The renovation project

For the past couple of years I’ve been thinking that the interior of our 2005 Safari is looking pretty tired.  The vinyl floor is scarred and dull, the curtains are stained, the dinette foam is going flat, and the countertops are scratched.  Like a house, an Airstream does require a periodic interior makeover, and it’s looking like time has come for ours.

Two years ago I wrote a blog entry in which I advanced the theory that an Airstream can last a lifetime, with proper maintenance.  Now I have to live with those words, as we are beginning to reach the point at which shabby appearance must be dealt with.  Spending money on cosmetic upgrades is pretty low on my list.  I’d much rather improve the comfort, safety, or functionality of the trailer.  But if it doesn’t look good, it’s easy to fall into the trap of neglecting functional items because some little voice in the back of your mind says, “This trailer really isn’t worth it any more.”

Eleanor and I started talking about this a few months ago, and the first question we had to answer was whether we were going to keep the trailer long enough to justify further investment.  We decided we were.  As long as Emma is living at home (at least 6-7 more years), we’ll want a trailer that can allow us to travel as a family, and this is the only floorplan Airstream ever made with two full-time bedrooms.  They may come out with another two-bedroom floor plan in the future, but we like this one and we’ve customized the heck out of it already.  So we didn’t foresee making a switch anytime in the near future.  Perhaps once we are empty nesters we’ll downsize to a 25 footer, but that’s a long way off.  In the meantime, I know we’ll take many more long trips together.

Even though some investment is justifiable to keep the Airstream looking good, we’re going to try to keep the cost of this makeover down by focusing on the areas that need attention the most.  We won’t be gutting the entire trailer.  The front bed, dinette, and kitchen galley will come out, and the refrigerator compartment, rear bedroom, closets, and bathroom will stay in place.  We will not significantly alter the floorplan or plumbing.  The cosmetic goal is primarily to replace the floor, countertops, upholstery, and curtains.  Of course, while we are touching those parts we’ll also take the opportunity to improve a few things.

We can’t begin to tear the trailer apart right now, because in two weeks we are leaving for Colorado and Alumafandango.  So I’ll use the latter part of July to line up outside contractors, select colors for those items, and order various parts.  We’ll start the actual work as soon as we get back, approximately September 1, and I think the Airstream will be out of commission through at least November.  Other than the specialized jobs of upholstery, floor, and countertops, all of the labor will be done at home in our carport by Eleanor and myself (and any local friends who happen to volunteer).

There’s a good chance we’ll find some hidden issues once we start to disassemble the interior.  After all, this trailer has seen over 100,000 miles of towing and the equivalent of about five years of full-time use.   I know that we will find missing screws and loose brackets inside the cabinetry, because we have noticed some furniture starting to separate from the interior walls.  We plan to reinforce those connections so that the trailer will be ready for rough-road travel, in case we decide to do the Dempster Highway in Alaska or the road to Chaco National Monument.  I figure that it’s best to find the little problems proactively rather than when we’re on a long trip somewhere or after the little problems have become big ones.

I’ve got a long list of parts to order in the next few weeks.  I’m trying to find someone with a late-model Airstream with the same blonde faux-wood cabinetry who is gutting or renovating, so I can buy some used cabinet materials (drawers, doors, hinges, slides, and sheets of wood) to re-make into a custom cabinet in our trailer.  I’m planning to build a combination bench, laundry drawer, magazine rack, shoe cubby, recycling bin, and storage bin along the curbside wall to replace the kludge we’ve got currently.

We’re going to do a full replacement Marmoleum floor to replace the current vinyl floor and bedroom carpet, and ultraleather on the dinette.  Eleanor is going to cover the existing curtains with new material and Velcro so that they are more light-blocking and more easily closed.  We will also add a big pure-sine inverter to power the TV, microwave, or some kitchen appliances while boondocking.  To improve charging while plugged into shore power, we’ll replace the current charger with an Intellipower with 3-stage charging.  In the kitchen, Eleanor will get a new (bigger, deeper) sink, a NuTone food center, and inverter outlets for the toaster or coffee maker.  We are also considering a water filtration system if we can recover some wasted space under the counter, so I’ll be doing some plumbing improvements there and installing some dividers for better storage.

Little things include completing the conversion to LED lights throughout, a new microwave to replace the one that just died, replacing the hopeless ceiling speakers with surround-sound speakers (so we can actually hear a movie when the A/C is running), adding a good folding cutting board, removing the CD changer we’ve never used, adding an aux input jack, and adding lots of inverter-powered USB power outlets for portable devices.

My intention is to fully document this renovation this fall as it happens.  I’ll even be honest about costs, since most people don’t talk about them in their renovation blogs.  Right now I have a guesstimation budget of $6,000 for this project, using our own labor.  Once we’ve talked to the contractors I’ll be able to come up with a more accurate estimate.  In any case, it will cost more than I want to spend, but probably end up as good value for all the use & pleasure we get out of it.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine