Q + A Series: Inspiration to Reality


Q. I would love to know where you go for inspiration and then your process for turning the inspiration into reality. Do you have your go-to list of sources or are you always looking for it? Also, how do weight concerns influence your design approach?

These questions are so good, but the first is tough to answer! It’s difficult to convey exactly how I take inspiration and turn it into reality, because so much of it is abstract, a feeling. I’m inspired by not just spaces, I’m inspired by things around me. Songs, a meal, the way light came through a particular window and fell on a particular subject on a particular day. The way the wind felt in that one place, that one time.

It’s worth saying the way I design and create will never be exactly the way anyone else designs or creates. The way you design and create will never be exactly the way anyone else designs or creates. That’s the way it should be. I don’t have a step-by-step guide for how to take inspiration and turn it into reality (i.e., design), but I do have one hard and fast rule, and it’s simple: I don’t copy or replicate. It’s one thing to take a small element or two from someone else’s design, but in the same way we’re taught to not plagiarize in school, copying someone’s design is taking the easy way out. It doesn’t make you a designer or an artist, it makes you someone who copied someone else's hard work - the same way that plagiarizing someone’s written work doesn’t make you a writer. I’m very careful to not look at rooms or spaces as my sole inspiration, and instead, gather inspiration from everywhere. When working with a client, I make it clear from the beginning that we’ll be creating a space unique to them, their needs, and their aesthetic. Even if they present an image and say, "let's make it look just like this", I redirect. That space has been created by someone else and for someone else. Look anywhere and everywhere for inspiration and think about your own needs and style above what anything else is doing, what's popular or trending (trends die, classic design lives on). What do you love? What are you drawn to?

From a more literal standpoint, I take as many images or samples as I can, and group them together. I pull out the items that make sense together. I start to see patterns emerge, certain tones that I'm drawn to continuously for that particular project. I then begin to sketch layouts and think about how concrete sources will look in the space, which involves sourcing those - I do a lot of research for products - and generally play with three options for each element (three faucets, three different types of tile, three different floors), especially when designing for a client. Too many options tends to overwhelm us in the design process. My job is to streamline and create for the client based on who they are, their needs, and conversations I've had with them. I mesh together my own inspiration with what I've learned.

The next steps are to go over the furniture and cabinetry builds with Ellen, who is responsible for actually bringing them to life, and we problem solve together until we have it just right. It's like a lovely puzzle, and I know the design plan is finished and ready to execute in my gut, though I truly allow the entire process to be organic, from start to finish. Once the plan is "finalized', it doesn't mean I may not feel something needs to change. I leave myself open to options, always, and for the design to ebb and flow naturally. This is how the best designs have come about for me. 

I do have companies that I prefer to source from (for example, I love Delta Faucets), but I don’t solely rely on those products as the only option. Creating custom spaces requires me to get creative and always, always be on the lookout for solutions, fixtures, and finishes that suit the design and feeling I’m going for. Part of being a good designer is educating yourself as to what fixtures and finishes are out there so you don't get stuck recreating the same space over and over. 

Weight is absolutely a consideration. For example: there are quite a few folks who are adamant in their opinions on not using tile and solid wood in travel trailers and RVs, yet these same folks add in a lot of other heavy stuff: extra appliances that aren’t necessity, metal, TVs, et cetera. I say - to each their own, as long as you're careful with your choices. We are mindful of the weight of the tile, and use a lightweight adhesive product called Musselbound, as opposed to thinset (mortar) to apply the tile (only on walls, not for use on a shower floor). We keep the tiles small and use a flexible grout. We’ve yet to install a hardwood floor, but there are folks who do.

In all of our projects thus far, we have kept the weight at 5800 pounds or less (dry weight), and we’ve used quite a lot of plywood and hardwood for countertops and cabinetry, and tile in each project. We are mindful of the weight of our appliances, and in our designs, balance weight from side to side. 10% of your overall trailer weight should be at the front. We consider every option we possibly can before making final decisions, and ensure we're meeting at least the first two of these three goals: is this piece/fixture/finish functional? Does the weight of this work with the other elements? If it's visible (i.e., not a water heater): is it beautiful? 

The Q + A Series

A few weeks ago, right before we took a short vacation to the coast, we posted to Instagram and asked what you all want to know more about...and we said we'd answer in our Stories. Nearly eighty questions later, and we realized that posting them to our Stories would mean that many of you might miss the responses, and several of the questions asked required more in-depth answers than a quick video would allow. So instead, we've been sorting through the questions over the past few weeks, grouping like-questions together, and writing out our responses so they can live right here on the blog always, and for anyone to sort through at anytime, with ease. 


We'll start our new Q + A series off right here, and answer a few in this post. Outside of parallel questions, we are responding in chronological order. Sit tight if you asked your question later in the comment thread! We're working through them all as quickly as we can. Maintaining the blog regularly is tough with our renovation schedules (we're still renovating two, ours and the client's, simultaneously), but we're working to produce more content for you all while still finding balance between work and family/life. 

The posts can be accessed easily by clicking the Q + A Series link in the sidebar, and if you want to ask a question to be featured in the series, please submit your question via our contact form, right here, with 'Q + A Series' in the subject line so we don't miss it. 

Q. The art pieces you choose are always perfection! Where do you source them, or do your clients just have impeccable taste and have already acquired them over the years?!

A. We’ve only had one client project thus far where I was actually able to style using the clients’ art pieces (Isla), and it was really fun to go through their collection and pull out pieces that would look lovely with the finished space. Otherwise, any other artwork that you might have seen is in our own spaces, and all of that Kate has sourced from antiquing and thrifting over the years, or it’s art we’ve created ourselves. The key to seeking out these pieces is to keep your eyes peeled. We have quite the collection of one-of-a-kind large-scale pieces in storage, but brought along several small-scale favorites. 

Q. Where do you typically park when you’re staying in one place for more than a couple days?

A. This is really dependent on where we are and what we’re needing to do. Currently, we are parked on a farm in Arizona for our current client renovation. It's far from idyllic, but it allows us to homeschool and not seek out childcare while working full-time on site. 

When traveling freely, which we don’t get to do very often because of our work, we prefer boondocking (dry camping in remote locations). BLM land is our preference - seeing the stars, letting our dogs run freely, 360-degree views, and being all alone and feeling small - there’s no better feeling.

Sometimes we like to be close to friends and family in cities, and parking becomes more of an issue. Sometimes we’ll driveway park if we can. A good example of tough parking is in Southern California: in Dana Point, we’ll head down to the beach during the day and leave at night to go sleep in a parking lot, just to be right on the water and have the comfort of home with us, and it’s much cheaper than the adjacent campground where beach view sites are super pricey. 

We rarely stay in RV parks, though they are nice from time to time. Last summer, when traveling with some friends, we all wanted to run our AC and get in a pool and be able to catch up on work comfortably and do laundry. We rented side-by-side sites for a week in an RV park outside of San Diego and were able to get through the 107-degree heat wave just fine. 

Q. How do you manage water and dumping tanks when parked for a renovation?

A. Our contract requires our clients to provide water and electric hookups, and we use a portable rolling tank to remove our grey water from the site. We have a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet and do not need a black tank. 

The Isla Project

Where do I even begin?

It's Monday morning, and we're sitting in Arizona. Out the window of our Airstream is our extended awning, a field of wheat that will eventually become Italian pasta (go figure!), and a beautiful mountain range. The dirt here is red and soft, which we decided was great, as our trailer wheels leveled themselves out and we didn't even have to pull out the leveling blocks. The scenery isn't as idyllic as one would hope, but we are tucked away from where we'll be working, and that's a definite bonus. 


We wrapped up work on Isla around lunchtime Friday, and hurried to take last minute showers, dump clean laundry onto the bed, and pack up the truck with our tools before hitting the road. The goodbye was quick, and we were ready to go, but it was hard to say goodbye to Chris and Paige. They became like family in a way, living on their property and spending so much time with them. Paige and I would sneak in lunches at cute places in Austin when we went in to get supplies, we all prepared dinners together, rang in the New Year with fireworks and champagne, and got to know one another on a deeper level. They saw how we live and breathe our work, and how challenging it can be for us at times, and offered comfort and childcare and community. 


Isla, in and of itself, was an extremely trying project in many ways. Our initial goal was to do the renovation in four months, which seemed doable. Our first client project was wrapped within three months while we both still worked: Ellen was teaching elementary art full-time and I was doing freelance design and photography. However, the difference was that the chassis, subfloor, and tanks were already new and complete, done by another company before our clients brought us the project. 

If you read our last post, you know that we made the rookie mistake of overextending ourselves. Our projects need to be spaced out, and we need to allot more time so we can have a life outside of renovation. Working on Isla allowed us to come to this realization fully, and like all projects we do, there is a learning curve. So much of what is seen on social media is not an accurate representation of the work. Yes, we work fast...but we also don't have a life outside of work in our current time frame. Yes...it looks seamless and easy when it's all complete, but what you can't see is the effort, the frustration, the bruises, blood, and tears. 


Isla was the toughest project we've ever taken on. The time frame would have likely worked out better if the Airstream itself hadn't been in such rough shape. The exterior skin was pitted, for starters, but we also had to undertake a full restoration on five vista view windows and three flat fixed windows, which took two and a half weeks we hadn't anticipated or calculated for. We outsourced a few things this time around (for the first time ever!), like countertops and custom cushions, and the countertops were installed two weeks late, which pushed us back even further. We dealt with bad weather (ice! snow! eight degrees!), illness, and general overwhelm. The day we were supposed to finish the project, Ellen was in Wisconsin for a family funeral. We gave up our Christmas plans and powered through the days working instead, thinking we’d get caught up. Our momentum took a beating time and again, and our patience and strength was tested - hard. 


In those final days, however, as we oiled cabinetry and grouted tile, cleaned the interior, installed those blush velvet cushions on the sectional, styled, and photographed the space…the months of work and stress and pain didn’t melt away, but they, like always…began to make sense. The walnut cabinetry and trim, the gorgeous tile from Fireclay, the countertops…all the elements that make Isla a beautiful home, began to shine. Our strengths as designer and builder, when working together, make magic that we can feel and see. Standing in the finished space, I took the time to   be still with each and every aspect that we worked so hard to craft and dream up. I knew, without a doubt, that the space I designed was completely unique and that it fit our clients perfectly.

Though they named their Airstream 'Isla', we affectionately referred to it as the ‘Paige Project’. Paige was so involved, helpful, and supportive throughout the entire process: she wanted to be a part of the build. She happily wielded a polisher, paintbrush, and drill…and was always ready to run to Lowe’s or order supplies. She’d slip beers into our hands after long days, and as we hit the final stretch, insisted we take a night off and rest before the crazy, providing a fancy night for Adelaide at their house, complete with homemade pizza, cookie baking, art projects, and a movie. 


More than anything, we felt taken care of by Paige. She genuinely cared for our well-being, and wanted us to feel at home. Having met her, to know her, is a true gift and we will carry her with us always. To have built her home…her beautiful home…was just as much a gift to us. 

Regarding the design, this particular project was so incredibly seamless…each tone, texture, and fixture compliments each and every other. From the gorgeous tiles generously provided by Fireclay Tile, champagne brass faucets and shower hardware, white star shower tile,  herringbone floors from Kaindl, the custom walnut cabinetry/trim/wardrobe crafted in house, Corian countertops with integrated custom sinks that look like marble but are simply solid surface, the butterscotch sconces from Schoolhouse, and last but not least, the blush velvet cushions crafted by Paige’s talented, kind, and fun sister, Claire…it’s nearly impossible to pick just one element. They each work together to create an incredible space that we are so proud of.

If we had to pick? We’d say the entire living area, but especially the custom sectional and those Robert Allen blush velvet cushions. The living room space is definitely different from what we’ve done in the past, and it made sense for the clients’ lifestyle. They plan to eat at the coffee table, perched at the counter on stools, or outside. They didn’t need additional sleeping space, and having a real living room and a big kitchen was the perfect fit for them.

The layout really does make it feel more like a house, with a private bedroom, complete with en suite bathroom and full wardrobe with his and hers drawers and hanging space. Pocket doors divide the bedroom/kitchen and the bathroom also has a pocket door. 

I could easily write a novel (pretty much already have), about how much we’ve learned throughout this process and how much we love this project, despite how tough it was to build…but we’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves now. We love you, Chris, Paige, pups, and Isla, and we are wishing you an amazing first year calling Isla and the road home. 

To view the complete gallery, click right here.