and their builders."

Innovative Spaces extended the airstream’s height and length for comfort and ease, and installed an HVAC system with hydronic and radiant floor heating.

Innovative Spaces extended the airstream’s height and length for comfort and ease, and installed an HVAC system with hydronic and radiant floor heating.

Stover founded Innovative Spaces in Ventura, California, to offer a better option—starting with setting clear expectations about process and price point. "Renovating vintage trailers is not cheap—it’s like restoring a vintage car, and then building a house in it," he says. "I wanted people to know what they were getting into." 

The dining table can be lowered, and the back cushions can be placed on top to convert the space into a sleeping quarters for kids at night.

The dining table can be lowered, and the back cushions can be placed on top to convert the space into a sleeping quarters for kids at night.

When Stover met the owner of this 1953 Airstream Cruiser, Jim Franke, back in 2017, they instantly clicked over the camper’s potential. "Jim’s vision was to have a very off-grid capable unit that was going to be very low on power consumption, but accommodate modern comforts," Stover says. 

"It takes about five to eight minutes to set up," Stover says. The cushions can be locked in place on the table. 

"It takes about five to eight minutes to set up," Stover says. The cushions can be locked in place on the table. 

Jim was planning on using the camper for weekend outings, but he also daydreamed of longer journeys with his family. There had to be room for two kids to sleep comfortably near him, as well as a functional kitchen and bathroom—and it all had to fit within 147 square feet. Jim brought on Studio Tim Campbell to collaborate on the redesign and construction drawings, and Innovative Spaces got to work on the build.

"Almost every part of this trailer was either rebuilt or modified," Stover says. "Everything."

$20,000
1953 Airstream Shell
$94,000
Body/Shell/Frame Restoration
$140,000
Interior Buildout & Carpentry
$10,600
Interior Metalwork (Labor)
$12,000
Interior/Exterior Polish (Labor)
$42,000
Electrical Systems (Labor)
$49,400
Plumbing (Labor)
$7,500
Stain & Paint (Labor)
$4,000
Custom Finishes (Labor)
$2,000
Appliances
$5,090
Plumbing Fixtures 
$1,415
Running Gear
$883
Finish Materials
$3,221
Windows
$5,440
Hardware
$19,100
Electrical Materials
$17,000
Lumber
$12,200
Metal Materials
$5,630
Custom Finish Materials
$3,021
Misc
$45,500
Design & Project Management
Grand Total: $500,000
The kitchen has a custom sink, a faucet by Waterworks, and a two-burner stovetop from Miele.

The kitchen has a custom sink, a faucet by Waterworks, and a two-burner stovetop from Miele.

Jim couldn’t walk through the Airstream without hunching over, so the team started by adding more headroom. They gave the trailer a five-foot shell lift to raise its interior height to a little over seven feet tall, and they completely rebuilt the base out of aluminum to extend its length from 25 feet to 27 feet (including an additional axle for towing stability).

All of the owner’s kitchen essentials have a place where they can be safely stowed away for transit. 

All of the owner’s kitchen essentials have a place where they can be safely stowed away for transit. 

"We replaced the window frames and installed a new HVAC system, which features hydronic and radiant floor heating," Stover adds. They positioned two lounge/bedroom areas on either end of the trailer, and carved out space in the middle for a galley kitchen, a dining area, and a full bathroom. 

At the back of the Airstream, a U-shaped lounge converts into a queen-sized bed for adults. 

At the back of the Airstream, a U-shaped lounge converts into a queen-sized bed for adults. 

Stover says that the team and the owner were very careful about spatial planning, including the small shelves that are tucked into the camper’s curves.

Stover says that the team and the owner were very careful about spatial planning, including the small shelves that are tucked into the camper’s curves.

As for finishes, Jim wanted to surround the space in hand-glazed mahogany, creating an atmosphere that almost resembles a boat’s cabin. "The idea was to celebrate the beauty of a few classic materials, while playing off their history," Stover says. "We took style cues from old vintage boats and wooden yachts, with leather detailing."

The kitchen and the bathroom are in the middle of the Airstream, while the lounges are on either end. "It was important to build the interior in a way that was safely balanced," Stover says. 

The kitchen and the bathroom are in the middle of the Airstream, while the lounges are on either end. "It was important to build the interior in a way that was safely balanced," Stover says. 

"We made it so the dining room table can drop down to be level with the seating, while the back cushions can fit on the tabletop and be secured via buckles," Stover says. "The whole thing turns into a bed—perfect for the two young kids. With the help of electric actuators, the seating at the rear makes a queen-sized bed for adults." 

Mahogany and wall-to-wall tiling continue the nautical theme in the bathroom. 

Mahogany and wall-to-wall tiling continue the nautical theme in the bathroom. 

"Keeping the vanity cabinet as narrow as possible made the space easier to move around in," Stover says. 

"Keeping the vanity cabinet as narrow as possible made the space easier to move around in," Stover says. 

The kitchen is precisely designed to Jim’s specifications, and custom leather straps inside the upper shelving hold down tools while in transit. "Jim had everything—including his cups, water jug, trash can, and kitchen equipment—chosen before the build, and he wanted to make sure that they all had a place to live when not in use," Stover says.

The 147-square-foot camper took about four years to restore, and Stover says it was one of his most collaborative projects to date. 

The 147-square-foot camper took about four years to restore, and Stover says it was one of his most collaborative projects to date. 

There were a few manufacturing delays during the pandemic, but the entire project wrapped up in 2021. "Working with Jim to realize his vision allowed us to go down design paths we probably would have not gotten to on our own," Stover says. "As I always say: Our projects represent our clients and their taste, not ours."

Floor Plan of Franke Airstream

Floor Plan of Franke Airstream

Kelly Dawson
Contributor
Kelly Dawson is a writer in Los Angeles who has been contributing to Dwell's print and online publications since 2015. Follow her on Instagram @kellydawsonwrites.

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