Since 2004 Airstream Life magazine has been publishing articles about some of the most incredible travel trailer restorations and customization. The very best ones combine artistry with technical expertise to produce a vehicle that is both beautiful and practical. In this two-part series we’ll review just a sampling of those projects for your consideration.
1954 Silver Streak
Phil and Wendy Cervantes’ 1954 Silver Streak is a great example of restoration perfection. After two years of looking at many brands and types of vintage trailers, they purchased the Silver Streak on eBay for $2,365. The exterior of the Silver Streak is machine age and streamlined, and Phil’s thoughts were to complement the interior to reflect the exterior. Phil was going for “a cross between a thirties martini lounge and a vintage high end aircraft.” He researched Art Deco, Streamline, and Machine age designs looking for elements that he liked.
Phil made many trips with sketch pad and tape measure to capture all of the exact dimensions. He drew up the trailer in a CAD program which allowed him to try various layouts and move the interior elements around. Over the next two years the exterior was re-skinned and new windows were fabricated and installed. The following three years were spent fabricating and installing the interior components.
Phil used the element of design repetition in the color of the wood floors and cabinetry, which provide a warm and light reflective surface. The large galley kitchen was a must because Wendy loves to cook and she is known for a variety of trailer park treats. A friend who deals in vintage trailer parts provided the stove, while Phil had some of the parts re-porcelained and restored to a working condition. The refrigerator door is the only piece in the trailer that was original to the trailer, and it is mounted to a modern 3-way RV refrigerator. The kitchen sink came from Germany since a small sink with drain board could not be found in the USA, and the faucet is Moen. Many parts were bought on eBay from all over the world, making this renovation a real one of a kind treasure with international fittings.
The cabinetry utilizes birch with mahogany trim and inlay. Wood paneling on the lower wall sections also features birch strips with mahogany trim held in place with stainless steel screws and trim washers. The barrel front cabinet material came from a local company that makes bent plywood. The company produced one that was undersize, so they sold a six foot section of it that normally cost $360 to Phil for $20. The inlay design came from a clock Phil made some years ago with a curly maple chevron pierced by several horizontal aluminum bars with a clock face recessed behind them.
Counter tops are Formica with aluminum T-molding edge trim, and cabinet pulls are brushed nickel, again found on eBay. Carbonized bamboo in a mellow color covers all of the floor. Under-cabinet lighting throughout is provided by small 20 watt halogen lights with chrome trim rings.
The upper walls and ceilings are mill finished aluminum, riveted in place. Window covering are Levolor wood blinds in a mahogany color with black fabric tape for contrast. The black chenille fabric with gold diamonds covering the curved sofa adds dramatic flair, repeats the color scheme, and anchors the space.
One of those ideas became the round clock built from the same frosted Plexiglas and textured aluminum as the light fixtures, also hand made by Phil. The range hood was also hand built in his shop.
The bath countertop is ½” frosted Plexiglas and it is lighted from below with LEDs. The counter top support was a chrome plant stand Phil cut up and modified to fit. The small sink is a $3.49 stainless steel mixing bowl from the grocery store, with an elegant telephone faucet set ordered from Spain— a super find. Bi-fold bathroom doors with louvered mahogany slats were hand built, with stainless towel bars used for handles.
The rear sofa folds out into a full bed and is covered in a black chenille with gold rectangles. The TV is on a lift and rises out of the cabinet. The front dining area has ample storage below the seats and converts to a large bed. The table top lowers down to seat level, and the quarter round cushions become a very comfortable mattress. The table can also be used outside, locking into the side of the trailer above the wheel well.
All of the light fixtures were hand built using Plexiglas and textured aluminum. The airplane on a pedestal introduces the Pan American Clipper theme that is carried throughout. It is also a beauty and a reminder of the aviation industry that inspired both Airstream and Silver Streak.
1961 Airstream Safari
“Runaround Sue” (named for the hit song by Dion and the Belmonts) is a 1961 Airstream Safari renovated in 2009 by New Prairie Construction. The 22-footer was purchased in Arizona and hauled back through fierce dust storms to Urbana, Illinois for an environmentally friendly transformation, which included replacing everything and polishing the exterior to a mirror finish.
Julie Birdwell and Jill Mulder, co-owners of New Prairie Construction, specialize in historic renovation, straw bale construction, green building methods and materials, and energy efficient construction.
Almost all of the new materials specified for the interior are free of volatile organic compounds. In addition to a VOC-free interior, the color scheme supports natural light through light color values selected for the vertical surfaces and flooring. Nyloboard®—made from recycled nylon and other materials—provides a strong new subfloor for the Marmoleum® flooring, a linseed-oil based material with jute backing. In both the upper shell and bottom pan, lightweight soybean-based polyurethane foam insulation was added for increased air tightness, strength, and energy efficiency.
The cabinets, furniture and trim were hand-crafted from reclaimed redwood and Plyboo® plywood made of bamboo. All casing and trim is finished with tung oil and non-toxic solvents, and staining was done with non-toxic aniline dyes. All of the cabinets and countertops were designed and built by the New Prairie crew, and bathroom elements in wood were fabricated from redwood salvaged from a deck. Cabinets, drawers and window niches were made using aspen framing and Plyboo. The interior side of the trailer door is covered in maple veneer, stained in aniline dyes and finished with a 100% tung oil and citrus solvent.
Cushions in the trailer are 100% natural latex, which does not off-gas. The upholstery on the couch and bench seating is post-industrial and post-consumer recycled polyester. A checked fabric from Burch Fabrics’ “Earth Friendly” series covers the couch, and a check fabric is repeated on the bench seating in the front of the Airstream on both sides of the dining table. Throw pillows were hand made from organic cotton, hemp and Tencel® blend fabric, and stuffed with Kapok, a natural fiber that comes from an African seed pod. Window coverings designed with rod pockets are a contrasting neutral tan in an organic hemp fiber with natural dyes, installed on silver rods.
The light fixture over the dining table that suggests art deco design is from Rejuvenation. Natural light is “harvested” from the large bathroom window through the Plexiglas door designed by Julie Birdwell. New Prairie’s crew constructed the door frame from solid maple for the lightweight Plexiglas®, which becomes a light source during the day. The pewter door handle was supplied from House of Antique Hardware.
The kitchen galley cabinetry provides terrific storage in a light value plywood made from bamboo. The galley sink manufactured by Spinflo has a removable Plexiglas cover, dish basin, drain board, cutting board and cutlery rack. Lighting over the sink, in a linear fixture by Progressive, is larger than those found in most new Airstreams, and provides excellent task lighting for this specific area. Cabinet pulls in polished nickel are from Rejuvenation. The flexible faucet is from Delta in brushed nickel finish. Heating register covers were supplied by Reggio Register.
The lavatory has many unique features, beginning with the shower seat and console made from reclaimed redwood. As in the front, the original plywood subfloor was replaced with Nyloboard, which will not warp or rot, and is completely hypoallergenic. The shower pan was custom made from stainless steel. The shower curtain was also custom made for the space. The shower valve and hose are Delta, and the shower head, wand, and vertical glide bar are Hansgrohe. The under mount stainless sink bowl and nickel finish faucet are Kohler products. The composting toilet is made by Nature’s Head and uses moistened peat moss to help compost the solids. A 12 volt fan provides fresh air piped directly to the composting materials and carries away odors to the outside through a vent pipe.
1956 Airstream Bubble
Renowned Airstream designer David Winick completely removed the interior to accommodate a new design for this mid-century Bubble, beginning with rigid polyisocyanurate insulation (which repels insects and provides a vapor barrier to prevent interior moisture from condensing on the exterior).
The galley features substantial counter tops of Formica Solid Surface in the color Black Lava, which creates a strong contrast to the White Haus hammered nickel sink and a Premier brushed nickel faucet. A stainless three-burner Atwood gas cook top and a GE microwave provide multiple cooking options. All of the cabinets and case work is Douglas Fir finished with a natural Catalyzed Conversion varnish. The hardware is hammered nickel made by Emtek. The flooring is sustainable Lyptus wood plank, finished in a medium value hue.
The booth dining area can seat five on distressed leather-covered tan cushions, and the adjustable TV can be seen in either this area or the sleeping area. The bed is a custom design made for the space.
Appliances include a Dometic Penguin AC, an Everest Star furnace, and a Sterling Vent Line range hood over the cook top.
The water closet has a unique railroad/marine toilet by Microphor in a sandblasted stainless finish, and all interior walls are aluminum. Lighting is provided with flexible spotlights and recessed halogens.