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
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.
The Airstream Photos You’ve Been Waiting For!
(NOTE: We know many of you have already seen these photos. We originally posted this on Feb.20, 2010 — when we moved our blog to Tumblr in January 2012, this post found it’s way back to the top!)
Our Airstream adventure began one year ago when we received the phone call from Austin, Texas, asking if we’d be interested in the project. The real fun began 6 months later with an unforgettable roadtrip to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to pick up the trailer: A 1968 Airstream Ambassador Twin.
The project was a big endeavor, beginning with a crash course in Airstream Culture and History. Throughout the construction, we met many fun, interesting and enthusiastic people who stopped by out of curiosity, or to offer advice (some of it useful!). We gave a lot of ourselves to the project, but the opportunity to design and build such an exotic piece was a gift in itself.
Please enjoy these photos and descriptions of some of our favorite features.
The desk area near the kitchen appliances contains a built-in laptop or iPod input, and offers plenty of room to spread out books, paper, and even a portable microscope, should your journey call for that.
Although the Control Panel is original to the Airstream, it was rewired and relocated.
Party ready, the lower section of the wardrobe cabinet houses a Sony sound system and JBL 8” powered sub, part of the great sounding JBL 5.1 speaker system mounted throughout.
This concludes today’s tour of the Able + Baker custom Airstream.
We hope you enjoyed yourself immensely...
Heartwood Woodworking Cooperative
Mel & Angie Dagovitz, generous owners of the Kawneer (Sawtooth) Building
Judy, our gracious host and Airstream Project enthusiast
All Star Garage Door
(if you live in Southern California and need a garage door, call them!)
Kevin and Patrick for their fine photographic work
Able And Baker at the Emmys
Each frame is:
+ Made with FSC (Forestry Stewardship) certified ply
+ Hand Finished with an Organic Beeswax blend, revealing a naturally rich wood grain
+ Includes Framer’s Grade Acrylic and felt bumpers
+ Handcrafted in our woodshop
(This week enter Autumn30 at checkout to get 30% Off!)
Want to order a large quantity, or Need a Custom Size? Let us know.
(Thanks to Janeen at ecofirstart.com for inviting us to participate)
Bath Remodel in a Mid-Century Home
The first time I entered I swear I heard the ghost of Dolly Parton singing “9 to 5”
…but it turned out like this
Check out the cool way we put in the skylight, and incorporated lighting & fan.
Einstein would’ve been proud of the consistently inconsistent pattern.
Before and After…
View more in-progress photos here.
Vanity. You probly think this blog is about you.
So here’s a step-by-step of the final evolution. There were many pieces that came before these, but we’ll start at the point when I began to like the direction things were going. The earlier renditions may still be usable for another job.
This is probably the most straightforward, with a little Deco influence. The sinks and faucets had already been purchased, and the vanity had to fit between the tub and a wall, so the dimensions were relatively fixed.
I like incorporating various materials, especially metal. This one leans casually against the wall. I could imagine it smoking a cigarette.
The legs evolve
“Show me some more leg”
No doors, no cabinet sides.
With the cabinet open, it reveals the box framework that wraps the whole unit. As you can see, there are 2 wooden “straps” that appear to hang the cabinet and drawers from the counter top.
No back, Metal frame
The “straps” are more evident here, when made from metal. You can see how the outside vertical straps are connected by a small horizontal beam at the bottom that supports both open cabinets, and the drawers.
Version 1.8 with white doors
I may have actually designed this one before 1.8.
Feel free to comment on your favorite version.
This week on HOW ITS MADE: Airstream Kitchens
Our Airstream client wanted a minimal place to prepare food. We gave him a small convection oven (microwaves just don’t make good food) a fridge with separate freezer, and one of those water boiling electric teapots.
In the following photos, the bulk of the cabinetry is complete, so it’s mostly just pictures of us applying the Formica tops.
The final touch, the standard plastic trailer molding from Vintage Trailer Supply.
Pocket Door in the Making
I just saw the most recent issue of Sunset magazine and found someone else that converted an Airstream into an office, so it seemed like an appropriate time to revisit our own recent Airstream project.
After we finished our project, we got a chance to show it a couple of times, and one of the most common questions about the interior was, “Where did you get all of these cabinets, and how did you get it to fit so well?”, or “So what part did you do? Did you just find a way to move around the interior and make it fit?”
The simple answer is that we custom fabricated nearly the entire interior (excluding the bathroom sink and tub), and as proof, we thot we would show a few samples of the work in progress, beginning with the interior pocket door.
This is a “Go-bar” table. Kind of an old-fashioned way to keep something flat.
Now that it’s gone, and I don’t get to see it any more, I kinda forget how bad-ass our work is.
Our Airstream Project on Casa Sugar
The Airstream Video
In the spirit of travel, thought we’d start with a moving picture…
Thanks to Kevin and Patrick for being excited enough about the project
to make this video happen.
Apartment Therapy! , & Airstream Open House!
Good news. The loft I designed and built in Oakland is featured on Apartment Therapy (.com).
In response to a couple of the comments about the sheetrock and ceilings, I thought I would post a few pics that show the framing in progress.
This was easily the most complex thing I’ve ever framed. It’s basically a series of arched steel trusses, similar to a bridge, joined by ribs. I wish I had a photo looking straight up from the floor. That was one of the coolest views.
Obviously, my drywaller is pretty talented.
In AIRSTREAM news:
There will be an Official Open House for the AIRSTREAM the weekend of December 12-13th, which will correspond with the Berkeley Open Studios. Conveniently enough, the open studios takes place at the Sawtooth Building in Berkeley, which happens to be the same location as our shop and the Airstream.
By the way, this blogging website has changed the way things are entered and formatted, and I can’t get it to display images properly. I’m not much of a computer guy, and unfortunately, I feel like the computer does a good job of making work that would otherwise seem impressive look pretty dumb.
Able + Baker Design