Before & After: A Previously Abandoned Airstream’s Transformation Is Beautiful
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Name: Laura Guidry and Marc Bilbao with three cats: Milo, Rhubarb, and Amelia
Location: We were previously stationary in Wilmington, North Carolina but now we travel full-time. Currently, we are sheltering in place near Austin, Texas.
Size: 188 square feet
Years lived in: 2.5 years, owned for almost 5 years
We found our Airstream on the side of the road when we were out looking at property that we would have never been able to afford anyway. It looked abandoned; it was backed up against a rock and the front door was unlocked. We found a piece of mail addressed to the owner and drove to her house on our way to a family vacation at the beach. Unbelievably, the previous owner sold us our Airstream for $600; it seemed unreal. And though we were initially under the impression we would wrap up renovations within six months, we were very wrong.
Marc worked at Skram Furniture at the time and his gracious bosses, Jacob and Kate, allowed us to park the Airstream in their parking lot. They told us later that they knew we would be renovating in their parking lot way longer than six months and they were very right. For two and a half years, we worked on the Airstream and for the longest time, it seemed unimaginable that we would ever be able to walk around the Airstream without respirators, much less live in it. We leaned heavily on Marc’s experience through his industrial design degree and his day job of building high-end furniture throughout the build.
Now, after two and a half years and a ton of DIY work, our Airstream home is bright and calming. We have soothing red gum cabinetry and keep our decor minimal. It’s all about the shape and curves of the built-ins with small memories of our travels on display. Our home has adapted with us. When we first moved in, we both worked office jobs but that’s changed now that we travel. We both are able to work from home, even in the tiny square footage—Marc working from the kitchen table as an architectural designer while I freelance write and work on building an online home cooking quarterly (Laura’s in a Jam) from the counter adjacent to the bed. When we were stationary, we used the outdoor space for entertaining but now that we’ve hit the road, we still manage the occasional dinner party. It’s just is a little cozier.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: Bold, experimental, intentional, and curvy.
Inspiration: We were very inspired by just the Airstream itself—in the design, we worked to honor the motifs and forms of the exterior curved shape. Our travels also influenced the design process. We were inspired by the Bauhaus buildings that line the streets of Tel Aviv. On our honeymoon in Cartagena, Colombia, we loved the openness of the shower with the skylight. We also were influenced by our day-to-day life. When you’re living in such a small space with built-in furniture, everything has to be functional, which made us really examine how we utilize the space that we live in.
Favorite Element: Our bathroom is the crown of our Airstream. It was really important to us to have a bathroom that was more than the typical tiny RV bathroom. Talk to any RV dweller or someone who has traveled in one and they will no doubt talk about the cramped shower situation. We designed the bathroom to be a wet bath; there is a built-in shower seat and it’s incredibly open. It feels luxurious and spa-like. Since we always planned to live in the Airstream full-time, it was very important to us to feel like we weren’t just always camping in semi discomfort. Having a good bathroom was key.
Biggest Challenge: We financed a full gut Airstream on top of our usual every day expenses. When we started out, our incomes were very small so it meant waiting if we needed to purchase something or taking a really long time repurposing materials. Overall, we spent $20k on the renovations and we are very proud that we own our home outright. Doing that though meant a lot of sacrifices and even when we first moved in, we spent about a year finishing up projects. We cooked on a hot plate for a while, didn’t have cabinet faces, and our lighting system wasn’t perfect… among other things. Just having patience in the process was difficult and navigating the learning curve of a full renovation was hard. When people say things will cost more and take longer in a renovation than you think, believe them!
Proudest DIY: Marc learned how to wire an electrical system. Honestly, everything felt like such an accomplishment when we were building the Airstream. It was the first renovation project we’d ever done and once everything was stripped out of the Airstream, it was such a process learning how to put it all back together.
Biggest Indulgence: We spent a lot of time designing and building out the bathroom compared to the other aspects of the build. Marc crafted a custom shower pan using 3D modeling and CNC machining. Our bathroom millwork is flexible plywood, and fiberglass was sculpted on top to make everything waterproof. Our sink felt like the biggest splurge. We got a custom sink from Haand, a North Carolina ceramics company that Marc had previously worked at. We wanted to reflect the bathroom we had loved from Cartagena with the skylight so we got one of their largest cloudware bowls that they turned into a sink for us. We had an accident with it and ended up dropping it, so instead of tossing it, we epoxied it back together. We don’t have a lot of brand name appliances and that really helped us keep the cost of our renovation down. The materials to build out the bathroom were more expensive however. It is all fiberglass, so we had a lot of marine grade materials and gallons of finish that we used. It added up, but it was worth it.
Best Advice: If you are thinking of living tiny, try it out before you take the full plunge. We rented an 25-foot Argosy for about six months to really experience living in a small space together to see if it actually would work. We also got to figure out what we personally needed in our home to make it successful. Using a tiny RV shower made us decide to build out the larger wet bath; our bed is higher because we wanted more drawers and having almost zero closet space influenced the way we designed access to the closet over the bed to maximize the depth of storage space. Even if you tape off parts of your house and just try living in that representation of a small space, you’ll learn more about what you realistically need.
What’s your best home secret? Don’t just toss something—try to repurpose it. This mindset has really made our money stretch farther in our renovation and life. Can that parm rind become a nice broth? Can strategic grocery shopping and home cooking mean hundreds of dollars for Airstream work? Can that scrap of wood be crafted into a cutting board? Can aluminum sheet offcuts become a light fixture? Can a day of research and tinkering save you thousands in professional home repairs? Yes, to the all of the above and that’s really how we made it work.
PAINT & COLORS
- All interior wood is red gum.
- Flooring is hickory.
- Paint is white – we can’t remember the brand!
- AC – Dometic, bought off craigslist
- We don’t really have an entry! When you first walk in, there is a custom-built grate that Marc built to help with dirt not tracking through the Airstream.
- Custom tabletop – Made by Marc
- RV table pedestal – Amazon
Thanks Laura and Marc!
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.