Even if you've never heard of an Airstream you probably know what they look like. These iconic travel trailers from the 1950s have become a hot commodity for renovation into beautiful, lightweight, tiny homes. Kate Oliver is the author of the new book The Modern Caravan, which tells the stories of beautiful Airstream conversions and the people who live in them through words and gorgeous photographs. Kate’s journey started with a DIY Airstream renovation that led to starting a company and she shares some great advice on finding and renovating vintage Airstream trailers.
In This Episode:
- Renovation challenges: curved walls and wheels
- What is a shell-off renovation (and why do you want one)?
- How durable is an Airstream?
- Shopping for an Airstream? Remember this advice
- Our opinions on the future of the nomad trend
Links and Resources:
- Michael Newsted
- Laura Guidry and Marc Bilbao’s Airstream
- Lloyd Kahn
- The Modern Caravan on Instagram
Kate Oliver is a designer, writer, photographer, and author of the book The Modern Caravan: Stories of Love, Beauty and Adventure on the Open Road. She lived on the road with her wife and daughter for four years in a vintage Airstream and is now renovating a small house and studio in the woods. She and her wife are the founders of The Modern Caravan, a company that builds and inspires caravan renovations. Together, they have converted many caravans into beautiful, functional rolling homes.
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Kate loves using bender board plywood to warm up the interior
The curvature of an Airstream's walls provided some great opportunities for ingenuity
Most renovation projects are painted original aluminum walls
Traditional white walls can make the inside feel more spacious
Kate loves polishing the outside to a mirror shine
The cost of Airstreams has gone up considerably due to their rising poplularity
The Modern Caravan showcases nomads and their stories
Kate and Ellen's first conversion was their 1957 Airstream
Kate Oliver 0:00
I know that there are a lot of Airstream renovators that if they hear this they're gonna be like, "Are you nuts?" But no, there's something really relaxing about moving that polisher over the skin. I love the work of it. I put my headphones in, I listen to podcasts, I listen to music, and just go.
Ethan Waldman 0:15
Even if you've never heard of an Airstream you probably know what they look like. These iconic travel trailers from the 1950s have become a hot commodity for renovation into beautiful, lightweight, tiny homes. Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 212 with Kate Oliver. Kate is the author of the new book The Modern Caravan, telling the stories of beautiful Airstream conversions and the people who live in them through words and gorgeous photographs. Kate and her wife and daughter started off their journey by renovating an Airstream and living on the road for several years. I'm excited to share our conversation with you where we get into the nitty gritty of finding and renovating a vintage Airstream trailer.
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All right, I am here with Kate Oliver. Kate Oliver is a designer, writer, photographer and author of the book The Modern Caravan Stories of Love, Beauty, and Adventure on the Open Road. She lived on the road with her wife and daughter for four years in a vintage Airstream and is now renovating a small house and studio in the woods. She and her wife are the founders of The Modern Caravan, a company that builds and inspires caravan renovations. Together, they have converted many caravans into beautiful, functional rolling homes. Kate over Welcome to the show.
Kate Oliver 2:36
Thanks for having me.
Ethan Waldman 2:37
You're very welcome. I've been really excited to have you on. I have a copy of The Modern Caravan. And it's it's a really beautiful book. I've really enjoyed looking through it reading the stories of the various people you profiled and just the beautiful photography.
Kate Oliver 2:52
Thank you so much. Yeah, it's, it was a long, it's been a long time coming, actually been working on it for four years, so to have it and be able to hold it and share it with people. It's a little surreal.
Ethan Waldman 3:07
Yeah, I'll bet. I'm curious. You know, I want to kind of rewind back, you know, before you started the company and all that, you know. How did you end up in a caravan? Or I guess my question is written is how did you end up in an Airstream? But I've noticed that you use the word caravan. And that seems intentional.
Kate Oliver 3:30
It is very intentional. Yeah. But to to back up and answer your question. I in 2014, like early 2014, you know, before #vanlife. You know, my wife and I had really been questioning the way that we were living our lives. And we were talking about what it meant to live an intentional and purposeful life. And what that would look like for us. And so we defined it first. We said that what we wanted was more time together as a family. We wanted time to create. Both of us are artists. We wanted. We wanted to feel like we could experience things. We were in this tiny town in Kentucky and we were just like, "There's got to be more." And, you know, we also each had individual reasons. For me, I had a really rough childhood and my early adult years were really, really difficult for me. And I was just sort of emerging from all of that and just like, "Wait, like, what do I want? Who am I?" You know, I had these really big questions that I wanted to answer. And, and my wife was she had sort of followed the checklist. She had done all of the things that she was supposed to do - get the job and buy the house and you know, and she wasn't satisfied in that. And so like all of those reasons, it wasn't like there was just this one. There were there were many individual and shared reasons and but there wasn't like this answer. We just were like, "We want something else that's not this." And when we decided that we wanted to travel, it was me. I found this, this photographer named Michael Newsted. And he was traveling with his band, and they were touring. And they were, he's taking all these beautiful film photographs, and I got sucked into the imagery. And then I was looking at somebody, maybe in the band had a little girl that they were bringing with them on tour. And I was like, "Oh, wait, okay, we could do that. We have a little girl." She was about the same age. And I was like, it it was that was it. It was like, we're gonna go, we're gonna travel. And so I texted my wife and I said, "Do you want to, you want to do this? You want to sell all of our stuff and go hit the road?" And she said, "Yes." And I was I was shocked. But yeah, we were both just right from the beginning, this is what we are going to do. And then we decided on an Airstream. We looked at, we looked at school buses. At the time skoolies were not what they are now. And there were a lot of campgrounds that didn't even allow them in. I don't know if that's still the case. But at the time, you know, we just didn't want to be limited in where we could go. And so we're like, okay, let's maybe look at a pull behind something that we can, you know, we needed to safely have our kid in the car. And so like a big RV didn't feel like the right option. So let's do a pull behind. And you know, and then it was we came across Airstreams and it was like yes, that's it. The vintage models especially really spoke to me. They were so iconic and so beautiful. And for two artists, the aesthetics of something is important. And we knew that we could make the interior whatever we wanted. So to start with that like solid exterior that was so beautiful. That's where we landed.
Ethan Waldman 6:55
Nice. And so what what year Airstream? What size Airstream? Can you tell us a little bit more about your about your rig?
Kate Oliver 7:04
Yeah, so it was a 1957 Airstream Overlander. It's 27 feet long, it was a single axle, which was terrifying a lot of the time to have 27 feet on a single axle. But gosh, that you can't beat those beautiful vintage models.
Ethan Waldman 7:19
Yeah. 1957. So what, what kind of, I would imagine that like, axles and springs and wheels and tires, and all kinds of things need to be upgraded, or at least maintained on a on a trailer that old?
Kate Oliver 7:35
Yeah, absolutely. We had everything inspected. So we had, you know, at the time, we knew nothing about any of this. I didn't even know how to use a drill properly. So the fact that we run this business, just shows how far we've come. But I mean, Ellen had a lot of building experience, but neither of us had experience with things like axles and, and leaf springs. And so we had this, you know, we had the leaf springs inspected. I remember that and then, and they were fine. And then you know, but we upgraded. We put on new tires, and you know, repacked the bearings and all of that. So, yeah, I mean, now every single project that comes through us would get everything new. We don't even we don't say, "Okay, yeah, this is good enough." We, we just changed it out. Yeah. But at the time, we were on such a small budget that we were like, "Okay, let's make it work. If we have to replace something, we will but if we don't, let's not."
Ethan Waldman 8:34
Got it. Got it. So you were kind of piecemealing this trailer. And so when you say that any project that comes through, you will have these things new. So do you still kind of specialize in renovating these vintage Airstreams?
Kate Oliver 8:51
Yes, yeah, that's primarily what we work with. Although right now we are working with a new Airstream. We're working with a 2019 which was the first time that we've done that, you know, so that obviously, everything was still it had never even been used. So you know, it was a little bit different. But yeah, everything else that we have done has been you know, pre 1994.
Ethan Waldman 9:14
Cool. So with your particular Airstream. How long did it take to to convert into, you know what you ended up traveling in?
Kate Oliver 9:27
It took us a year and then some. It was a year from the day - it's so strange, but the day that we bought it was May 29, 2014. And then the day that we moved into it and or rather left, left Kentucky was May 29, 2015. It was like a year to the date and it wasn't planned that way. Just happened to be that way. And then we continued to do some work on it like as we were traveling, which was really challenging but, but there was still more things to do like when we left we didn't have any plumbing done, we didn't. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I and I initially I did it wrong when I did the plumbing. And so we had to redo the plumbing.
Ethan Waldman 10:09
Oh, no. So the thing I think that is aesthetically beautiful about Airstreams, other than that, that beautiful metal exterior is something that also, to my eye, makes them very challenging looking to renovate. Which is that there are no there's, there's like, no 90 degree angles anywhere. Everything seems like everything is curved inside. So yeah. Can you talk about some of the, like, special considerations or special things that that you've learned about, you know, converting these or renovating these trailers?
Kate Oliver 10:47
Well, there's a lot. But to speak to the curvature of the Airstream. So that was the that was the big challenge when building, you know, it's like, how do you build a cabinet that is up against a curve, you know? And then really, what it comes down to is, you know, heavy use of a jigsaw.
Ethan Waldman 11:04
Kate Oliver 11:05
You know, you and marking where it needs to be cut, you know, um, at first, we used a lot of templates.
Ethan Waldman 11:13
Kate Oliver 11:13
but now we have this tool that we can actually like, mark the curve with.
Ethan Waldman 11:18
Kate Oliver 11:18
But at first, we used a lot of cardboard templates, and a lot of, you know, trial and error, a washer with pencil stuck through it, you know, to mark on the you know, because you can run that along the curve.
Ethan Waldman 11:32
Kate Oliver 11:33
And then it's on the piece of plywood. Not explaining that very well. But yeah, so that was huge. And then also, there's nothing is level, you know, there's nothing is ever perfectly level in any sort of anything on wheels. So, you know, we had to learn how to lower our standards of perfectionism a little bit and just be like, "Actually, that's going to look like it's level. It's going to function like it's level, but it's not actually level."
Ethan Waldman 12:04
Kate Oliver 12:06
Yeah. Those were big things.
Ethan Waldman 12:08
Yeah, I remember that when I was building my tiny house to like,
Kate Oliver 12:11
Ethan Waldman 12:11
we'd kind of put a level to the floor, and then see that that was like slightly off. And then when you're putting in the countertop, you just kind of like, "Okay, let's just make sure it's off the same amount."
Kate Oliver 12:22
Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I yeah, there's just it's, there are just different considerations that we have to make when building a tiny home of any kind.
Ethan Waldman 12:32
Yeah, yeah. And what about, you know, insulation, heating and cooling stuff? When when these are renovated, do you generally rip them down to the frame and then kind of build back up on the inside?
Kate Oliver 12:47
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, everything is ripped down to the, to the frame. And you know, so it's like you can any, any one of our projects, like you'll be able to stand inside of it and your feet can be on the earth, but your know, your legs are through the bars of the chassis and then you're looking at the exposed, you know, they call them ribs on an Airstream. So all of this interior structure is ribs, and then this exterior skin.
Ethan Waldman 13:12
Kate Oliver 13:13
So yeah, we take everything down. We also now offer shell-off renovations so we actually because we have a studio, the shell actually is raised up and the chassis is moved out. And then we have a welder come out and do any sort of repairs to the chassis and then you know, the sub floor goes on and then we put all the tanks then at that time. It's so much easier to do it that way and also will make us more structurally sound project. But it is more work to get the shell off initially, but it's it's so worth it.
Ethan Waldman 13:49
Wow. Yeah, that's that's a big - that sounds like a big job. But that's cool that the shell can come off.
Kate Oliver 13:55
Yeah, it's it's pretty wild to come into the studio. And it's so fun when we have people over to look at what we're doing and we've got - we're in that stage. Because they come in and they're like, "Oh my gosh!" You know, it's like this you know, it's just hanging from the ceiling and then the rest of it is over to the side you know. I it kind of blows people's minds a little bit to see it all dismantled like that, and then to know that it can be put back together and you know, and then be built out and I think that yeah, it's it's fun to see people's reactions to that.
Ethan Waldman 14:27
Yeah, and so the, the exterior of these are... Is it is it stainless steel or aluminum?
Kate Oliver 14:34
Ethan Waldman 14:35
Aluminum, okay. So it's very light and doesn't corrode.
Kate Oliver 14:39
It's very light. It doesn't and and it can polish up to a mirror shine, which is really beautiful.
Ethan Waldman 14:45
Kate Oliver 14:45
That's, that's actually one of my favorite tasks. I know that there are a lot of Airstream renovators that if they hear this, they're gonna be like, "Are you nuts?" And no, there's something really relaxing about moving that polisher over the skin and I'll let you know, you know, and just doing I mean, yeah, I love the work of it. I put my headphones in, I listen to podcasts, I listen to music and just go and yeah, it's, it's one of my favorite parts of the whole thing.
Ethan Waldman 15:13
All right. Do you also enjoy painting?
Kate Oliver 15:16
I don't enjoy painting.
Ethan Waldman 15:17
Kate Oliver 15:18
I know, I know. It doesn't make any sense. I do enjoy staining though. So
Ethan Waldman 15:22
Kate Oliver 15:23
Ethan Waldman 15:24
Close enough. I feel like there's like, people who enjoy those kinds of repetitive tasks and those who don't.
Kate Oliver 15:30
Yeah, there are and I think with painting, I just make such a mess. Like, I get paint everywhere and all over me, and I'm dripping it everywhere, you know, with stain or polish. Like it's a little less messy. I think that's probably why I don't why there's, you know, I don't fully fit into that category of liking those monotonous tasks.
Ethan Waldman 15:48
Kate Oliver 15:50
Ethan Waldman 15:50
So speaking of paint, it looks like many of the air streams are, you know, painted painted walls. And what is it looks like a Luan or some kind of light, you know, thin plywood that you use on the inside.
Kate Oliver 16:06
So actually, most of our projects are the original aluminum walls, and we just paint them.
Ethan Waldman 16:13
Kate Oliver 16:14
But we also have done and are doing currently projects with what it's known as bender board ply, which has the cross grain allows it to bend. Like you can literally pick up a piece of plywood and it's flexing.
Ethan Waldman 16:26
Kate Oliver 16:27
And so that allows us to work with the curvature. So we did that on a project that we did in Arizona, and then we're doing that, or we have done that for our current clients. And that's my favorite actually working with the bender board ply and doing the wood walls inside. It's so warm. And when you walk in, it just sort of feels like this hug. But most people want our sort of traditional white walls, which I get it makes it feel really spacious inside the Airstream.
Ethan Waldman 16:55
Yeah, it's a very iconic look.
Kate Oliver 16:57
Ethan Waldman 16:59
Yeah. And so what does? Well, I guess there are lots of different lengths, but like, you know, what did your Airstream weigh?
Kate Oliver 17:09
I think 3500 pounds if I'm remembering. We, you know, we actually have lived in three different Airstreams, so yeah, sometimes I'm like, I have to really think about it. It was a while ago, it's been a lot of sleep since 2014.
Ethan Waldman 17:20
Kate Oliver 17:21
Ethan Waldman 17:23
Well, that's Yeah. And that's like, that's significant. Because what was the length that you said that you're?
Kate Oliver 17:28
Ethan Waldman 17:29
Yeah. 27 feet. I mean, like a 27 foot tiny house on wheels is going to weigh 12 - 15,000 pounds.
Kate Oliver 17:37
Yeah, so much heavier. Although our current Airstream that we still have, we're not traveling in it anymore, full time anyway. But our current Airstream is like 9000 pounds, and it's 30 feet long. So you know, we it's a little heavier. A little bit.
Ethan Waldman 17:50
Kate Oliver 17:51
Ethan Waldman 17:52
Well, it's, you know, it's, it's a really appealing option. If you do want to travel more frequently than, you know, than a tiny house on wheels for, sure.
Kate Oliver 18:03
Yeah, although we do have, we do have a dream of building a small house, probably under 1000 square feet somewhere at some point.
Ethan Waldman 18:12
Kate Oliver 18:13
It's been a long time dream. And so I find myself sketching plans pretty regularly for that house.
Ethan Waldman 18:21
Nice. Nice. And do you do you envision like staying there all the time, or just kind of that being a home base for further travel?
Kate Oliver 18:30
Home base for further travel. So our daughter is 12 now, so when we first got on the road, she was five. And now she's 12. And she's gonna be in middle school next year. And so right now we're really here. We're staying put because she is really happy having school and friends and a social life. And, you know, she does all these activities. So right now like we're, we're not traveling as much as we thought we would be when we settled down and bought a house, but I think that in the future, we probably will again, at least in the summers.
Ethan Waldman 19:08
Yeah. Yeah. So has the like, have vintage Airstreams become really hard to find? You know, as the popularity of renovating them. Have the costs gone up?
Kate Oliver 19:21
You can still find them. Yeah, but yes, the costs have gone up considerably. Um, just just as an example, you know, we bought our first Airstream for $4,000 in 2014, you know, for a 1957 And then last year, we bought a 1978 Tradewind and it was $20,000.
Ethan Waldman 19:45
Kate Oliver 19:46
$20,000 to gut something.
Ethan Waldman 19:48
Yeah. And I because I just I was curious before the show and I just popped onto Craigslist in Vermont and just searched Airstream. There's a there's a vintage that it doesn't say what year it is, but it's $22,000 and it looks like It needs to be gutted. In terms of, you know, it's just the original interior.
Kate Oliver 20:04
Yeah, it's sort of unreal. Because, you know, we never really thought that we would, I know that we played a part in that, you know, we played this, my wife and I played a part and helped popularizing this. And so it's so it's so silly to me to have to pay that much for something that I kind of was a contributor to. Like, you know, if you know - not to like to toot my own horn or anything, but, you know, we, we were kind of on the leading edge of it, you know. It wasn't this popular thing. Airstreams have always been well loved. But, you know, there's, but I, you know, I think this sort of modern trend of renovating Airstreams, you know, we were, we were part of making that known and popular and exciting and, and now to see the prices or have to pay the prices for something that we're just going to gut It's pretty intense. Yeah.
Ethan Waldman 20:57
Now, are there other vintage trailers that were built this way, like with that aluminum outside, or is that like, is it only Airstreams?
Kate Oliver 21:05
It's not only Airstreams. Actually, if you if you look at my book, there are a couple of Spartans, which were produced for a very limited time in the I don't remember when I'm sorry, I don't remember the dates, but they were produced for a really limited time. And so they're, they're harder to find. But they're, they're stunning. I would love to renovate a Spartan at some point, because I'm just obsessed with the way that they look. So that's, that's one that's coming to mind. You know, right off the bat, there's Silver Streaks. There are other aluminum trailers. Airstream really took the market, though, from what I from the history that I have read Airstream sort of took the market.
Ethan Waldman 21:07
Yeah, it seems it seems like it.
Kate Oliver 21:45
Yeah, I mean, there. It's like, the statistic is something - it might be different now. I don't know. But when we first got an Airstream, one of the things that drew us to it was I had read that 70% of all Airstreams that were ever made since the 1930s are still on the road today. And you know, so that was - I was like, "Wow, then it must be pretty well made."
Ethan Waldman 22:06
Kate Oliver 22:07
Yeah, that's really neat. Yeah.
Ethan Waldman 22:09
I asked John and Fin Kernohan of United Tiny House Association what they love about their PrecisionTemp hot water heaters. And here's what they told me.
John Kernohan 22:18
Hey, Ethan. This is John and Fin Kernohan with United Tiny House Association.
Fin Kernohan 22:24
We organized the tiny house fest.
John Kernohan 22:25
Oh, yeah, I guess so. We have a total of three PrecisionTemp on demand hot water heaters. The thing we really like about these - and folks know this. I think they picked this up on Fin and I. If we don't like something, you'll never hear us talk about it. So the two things we noticed, that we noticed and experienced immediately. They took painstaking effort to make sure that it was done right and installed. And so that was pretty cool right there. The other thing is the continuous on demand hot water that just ran forever without any fluctuations or anything. I can't imagine an application, especially in our environment and our lifestyle of being the nomad, transportable mobile, tiny lifestyle where one of these units aren't good to use.
Ethan Waldman 23:19
And I suppose you know, the, the original interiors probably aren't still in use, but being able to just strip it down to the aluminum that never rusts. Are the ribs of aluminum too?
Kate Oliver 23:32
The ribs or aluminum.
Ethan Waldman 23:33
Yeah. That's so cool.
Kate Oliver 23:36
We do know, you know, just sort of through Instagram. There is a man in New Mexico who restores vintage Airstreams.
Ethan Waldman 23:45
Kate Oliver 23:46
So he's, he's not doing what we're doing, where we're putting in all new modern amenities. He's actually refurbishing what was already there. And I really admire his dedication to his craft, because I feel like that would be far more challenging, in a lot of ways to have to bring it back to its former glory.
Ethan Waldman 24:06
Right and to find - to either find or build the interior to match what was there before.
Kate Oliver 24:14
Yeah, I really admire that a lot.
Ethan Waldman 24:18
Yeah, no, it's it's certainly - anybody who does that kind of restoration work. That's like a whole nother level of attention to detail.
Kate Oliver 24:26
Ethan Waldman 24:28
Yeah. So now, you know, somebody who is looking for a vintage Airstream. Do you have any tips of like, what to look for? In terms of like, if you're shopping for a vintage one?
Kate Oliver 24:42
Yeah, absolutely. So if you're planning on, you know, completely gutting it and taking it down to the chassis and the frame, you know, like what we do, really what I would advise is just to not just to find something that doesn't have any major dents on the outside, because if you're going to be doing all of that work anyway, if you're trying to replace windows like you might as - because you really never know what you're digging into anyway until you start digging it. So that's that would be my biggest piece of advice is just don't get anything that has large dents because that's when the... It's really expensive to have professionals replace the exteriorskin.
Ethan Waldman 25:26
Okay, and can that be done in pieces? Like if there's okay, because it looks like they are kind of sections of this aluminum?
Kate Oliver 25:36
Yeah, they are sections of aluminum, and they're held together by bucked rivets on the exterior. The interior skins are generally attached with pop rivets, and then the exteriors bucked rivets, which are supposed to be you know that they're more watertight. I'm gonna air quote here "watertight", you know, rivets are still there. Airstreams are not leak proof. That that would be my other piece of advice. Do not ever let a seller tell you that that Airstream doesn't leak. It does.
Ethan Waldman 26:05
Kate Oliver 26:06
They don't know.
Ethan Waldman 26:08
Okay. And that's I mean, I've heard that about from many people who have, you know, just bought any RV to live in temporarily or traveling. It's always it's leaking.
Kate Oliver 26:21
Well, yeah, I mean, I think you know, we have to remember that when you're hauling a trailer down the road, like everything is shifting and moving. It's like it's literally like an earthquake inside. And so if you're putting your rigs through that all the time, like things are gonna loosent up and open up and you're gonna have leaks.
Ethan Waldman 26:42
Yeah. And so what what do you do in the shop to do try to reseal those those junctions between the panels?
Kate Oliver 26:53
Yeah, it's a little bit more complicated than that. The biggest piece of our work is waterproofing though, and making sure that everything is sealed up before we put it back together.
Ethan Waldman 27:04
Kate Oliver 27:05
And so yeah, there are a lot of things that go into that. Sometimes that is replacement of windows, and some, you know, sometimes we need to replace the air conditioner, you know. So it's like, waterproofing is more than just inspecting and sealing up every single rivet or line between where the aluminum meets and overlaps it. It's a... It's the longest, most tedious process for us.
Ethan Waldman 27:29
Wow. Yeah, no, I would imagine that anybody who's getting one of these would want to do that.
Kate Oliver 27:35
Oh, yeah, absolutely. There's really no point in building up or out in a Airstream that you know, is leaking or has a, you know, rusted chassis, you know. So that's why we really encourage people to, you know, to dig down as far as they can go and then build back up, because that's the only way that you can know that you are safe. You know that it's roadworthy and watertight.
Ethan Waldman 27:59
Right. You're gonna end up just ruining all the work, all the beautiful woodwork that you do if you let it leak into it.
Kate Oliver 28:05
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Ethan Waldman 28:08
I'm curious, like, the new Airstreams that are being produced, are they like? Is that the same company as before? Or is that like?
Kate Oliver 28:18
Yeah, absolutely. They, yeah, they I'm sure that Airstream is really enjoying the fact that Airstreams are so popular.
Ethan Waldman 28:29
Yeah, no, I was looking at the prices for new Airstreams are pretty like I was a little bit shocked. I mean, they're like, $50-$60-$70-$80-$90,000.
Kate Oliver 28:40
Yeah, or more? Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I'm just like, that's, I mean, well, in some parts of the country, you can buy a house for that. Not many, but some.
Ethan Waldman 28:48
Kate Oliver 28:50
Ethan Waldman 28:51
So it's how many Airstreams are you renovating per year?
Kate Oliver 28:56
Right now, we are trying to do just one per year.
Ethan Waldman 29:00
Kate Oliver 29:01
There were times where we had talked about expanding and having a big team. And it's just not the way we want to take things. We really like to do things ourselves and take our time. It used to be that we were moving at a faster clip. But we found that that was really unsustainable. I mean, it is really demanding physical labor, you know, and managing the budgets and working with clients and doing the design and doing all you know, like.
Ethan Waldman 29:26
Yeah, it's a lot.
Kate Oliver 29:28
It was too much to keep, you know, for just the two of us to be turning over two or three Airstreams a year.
Ethan Waldman 29:35
Kate Oliver 29:35
So we move at a slower pace now. And it's much more conducive to us having a healthy work life balance, because that is a thing it is it is possible to achieve that.
Ethan Waldman 29:46
Yeah, absolutely. Well, that's
Kate Oliver 29:48
Ethan Waldman 29:49
It's cool that you're kind of a certainly a boutique shop, you know, doing one a year.
Kate Oliver 29:55
Ethan Waldman 29:56
Finding the right person to work with and designing this custom Airstream.
Kate Oliver 30:01
Yeah, it's really, it's really important that we have a good relationship with our clients. And so we do choose who we work with. And because it is such a personal process, and it is a year, you know, of their lives and our lives. And so we want to make sure that we have this like really great working relationship. And we are really thankful we have some really, really great clients.
Ethan Waldman 30:28
Nice, nice. Well, your book. The Modern Caravan is beautiful, and I was hoping maybe you could you know... The format of the book is that you you profile, several different usually couples who are traveling in in Airstreams, or other mobile homes for lack of a better term. "Caravans."
Kate Oliver 30:49
Ethan Waldman 30:50
Could you maybe tell us about one or two of those those profiles?
Kate Oliver 30:55
Yeah, absolutely. So the first people that are coming to mind would be my friends, Laura Guidry, and Marc Bilbao.
Ethan Waldman 31:07
Kate Oliver 31:08
Marc is actually an architecture student and a furniture designer. And Laura is a writer. And I chose them for the book because they were doing something that I had not seen anyone else do. They really worked with the curves of the Airstream. And so like if you when you're looking at the in the book, and you're looking at the pictures, they they integrated curvature into the build itself. And so there's this arched doorway and it's just it was so fluid and interesting. And it looked like a home but it also still felt like an Airstream, you know it. You know, I was seeing at the time that there was this trend where we were going to where it looked like you weren't even in an Airstream anymore. It was like and they were doing something that was different and set apart. And I just was like, I want to meet these people. I want to I want to know why they made the choices that they made. And, and and it turned out that we got along really great. And they're wonderful friends and I actually work - like Marc does some of our drawings and things for us now for the business. So I hire him to do those things. And so it's - but yeah, hearing their story. They they did their build on this like micro budget, which also really spoke to me because our first build was done, you know, for you know, pennies, it felt like at times and yeah, so I I really loved getting to meet them and talking with them about design and what it was like to build in a tiny space.
Ethan Waldman 32:48
Yeah. Are the the ones - they bought their Airstream for like $600 or something, right?
Kate Oliver 32:53
Yeah, it was like, yeah, it was like a few $100 It was oh my gosh, you know, just... Yeah, good. Good memory. But yeah, they - I still can't get over that.
Ethan Waldman 33:03
Kate Oliver 33:03
Although I have bought an Airstream for $300
Ethan Waldman 33:06
Kate Oliver 33:07
a long time ago.
Ethan Waldman 33:08
Okay. Yeah, it was just if somebody doesn't really know what they have, or just wants to get rid of it fast, you know?
Kate Oliver 33:14
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Ethan Waldman 33:17
You've got to look around for those deals.
Kate Oliver 33:19
We found it while we were traveling in our with our first Airstream and yeah, we it was abandoned. And so we just started asking around to find out whose it was and that guy ran a seaweeds snack food company. And he's like, "I just don't really need it. You can just take it. $300 bucks." We, you know. And Ellen called me my wife called me. And she's like, "We have to take it right. Like, I don't know what we're gonna do with it. We've got to take this."
Ethan Waldman 33:47
Right, right. Yeah.
Kate Oliver 33:50
So we did.
Ethan Waldman 33:50
Yeah. How did you get home?
Kate Oliver 33:53
Oh, well, so we were in a campground and so we just paid to park it there. And then. And then we turned around, and we sold it to some friends of ours for $5,000. And they put some work into it. And then they sold it for $20000. And, you know, it's like it just but it didn't it didn't stay rotting. Right in a forest. Right? It was. Yeah, yeah. It just kept moving through different hands and it actually was being used again. And that's all we really wanted was for it to be used.
Ethan Waldman 34:23
Yeah, I'm waiting personally for the like post pandemic lot of vans that are going to that I'm like hoping are going to exist because it you know, it seemed like for a while you couldn't buy of like cargo van to convert because like everybody was buying them but everybody was buying. There's gonna be like, the tide is going to ebb. And
Kate Oliver 34:44
do you think so? I've been wondering that. Like, are we going to see people start to be like, "Okay, well, maybe this isn't what I thought it was going to be. It looks different than it does on Instagram." Like are we gonna se?e I mean I'm one I am wondering that.
Ethan Waldman 35:02
I think I personally think that there will be just just because like, and you're already we're already seeing people coming back to cities who like, yeah left for the pandemic, and their remote, you know, remembering, "Oh, I like living in a city." And yeah, and I think that for vans, I think there are a lot of bands that were purchased during quarantine to, hey, let's hit the road. But yeah, there'll be sitting and rotting. Hopefully not rotting too much, but
Kate Oliver 35:29
hopefully not rotting too much. Yeah, there was a lot of we got a lot of inquiry in, like, summer of 2020. Yeah, through summer 2021. Our inquiries definitely increased. And I did notice that most of them said something along the lines of, "I want to seize the day." Or, "If I can't, you know, if I have to be locked out, then I'm gonna go be, quote, unquote, locked down, out where I'm not around anyone else." And so I am sort of wondering, I was talking with an old road life friend, and she and her partner used to be in an Airstream and then they were in a van. Now they're in a sailboat. Ah, yeah, really cool. And she was wondering the same thing. She's like, "Are we gonna see this trend die down?" And I said, "You know what, though, I've been saying for years, that I'm afraid that the trend is going to go away. Because I've now my livelihood is built on it." And it doesn't go away. It just I just see more and more people hitting the road, which is I'm not sure how I feel about that, actually.
Ethan Waldman 36:28
Yeah, I mean, I don't think I don't think it's ever gonna go away either. But yeah, it'll be... And at one per year. I think you'll be able to find somebody every year.
Kate Oliver 36:39
Ethan Waldman 36:43
I love. Could you talk a little bit about the Boler trailer in your book? Because I love those little. It's like the tiny little one.
Kate Oliver 36:52
They look like. Yeah, they look like a little egg.
Ethan Waldman 36:54
Kate Oliver 36:55
Yeah. So that one. I think it's if I'm remembering right, it's 13 feet.
Ethan Waldman 37:01
Kate Oliver 37:02
And it's teeny tiny. And the owner really, she doesn't live in it. She just takes it out to go camping and go on adventures. But yeah, I love Bolers. And yeah, like Casitas. And what's the other one? I'm struggling to remember a Scamp My in laws have lives? Yeah, the Scamps are really really cute are my in laws bought their Scamp after we got our Airstream and they were like, "Oh, wait, maybe we could do something like that too." And yeah, they don't travel full time, but they take it out and go camping and everything and yeah, I love those little fiberglass trailers. I think they're so darling.
Ethan Waldman 37:37
Yeah, they are darling.
Kate Oliver 37:38
I'd love to do a renovation on one.
Ethan Waldman 37:40
Yeah, they're also - fiberglass much easier to repair yourself than an aluminum.
Kate Oliver 37:46
Yes, it is.
Ethan Waldman 37:49
Somebody who rides and breaks and dents surfboards occasionally I know that it's easier to prepare fiberglass than it is aluminum.
Kate Oliver 37:58
Yes. Fiberglass. Actually, we do fiberglass custom fiberglass showers now in our builds.
Ethan Waldman 38:04
Kate Oliver 38:04
So we work with fiberglass in that way. And, and it's, you know, you know, it's a pretty stinky, time consuming process, but the results can be really, really beautiful.
Ethan Waldman 38:16
Yeah. Yeah. Well, you mentioned Michael Newsted earlier, is there anyone? Any other people books, YouTube channels, things that influence or that that either influenced you or inspired you or helped you when you were kind of starting out that you'd like to share?
Kate Oliver 38:34
Yeah, so we, before we had decided to travel, we were obsessed with Lloyd Kahn, and his books. And so we had Tiny Home Simple Shelter on our bookshelf already and had just like, I mean, would pore through that book and make notes. And so that was a huge influence for us. We also really liked we had a book on nomadic it was called Nomadic Furniture. And it was about all of this, you know, furniture that you could build that would have multiple uses. So that was a really big thing. YouTube was not a thing in 2014. I mean, it was a thing but not so much for you know, now you can search van life or Airstream renovation, and there are tons of channels and videos that didn't exist. So when we were starting this, we had to really sort of piece it all together and figure out how to do it on our own. And I think that's one thing about you know, today's nomads Nomades there's less of that, you know, and I'm really grateful that we did it when we had to figure it out on our own. I know that might sound strange to say but you know, there was it made it really special that we did it without without a lot of influence from other people.
Ethan Waldman 38:36
Well, where where can people find you and your book?
Kate Oliver 39:53
Okay, so you can find me in a couple different places. Themoderncaravan.com is my business and you can find the book there, as well. You can find me on Instagram as the modern caravan. Also, I am on Instagram, like my personal like for personal side of life and writing is at Birch and Pine. And then you can also find me at KateOliver.co.
Ethan Waldman 40:14
Nice. Well, you know over thank you so much for being a guest on the show today.
Kate Oliver 40:19
Thanks so much, Ethan. This was fun.
Ethan Waldman 40:22
Thank you so much to Kate Oliver for being a guest on the show today. You can find the show notes, including links to The Modern Caravan, and some of my favorite photos from the book at thetinyhouse.net/212. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/212. Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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