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Restoring vintage trailer is pet project for husband-wife design team


May 11, 2012

Three-year-old Ava Carman enjoys hanging out in her parentsí restored vintage Airstream trailer as much as they do. "Itís sort of like a fort for grown-ups," Aaron Carman says.

Aaron Carman likens owning a vintage Airstream trailer to owning a classic car, both for the wow factor on the open road and the ongoing maintenance issues. He and wife Amy found the 1971 Airstream about five years ago on eBay ó it was in a barn in Eau Claire ó and have been restoring it ever since.

Aaron, a cabinet maker turned project manager for a commercial design-build firm, and Amy, owner of Amy Carman Design, gutted the trailer to the metal skeleton, purging the avocado green appliances and dark walnut paneling, and redid the interior into a fresh, bright and functional space.

"As a designer, Iím always intrigued by small spaces," Amy Carman says. "It forces you to be creative and resourceful and make the most of every inch."

"There is not a straight line anywhere," Aaron Carman says of the Airstream interior. "Itís the kind of project that takes 10 times longer than youíd expect. Itís a challenge from a design standpoint but also from an engineering standpoint. How are we going to make this work?"

Theyíve included all the modern conveniences ó flat-screen TV, Corian counters and updated appliances ó and added lots of storage for camping trips with daughter Ava, 3.

A former cabinet maker, Aaron Carman negotiated the Airstreamís curves in restoring the interior. He used lightweight Paulownia wood to craft a sculptural wall inside the trailer.

Amy Carman punctuated the neutral interior with orange bursts of color. "It lent itself to something really modern and really creative. It was a chance to do some things we canít get away with in our own home," Amy Carman says.

"The biggest challenge was dealing with stuff we werenít so well-versed in," Aaron Carman says. "Plumbing is an ongoing battle with a 40-year-old vintage trailer."

The luxe interior is nearly overshadowed by the shiny aluminum of the trailerís exterior. The Wauwatosa couple decided they werenít up for the polishing, which took a couple of months by a craftsman in Illinois. "It takes about eight hours to do one lineal foot," Aaron Carman says of the labor-intensive process.

Theyíve become quite the attraction on the road and at campgrounds by fellow trailer enthusiasts. "There is a whole subculture of people you can connect with if you want to. We didnít know we were buying into it when we got it," Aaron Carman says. "We are pretty low-key people, so it sort of doesnít fit with our personalities," Amy Carman says, but she and Aaron say they are enjoying the hospitality of other campers and the new world into which their Airstream has brought them.

Interior designer Amy Carman says the interior has a peaceful and fun feel to it with its soothing sage green color scheme accented by lively orange.



This story ran in the October 2011 issue of: