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
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."