Santa Barbara, California–based architect Matthew Hofmann and his wife and business partner Joanna have been embracing the nomadic life for the past few years, residing in vans, trailers, and most recently, a boat.
After spending the past eight years designing and renovating over 400 vintage Airstream trailers and living on the road, the duo has launched Living Vehicle, a company that designs and manufactures high-end mobile homes.
While most options in this category are classified as "recreational vehicles," Living Vehicle is changing up the market by outfitting each mobile home for full-time, permanent residence. "Living well wherever our hearts take us" is the Hofmanns’ M.O.
"We are in the midst of this fundamental shift as a country where the American dream is no longer a big house with two cars," says Matthew. "What we are really starting to see is that people are choosing to live smaller, where they are more sensitive to the earth and their pocketbook, which allows them to really enjoy life more. We have this saying, ‘small space, big life.’"
We caught up with the couple on their drive from Las Vegas to Utah to hear about Living Vehicle’s mobile homes.
How did living your mobile lifestyle segue into starting Living Vehicle?
Matthew: I’ve always been a project-focused guy, and after three years of working as an architect, I bought an Airstream trailer that I built out. That was in 2009, when the recession hit. I quit my job and tried to reduce my overhead and expenses, so I moved into this Airstream. I paid $2,500 for it, and that is what kicked off everything. Jump forward, and we have a manufacturing facility in Santa Barbara, 25 employees, and have designed and built over 400 mobile units.
So you both created Living Vehicle with an understanding of the things needed to make this lifestyle on the road successful—from a male and female perspective, and from a minimalist and non-minimalist perspective.
Matthew: Having lived together in so many of these spaces for so long—and not all of them were great—it was all about compromises in one way or another. We were living in recreational vehicles. We wanted to experience what most of the market was like, and we went on a road trip. The unit was constantly breaking and we were constantly in service. It was challenging for us.
We were exploring all these spaces we lived in, and it really gave us the opportunity to understand what makes a successful, full-time living space in a mobile application. Pretty much everything out there is designed for recreation, and that is really the difference.
When we chose to design this and create our own company, it was designed from the ground up, and it was about full-time living. It’s not a space for recreating for a weekend or week of traveling. It’s designed intentionally to meet the needs of full-time use.
How is Living Vehicle’s mobile unit different from a recreational vehicle?
Matthew: What it boils down to is it’s fundamentally designed for full-time use. For instance, if you are living in the Midwest where it gets down to zero degrees, you still need to live in your unit. You don’t get to put it in storage. We had to design a four season-capable unit. These are some pretty fundamental realities.
If you are traveling in it full-time and you don’t have access to an RV park, we designed it to be fully off-grid capable. If you are out in the middle of no where, you are still going to have all the amenities to live your life well.
How can someone purchase a Living Vehicle?
Matthew: You come and see the unit, and if you like it, you place an order and put down a deposit. You can purchase the unit with cash or finance it. We are producing one a week, and we are delivering in early August now.
Do customers have options to customize the mobile unit?
Matthew: We have different finishes and materials that range from countertops to cabinetry colors, flooring cushions, and there also is a back panel on the exterior where you can pick one of five different colors.
Does Living Vehicle offer various models and sizes?
Matthew: As it stands right now, the unit we are currently selling is called the Live series, as it is designed to be lived in full-time. The model is the T27, which stands for "towable 27 feet long." And that is $150,000.
We have five different series and different lengths coming out. We have all these different series that cater to different uses.
We get a lot of people who don’t want the off-grid stuff and want to use it as a recreational product and go from park to park. That’ll basically function the same way without all the high-end stuff. That’s the T27 Travel series, and that is priced at $90,000.
We have a shorter unit coming out early next year, and that will be a 21-foot unit. That is geared to couples instead of families, and it will get rid of the bedroom and have a lot of adaptable, modular sleeping space. It also will be lighter, so you can tow it.
Another series we are launching here in the next month or so is the Park series. There are lots of people who are running Airbnbs or these auto-camp trailer hotels, where you don’t need all this infrastructure and you just need a bathroom and some open rooms for furniture. Those are going to start in the $70,000 range.
And then the very base is for people who want to "do it yourself." We will sell some shells where people can put their own infrastructure in there, and it is like an extra bedroom.
We are going to have a luxury line that with super high-end stuff and that hasn’t been priced. That isn’t on the market yet.
How do you ensure that these small spaces can offer all the comforts of home?
Joanna: People think a small space means that you must be living cheaply. You can spend more money on furnishing, clothes, and good food. And, you don’t have much stuff. Whatever you choose to fill your space with, you buy those few items that you really, really love and are your favorites. Every time we look around our place, we love being in here.
Matthew: Just because it’s a small space doesn’t mean you have to compromise. If you live in a small, intentional space, it should actually function better. A lot of people are spending a a third or maybe even half their income on their home.
We made this choice where we spent a significant chunk of change on our unit, but you can finance it and spend 800 bucks a month or less. And that allows us to spend money in other areas, where we can go on trips and see our family. This has allowed me to do so much more with less.
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