How to Customize an Airstream Trailer

by Alexander Portnoy

While the classic design of Airstream trailers is beautiful on the outside, the insides are often dated, in poor condition, or not suited to the owner's needs. Customizing an Airstream trailer can make it uniquely yours, while improving its functionality and resale value. Airstream owners often put in new floors; paint or strip the trailer's aluminum and fiberglass walls; build custom cabinets and furniture and add personality to the trailer with new curtains, rugs, light fixtures and decorations.

Design

Decide whether you will be customizing your trailer solely for your own needs, or whether you may want to resell your Airstream at some point. If there is a chance that you may want to resell it, choose customizations that are more neutral and flexible.

Pick a theme for your customization. This could be as simple as choosing three of your favorite colors, or as complicated as doing extensive research on mid-century modern architecture and furniture styles. You can view other Airstream-owners' themes on Airforums: 1950s, western, nautical, Adirondack, etc.

Consider picking a style that is appropriate for the year your trailer was made.

Flooring

Remove and throw out old warn-out carpeting. The floor-coverings in most vintage trailers are worn-out and dirty; they often also cover areas of sub-floor that have rot and need work. While wood floors are beautiful, a traditional hard-wood floor will add a lot of unnecessary weight to your trailer. Consider using engineered wood, marmoleum, or a laminate.

Use a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut curves into the new flooring.

Cut the flooring of your choice into curved shapes at both ends of your trailer. Make paper templates to do this. Follow normal installation instructions for the center of your trailer.

Ensure your sub-floor is sound before you install new flooring.

Walls

Clean your trailer walls extensively before painting them. Orange-based cleansers work well. After cleaning, give them a light sanding with a medium grit paper (100 to 120 should work well). Use a high-quality primer and a gloss or semi-gloss paint, as they will make the walls easier to clean.

Pick light or bright colors to visually open up the Airstream's narrow spaces.

Use a high-quality paint and do test patches to make sure it adheres well before painting the entire trailer.

Cabinets and Furniture

Remove the existing cabinets and use the pieces as templates for building new ones. Keep your new furniture and cabinets light by using half-inch and quarter-inch plywood when possible.

Paint your cabinets or pick wood colors that add to your design scheme and keep the space bright.

Add drawers, furniture, and organizational systems to increase your trailer's utility and storage capabilities.

Details

Make new curtains for the trailer. The old ones will be dirty and probably made of a dated material. You can install new curtain rods or buy new curtain sliders directly from Airstream.

Install a new music player in your trailer. Many vintage Airstreams include eight-track or tape players that are difficult to find media for. Look for compact pieces that won't take up valuable space in the Airstream.

Decorate your trailer as you would a house (though avoid heavy or non-secured items). Add area rugs to warm spaces. Re-upholster furniture and use bedding that incorporates your general design theme.

Tip

  • check Airstream-enthusiasts have formed a large and friendly community. Consider attending an Airstream Rally and touring other owners' trailers for ideas before starting your own project

Items you will need

About the Author

Alexander Portnoy is a writer, editor, designer and builder who has worked on books, journals and websites since graduating from Hampshire College with a B.A. in 2002. Portnoy specializes in articles on art, architecture, woodworking, construction, sustainability and science.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Andy Reynolds/Lifesize/Getty Images