"It was a learning curve for sure, no pun intended," says designer Jill Dupre, referring to the rounded edges of a 1960 Tradewind Airstream camper she recently renovated. "It's like a whole house in 20 feet."
Dupre had years to think about the project. She'd wanted an Airstream since childhood and began looking for one after staying in a boutique "Airstream hotel" in Marfa, Texas. But dreaming of owning an Airstream and actually renovating one that hit the road during the Kennedy era were two different things.
"I knew I could make it look good," she says. "But I had to figure out how to get someone who could make everything — electrical, plumbing, gas — work together."
Dupre and her husband Josh Mayer purchased the trailer two years ago from a friend of a friend in Baton Rouge. The previous owner used it only once a year, and it was in relatively good and mostly original condition, with the exception of a few updates made in the 1970s.
Dupre named the camper after her grandmother, Ann. "My grandfather would always say, 'Let's hit the road, Ann,'" Dupre says. "It's something she would have really loved."
She gutted the interior, which entailed making cosmetic and mechanical improvements, and documented the process on her blog (www.jilldupre.com). She worked with a contractor who specialized in boats, then hired a carpenter to add the finishing touches.
"I like renovating because I like the collaboration of artists and craftsmen," Dupre says.
The original wood surfaces were painted white. A space-saving, energy efficient on-demand water heater replaced the old, bulky water heater and a combination air conditioner/heater unit replaced the old heater. Wiring got an update. Linoleum flooring was scraped away and replaced by nonslip rubber flooring with subtle silver striping. Dupre swapped out dated lighting for long-lasting, energy-saving LED fixtures.
The banquette-style table that converted into a bed (a 1970s update of the original sofa that doubled as a bed) was removed. In its place, Dupre designed a new banquette table on a hydraulic pole that can be lowered and topped with cushions to create a double bed. There also is a bedroom with room for two. By day, the sleeping areas function as sofa seating.
Dupre scoured Home Depot, Target, Ikea, Vintage Trailer Supply and other online sources for everyday materials that could be used in inventive ways. Leather belts from Target fasten the trailer's privacy curtains and suspend toilet paper above the tiny bathroom vanity, so it won't get wet when guests take a shower. She also brainstormed with friends. "We have four friends with vintage Airstreams," she says. "I would call and pick their brains."
Decorative details were important. Scraps of Italian laminate left over from the counters made sleek, modernist panels for drawers and cabinets. Select areas of honey-colored wood were left to provide a vintage feel. Screws gave the space an industrial vibe and silver "plus" signs were repeated on sconces, a blanket and a tray.
"It was a graphic I liked," says Dupre, who mapped her inspiration on mood boards. Her first purchases were eco-friendy wallpaper from Eskayel and slender sconces from Schoolhouse Electric and Supply Company. "I liked the metal and industrial look of [the sconce]," Dupre says. "[They have] vintage style with modern sensibility."
Dupre experimented to find the look she wanted. She tried several pendant fixtures before settling on a cage fixture from West Elm.
"It was frustrating and hard and I almost gave up," she says. "But it was also a fun exercise. We made it work. Someone always had a great idea."
As for the future of Ann, the Mayers say their busy family life as parents of teenagers has postponed any immediate getaways.
"Our great American road trip may have to wait a few more years," Dupre says. "Until then, I'm open to Ann having a day job. She could be used as a prop for a photo shoot or rented for a film set. A pop-up shop would also be a great use of her mobility and charm."