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Old 04-03-2012, 08:56 PM   #1
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Blacksburg , Virginia
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Opinion: Restore interior to original or modernize?

I'm curious- what is the general attitude toward restoring Airstream interiors? Is it considered ideal to recreate the original interior (while of course updating for modern life)? Is it frowned upon to completely redo the interior in a new style or layout? Does it even matter?
I'm a future Airstream owner and material culture student, and am on the fence about how I would treat the interior of a vintage trailer. My studies of old buildings and homes push me to preserve/recreate the original interior exactly, while my personal taste leans towards an overhaul (preserving bits of the original interior when possible or desirable). Is this a hot debate among Airstreamers or are both approaches equally accepted?
Thanks for any input you can offer.

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Old 04-03-2012, 09:20 PM   #2
Wise Elder
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2010 30' Classic
Vintage Kin Owner
South of the river , Minnesota
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Welcome to the forums

I think you'll find both approaches taken. Much depends upon:

1) The degree of interest from collectors in trailers of that size and era. In general, shorter trailers and those manufactured prior to approximately 1972 are more collectible.

2) The condition of the trailer at the start of renovations. Many are not really restoration candidates because of missing or badly damaged interiors.

3) The goals of the owner.

There is a third way also (in addition to the two options you mention, restore or remodel) which is to keep the trailer as a well maintained but unrestored original.

If your intentions are an interior overhaul, there are plenty of basket cases out there, including many with the interior already removed, and no one will look askance at you for decorating them in Alice-in-wonderland fluorescent colors. Originals worthy of restoration are rarely found by accident and take a longer search.

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Old 04-03-2012, 09:25 PM   #3
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1966 24' Tradewind
1995 34' Excella
Lynchburg , Virginia
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Now I see that you go to VT and are just about in my backyard. Two of my boys graduated from Tech, and one boy and one girl from UVA.

I don't think that it is a big deal to change the interiors- most folks just want to make them better for them to use. I have done some restoration on old houses and met some real diehards. One guy did not want storm windows or insulated glass because it was not authentic. I don't think that most Airstream vintage owners are in that camp, but then again there are probably some at the end of the Bell curve.

I read on an Airstream forum type thread about 10 years ago about a guy that was studying the lifestyle of trailer owners that full timed. He was fascinated about the fact that what was carried in the trailer was symbolic about what the owner needed (minimum) and what was important to him. I used to print out threads that were interesting to me, so I will dig thru my stuff to see if I can find it for you because it may interest you.

I suspect you know about Highland Haven, the Airstream Park close to Floyd, VA and less than 40 miles from you. You may want to wonder over there some weekend after April 15 and visit with the Airstream owners. I am sure they can provide some good input for you.

Below are a couple of photos of my Airstream at Rocky Knob campground about 15 miles south of the Airstream Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We will have to get together some time. I will show you what I have changed and what I have left alone.

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Old 04-04-2012, 12:30 AM   #4
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1968 17' Caravel
Battle Ground , Washington
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I think you should do whatever will make you love the trailer and use it a lot!

I do feel bad when I see someone buy a trailer with a nice vintage interior and rip it all out, but partly that's because I've seen a LOT of people do that and then get burnt out and sell the project unfinished, and maybe someone else could have done a more light-handed job and saved that original interior. But I don't think anyone is going to hold it against someone for doing that. It's your trailer to do with as you please.

Some vintage interiors are so wrecked there's nothing to do BUT tear them out. I looked at a trailer that had a lovely interior in photos, but in person it was a mildewed, rotten, wreck. After poking around in that trailer I was convinced there was nothing else to do but gut it, and it was too big a project for me!

My own trailer is mostly original, with all new appliances. It makes it more fun to live with, and so we enjoy using it. That's all that's really important. I'd rather have a functional piece of art than a museum piece.

Good luck, I hope you find the right project and do something really spectacular with it - modern or vintage, whatever floats your boat!

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Old 04-04-2012, 12:36 AM   #5
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1974 Argosy 20
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Kooskia , Idaho
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I go both ways. My 71 Caravel is so original in most every way it would be a shame to modify it. It is virtually factory original perfect, and I will keep it that way, and hope to sell it to someone who wants an all original unit.'

I also have a 20' Argosy, which when I got it was already highly modified, and so I have absolutely no problems changing it in any way I find makes it more comfortable and useful to me.

You won't get raged on by anyone for anything you do. Most owners modify to suit their tastes.

Oh, and modifying and upgrading old water heaters, furnaces, AC units, water pumps, converter/chargers, and refrigerators is very common and fair game. Technology changes over time, and we want safety and convenience of newer things like electronic ignition furnaces vs. pilot light ones

Some things wear out, like axels, and need to be replaced for many reasons, including less damage to the unit when towing.
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Old 04-04-2012, 04:28 AM   #6
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1961 24' Tradewind
1969 29' Ambassador
1970 21' Globetrotter
Jamestown , Tennessee
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It goes either way.
I personally will change things to suit my needs and lifestyle just as I would modify an older home with plumbing instead of using the original out house..

It is really hard to convince people that the solar panels and LED lighting are vintage 1961 anyway
Rick Davis 1602 K8DOC
61 tradewind, plus a few others
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Old 04-04-2012, 05:41 AM   #7
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1968 30' Sovereign
1959 18' "Footer"
1954 22' Flying Cloud
Brussels , Wisconsin
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I have done both

I have tried to use the same interior setup with updates to the systems. My wife will redo the curtains flooring etc to update the look. I am also in the middle of a total gut job and rework on my 54. I felt the interior was too worn to save and with that I will totally change to interior arrangement to suit my needs. Over all you will run into purists and find that they like having an original Airstream but more often than not you will find those of us that have updated and made the unit more comfortable by adding modern conveniences.

What ever you do its still an Airstream! Enjoy!
I'm NOT an old man.............
54 Flying Cloud
59 Traveler
68 Sovereign
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Old 04-04-2012, 05:59 AM   #8

2003 25' Classic
Zanadude Nebula , WNY
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In my experience, am an "old fart", keep as much original as your comfortable with. Replacing whats needed and up-grading what will make the trailer more serviceable.
Our 63 was up-dated during the early 70's, when we got it in 1987 we left everything we could as done, replacing things that were needed for reliability.
I believe we got a very good price in 2004 because the interior floorplan and exterior were left as built. Giving the new owner a clean slate to change or not what they wanted.
I have followed the same path with our Classic, leaving the interior/floorplan and exterior "as built" and improving the items that I felt needed attention. ie, converter, water pump, lighting (led's), cabinet hardware, batteries, fasteners, etc.

Disclaimer...there is a 59 year old car in the garage that's just the way "Henry" built it. "it's only original once."

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AF #1

"Sticks & stones can break your bones...and hail will dent your Airstream"

So when is this..."old enough to know better" supposed to kick in?
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Old 04-04-2012, 07:48 AM   #9
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1972 27' Overlander
Longmont , Colorado
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In my opinion, it also depends on the vintage of your future AS and the condition that it is in. If I had found a 50's or 60's unit in excellent condition, I would have leaned towards keeping it as original as possible because of the beauty of the real wood interiors of that era. But at some point in the early 70's, AS switched over to the fake-veneer composite interiors, which I personally don't like the look of. In my '72, I also didn't like the lay-out of it, so I experienced no feelings of guilt when I tore out the interior and started over, in real wood. But- like you- I first asked the same questions you are asking, here on the forum. And got the same answer- do what you want, just try to do it well!
Good luck finding what you want, and have fun with it!
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Old 04-04-2012, 08:14 AM   #10
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1962 22' Safari
1961 16' Bambi
Philly burbs , PA
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Hi Bluerider,
My 1976 Safari's interior was in terrible shape with a dent in the rear. The good news was that it spent a lot of time in the desert. My goal was to turn it into a comfortable, simple, travel trailer using today's technology without going overboard. I did the full monte. I completely changed the layout. Moved the A/C down below. I'm trying to keep the exterior looking original. With older (50's,60's) Airstreams, I would restore to original. Everything would be original. No updates or upgrades.
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Old 04-04-2012, 08:56 AM   #11
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Menlo Park , California
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Some trailers are pieces of history - well designed, original and rare. Others, like our '71 Tradewind, come to us with less attractive design elements and in bad shape. The fact that ours was built around the peak of Airstream production means that there are likely many, many trailers in better shape than ours for someone else to restore to original.

That was our thinking when we began replacing our interior bit by bit. Pressboard and dark toned plastic wood grain don't have the physical or aesthetic lasting power of real birch plywood. We're doing a gradual changeover so that we don't get in over our heads and abandon the project and so that we can feel out what's right for us before making changes.

A trailer in original condition or in its original configuration might be easier to sell, if that's a consideration for you. Airstream designs were meant for broad appeal. Someone's individual definition of "perfect" might not find as wide a group of prospective buyers.

It is more important, I would say, that you do a good job and finish it than that you keep it original.
Our travel and renovation blog:
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Old 04-04-2012, 06:10 PM   #12
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Only original once.

If it's nice, leave it alone a year or two. Getting all the mechanical and electrical, etc, up to date (and better) is a worthy goal for a trailer in any condition. I'd say the same about houses and landscaping. Let the original design sink in a ways. The folks who did were paid good money to get it right. Conversely, some re-do's miss the mark pretty far (utility, not aesthetic), and one can have one's feelings and thoughts changed by familiarity. There is (are) years worth of threads around here to read, even if you read with the brute force manner I can muster . . questions matter, and they slow us down. And re-reading tends to broaden. Depth is what finally comes about as the range is surveyed of what is mete and proper.

Thankfully, there is no comparable to the levels to which cars are taken. That, you'll admit, is rather dumb . . how many times can you go stoplight to stoplight is their problem. Here, you have a continent to explore. A trailer is house, car, boat, Conestoga, gypsy, tinker, just all sorts of models/conceptions. Not limited, in other words.

The bed, however, need not be ca. 1969 for any longer than you can stand it, ha!

1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
2004 DODGE Cummins 305/555; 6-manual; 9k GVWR.
Hensley Arrow. 10-cpm solo, 18-cpm towing
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Old 04-04-2012, 06:58 PM   #13
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1972 31' Sovereign
Lexington , Minnesota
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We're trying to keep the exterior of our '72 Sovereign as close to original as possible, to the point of not planning on going for more than a very low polish. We did upgrade the exterior lights to LEDs for safety, and added new water fill and electrical connection. The interior, however, will be based on the original floor plan but all completely new. '72s had that weird pseudo laminate wood look stuff - really dark and NOT our cuppa tea. We kept the kitchen sink, it's in good shape. And I talked him into keeping the electric box covers - they're cool. In other words, do what looks good to you and that you will be comfortable using on a frequent basis.

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Old 04-05-2012, 12:12 PM   #14
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Blacksburg , Virginia
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Thanks, everyone! What you're all saying is exactly what I've found in my research. It all makes sense considering the ideals of Wally Byam.
I've learned so much about Airstream culture and look forward to learning more.

Oh and to my fellow Virginians... GO HOKIES!

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