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> > archived articles      > write for core! be famous!

Go West - (or north or anywhere- just go!)
By Kristin Bakker

As an icon of American summers, Airstream is right up there with baseball.

Yet travel trailers and young people traditionally haven't mixed. In fact, the average first-time travel trailer buyer is 64 years old. But Airstream, like any smart company intent on survival, is courting the younger set and its sense of adventure, using great design as its primary attraction.

Airstream's super-cool exterior has always had appeal. But its carpeted, paneled interior? Not so timeless. To improve the look and functionality of the 16-foot classic Bambi trailer, Airstream hired San Francisco architect and designer Christopher C. Deam.

Chris' design philosophy lies in what is stripped away-in what is direct, honest and essential. He also is interested in designing objects that are versatile and transportable, meeting the demands of today's on-the-go, individualized culture. Airstream and Chris, it seems, were a perfect match.

"Trailers are all about a self-contained, efficient, pared-down space," says Chris. "It's this focus on essentials that enables adventure, which was my ultimate goal. I wanted to strip down the interior until you couldn't take anything else away without losing something essential. I also wanted to lessen the disconnect between the inside and the outside of the trailer. When you're in the new Bambi, you know without a doubt you're in an Airstream. The older models don't have that feel - they didn't create a vocabulary for the interior that spoke about independence and life on the road the way the exterior always has."

Chris' most essential design change involved exposing the interior aluminum walls, which in turn makes the trailer feel bigger, bounces light and simplifies cleaning. While he didn't alter the shape of the outer shell, he did redesign the windows. Colorful laminates also brighten the space and add character. "My interest in versatility comes from my dislike of being told how to act or use something," says Chris. "I like to design things that empower the people who use them rather than the people who make them. If you don't design things this way today, they won't be very interesting or have a very long life span."

Life span is an essential consideration. Sixty percent of all Airstreams built since Wally Byam founded the company in 1934 are still in commission.

During World War II, Byam worked in the aircraft industry. After the war, he applied to Airstream what he learned about aluminum fabrication and design-things like lessening wind resistance and improving strength-to-weight ratio.

"When the first Airstreams came out, they were so forward-looking and -thinking," says Chris. "They embodied the American spirit and optimism and sense of adventure. I was initially skeptical of trailer camping, but I began to see the freedom and spontaneity in being able to pick up and go some-where, having everything you need. The trailer becomes a tool."

photos courtesy of
Inside Design

A new generation of enthusiasts

Chris, a surfer, says that while working on the design he kept thinking about how he could use the Bambi. "I began to fully realize what an amazing vehicle it would be for exploring the coast with my surf-board," says Chris. "The Bambi represents to me this active pursuit of something, but it would also be a great tool for finding some solitude and reading a book. There are so many different uses, even apart from traveling, like as a guest house or office space. I think the potential for the younger market is huge."

Toby Folwick, a 31-year-old website developer and writer in Minneapolis, agrees. As a futuristics minor in college, he predicted that Airstream trailers would become increasingly popular with people under 60. The investment potential paired with his childhood fascination with Airstreams prompted Folkwick four years ago to buy a 1960 Tradewind. He is now in the process of gutting and restoring the vintage trailer. "Initially I was just completely taken with the design- it looks like World War II planes and just kind of says high tech and American pride," says Toby."Then I got hooked on the whole phenomenon of the Airstream subculture. I was just a kid when my dad pointed to an Airstream on the highway and told me 'If you have one of those you have friends everywhere in the country.' And it's true. Through email and rallies and trips I've met so many amazing people, all with this sense of youth and adventure, no matter how old they are."

Toby's personal Airstream vision, once his Tradewind is fully restored? "I definitely want to do some caravans and traveling. But the real reason I bought it is so I can teach writing during the school year then take my Airstream to an island in Lake Superior to live and write during the summers. It's essentially going to become my summer home."

Reprinted from izzygo, Summer 2002, a new catazine designed to promote an ongoing exchange of ideas with people about the way they work in today's New Workstyles. Published by izzydesign and created by Square One Design, Copyright 2002. Based in Grand Rapids, Mich., izzydesign combines simple, affordable furniture and seating design with advanced engineering and lean manufacturing capabilities.
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