A 180-Square-Foot, 1972 Airstream Is a Beautifully Renovated Home for Two

A 180-Square-Foot, 1972 Airstream Is a Beautifully Renovated Home for Two

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Name: Rachael Gibilterra, her husband Virgil, and their rescue pup, Jovie
Location: San Diego, California
Size: 180 square feet
Years lived in: 3 months, owned

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Rachael and Virgil live full time in this Airstream (currently parked at an RV park in San Diego) that they renovated themselves. She tells their story: We purchased this Airstream in March of 2017 with its 1972 original interior in all of its grungy glory, with nonfunctional electrical and a lovely infestation of cockroaches and remnants of mice and snake inhabitants, too, yikes! We gutted it all the way down, fixed the chassis and put in all new insulation, subfloor, electrical, plumbing…everything is fresh and new!

We had a lot of help from the Airstream community along the way, especially from the ladies who made us fall in love with Airstream life, Kate and Ellen of The Modern Caravan. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without such a huge, knowledgeable support group.

I am a designer and Virgil is an environmental engineer. Jovie is our spunky little border collie mix (child) rescue dog. We took the tiny home route for reasons most do — to live more simply and efficiently. Since I have a creative eye for spaces, and Virgil is a handy and talented craftsman, we always knew we’d get into renovating things together, and we plan to do more renovation work in the future! (Maybe in a structure that has straight walls and 90 degree corners instead of curves everywhere, though, haha.) We learned so much through this project, though, and it’s only made us more hungry for renovation!

When settling on a layout, we really had to prioritize. 180 square feet goes pretty quickly! Not ones to spend hours in the bathroom (and wanting a sleeping alcove tucked away in the back of the Airstream) we decided to move our bathroom from the rear to the side, and gave it a precious 3’x4′ footprint. That tiny bathroom houses a sink, our shower, a medicine cabinet for storage, and our composting toilet! Our bed nook fits a queen size mattress perfectly, and we love how nestled away it is back there.

We put the most priority on our kitchen/dining space — where we knew we’d be spending the majority of our time. We both come from Italian families and love to cook together. For an Airstream, we have a massive amount of counter space, along with a full-size sink, two burner electric cooktop, 5.6 cubic foot, energy-efficient refrigerator, and a 24″ convection oven that we LOVE. It’s really functional and spacious enough for us to both be working in there at the same time — just what we wanted! We also have a floor-to-ceiling pantry for dry goods and three huge drawers for the rest of our dishes, kitchen appliances, and drinkware. We also have tons of storage under our bed. For our dinette, we built a walnut table to bring some beautiful warmth to the space, and filled in the u-shaped dinette with plush gray cushions. It’s such a cozy space now, perfect for sharing wine and a meal with a few friends. The table telescopes down to create a large couch/spare bed.

The greenish-gray cabinet color (Deep River, Benjamin Moore) set the tone for the whole space. I wanted it to be neutral and earthy, with industrial textures plus a little mid-century nod with some of the light fixtures and clean lines, but I also wanted to add some warmth with the other finishes, like the walnut, the live-edge wood bathroom counter, and decor details. We did a feather-finish concrete for our kitchen counters, and black penny tile with white hexagon tile for the bathroom, keeping the palette neutral. The brass faucet and patina brass knobs (CB2) bring some warmth to the kitchen, too.

We finished up the space with the dresser that matches the rest of the cabinetry, and a soft gray linen duvet for our bed. The bed is surrounded by two walnut shelves, same lot of wood as the table we made for the front. When you design a space this small and open, it has to be designed as a whole — too much going on in here would be really overwhelming, and we wanted to create a sense of calm that flowed easily from one area to the next by keeping things consistent and harmonious.

When we finished the renovation enough to hitch up and travel, we loaded up all of our things and drove from Pennsylvania to California, where we live now. The whole project has been one crazy adventure, and we’re thankful for all of it, even the literal blood, sweat, and tears. We’ll keep those memories with us forever.

(Image credit: Rachael Gibilterra)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Something like bright, airy, earthy, California-minimal. We’ve been California dreaming for a long time and have always been inspired by the southern California coastal vibe.

Inspiration: I am quite literally inspired by anything and everything, so I am never any good at answering this question. It doesn’t come from one particular thing or person or place, it comes from everywhere.

Favorite Element: Though I love each space for its necessities and beauty, and it’s essentially ONE room, I’d have to say my favorite area is the kitchen/dinette area. It’s where we spend most of our waking hours. We sit around our table in the morning as the California light pours in through the nine surrounding windows, and sip our coffee. That’s my favorite part of any day, and having such a serene space to enjoy those little moments in is very fulfilling. The kitchen has everything we need to do one of our favorite things — cook together. I think we’ve both been pleasantly surprised with how functional that space is. I’m pretty sure we have more counter space in here than we did in our last apartment!

What I also love about these two spaces is that it houses and displays the beginning of our little curated collection of belongings. A pennant that reads “stay weird” and a carved wooden pair of hands holding our air plant, all from our time in Austin, Texas. A ceramic rainbow in the perfect color palette, one of my favorite belongings. The tea towels that hang on our oven door we dyed ourselves and gave them out as favors at our wedding. Various wedding gifts also have a home in the kitchen — our espresso machine, an acacia cutting board, our walnut knife magnet, and so many others! I also love our vintage items in the dinette — a chain of brass moons and bells and a carved black wooden bowl; a shibori throw; and lastly, my favorite old/new Turkish pillow. Having a space that is ours has been so indescribable, and curating the items that live here with us has been so much fun for me.

Biggest Challenge: Renovating an Airstream, in itself, is a HUGE challenge. And tiny living is definitely an adjustment. One of the biggest challenges is balancing aesthetics and function. It’s a delicate balance between having enough storage, having space to move and live, and having a beautifully open space in such a small vessel. We STILL have too much stuff, even after months of stripping our belongings down, but if you could see our pickup truck, you’d know how real the struggle still is. We’re working on it.

Proudest DIY: Well, we built this whole home with our own hands, so the entire project was just one huge DIY. Some of our prouder projects, though, include taking rough-cut walnut boards and turning them into a custom tabletop and built-in shelves around the bed, designing and sewing our dinette cushions, and tiling a curved, teeny tiny wet bath with porcelain hexagon tile. That’s a lot of cuts on the wet saw, not recommended for curves. (We can laugh about it now.)

Biggest Indulgence: For sure, the walnut. That came with a pretty price tag, but nothing else would complete and elevate the space like that did. Also, we’re utilizing the leftovers — Virgil has taken to woodworking as a hobby, and he has already made a few wooden cooking utensils! That wood is too beautiful to waste.

Best Advice: The advice I’ve lived by is to fill your home with items that speak to you, ones that make you feel something. Having such a small space, we don’t have the room to fill it with senseless STUFF. I’ve appreciated this William Morris quote on a whole new level since living tiny, and I plan to hold onto this methodology in all of our homes to come — “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”


Walls — Benjamin Moore, Chantilly Lace
Cabinets & Dresser — Benjamin Moore, Deep River

Shibori throw — Territory Home Goods
Kilim pillow — Epic Rug
Brass moons and bells and black carved bowl — Familiar Folk
Brass and frosted globe pendant — Target
Leather pulls on drawers — Maynest

Knife magnet — Messermeister
Espresso machine — Capresso
Utensil holder — Leif Shop
‘Stay Weird’ pennant and wood hands bowl — The Gypsy Wagon
Ceramic rainbow — Eloeil
Patina brass knobs — CB2

Rug in hall — Urban Outfitters
Light — Lamps Plus
Tile — The Tile Shop
Mirror — Target
Live edge wood — Alderfer Lumber
Towels — Amazon

Sconce — Urban Outfitters
Duvet — Parachute Home
Pillows — Tribal Collection
Moon weavings — Laurr Dunn Weaves
Felt baskets — Target

Thanks Rachael and Virgil!

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