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Spirited. That’s how Sue Dooley describes the typical Airstream enthusiast—or Airstreamer as they are affectionately called. And Dooley ought to know. As the VP of Marketing for Airstream, it’s her job to keep tabs on who buys what and why when it comes to these shiny icons of the open road.
“We’ve actually done quite a bit of research on this and we found there were three distinct groups,” Dooley reveals. “Couples who have the time and resources to hit the open road, outdoor enthusiasts who want to get closer to nature, and members of the design community who appreciate its unique aesthetic. However, there’s a common thread among all Airstreamers and that it a spirited sense of self.”
The allure of the Airstream will be explored during the upcoming Modernism Week’s tribute to vintage travel trailers, February 19-21. According to Christy Eugenis, Orbit In creator, Modernism Week committee member, vintage trailer lover and owner, and organizer of the “Vintage Airstream & Trailer Show,” the event will feature both Airstreams and other vintage trailers that have been restored by their owners. All will feature vintage-styled interiors. “We will also have some fun Airstream books and gift items, and some ‘Roadside Attraction’ t-shirts for sale,” says Eugenis.
When asked about the Airstream’s enduring popularity, Eugenis simply says, “It’s such a fun way to enjoy adventures to various destinations, and it’s possible to go to places in the great outdoors that don’t have hotels, but you can have the selection of amenities that you want. Also the older trailers seem to have more quality finishes and fixtures—they don’t make ’em like they used to, as is true about so many things these days. It’s also a relatively inexpensive vacation-home on wheels, and, of course, the person who loves to collect mid-century items has another place to enjoy them—such as their lightweight unbreakable melmac dinnerware.”
There’s no doubt the vintage trailer show is bound to be one of the hottest tickets during Modernism Week, and no wonder. Who hasn’t coveted those silver bullets as they sped along Route 66, a vehicular homage to American ingenuity and an enviable zest for life.
“For people with a sense of adventure, and a sense of style, there really is no substitute,” Dooley agrees. “They are inherently classic, yet modern at the same time.” Not unlike Palm Springs, right?
And when it comes to the ‘cool’ factor, owning an Airstream is downright chill. “It represents an owner who is making a smart investment and who understands great design,” Dooley continues.
Airstream’s unique design, first conjured up by founder Wally Byam back in 1929, includes a low profile with curved corners and an aluminum exterior, both of which contribute to the trailer’s reputation as being aerodynamically superior. “Airstreams are also fairly lightweight,” says Dooley, adding that the design contributes to a 20 percent advantage in towing efficiency over standard “box” trailers. And get this—Airstreams are still made by hand in Jackson Center, Ohio, by a dedicated team of craftsmen.
“We’ve essentially stayed true to our original design because, as Wally Byam said, ‘Let’s not make changes, let’s only make improvements.’ I guess that’s why we’re in the Museum of Modern Art!”
But don’t just take Dooley’s word for it; after all, she’s paid to push her product. Spend 10 minutes talking to a fervent Airstreamer and you’ll come to find Dooley’s enthusiasm is heartfelt and justified.
Portrait of an Airstreamer
Kristiana Spaulding fell in love with Airstream trailers at the ripe old age of seven. “It happened on a cross-country trip with my family, on our journey from New York to California, when I spotted a shiny silver Airstream from the back of our VW bus. I was instantly smitten,” she recalls.
Many years later, while traveling in Idaho with her guy, Greg, she eyed an Airstream for sale on the side of the road. “In the blink of an eye, the trailer joined us on our journey back to California. I was smiling big and wide the entire way, planning, imagining and sketching how I would transform the interior.”
Spaulding, who has a Master of Fine Arts from the Academy of Arts in San Francisco, immediately put her education, training and creativity to work. “I incorporated rounded forms to the interior to match the feel of the exterior,” she explains. “The color palette is actually based on a piece of birch bark that has a surprising array of subtle colors.”
Spaulding’s obsession soon became an artistic vocation, providing a powerful inspiration in her jewelry design business. “My Airstream satiates both my love of travel and love of home—all wrapped up into one fantastic silver package. I head into my silver nest and it both soothes me and stimulates me. It’s a place that represents travel and shelter, comfort and efficiency. My Silver Trailer is a design studio and a showcase for my jewelry and artwork.”
Today, Spaulding is the proud owner of several Airstreams, some of which she makes available for rentals for those hungry to experience a slice-of-life on the road. She will be in town for Modernism Week with one of her prized babies, a 1962 Airstream Bambi 16-footer, named “Norma.” On her website, silvertrailer.com, one can find ample information about Spaulding’s jewelry and trailers, including the story behind each Airstream—how she found it, what inspired her redesign and fun photos of trips she’s taken and other Airstreamers.
When trying to define an Airstreamer, they are anything but typical, says Spaulding. “The Airstreamers I have met are of varying ages and backgrounds,” she explains. “I suppose I can tell you about the Airstreamers that I tend to bond with, the dog lovers. In particular, there are a growing number of women who are buying their own Airstreams and towing them around the country, myself included. A group of us in California camp together at a different location once a year and have a great time. Some of us are married, some single, some divorced, kids, no kids. In the end, we all share a love of shiny silver things, a love of travel, a love of dogs and, of course, a love of our Airstreams. It makes for a fun weekend and a great group of girlfriends.”
Event organizer Eugenis calls this ‘glamping.’ “It’s a step up from camping,” she explains. “As far as I know this term was coined first by two sisters who started a fun membership organization called ‘Sisters on the Fly’—they organize these amazing fly fishing trips for women and their vintage travel trailers.”
You mean ‘glamping’ isn’t a glamorous drag queen cruising for a hook-up?
If You Go— “Vintage Airstream & Trailer Show” opens Friday, February 19 at 4 pm (exteriors only) at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Dr. On Saturday, February 20, there will be three interior tours: 10 am, noon and 2 pm. The show wraps up Sunday, February 21 at noon. Interior tours are $10. For more information on Modernism Week, visit modernismweek.com. For information on Kristiana Spaulding, visit silvertrailer.com, for Airstreams, visit airstream.com, and for Sisters on the Fly, check out sistersonthefly.com.