FORM on Design: Airstreams for the 21st Century

A large part of Hofmann Architecture’s practice revolves around rehabbing and redesigning vintage Airstream trailers. At Auto Camp in Santa Barbara, guests have the chance to stay in the firm’s work. Image via Hofmann Architecture. In the 1920s, Santa Barbara gained fame as a fashionable destination for campers. One spot in particular, a Sycamore grove beside Mission Creek, offered a picturesque spot for travelers to enjoy the California coast. Today, the Santa Barbara Auto Camp upholds this area’s camping tradition by hosting a collection of restored midcentury Airstream trailers, each uniquely designed and available for rent.

Since 2010, Santa Barbara–based firm Hofmann Architecture (HofArc) has been conducting these Airstream interior renovations. Beyond the Auto Camp, the firm orchestrates residential design, and the trailer refurbishments have become increasingly central to their work.

It took flight as Matthew Hofmann began exploring a simpler way to live his own life. The undertaking has expanded dramatically in the past few years as HofArc offers ready-to-buy Airstreams as well as customized designs for clients in Australia and the United Kingdom. Throughout the process, however, Hofmann has preserved his original intentions of achieving simple, efficient living through sustainable design.

Each Airstream offers a natural, earthy atmosphere through its substantial harnessing of natural light and its use of recycled regional materials with low environmental impact, including bamboo, recycled glass tile, raw canvas fabrics, low-voltage halogen lights, and low-VOC paints, all installed by local artisans.

Renovations often preserve the trailer’s original layout, maintaining the placement of some appliances, furniture, and cabinets. The design affords a spacious yet efficient arrangement that features a wide rear bathroom, a front dinette that converts into a queen-sized sleeping space, seating running along the vehicle’s side, and built-in drawers and cabinets. A recycling plan is also prepared for each construction cycle.

HofArc offers a basic option, which maintains many of the trailer’s original features, and the full renovation, which replaces all systems. Renovations typically take between two and six months to complete, depending on chosen materials and the extent of the work.

Ultimately, HofArc’s Airstream renovations have succeeded in preserving the aluminum-skinned vessels’ original spirit, while still shaping an efficient, sustainable lifestyle for the modern world.

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