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Airstreams might just be the most popular RV to renovate.
Because Airstreams hold their value so well, these shiny trailers can look brand new even if they are over 50 years old! Like this one, recently renovated by Nate from Nomadicana.
After drooling over photos of his high-end renovation inspired by the California desert, we begged him for an interview so we could show off photos of this gorgeous, one-of-a-kind Airstream renovation. (Keep reading for links to the paint and fixtures used in this remodel!)
Meet Anza, a 1968 Remodeled Airstream.
Nate: There's an area just south of where we live called Anza Borrego. It's a vast, open desert landscape that flies under the radar for most people visiting the Joshua Tree area. The warm, monochromatic colors and the openness of the region greatly influenced how we designed the space inside Anza.
What was your overall vision when you started out with this Airstream?
When we started the project we didn’t even have an airstream yet, so the layout was very open-ended. We knew we wanted it to feel more like a home than a trailer though, and when we found this 1968 Airstream the core design fell into place based on the existing layout and character of the trailer.
From there it was just about choosing materials that recalled a warm, inviting space and making sure we could fit everything needed to be a proper RV while still maintaining the aesthetic we were after. We did the modeling for the layout and cabinets all in SketchUp, but we also bought lots of sample materials and tested them on-site to find the perfect combinations.
How much time did this build take you?
We officially started at the very beginning of 2022 thinking we could finish it all in under 4 months.
We were moving fast in the beginning, but as things got more complicated and detailed we slowed down because we are both perfectionists (maybe to a fault).
Even though I had done an Airstream renovation before and knew the process well, there were still a lot of new things we had to learn on Anza. Because of these factors and some supply chain issues with back-ordered parts, we ended up working on it full-time for about 6 months and then a couple more part-time doing finish work.
What was the most intimidating or technically challenging part of the build-out?
Putting in a functioning shower that actually looks good was probably the most challenging part for me. It starts to make a lot of sense why mass-produced RV bathrooms are typically so ugly and sterile.
We wanted to make the whole space a wet bath with a tile floor, which normally wouldn’t be too difficult in a home, but with the requirement of being mobile, most traditional bathroom building methods would fail or be too heavy. After a lot of research, we were able to make a custom fiberglass surround paired with the Schluter system for the base with some of our own modifications to make it more durable on the road.
You clearly have an amazing eye for design. What have been some of the best resources that have taught you about how to design?
Thank you. There are definitely a few I can name. One I open regularly is “Abode” by Serena Mitnik-Miller and Mason St. Peter, another I picked up recently is “Soft Minimal” by Norm Architects.
- Hardcover Book
Lastly, I don’t think you should start any RV renovation without reading “The Modern Caravan” by Kate Oliver cover to cover several times. Kate and her wife Ellen have created so many incredible spaces in the last decade and have taught us personally about renovating Airstreams.
The bathroom door really stands out to me. Can you tell me how you thought about designing that both from an aesthetic and functionality perspective?
I like the way you asked this question because balancing form and function was a major through-line for this project.
There are so many things you come across in designing a space like this that are utilitarian in nature (doors, switches, control panels, fans, etc) and that don’t always have a thoughtfully designed off-the-shelf product option.
While you can certainly use what's available and move on without fault, there is the opportunity to elevate the space by taking the time to thoughtfully integrate something beautiful into the design. Making this door work in such a limited space wasn't easy, but it was well worth it because it ended up being the central feature of the space. It’s hard to imagine Anza without it now.
Was there anything that turned out better than you thought it would?
The table/workspace ended up being one of our favorite parts.
We knew we wanted to do a bench seat integrated into the countertop, but it took a really long time to figure out a table solution that worked well. I went back and forth between some kind of swivel mount, removable post, or floating L bracket.
We actually had heavy-duty wall mounts made and were about to install them when we mocked it up and realized that a simple fixed perpendicular panel would complement the design better and be just as functional. Sometimes the best option is the simplest.
You followed a design aesthetic of something similar to the Southern California desert. If someone wanted to create their own design aesthetic for a remodel and make sure they stick with that consistency, do you have any tips?
I do think it helps to have a particular location in mind when designing. Most homes are designed and decorated in regard to their geolocation, but with a mobile space, you're probably planning to be in several different places.
My advice would be to start by considering a place you love and think about what colors, textures, and materials exist in that place. This will help narrow an image as you seek design inspiration.
You paid a lot of attention to detail on the finishings and appliances. Where did you find them and what did you use?
They were all chosen carefully, but most of the fixtures are actually available on Amazon. The sconces are from Schoolhouse and the appliances are RV specific to run on 12 volts and purchased through Panther RV. Here's a list:
- LIFETIME Limited Warranty: You can install with confidence, knowing this shower faucet is backed by KES Faucet's Lifetime Limited Warranty. 27 years of Product Innovations & 24-hour Customer Support, FREE Parts upon request!
Love the tiles you used in the bathroom! Where did you find those?
We sourced these from a tile shop called Tierra y Fuego in San Diego. We wanted to emulate traditional Saltillo tile, but needed something smaller, lighter, and more flexible to work in an Airstream without cracking or breaking. We used 2″x2″ handmade high-fired terracotta tiles. They're waterproof and set into a flexible grout to handle the stresses of the road.
What kind of paints did you use? Is there a specific brand?
The walls are coated with a premium Benjamin Moore paint, but it’s the same stuff you would use in your house and not RV specific. The key to adhesion is sanding the bare aluminum before applying a multi-surface primer. Chantilly Lace in eggshell is the main coat color, a forever crowd favorite.
What is your favorite part of the entire experience?
Overall it was just a treat working alongside a good friend and growing immensely as individuals in doing so. There is the story of the insane gust of desert wind that almost destroyed the whole project, but this was recounted well in the Dwell article and the near tragedy of it makes me not want to bring it up again.
Instead, one that comes to mind was towards the end of the project when we were completing the finishing touches.
The summer days in Joshua Tree get unbearably hot, so we had to make the switch to working at night and sleeping during the day. At first, the transition was difficult, but soon enough became natural. We would wake up to watch the sunset and live a personal life (i.e. going out to breakfast/dinner with friends). Then we would work until dawn, watch a beautiful sunrise and go rest before repeating the whole process.
This change made me think a lot about the patterns we live our life by in modern society and how switching them up for a season can radically shift how we see things. It's an exercise akin to living in an RV or travel trailer, as this also goes against the grain of society.
How can people stay up to date with future builds or projects you have in the works?
We are at @nomadicana.co on Instagram and our website is nomadicana.co. We have a mailing list on the website which is probably the best way to get updates from us as they roll out in the future. Since finishing Anza, we've gotten loads of positive feedback as well as people reaching out looking for help with their own projects. Right now we're gearing up to take on commissioned builds and consultations to help educate others attempting to renovate Airstreams and other mobile spaces themselves.