Radical Revamps of Classic Airstreams
Since the Airstream trailer first took to the streets of Los Angeles in 1929, it has endeared itself to generations of explorers with its futuristic aluminum finish and distinctive shape. Created by Stanford graduate Wally Byam, Airstreams went on the market in 1932 and have since become iconic trailers with a celebrity-like fan following.
We have scoured the internet—and the country—looking for some of the most innovative and intriguing Airstreams still in use today. Take a look at what can result from a little creativity, innovation, and passion for the vintage trailer.
Southampton, New York
Hairstream partners Ric Pipino and Gil Haziza opened their converted 1994 Airstream Classic Motorhome as a mobile hair salon this past summer in Southampton, New York. After searching for the right mechanic to rehab the suffering trailer for almost two years, Pipino and Haziza are very pleased with the final product, featuring updated electrical, plumbing, filtration, and air conditioning capabilities.
Drawn to the Airstream’s clean and modern lines, the hairstylists and entrepreneurs knew they would attract customers wherever they parked and decided on a summer residency at the Capri Hotel.
“People love it, it’s just an eye attraction, people want to get inside,” says Pipino. “They want to hang out there.”
Hairstream has eight chairs and provides full hair services with makeup and nail services upon request. Pipino and Haziza have had so much success that they are hoping to expand services to include rentals for special events like weddings and bachelorette parties and are considering opening a second location in Montauk, New York.
Autocamp Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
Still standing on the original site of a 1922 autocamp, Autocamp Santa Barbara opened in January 2013 and provides a “boutique hotel experience.” It now occupies the front portion of an RV park with five Airstreams—two Airstream Sovereigns from 1964 and 1972 as well as three Airstream Overlanders, two from 1959 and one from 1962.
Restored by the team at Hofmann Architecture in Santa Barbara, each unit can sleep four and features a flat screen TV, electric grill, and local coffee. Hospitality Coordinator Christi Hustead explains, “We worked to simplify and clean up the interiors as much as possible. We opted for white interior paint and lots of windows whenever possible to make the suites feel light, bright, and spacious.”
Though Autocamp started as an experiment, Airstream enthusiasts have come from far and wide and the company currently has plans to expand with subsequent locations in San Francisco—opening in spring 2016—and in Los Angeles.
Highway Twelve South
When Jody Allen of Chesapeake, Virginia, decided to open a mobile boutique featuring her “classic Americana” designs to service the various cities of Hampton Roads, Virginia, she knew only an Airstream would do. After months of searching and a nail-biting drive to Columbus, Ohio, in April 2014 to snag the perfect Airstream before it was sold to another buyer, Allen finally had the bones for her mobile boutique, Highway Twelve South.
After outfitting the trailer with wood floors, clothing racks, and a dressing room, Allen still ran into trouble making small repairs. Like many vintage Airstream owners, she turned to an online community of owners on airforums.com to help solve problems like a leaking window.
Allen opened her “coastal, southern, country boutique” in January 2015. Though she has run into some permitting hurdles, Allen is constantly posting on her website and Facebook page where her customers can find her next.
The KU Mobile Collaboratory, University of Kansas
Once associate professors Nils Gore and Shannon Criss of the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design and Planning (KU) identified the need for a multi-use, mobile space to help students and faculty committed to working and researching in the community, the solution was clear: the Airstream.
Purchased for $4,000 from Craigslist, the 31-foot 1972 Airstream Land Yacht became the key project for Gore’s third-year undergraduate architecture students. With the criticism that “the interior never seems to live up to the exterior,” the students worked to create a highly adaptable, sleek interior space with a fixed lounge with storable carts, a convertible conference table, a stowed television, and a handicapped-accessible hatchback ramp for flow-through traffic.
The Mobile Collaboratory has already been used as workshop space for high school students through a local community arts center, a public exhibition space, and the setting for community engagement events.
Skillet Street Food
Skillet Street Food started as a single 1962 Airstream roaming the streets of Seattle in 2007 before the boom of food trucks had converted lunch eaters around the country.
Originally chosen as a budget-friendly option, the vintage Airstream was outfitted by the Skillet team with a commercial kitchen and, due to a rickety set of axels, fixed onto a flatbed trailer. Today Skillet’s fleet has grown to two newer Airstreams plus a GMC Step Van “taco truck,” and the company has expanded to include a catering business, specialty food products, and multiple restaurants.
Skillet’s 1971 Airstream Safari or their 1973 Airstream Excella can be spotted in the Seattle and Bellevue areas of Washington. Both boast customer favorites like their bacon jam burger, poutine, and signature kale Caesar salad.
The Hairstream Trailer
Inspired by the food truck boom of the Pacific Northwest and months away from graduating from beauty school, hairstylist and entrepreneur Anna Gale had a revelation.
“I saw an Airstream and thought, ‘Hairstream Airstream,’” Gale explains. After a year and a half of renovations, Gale’s 1961 Bambi Airstream, The Hairstream Trailer, opened in March 2014 and is currently parked in a food cart lot in Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood.
By removing the bedroom space, adding a shampoo sink, and touching up the interior with the help of some friends, Gale was left with space for a full-service salon that, with the help of her website and Instagram account, essentially markets itself: “I can hear people talking about it from inside the trailer all day.”
With the relatively low costs of renting a lot space, insurance, and electrical, Gale has been able to cut down on many of the overhead costs associated with owning a business. The Hairstream Trailer has turned out to be “quite a thrifty way to run a business,” explains Gale.
Lower Eastside Girl Club Recording Airstream Studio
New York, New York
When husband and wife Dave and Lyn Pentecost first purchased their 1958 Airstream Trailer in 2004, they were unsure of its future and their plans for it. Fast forward ten years and this vintage trailer that was once parked outside their cabin in the Adirondacks now overlooks Avenue D from the second floor of the Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) in New York City.
While Lyn, the co-founder and executive director of LESGC, worked on plans for LESGC’s new home that opened in 2013, Dave came up with the concept of repurposing the Airstream as a recording studio for the community center. With the help of studio designer John Storyk, the 140-square-foot space was gutted and replaced with an isolation booth, sitting area, and 24-track mixing station.
The “space age artifact,” as Dave likes to refer to it, is now used for teaching radio journalism and recording podcasts, and they hope to soon start recording instrumental music. Today, the LESGC serves between 400 and 500 local girls, providing the location for weekend and after-school classes in photography, college prep, dance, STEM, coding, and more.