Pro Portfolio: 1968 Airstream Ambassador remodel
Project: Airstream Ambassador renovation.
Design and construction: Josh Ganshorn of Able & Baker, Ventura.
Designer's description: For inspiration I visited NASA’s 1968 Airstream trailer used as a mobile quarantine unit for Apollo 11 astronauts returning from the moon. Although I had been dreaming up how I wanted to execute my project, seeing the NASA trailer helped to fine-tune my vision.
I began by asking, “What would I do if I were designing for Airstream in 1968?” Since I wasnʼt even alive in 1968, I could only create a design based on my impressions of the era.
One of my client's few requests was to open up the floor plan. Although the kitchen was one of the Airstream’s most impressive features, it was not what my client needed. And because this Airstream would be placed in a permanent location, we took liberties with the electrical system. We added enough power to support a new refrigerator, convection oven and on-demand water heater. In the event the client did want to travel someday, some original systems were left in place so that the trailer could be towed or hooked up at an RV park and still have a working refrigerator and basic lighting.
We removed existing (but not original) jalousie windows and had custom aluminum dual-glazed awning windows made. We added a new air conditioner to battle summer heat. The interior was sprayed with low-fume acrylic paint with no volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
The project was a crash course in Airstream culture and history. Throughout construction we met interesting and enthusiastic people who stopped out of curiosity and occasionally offered advice (some of it useful!). The Airstream is parked in a beautiful garden of a Greene & Greene home in Fresno. To see more of the project, keep reading ...
Above: A photo of the Airstream in Las Vegas, N.M., east of Santa Fe, before it was hauled back to California.
Above: The view from the entrance before the renovation. The galley kitchen sits in the foreground, a sleeping area lies beyond, and in the distance is the door leading to the bathroom. The interior was dark and cramped.
Today: The same view after the renovation (also seen at the top of this post). I created a semi-oval, sliding pocket door with a large window of white plexiglass. It separates the bathroom and preserves privacy while still allowing light to pass. The original door was pretty narrow, and I redesigned it with cool curves and made the top half 4 inches wider. One side of the door is walnut, to match the kitchen, and the other side is maple to match the bathroom finishes.
The full-height closet cabinet literally rounds the corner with small, elegantly curved walnut doors. We designed the doors and drawers with integrated scoop pulls that provide a sleek look and limit injuries in this compact space. The built-in rotating metallic globe is a highlight. We added the red location arrow and a miniature Airstream figurine, which remain stationary while the globe spins.
More cabinets provide additional closet space. We knew we wanted to keep the Airstream control panel, seen on the right. We re-wired and relocated it, and now it controls a sliding futon at the other end of the trailer.
One of the design challenges was to make use of the wheel wells, which took up valuable floor space and could not be removed. We resolved this problem by concealing the wells in cabinetry and creating built-in seating on both sides of the trailer. We tried to make the most out of every square inch, so we created small but deep cubbies for books and sketch pads just below the bench.
The wheel well on the other side of the trailer has more shelving. One of the most common questions people ask is, "Where did you get all of these cabinets?" People are often surprised to know that most of the interior was fabricated in our woodshop.
... and the other side. Because the trailer was not going to be used for much cooking, the client decided to forgo a kitchen sink and instead uses the bathroom faucet for everything.
Now the appliances are set toward the rear of the trailer. We installed a small convection oven, a refrigerator with separate freezer and a water-boiling electric teapot. We also included storage for wine (seen in an earlier photo). The desk drawer contains inputs for a laptop or iPod and connects to the surround sound system. The Formica countertop has plenty of room to prepare food or spread out art supplies. The reverse view is seen below.
Above: The view toward the other end of the trailer. Deciding how to replace the original fold-out sofa bed was one of the biggest challenges. A fold-out futon seemed logical, but most conventional futon beds require side or rear access for set-up. With our layout, that wasn't an option. The solution was a combination of custom hardware and off-the-shelf garage door track, rollers and motor. In the sofa position, the frame takes up very little space; it slides down into bed position with the push of a button, revealing a small bookshelf behind the futon.
Above: The original sleeping compartment.
The new futon, lowered to reveal the bookcase in back. The overhead cabinet is one of the few original components that remained largely untouched. The doors had a walnut veneer, which dictated our use of walnut in the new construction. The cabinet originally housed a Motorola stereo system; now it conceals two new speakers.
The Airstream today, nestled in the garden of a Fresno Greene & Greene home.
-- Compiled by Lisa Boone
Photo credits: Kevin Lindholm and Jen Zahigian
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