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February 10, 2013

Trailer tribute: More mileage out of Airstreams


The architect used a few tricks to give them visual flow. Because the four trailers are used as hotel rooms, not for extended traveling or permanent living, Hofmann reduced the amount of storage, which had made the interiors feel tight. Next he removed plastic accessories that created “visual noise,” such as window coverings, valances and spice racks. Vents on the roof were doubled in size to create skylights, bringing in more sunshine.

“It’s more than just painting the walls white,” Hofmann said of the quest to brighten the interiors. “It’s how the space feels as you move through it.”

To add warmth, Hofmann installed strand bamboo and teak flooring. “You don’t want to feel like you’re in a tin can. Airstreams can have a Teutonic look.”

Hofmann saved original shelving and all of the windows. In some kitchens, he refinished the original cabinets, and in others he added new fronts to the existing frames.

The most surprising space in each Airstream is the bathroom, traditionally a utilitarian space the size of a closet. Hofmann expanded them and created a sense of luxury by installing colorful recycled glass tile and wraparound Corian counter tops. Full-size toilets are a plus. In one trailer, he even added a claw foot tub.

For Hofmann, who grew up building treehouses in Mammoth, Calif., the challenge of designing on such a small scale has been exciting. He has renovated more than 20 Airstreams and now focuses solely on renovating vintage trailers with the hope of opening more Airstream hotels.

“It appeals to me because it is history, it’s American and, as a LEED architect, I can make it sustainable,” said Hofmann, referring to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix, author of “Americana the Beautiful: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome,” said the continuing fascination with vintage Airstreams makes complete sense when you consider each is “a little cozy cabin on wheels that looks like a bright and shiny Twinkie. How could something so warm and cozy be so shiny and slick at the same time?”

Distributed by MCT Information Service.

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