Vintage Airstream trailers have become hip in several elite circles, including the design set and Hollywood acting community, according to a report in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
Florida interior decorator Nikki Couture, 34, and her husband, Stephen, 36, recently bought what many others might see as a relic from mid 20th century America.
Their 1956 Airstream Safari – purchased for $3,500 from a private owner in Kentucky – came with its original built-in cabinetry and vintage appliances.
They updated considerably, adding hardwood floors, a tent-like canvas awning and khaki bark-cloth curtains that mimic the originals.
Couture isn’t alone in her love of the campers, designed in the 1920s by Stanford Law School grad and born traveler Wallace Merle Byam, who sold $5 plans and trailer kits from the backyard of his Los Angeles home.
Once called the “Silver Palace on Wheels” and “The Land Yacht,” the first handcrafted assembly-line Airstream was launched in 1936.
Christened “the Clipper,” the trailer incorporated wind-resistant aircraft technology and carried its own water supply.
It was also considered a marvel of technology: With the trailers wired for electricity, consumers could upgrade them to include air-conditioning – supplied by a dry ice system.
These days, the Airstream has taken on a newfound glamour, a sort of second bloom among the hip, design-conscious or merely nostalgic.
Big names have fallen hard for its silvery-cool lines, including designer Ralph Lauren, who recently overhauled and decorated four vintage models that were sold for charity for about $150,000 apiece.
Actor Matthew McConaughey is designing one for himself after spending three months in a beachfront Airstream rental just off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef where he was shooting the upcoming movie Fool’s Gold with Kate Hudson.
And Airstream commemorated its 75th anniversary with an ultrastylish travel trailer designed by David Winick, who looked to the trailer’s origins when creating a retro interior that includes 1940s upholstery tailoring, aluminum surfaces, round vents and yacht-style details, like porthole windows.
And a number of groups exist devoted solely to the love of Airstreams, including the Vintage Airstream Club and the Wally Byam Caravan Club International. Enthusiasts even have their own magazine – and a visually beautiful one, at that – Airstream Life Magazine.
Airstreams are still made by hand the way they were in the 1930s, though the insides are more Danish Modern than the first models, which were designed with interiors that mimicked the shiny exteriors.
Still, some longtime RV enthusiasts say the glamour part is just a small niche that has secured a foothold mostly among people who can afford to buy vintage vehicles and rehab them.
“It’s definitely a celebrity type of thing,” says Mike Vaughn, whose in-laws, along with other Airstream enthusiasts, started the Travelers Rest Resort, a shareholder-owned RV park 3 miles west of Interstate 75 in Dade City.
Though about half of the park’s 681 sites are home to Airstream owners – many of whom spend the entire winter at the park – he says none of those trailers are “vintage” in the hip sense of the word, though some enthusiasts have owned their Airstreams for years.