Like many design enthusiasts, I’ve always had a special affection for vintage Airstream trailers, a classic American brand that’s distinguished by its rounded, aerodynamic shape and polished aluminum coachwork. First produced in the 1930s, the Airstream’s iconic form and materials derive from original designs by Hawley Bowlus, who had previously worked on Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, one of the most advanced and streamlined aircraft of its era. So I was intrigued when a friend alerted me to The Modern Caravan, a two-woman company that specializes in renovating vintage Airstreams. I was even more delighted to learn that their impeccably executed makeovers involve the use of American hardwoods—walnut in particular.
Back in 2013, Kate Oliver and Ellen Prasse bought and renovated a vintage Airstream for their own use. They did all the work themselves, stripping the fuselage down to its shiny aluminum skin and completely rebuilding the interior. By documenting the year-long process on Instagram, they discovered that there was a ready-made demand for custom refurbishment services from the country’s many Airstream owners. So, after perfecting their skills outfitting another Airstream—the 1977 Overlander model pictured here, which they named “June” after the month of its completion—the women set up their business this January, offering renovations across the country and using “June” as their traveling home and mobile office space.
Kate and Ellen also maintain an informative blog where they discuss their thoughtful, highly personal approach to the Airstream renovation process in general and to refitting “June” in particular. Kate, who does most of the design work, writes: “From a design standpoint, the goal was to create something that pushed the boundaries of the expected . . . I don’t look to other Airstreams for visual inspiration (only practical/functional), and instead I carefully consider how we behave in the space . . . The practical aspects of the trailer interior are not to be ignored, and I begin by addressing the necessities first and foremost . . . From there, I ask myself a series of questions to understand completely how the space will be used. Then, and only then, can I tackle the visual and the tactile.”
The interior of the Airstream reflects Kate and Ellen’s preference for clean, modern lines and a restricted palette that keep the tiny spaces from becoming visually cluttered. They’ve used a lot of natural materials, too, which bring a layer of homelike warmth, texture, and character to the trailer. The extensive use of dark-stained walnut for the custom cabinetry and counter surfaces is particularly successful in this regard. Apart from the wood’s striking visual beauty, it adds a note of solid quality and permanence that we don’t necessarily associate with mobile homes—a feeling that here is a true shelter in any storm.