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Pro Portfolio: Architect Matthew Hofmann remodels Airstream into live-work space

Every Monday, we post a new home whose design is presented in the designer's or the builder's own words. This week:

Design: Matthew Hofmann, Hofmann Architecture

Location: Roaming, currently Santa Barbara

Tumblr_lh6xhqfAzs1qa5j6h-2Project goal: To live in a small space. I like the idea of reducing my costs, but I also wanted a quiet, comfortable place to work --  a space that was mobile and easily converted from residence to workspace. 

Designer's description: Often, the creative process succeeds not by adding more, but by taking away what is distracting. The design questions were: "How much does one remove? How much does one keep?"

To me, sustainable practices are a mere starting point for design. This included the use of regional materials and reusable products, such as bamboo for flooring, counter tops, dining room/worktable, along with a recycling management plan throughout construction. Weight was also a huge issue. Less was more. Lighter was better. And like luggage packed on an airplane, the load needed to be properly balanced.

I wanted to create open space in a small space, using honest materials. In Southern California, blurring the distinction between interior and exterior space can be a very successful strategy. The design needed to be bright and airy by nature, yet warm and multifunctional.

Many of my clients are in Santa Barbara, so after looking at some tiny yet still expensive condos and lofts, I purchased and remodeled a 1978, 25-foot Airstream trailer on a whim on Craigslist.

I needed a place to park it -- and not in a trailer park -- so I went back to the most logical place: Craigslist.  I arranged to park it on an ocean-view Montecito lot where a home had burned down recently.  The city of Santa Barbara had issued temporary trailer permits for homeowners whose homes were destroyed.

 Some friends and family don't understand why I've chosen this lifestyle, while others say I'm living their dream. Before the remodel, most expressed some form of "good luck …" with doubt-filled grins.  It's pleasant to bring the same folks inside to see the finished product. I enjoy working with clients with gutsy audacity -- like me. Life-changing events, such as a fire, remind people that they can do with much less and be content.

For a look inside, keep reading ...

Material scraps from the Airstream, pictured above before the remodel, were sent to a recycling yard. That included hardware, braces, tracks, rods and plastic paneling.  All of the old appliances  and fixtures -- refrigerator, oven, sink, toilet -- were sold on Craigslist or donated.  That extended the life of old materials and prevented them from heading to the landfill.



For the new dining area, I replaced the existing tabletop with Cali Bamboo natural strand bamboo while reusing the table posts. The old tabletop was reconditioned and used as shelving in the cabinetry. The dinette doubles as a guest bed. By removing the table posts and lowering the top to seat level, it also converts to what I call a media lounge where I can play movies on  my  27-inch iMac.



Another view of the workspace and lounge. The office printer is tucked into a custom-built pullout drawer under the bench. I sold my plasma TV, DVD player, audio receiver, seven-speaker surround sound, desktop PC, laptop computer, wireless home speaker system and portable radio.  


The kitchen has a Moen stainless-steel sink with a Euro-modern 23-inch pull-out spray chrome faucet. New appliances include an Atwood Wedgewood three-burner propane stainless gas cooktop, Target countertop stainless-steel toaster oven and Norcold refrigerator.



The cabinets are Hafele, with halogen puck lights overhead to provide more than ample meal-prep illumination. The original overhead cabinetry was removed, redesigned and reinstalled to simplify and clean up the lines. The seating, a custom piece that converts to a full size bed, has Sunbrella indoor-outdoor fabric cushions.


One of my favorite purchases was a Hafele Kessebohmer integrated pullout pantry system. Hafele also makes a very cool Moovit drawer box system and cutlery tray inserts. Those German designers know their driving machines and storage devices.

I'm 6-foot-4, so I designed a generous convertible bed using locally supplied, lightweight materials. I hired a seamstress to hand-sew Sunbrella indoor-outdoor fabric cushions from CushionsXpress. Underneath the bed is the original roll-up cabinets from Airstream. ArchiTech in-wall speakers sound like a high-fidelity surround-sound system.


The bathroom was easily my greatest indulgence. Attractive, durable and sustainable custom-cut counter tops are by Custom Cali Natural Strand Bamboo. The shower was handcrafted with practical and pleasing curves using tiny glass tiles and a custom-built redwood shower pan. Water temperature and power are controlled through a Grohe Euphoria chrome fixture.


A14-inch glass vessel sink sits under a single-handle faucet. The room's custom LED light has two-stage brightness, from ultra-low to high voltage. The towel bars, TP holder and other accessories were from the Grohe Essentials line.

 -- Compiled by Lisa Boone

Photos: Matthew Hofmann

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Comments () | Archives (22)

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Live Large by Living Small! So inspired by your trailer. Ready for an adventure!

books? where's the library?

Very nicely done. Yet, I wonder more about water supply and the gray/black water storage and disposal issues. Surely the trailer originally included the needed tanks, but use does raise the issue of frequent requirements to move the trailer to dump waste. Then again, maybe being located on an established property allows for the use of existing water and sewage lines in some way.

Very cool trailer and very inspiring project! I would love an airstream, but new ones are so expensive. I'd be curious how much the renovation project cost and if it was less expensive than purchasing a new airstream - or was it comparable in cost, but you got a nicer unit that was custom tailored to your needs.

Either way, very cool project and a very nice home & work space!

Matthew: What a clean sleek man-cave! Thanks for posting your design. How is it heated? Is the toilet vented and how do you dispose of the brown water and waste? The halogen lights and appliances lean toward using a lot of power and water. and How much does it weigh (roughly)? I follow the tiny house movement and dream of living like this. Some day. . .

We sold the big house in 2009 and now house and pet sit all over the US. I am hoping to convince my significant other to go in on an Airstream with me next : )

He has some reservations...can't wait to show him this article...I know he is going to be impressed! My Dad had an Airstream in Ventura, CA when I was little and it has been a dream of mine to have my own ever since.

Thank you for sharing your space with us - this is so cool. I would love to find out more as well...off to check out your website just in case there is more!

Love it! Love the project, love the lifestyle. You have done a great job. Thanks for sharing.

A very nicely finished conversion. I'd love to know the costs involved in doing this project. I am sure the grey/black/fresh water tanks aren't as big an issue when connected to main sewer/city water. Kudos to Matthew for doing the project! I'd love to know, how, who and where the conversion work was done (if available)


looks good but where is all your stuff? don't you have clothes, books, luggage, a bike, skis, surfboards and wetsuits, CDs/LPs, art, heirlooms, plants, linens, tools, etc.? where are all your files and drawings and materials for work?

do you have to buy TP one roll at a time, and individual servings of foods and/or go to the store every day because you can't stock up?

it's not a criticism, because i believe we should all make choices and none of us can do it all, but having a tiny space creates inefficiencies elsewhere.... repeated trips to the store for smaller packages creates a lot of waste, and it would seem like there must be a storage facility and/or separate office involved, so there are a number of "externalities" to a very snug living space.

again, it looks great and i wish you much success in work and life!

I have been contemplating for a few years on either a 5th wheel or travel trailer & zoomed in on the Airstream many times (28'international serenity series) but of course the price for 28' of living space has been a issue but after all the stories i read about people like you investing lots of time & money must say something about Airstream..How long have you lived in the unit & did it take time to adjust to the smaller living space?

Bravo! Nice work. Smaller is better. Smaller and energy efficient is even better.

Brilliant, just what I needed to know, thank you!


Nice trailer and nice job! I lived in an Airstream back in 1976 when going to school. Between having an Apartment with roommates or a trailer on a lot with a yard and big tree in the front, I choose the trailer. I lived in it for over two and 1/2 years, even in the winter and it was great. The Airstream is an excellent trailer. The one I was renting had real wood cabnets, great set up for a single guy, and lucky as I was, a great location. So one man's trailer trash is another man's treasured memories. Thanks for bring them back.
My wife and I have just a few years till retirement, we purchased our current trailer in 2006, and the first thing I did was to start remolding, making it our own. She has a place for all her art supplies and I have all the goodies for my flyfishing. Nothing like having the South Fork of the Henry's River right out side your door for a week. Here is to the new treasured memories.

Magnifiscent !

But this trailer-camper must be awfully heavy !

It is, simply, a beautiful and creative renovation! Something to drool over.

I concur with the insightful comments by "Save the Desert":
Where is all your stuff!? I've lived in an already-used Fleetwood 12x24 since 2001 and, now, I can't step without stepping on or over my stuff. It was a God-send when I bought it, but since Hurricane Rita crushed the sleep-over, my dining table houses my computer; the hardrive sits on some stereo speakers that don't work; the plush chair holds my printer and parafinalia; I share my bed with my books and TV; my shower stall houses a small frig since the RV's was wrecked; the cab is my pantry - I do like to shop SAMs. I hang my pots and pans on S-hooks from the old A/C Rita whacked.The old frig is now my chest of drawers and the microwave contains my spices, baking powder, salt, popcorn...

When my shipping container house is finished, I'm outta here!

Oh, yeah...you have to learn to square your corners or you'll really screw up your knees. And when they go, your ball joints aren't far behind.

Regarding the "clothes, books, luggage, a bike, skis, surfboards and wetsuits, CDs/LPs, art, heirlooms, plants, linens, tools, etc": good question and one that I wish had been addressed in the article.

But I doubt Matthew is having a problem there. He's seems to be embracing a "less is more" lifestyle that's antithetical to our current consumer culture, but that is imminently practical. If you've ever had to do a big purge of your stuff (e.g. before selling a house) it is immensely liberating to discover how much you don't need all the crap you really don't ever use: the clothes you haven't worn in over a year, the supposedly precious knick-knacks that never come out of the drawer, the tools you used only once. I doubt it's practical for Matthew to load up on 64 packs of paper towels and 3 gallon tubs of peanut butter at Costco but I'm sure that a weekly trip suffices for fresh produce and restocking whatever is running low. It is far more efficient and less wasteful to buy, store, use, and consume only what is needed.

Great projects with beautiful execution. Thanks Matthew you for demonstrating what is possible when you think different.

How much did it cost???? Looks great - but only a select few can live this way because most places don't want trailers on the land - they want permanent structures.

I have living in a small house in northern Michigan for 22 years and love the life style and the lake at my front door.

We did this accidentally. Our landlord did not pay the mortgage the six months we were there, and apparently not before. We were in a bind so we bought an RV. It's a 1979 and we're having some hard time finding rotors, but it's working. We moved into it just after being married 8 months! It teaches you about getting along and making do with less. Definitely retraining this packrat. Mine doesn't look like his, but I will fix it up because we are keeping it.

I have a 1/2 acre behind my house that has a beautiful view of the mountains. I am in the process of looking at used trailers, and R.V's to put back there and convert to my office and man cave. Plus room for guests when they come. Thanks for the idea's. Would love an Airstream, but can't seem to find one at a reasonable price. Used ones are going for very high in So. Cal.

The tile looks great, but I wonder how it will travel. Won't it crack?


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