By Morris Dye
Fine Living Television Network
Publication Date: 07-24-2004
When designer Nina Marinkovich and builder Ken Kirsch teamed up two years ago to launch a design-construction firm in Davis, Calif., the first order of business was to craft a stylish and functional office for themselves that would showcase their approach to custom interiors.
Last summer, Kirsch and Marinkovich hung out their shingle as MAK Design + Build, with a reconfigured 1964
Airstream trailer serving as their workspace-on-wheels.
"I live a pretty mobile lifestyle, and I thought how great it would be to have an office that you could take around with you," Marinkovich recalls. "At the same time, I just think Airstreams are really cool-looking compared to other types of trailers and RVs, so it was esthetically appealing as well."
After purchasing the 22-foot Safari travel trailer for $7,500 through an eBay auction, Marinkovich and Kirsch stripped the inside down to its curved aluminum shell and rebuilt the space to suit their needs.
They designed custom cabinetry and furnishings using eco-friendly building materials such as bamboo plywood and Dakota Burl, a composite board made from sunflower-seed husks. A dinette that doubles as a worktable replaced one of two foldout couches in the original plan. Electrical and plumbing systems were upgraded, an air conditioner was installed and the trailer was wired for sound and video, with a built-in television, DVD player and speakers.
With about $25,000 worth of renovation work behind them, Kirsch now describes the vintage Airstream as "a sanctuary," adding that its iconic, streamlined profile has helped define the public identity of their fledgling firm. The trailer is featured prominently on the MAK Web site (www.makdesignbuild.com
) , its image appears on company business cards, and, parked at its usual location in the driveway of Kirsch's home, the office has become an eye-catching presence on a major thoroughfare.
"At first we got some wisecracks about designing trailer trash and that sort of thing," Kirsch says, "but clients enjoy being in here, and it kind of sets the tone for who we are as a company, because it's not a formal environment -- it's just a little bit quirky."
Airstream trailers have been around since the 1930s, when California entrepreneur Wally Byam adapted materials and construction techniques used in the aircraft industry to create a new breed of durable, lightweight campers at a time when Americans were taking to the open road in ever-increasing numbers. Byam's futuristic designs resonated with the traveling public, and by the 1950s, the Airstream had become a fixture of America's burgeoning car culture.
Now located in Jackson Center, Ohio, Airstream Inc. (www.airstream.com
) still produces aerodynamic aluminum trailers based on the original designs of the 1930s. And according to Tim Champ, the company's director of marketing and brand development, the distinctive retro look is attracting a new generation of design-conscious buyers.
"Design is the prime differentiator between us and everybody else in the market," Champ says, adding that appearances of Airstream products in television commercials, Hollywood films and the reality series "The Simple Life 2" have lately reaffirmed Airstream's legendary status among travel trailers.
Among the company's latest product launches is a line of trailers aimed at younger buyers, whose tastes and lifestyles are not necessarily in sync with the more mature demographic profile typically associated with RVs.
These International CCD models introduced in the 2002 model year retain the familiar sleek Airstream exterior, but with updated interiors developed by San Francisco architect-designer Christopher C. Deam. Exposed sections of the aluminum shell combined with colorful laminate furnishing and backlit Plexiglas cabinet doors give the International CCD models a bright, spacious look.
"The idea was to do something clean, modern, contemporary," Deam said in a recent interview with the Fine Living Television Network. "The interior had never been as cool as the exterior, so we felt like we had carte blanche to bring it more in line with the ideas of the exterior."
Meanwhile, as Airstream approaches its 75th anniversary, the market for older models in roadworthy condition remains strong. Champ says more than 60 percent of all Airstreams ever built are still in use, a total of some 75,000 trailers and RVs worldwide.
While it is possible to find older Airstreams in usable condition for a few thousand dollars, repair and restoration costs can add up to many times the price of the trailer itself.
So far, Marinkovich and Kirsch have invested around $32,500 in their Safari, only $5,000 less than the suggested retail price for a spanking-new Safari of the same size. Yet for many owners of vintage Airstreams, bringing a well-traveled old trailer back to life is a labor of love. "You're buying a piece of history," Kirsch says. "It's an icon of that modernist travel-into-the-future sort of optimism that went along with the '50s -- before American culture became jaded."