Tiny home airstream makeover

I was born in the deep south—Bakersfield, California. The first RV I ever saw had a bumper sticker that said, “Don’t Tailgate Me or I Will Flush.” This early impression of the RV/trailer crowd made me wonder, “Why do space aliens land in trailer parks?”

Years later, I’m sitting here in my retrofitted Airstream trailer, all 21 feet of its interior colored in gradations of silver and gray with polished aluminum window frames, chrome window locks, stainless steel stovetop and sink, aluminum trim on all exposed corners, stainless steel accent rivets, polished aluminum corner pieces, light gray wood work, silver ash laminate flooring and barely off-white walls that accentuate the spaceship-like curves around the windows. The Starship Enterprise control area above the front windows matches the sweeping contours of the sink and shower in the rear. Captain Kirk would feel at home in my Airstream. Of course space aliens are attracted to trailer parks! They get Airstreams.

tiny home airstream remodeled

Going Small … In Style

My transition to a tiny house was abrupt. After I was put out on the street in Santa Cruz by out-of-town investors, I gutted my Airstream down to the walls and floor. I had to rebuild it from scratch to fit my life. This is not a restoration, this is a retrofit.

Luckily, I won the Airstream lottery. My Airstream is a smooth-skinned beauty that was garaged most of its life. It has no flat surfaces except for the floor and windows, and even the front corner windows are curved. The original Airstream design was by Hawley Bowlus who had overseen the production of Charles Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. The Airstream is perfectly named, built for the least wind resistance. It’s curved surface gives it the strength of an airplane and durability to weather any storm, even the storm of time. To paraphrase General Douglas MacArthur, “Old Airstreams never die, they’re just out of sight.” If an apocalyptic tsunami ever hits Santa Cruz, ya’ll go ahead and run for the hills, I’m getting in my Airstream. (Psssst … I’ve got room for 12.)

tiny home remodeled airstream


A Little Help From My Friends

I have two music buddies that happen to also be brilliant artists with wood and metal. What makes Rhan Wilson and Rick Zeek a great building team is that they go straight to solutions. We talked for hours about how I saw my future life in the Airstream. Cannabis was burned to open up our vision as we dreamed and schemed in the 21×8-foot spaceship. And Rhan and Rick are also sensitive to the part of me that can have an out-of-money experience.

Rhan and Rick know art—I only know how to work hard. So the first work was mine. I tore out the old flooring down to the subfloor, pulled out all the nails and screws embedded in the walls and ceiling, scraped the metal walls with knives, drilled out the holes that have raised edges, pounded the metal flat. For weeks, I filled over 1,000 tiny holes that had been punched into the aluminum walls and ceiling. When I finally got the walls smooth and primed white, the beautiful curves and contours of the inside skin came alive … and I saw the spaceship.

The end goal was to find a place to park somewhere near Santa Cruz and live in the Airstream a few days a month with my wife Julie. So Rhan more than doubled the closet space, because Julie has clothes. He doubled the size of the bathroom, because Julie has makeup. Rhan lined the closets with cedar, because Julie has incredible olfactory sensitivity. The floor of the nose was left open, because Julie has a yoga mat. And Rhan designed a couch that turns into a full-size bed, because Julie has me.

They installed silver ash laminate flooring. Rick sprayed coat after coat of white boat paint onto the contoured bathroom sink and shower until they shone glossy white, and he accented the curves with blue mosaic tile and stainless steel studs.

I got me a Pimpstream, yo.

A note of caution, though: living in a retrofitted Airstream is like having a hot rod car. You have the coolest ride on the block, and also … you never stop working on it. I need to replace all the rubber gaskets around the windows and the door before the next rainy season. I need to get Dennis the Airstream Guru from Coastal RV to run new propane lines. I need to learn more about how the DC electrical system works. I need to find a place to park it where I can stay in it three days a month.

Also, do not expect your kids to approve of your move into a tiny house. My children think I’m crazy, and the Airstream is just further proof. Whoever it is that I am turning out to be is not what they had in mind.

I’m trying to model the Silver Surfer, for whom freedom is everything—freedom from banks, freedom from scarcity fears, freedom from needing a six-figure income to live in Santa Cruz. And if it doesn’t work in Santa Cruz ,then I will roll my aluminum sausage out of here. It’s hard to hit a moving target. And if you’re lucky enough to run into a space alien, thank your local Airstream owner.

  • Lauren Pham

    It is quite challenging to get everyone ready for a tiny house lifestyle, and it’s amazing that you have done it already. I hope you guys enjoy your stay.