For Airstreamers, It’s One Big ‘Silver Family’
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
J. Rick Cipot remembers the first time he saw an Airstream. He was just a boy.
"I didn't know what it was at the time," he says of the shiny silver trailer that resembles a giant toaster on wheels. "But I knew I wanted one."
According to a report in USA Today
, Cipot now owns a 2005 Airstream Safari, and he attended a ceremony this year when a 1963
Airstream Bambi was installed in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Cipot took his obsession with the American icon to the next level last month when he and his fiancee, Sandi Gould, tied the knot at an Airstream rally that attracted dozens of members of the trailer-toting tribe.
Lest you think that Cipot needs to get a life, Airstreamers quickly will tell you he has a very good life. In fact, he's running with the in crowd. Airstream trailers, on the road since 1936, are as hot as, well, a cat on a tin roof.
Even though they cost an average of $50,000 and must be pulled by gas-guzzling cars and trucks, Airstreams are "so retro (they're) hip again," says Bob Wheeler, Airstream's chief executive in Jackson Center, Ohio, the tiny town where 2,000 of the trailers are built each year.
Sandra Bullock, David Duchovny, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt are all Airstreamers, as is Pamela Anderson, who unveiled her renovated trailer on Unique Whips on the Speed cable channel.
Anderson added a stripper pole, a circular vibrating bed, mirrors on the ceiling and white shag carpeting, but most Airstreamers prefer more traditional furnishings.
reported that musicians Rachel Fuller and Pete Townshend of the Who tour in an Airstream, Vice President Dick Cheney uses one as an office on military transport planes, and Derek Shepherd lives in one on Grey's Anatomy. Matthew McConaughey has three.
"I have a trailer in Texas, California and another one in Pittsburgh," McConaughey said. "We're finishing up the interior decoration. It's all good."
The Airstream's re-emergence in the public consciousness seems to reflect not just a renewed interest in its midcentury design but also the manufacturer's efforts to update the interiors so they appeal to a new generation of enthusiasts.
In 2000, San Francisco architect Christopher Deam was recruited by Airstream to update furnishings. Those with his sleek interiors now account for about 40% of the company's sales.
Deam, who collaborated with Design Within Reach, a modern furniture retailer, wanted to make the classic Airstream light and airy and "connect to the experience of travel instead of insulating you from it."
"I wanted people to know they were inside an Airstream. I stripped it back to the aluminum ... to show off the craftsmanship," Deam says. "It bounces the light around, and it reflects the color of the environment you're in back into the trailer."
According to USA Today
, Deam's newest creation, the snug 16-foot model complete with fashion designer Paul Smith fabrics, debuted this summer for $49,000.
"The story and the craftsmanship behind it is what connects with people," says Carol Franksen, a Design Within Reach vice president.
No one knows that better than those convening this month in Perry, Ga., at the 50th annual international rally of the Wally Byam Caravan Club. Byam is the man who introduced the Airstream Clipper in 1936, using aircraft construction methods to build his riveted aluminum body trailers.
"Airstreaming is one of America's friendliest subcultures. It's the kindest cult I know," says Bruce Littlefield, author of Airstream Living (Harper Design International, 2005, $19.95).
Airstreamers have cross-reference directories that tell them who is in another trailer. A number printed above the trailer's front window is the key.
"Once you own one," Littlefield says, "you're a member of a big silver family that's willing to tell you everything from how to back the monster up to where to find the best campgrounds in the country."