Revamps make these five trailers fit for hitting the road— or just chilling in the backyard. DIYers share their tricks for redoing a tiny abode on wheels.
See how five families transformed a dilapidated camper into a space all their own. Before you make the leap, we offer advice on getting started and living large in a tiny trailer.
1 The full-size bed at one end of Patrick Neely and Kerri Cole’s Airstream is for both sleeping and sitting. Patrick fit IKEA cabinets around the wheel wells to balance the interior’s weight and make the most of awkward spaces. 2 Kerri refreshed the original overhead cabinets with leather pulls. Coordinating leather straps hold the window treatments in place.
3 In the kitchen, Patrick installed a two-burner cooktop and a single-bowl sink. Cut-to-fit medium-density fiberboard (MDF) countertop with walnut veneer is a durable, lightweight work surface. 4 Few awning companies can fit their systems to a curve, so Patrick tracked down an original Airstream awning manufacturer, Zip Dee, to find a system with curved arms they could customize to fit. Then Patrick and a friend installed it. “When the awning is pulled out, it gives us another 100 feet of covered living space,” he says. He also polished the trailer to bring back its hallmark mirror finish.
“TRAVELING DOWN THE ROAD, IT’S LIKE AN 8.0-EARTHQUAKE INSIDE YOUR AIRSTREAM. EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE STRAPPED DOWN.” KERRI COLE, OWNER
5 Cabinets and an undercounter fridge sit opposite the stove to help distribute weight evenly. 6 The back bench is the second “chair” for the table and is another sleeping space when needed. The bench cushion lifts up to access storage below.
7 Kerri picked serving pieces that travel well, such as an acrylic tray. One cabinet features a drawer with pullout dividers where they can safely stash bottles and barware. 8 The original Airstream sconces light the dining area but Patrick augmented them with overhead can lighting.
9 A local RV shop helped the Gublers order a new sheet metal skin customized to their camper’s size. Mandi and Court then used detailing tape, automotive paint, and a special sprayer to achieve the mod design based off a ‘50s thermos.
10 Mandi painted the accent wall yellow, tracing around a diamond stencil with a paint pen to mimic the look of retro wallpaper.
11 A plant shelf featuring predrilled circular holes spans the window and holds potted greenery in place.
12 The dining table turns into the bed’s base beneath an airy light fixture that Mandi fashioned from brass tubing. 13 Mandi painted the camper’s papered walls and dark laminate cabinets white to brighten the interior. A primer for plastic surfaces was essential. The new door has plexiglass windows and a core pieced from ¼-inch plywood to reduce weight. 14 Wanting to echo the geometry of the light fixture, Mandi devised a floor design based on 30-120-30-degree triangles. She and Court used a miter saw to cut ¼-inch pine and then dryfit the pattern on top of the original linoleum. Two-inch finishing nails hold the triangles in place, and a few coats of satin polycrylic seal the surface. Total cost: $80. 15 Mandi and Court ripped out the closet and replaced it with plexiglassfront library shelves with bottom-locking latches. 16 Mandi cut new, larger cabinet fronts from MDF and trimmed them with ½-inch round molding to highlight playful pulls. 17 They placed 1∕8-inch-thick concrete overlay on top of the laminate countertops and applied a feather finish. Mandi replaced the original two sinks with one, building a bridge faucet from parts she found in the plumbing sections. A white penny tile backsplash affixed with flexible grout adds a finishing touch.
18 Versatile seating was a must. Dann Boyles scored this $10 chair at an antiques store. The tall stool is a perfect perch or side table, indoors or out. 19 New shelving of pipe brackets and weathered boards holds stacks of dishes, matches, and vintage flashlights. When the trailer moves, everything is packed in a nearby cabinet.
20 Dann and partner Chip Minor favor portable furniture that can pull double duty in the trailer. The green-striped chairs and French park table fold flat and can be stowed underneath the bed. Sturdy vintage crates hold drinks or firewood.
21 Working from a 1968 auto paint book, Dann selected the perfect shades of glacier green, white, and red and then painted the camper with his father.
22 Dann and his father, Jody Boyles, installed boxcar paneling with tongue-and-grove joints that flex when the camper is moving. 23 Pillows from Dann and Chip’s collection add a cozy touch to the mattress-in-a-box they bought so they could unroll it inside the camper. 24 For the flooring, Dann selected lightweight floating luxury vinyl that clicks together and doesn’t have to be glued down. It’s easy to clean, virtually indestructible, and waterproof.
27 Natasha customized IKEA brackets and laths to build plant shelves that follow the curving walls. She threw many of the planters, which led to the founding of Sugarhouse Ceramic Co. 25 Building new walls was a process of trial and error that required Natasha Lawyer and Brett Bashaw to learn to use a scribe to get the dividers to fit the curving interior.
26 A daybed serves as seating, work bench, and guest bed with storage below. Inspired by engineered endgrain wood flooring the couple saw in a coffee shop during their van-traveling days, Natasha installed the flooring the length of the trailer.
28 Brett and Natasha parked their Airstream in an
RV park and worked on it while they lived in it, being conscientious to minimize the remodeling noise and mess. They also made sure the deck
and container garden looked inviting. With four six-hour polishing sessions, Brett brought
back the Airstream’s iconic mirror finish.
29 Dave and Kate Malo removed the overhead cabinets above the window and tore out a foldout sofa, replacing it with a bench topped by a leather-look box cushion. Can lights above turn the bench into a reading nook at night. 30 The Malos’ camper came with a lot of storage compartments accessible around the exterior to hold foldable chairs and camping supplies. 31 Thomas and Allie each have a bunk bed and a basket for games and crafts. An overhead cabinet is divided by shelves for their folded clothes. Kate hung a wire basket at the foot of their beds to hold toys, books, and a flashlight.
32 Dave and Kate painted the base cabinets blue and topped them with butcher-block countertops. Peeland-stick surfacing options elevated the backsplash in the cooking area and the flooring throughout the camper. FOR RESOURCES SEE PAGE 101.
NATASHA LAWYER AND BRETT BASHAW’S TIN CAN HOMESTEAD (RUNNING PRESS; $25) OFFERS LESSONS AND LAUGHS, REGARDLESS OF THE TYPE OF CAMPER YOU’RE REMODELING.