Taking a design dream for a spin

Wally Byam's classic Airstream has been retooled as a $50,000 luxury camper.

Christopher Deam, in collaboration with Design Within Reach, stripped away changes made in the Airstream since its introduction in 1936 to emphasize its clean lines, especially inside, because "the interiors never lived up to the promise of the exterior."

San Francisco designer Christopher Deam has remade the iconic Airstream trailer, using a mix of modern and classic pieces: A Nelson ball clock and Paul Smith upholstery fabrics are among the touches inside.

Yet the man who's credited with rejuvenating the Airstream brand confesses that until he started retooling the classic aluminum trailer, he'd never been inside a camper.

"A lot of people are surprised to hear that," says Deam. "But I'm a surfer, a cyclist, skier, and outdoors person. I've done a lot of tent camping. At this point, I've also stayed at the Four Seasons, and I think both of those experiences are equally important when you're designing a trailer. It's a hybrid tool for travel in a gracious manner, and you need to have your feet in both worlds to do it."

Deam's Airstream is a design-lover's fantasy. He has teamed with retailer Design Within Reach to create the nearly $50,000 luxury trailer, which also includes a Tom Dixon coat rack, Heller dinnerware, and Matteo linens.

On the surface, the marriage of Deam's Airstream and DWR's inventory seems almost too easy. But Deam says he was judicious in his use of classic pieces, primarily because he didn't want this Airstream to become a mid-century time capsule.

What he's done with his latest Airstream - and the five previous models he designed - is to strip away many of the changes made since the trailer was introduced in 1936 by Wally Byam.

The interior of the classic aluminum shell was hidden behind paneling, and the all-aluminum and glass windows had been replaced with rubber and plastic. Deam went back into Airstream's archives to find original parts and to reintroduce the Airstream as an all-aluminum trailer.

"There was a lot of thought put into how to make the experience better," Deam says. "The interiors never lived up to the promise of the exterior.

"A lot of the ideas and changes were intended to more closely connect someone with the experience of camping, rather than to insulate them from it. Exposing the aluminum skin on the interior really shows the quality of the hand-riveted shell. It also reflects the color of the environment you're in," he says. "If you're camping in the forest, the light reflected inside the aluminum is a green tone. And the light is completely different when you're at the beach."

People who travel in Airstreams are a notoriously dedicated - and fickle - cult. But Bruce Littlefield, author of the 2005 book Airstream Living, says Deam's changes to the camper have been embraced by them.

"It feels bigger, brighter, and shinier on the inside," says Littlefield. "He's really stripped it back and added things like a glass cooktop and a computer workstation. It's completely opened up Airstream to a younger audience."

Deam's foray into trailers was inspired by a renovation of his brother's 675-square-foot cottage. Deam looked at the interior of boats and campers to come up with the design for the home. A magazine subsequently referred to the renovated home as the "Airstream cottage."

After he read the article, Deam approached the Airstream's manufacturer about working on the campers.

He's now working on his next project for Airstream. "It's top secret" is all he'll say.

As a trailer owner, Deam is on his second Airstream.

"A couple of weeks ago, I bought a 1959 Airstream that I'm going to renovate to take to Burning Man [a yearly art festival in Nevada] at the end of the summer," he says.

"I think I've become fond of Airstream because it's a very democratic notion - the idea that anyone can take to the road in a well-designed package."