The Airstream Life

The Airstream Life

By Andreas Stavropoulos
First came the idea. Then came the late nights of Craigslist searching. And then it happened quickly: a trip to a derelict horse ranch in the Salinas Valley, an exchange of cash in an old barn, and a harrowing towing adventure up Highway 101 netted me my current abode—a 1959 Airstream travel trailer.

The materials palette that I chose is light in color with a few splashes of color. This lightness holds the space open and gives it a contemporary feel.

I was intent on keeping the original stove, incorporating it into the cabinetry. I created a backsplash using inexpensive aluminum flashing that I texturized with a ball-peen hammer.

The interior is lit by several medium sized windows and an off-the-shelf track lighting system. With the door open, diffuse light makes the space glow.

The metamorphosis, which occurred in a generously allocated space at a friend's Stanford sculpture studio, was an archeological study in all things Americana. Tucked under couch cushions and linoleum panels, I found artifacts—mix tapes, scrawled recipes, and wrinkled photographs—that chronicled the lives of those who had dwelt within the Airstream since some stranger first purchased it in 1959 from Pacific Railroad Sales in Salinas, California. I was participating in American history by unearthing and updating one of its most iconic symbols in order to make it relevant to my age and time.

The renovation was necessarily an exercise in restraint and creativity. With just 150 square feet to work with, I jettisoned the 1950s colors of flesh tone paint and wall-to-wall linoleum, and moved in with cork flooring, track lighting, fresh colorful paint, and custom designed cabinets and furniture to fit the sinuous interior topography. I revealed the beautiful workmanship of the riveted aluminum end caps, and removed sewage facilities completely. I performed the work myself, trying to keep the design in my head one step ahead of the building process of my hands.  

The Airstream now resides in the garden of a co-op in North Berkeley, a few steps from the Cheeseboard and Chez Panisse.  

My obsession with mobility, modularity, and affordability began long before the Airstream and has since extended beyond. As a recently self employed (read: laid off) landscape architect, I have been able to address several of the problems that I see in my field.  Namely, the lack of connection between the LAND and the ARCHITECT. Whereas landscape architects once spent significant time ±on the site, the profession now finds some of the most creative minds shoehorned into cubicles. This seemed like a loss to me, and I wondered how it might be possible to create a space for real understanding within the profession—the kind of understanding that occurs from seeing a day of shadows move across a place, or listening to and observing people in a space. 

With this in mind, and the knowledge that I gained by designing and building the Airstream, I set about creating a mobile studio that could travel to the site and where I could work during the early and critical stages of concept design. The studio had to allow me to be productive, but also put me squarely in the environment.  It also had to be a showcase of my design sensibilities.  

Some potential clients raise an eyebrow at the studio and walk away. Most, however, have been delighted. And those are the people I want to work for: they see the value of process, understand the subtleties that result from deep understanding, and want to engage with a designer as we surround ourselves in the medium.

The Airstream is tucked into the back garden of a Berkeley co-op. Having a garden at my footsteps and chickens just over the fence make it feel peaceful and private.

For more images, head over to the slideshow.

The bed measures 7 feet from head to toe. Designing and building cabinetry for the space was challenging. Every panel hides a full extension drawer that provides unparalleled access to storage.

Stripping paint to reveal the beautiful riveting and aluminum was one the hardest but most rewarding tasks. To me, revealing the structure and construction honors the original craftsmanship that went into this trailer.

I did restoration work on the exterior as well. Polishing the aluminum skin was an exercise in patience! I restored the lights, and retouched the original license plate. I wanted the space to be alluring from all angles, inside and out.

An enormous slide out drawer was necessary to create a storage area for clothes.


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