The following is a reprint of an interview featured in The BUND, a design magazine in Shanghai China:
According an article you said you had been dreaming up how you wanted to execute your project, seeing the NASA trailer helped to fine-tune your vision. Then what’s the most inspiring thing you find after you saw the NASA’s 1968 Airstream trailer?
I was trying to approach the project as if I was a designer from 1968. This was the space age, and the idea of space travel influenced a lot of terrestrial design as well. I imagined the Airstream as a futuristic camping vehicle for the moon, but limited my material choices to those available in 1968. The result feels modern, but vintage as well.
During the whole project, what is the most difficult and challenging part?
This may not be the most interesting, but the most difficult part was working on the plumbing. The copper tubing used in the Airstream was an unusal size, so no commonly available plumbing parts would work. I talked to a lot of plumbers before I got any useful advice. Other than that, I can’t say I really found any of the project difficult.
Is there any interesting moment in the process? Please share with our readers.
The attention the Airstream received was never ending. People were constantly stopping by as we were working on it. Some had stories of owning one, or more often, about their parents owning one. Some even offered help with the renovation. One particular gentleman was once a truck driver for the Grateful Dead. He explained how he used to keep the chrome on his truck polished, then proceeded to give lessons on how to polish the Airstream. He really knew what he was doing, and our work instantly improved!
What’s the most special and satisfied part in your design?
The globe. It’s a small detail, but it’s my favorite. I searched for a long time to find the perfect size, era, and color palette. I purchased several vintage globes before finding this one from J. Chein & Co. It’s difficult to see in the photos, but there is a red metal arrow pointing to a miniature Airstream. As the globe spins, the Airstream remains stationary, as if it is travelling around the world (to Shanghai!)
What’s the biggest difference after the renovation?
Our original Airstream was designed to sleep six adults, along with their food, clothing, etc. This did not leave much space for comfort. Our design will only sleep two, but there is plenty of room to work, or Yoga on a rainy day. Before we delivered it to our client we had a party inside! (The client was inivited of course!)
How did you find all these furniture in the trailer? Did you do it yourself?
I designed everything you see inside the trailer, and we built it in our woodshop in Berkeley California. All of the cabinetry and furniture is Walnut, with Formica tops. There are many pictures of the furniture in progress on my blog (www.ableandbakerdesign.blogspot.com).
What’s the principle of your design? And we found that your team are doing “green” work, is that one of the characteristics in your work?
I try to follow many of the principals of “Green” building, and I think one of the best ways to do that, is to design something that people want to keep for a long time, as opposed to so much of the “disposable” furniture out there, or the homes that get remodeled every 10 years. I also want to aim for the everyday consumer, who is perhaps not aware enough to be “eco-conscious”, and may want to buy something just because it’s “cool”. My goal is to design objects made with green materials, but are “cool” enough to appeal to the mass consumer. I’d rather people purchase the right thing for the wrong reasons, than not purchase the right thing at all.
You and your team actually have accomplished many other projects in different fields. Could you introduce your team and some projects to our readers?
My wife and partner in the company Jen Zahigian is an accomplished photographer. Her work can be seen in magazines and galleries throughout California. Nick Van Anda is an amazing person. Before working for us, he worked at a Rolls-Royce restoration shop, fabricating obsolete car parts. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met, and is a great problem solver. Phil Ebner grew up between Texas and Germany, where he was trained as a cabinet builder and carpenter. After finishing school in Germany, he worked in California and Hawaii building homes for the Habitat For Humanity, which builds affordable housing for people in need. Besides this incredible team, we work with an array of craftsmen and fabricators, depending on the job. Most of our projects are in the field of residential construction and furniture, but generally include something unusual. We’ve worked on historical projects, as well as celebrity homes.
Among all your work, which one is your favorite? And why?
At the request of my Father-in-Law, I built a treehouse in his backyard. It sits high on a hillside, with a view across a beautiful valley, and is large enough to sleep myself and my three nephews.
What kind of project do you want to have a try most in the future?
The next project I’d like to do is a custom motorcylce. I am attracted to mid-1960’s Kawasakis and English motorcycles, and would like to build one with custom wood fenders, farings, and touring boxes. Other than that, I really want the opportunity to design a house, a boat, or private jet for one of my clients. Most of my work has been in California, though I have also worked in New York and Canada, and I am hoping my work will eventually take me around the world.