Bury Me In An Airstream Trailer

Airstream Mobile Home

For years I have lusted after that brushed aluminum form of the Airstream trailer that was designed by Wally Byam in 1929. It has the old-world futuristic look that was determined in the nineteen twenties and thirties by inventors like Buckminster Fuller. In an effort to create the home and cars of the future, Fuller became famous for his eccentric and innovative housing designs such as the  Dymaxion Dwelling Machine and, his most known architectural feat, the Geodesic Dome. I can’t say for sure, but judging from the look of the original Airstream trailer — which was designed at the same time Fuller was concocting his streamlined buildings — I can see that Wally Byam’s structures were influenced by the innovations of his time.

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Dwelling Machine

Epcot Center - Geodesic Dome

The Airstream trailer has been a mainstay of American design for decades. While it was designed in 1929, Byam’s trailer did not make it into production until 1932.  The Airstream, Inc. website gives a short history of the birth of the Airstream trailer:

In 1929, Wally Byam purchased a Model T Ford chassis,built a platform on it, towed it with his car to a campsite, and painstakingly erected a tent on it. The effort was tiresome and unpleasant, especially when it rained. Spurred on by his first wife Marion, Wally built a tear-drop-shaped permanent shelter on the platform that enclosed a small ice chest and
kerosene stove. He then published an article that ran under the headline, “How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars.” Readers wrote Wally for more detailed instruction plans, which he sold at a cost of one dollar each. The response was extraordinary, earning him more than $15,000. After building several trailers for friends in his backyard, “the neighbors started complaining that I was making too much noise,” Wally observed,
“so I went out and rented a building.” Airstream Trailer Company went into full production in 1932, when fewer than 48 trailer manufacturers were registered for business. Five years later, nearly 400 companies squared off against each other. Today, of those 400, only Airstream remains.

Now, over seven decades later, the Airstream trailer has become one of the most coveted Americana designs internationally. A vintage Airstream trailer can cost up to $70,000 depending on its condition.

The Airstream trailer was especially loved by designer Christopher Deam who gutted an Airstream for Wilsonart, a San Francisco-based laminate manufacturer, and remade the interior using their products. The project was so successful that it caught the attention of Airstream who asked Deam to upgrade and redesign the interiors of the company’s newest models. Below is a Ted Talks video of Christopher Deam’s design journey in an Airstream trailer.


While I don’t have an Airstream myself (sniff), I did see the most wonderful creative reuse of an Airstream trailer in Fayetteville, Arkansas last year. Grey Dog Vintage, owned and operated by Molly Clark, is a traveling vintage clothing boutique with its home base in Fayetteville.

Grey Dog Vintage Boutique

“I’ve always wanted to have a vintage boutique, but when we started looking for a location, I couldn’t find a space that I loved,” Clark told the Fayetteville Flyer. “So we decided to gut the Airstream, and turn it into a boutique. I’m really glad we did.”

Check out Grey Dog Vintage flickr page.


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