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Pro Portfolio update: Matthew Hofmann answers readers' questions about remodeling an Airstream

April 11, 2011 |  8:00 am

Matthew-front

Our March 7 Pro Portfolio column on architect Matthew Hofmann's updated Airstream proved popular with readers and generated a lot of questions. Hofmann, clearly living the fantasy of many, agreed to answer some of the queries that came in: 

Question: What about books? Where's the library?

Answer: Most of the reading I do is online these days. Moreover, I’ve never understood keeping books after having read them. Libraries are full of books. 

What about water supply and gray-water and black-water storage? How frequently does the trailer have to be moved to dump waste? Or perhaps you're able to use of existing water and sewage lines on the property?

Right. My temporary home does have a septic system. However, many cities have companies that offer weekly waste collection services, akin to a Porta Potty on a construction site that gets emptied every couple days or weeks depending on the use.  My toilet is vented through the roof, and waste is held in black and gray water tanks and emptied weekly. I dump the black straight into a septic tank, and I’ve dabbled with using the gray water (sinks and shower) as irrigation for landscaping.

How much did the renovation project cost, and was it less expensive to renovate than to buy a new Airstream? Or was the point not so much cost savings but a custom configuration tailored to your needs?

Performing all the design and construction myself, the cost was less than purchasing a new Airstream.  Even factoring in labor, the renovated product is less than the price for a comparable new trailer.  [Readers who are interested in a restored Airstream can contact Hofmann directly.]

How is it heated? Do the halogen lights and appliances use a lot of power and water? And how much does it weigh?

The trailer is heated using a forced-air propane heater -- made by Suburban, I believe 30,000 btu. The fan is rather efficient and powered by the 12-volt system. Halogen lights are all 5 watt. (I could probably use even less with LED in the main space, but I really like the quality of light of the Halogen bulb.)  In the bathroom I’m using an LED that puts off near zero heat and uses hardly any electricity. The reconfigured trailer weighs about 5,100 pounds with waste tanks empty but all my living essentials inside.

Where is all your stuff? Don't you have clothes, 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?

Yes, as I am addicted to the outdoors. I do have bikes, skis, snowboards and other toys. I have a work yard downtown where I’m renovating several Airstreams for clients. I have a significant number of tools, along with the toys, in a storage unit at the work yard. You mention files for drawings and materials for work; most of what I do these days is digital. I’m trying to run a paperless office as much as possible. There is still a need for sketches, renderings and printouts, however. 

Do you have to buy toilet paper one roll at a time and your food in individual servings because you can't stock up?

Typically four rolls at a time -- four rolls don’t really take up that much space. For food, I have a fair amount of storage in the refrigerator and cabinetry. For fresh food, I prefer to go to the store at least every couple days. I find myself downtown most days interacting with clients or running errands.  Picking up food on the way home is an ideal “fresh is best” way to eat. 

It's not a criticism, because we all should make choices, but having a tiny space creates inefficiencies elsewhere: repeated trips to the store, potentially more packaging waste, and a number of "externalities" to a very snug living space.

There are always pros and cons to every lifestyle choice, I agree.  

How long have you lived in the unit and did it take time to adjust to the smaller living space?

I’ve lived here for about nine months now.  It does take time to adjust; I’m still eliminating unnecessary items. I see the time I’m spending in the Airstream as a very good fit for my current situation. I believe in adapting a space that is ideal to who I am today. Three years from now I may live in a more conventional house, in another city.  Or then again -- I may live in a van. 

-- Compiled by Lisa Boone

Photo from Matthew Hofmann

We welcome Pro Portfolio submissions. Email project summaries (400 words or less) and low-resolution photos.

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