My husband, Marc, and I decided we should live in an Airstream trailer with the same kind of rush that someone would choose what kind of take out after a long day at work. Or someone at a craft store who decides to try hand lettering as a hobby before quickly giving it up. I now think back to the
the swiftness of that decision with awe as I have since spent weeks pondering clothing purchases and months deciding if linen sheets would really make me as happy as the targeted ads say. Yes, I would love them, but would I love them at $ 300?
I didn’t go into the decision to buy an Airstream and renovate it so carefully. In fact, I jumped fully at the choice with what can only be described as the unmistakable naivety of most newbie renovators. It will be quick. It will be affordable. We would stay within budget. These things would ultimately be wrong. It turns out that the renovation of an Airstream is also moving unbearably slowly. It’s fast on Instagram, slow in reality, and often makes you want to scream. I didn’t know this when I saw Airstream as a couple on Pinterest. I’ve seen photos of simple, clean, minimalist white interiors. I saw the long bench that served as a sofa and a small desk where the wife wrote and the husband drew. I saw the preserved 1970s floral wallpaper that was faded but still groovy. I read the couple’s story. They both worked. They were tired of pouring money into expensive rentals. They wanted to save more but couldn’t. They were us and we were them. We would do something similar, I thought.
“Some days it was like we were at the limit of our potential… Other times it was like we bonded with the Titanic.
Our Airstream is a 1973 Ambassador model. From tongue to bumper, it’s 29 feet long with sharply curved walls and approximately 188 square feet of living space. From my desk I can access the fridge, the stove, the recycling bag we keep by the door and the sofa. Our bed is stacked above the drawers; we have a full kitchen and bathroom. Really, there is everything we need in this micro-space. We spent two and a half years renovating it. First, in a parking lot in Burlington, NC, outside my husband’s job and finally with us living inside with everything still incomplete. When we bought the Airstream for $ 600 after tripping over it and languishing on the side of the road, we stripped it all away. By wearing full PPE for weeks that made us look like marshmallows, we removed the molding insulation, leftover tenant scraps and old appliances. We found a plastic dog with peeling paint and kept it. We tore everything up until the inside looked like a rib cage and we had to step on the metal bars like balance beams. Some days we felt like we were at the limit of our potential. As if we could squint and see it. Other times it felt like we bonded with the Titanic – big, clunky, expensive, not well thought out, and ultimately doomed.
Slowly we rebuilt the Airstream and moved in when it wasn’t quite finished but done enough that we couldn’t justify renting an apartment. The faces of the cabinets were not hung. For months we cooked on a hotplate that rested on a board where our oven would eventually live. Our clothes were stored in long Tupperware containers because we hadn’t built any drawers yet and there was a stack of tools where the sofa cushion should have been.
Designing the Airstream to be our home has been a long process and like most homeowners we are constantly finding new adjustments to be made as we live in our home, even three years later. Our bathroom, the most intensive part of our remodel, is a fiberglass wet tub so for weeks while we sculpted the curves it was Pepto Bismol pink. After living stationary for two and a half years in North Carolina, we decided to hit the road. We screwed baby locks on our cabinet doors and learned the importance of stabilizer bars for our truck. We took our Airstream to California with a few tweaks along the way. Our jobs have changed and the house we built years ago has had to adapt with us. In Texas, we ripped out the wine fridge for more storage. In Indiana, we swapped our dinette for a long desk that folded into a bookcase to have more room to work. We made a slight adjustment to where we store our cleaning supplies and hung up some artwork. We swapped out the RV toilet for a composting toilet and added solar capabilities.
It’s hard to know how much we spent on the renovations, but after a general estimate, we think $ 20,000 is a reasonable estimate. In the middle of the process, when we felt like we were losing money at Home Depot, we met via conference call with a financial advisor. She worked at a trendy financial consulting firm that shaped itself after a gym, called its employees “ trainers, ” and encouraged clients to be financially fit. “How much would it take to complete the Airstream?” She inquired. By that point we had completely emptied it and ended up with this shell that seemed more desperate than anything. Well, we couldn’t just say a number, we explained. It’s impossible, says Marc. Let’s just say a number and then if we go through that, we’re done, I argued. We both knew we wouldn’t. We offered up to $ 5,000 to our financial trainer. She smiled at us and within a few months we had completely passed that and reached the point of no return of the renovation.
Our home is now everything we wanted it to be, back in the days when we dreamed and didn’t understand what a real renovation would cost – be it our time, our money or our emotions. There are clean lines and deep curves. The bathroom reminds us of a trip we once took, where at the hotel you could look up and see the sky. We have vivid Bauhaus colors, pictures on the wall, and potential rent payments that got us back to school and taking greater risks. You shouldn’t have to live in a tin can to have affordable housing, but we do. We named our Airstream Walter and even though the views from our windows are constantly changing, we’re still at home.
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