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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

WEEK 5 (6, 7 + 8): 1976 Airstream Sovereign

Well. 

Here we are, nearly five weeks after our last post.

Needless to say, we're so focused on the work (out of complete necessity), that we've barely had time to do updates for you all (and we were doing so well at first!). We truly want to give out as much information as we possibly can to you all, but this season of life has been so incredibly chaotic. Not only are we still getting a business going, we're now working on an actual renovation project. Ellen is wrapping up her last year of teaching (we still have one week of school left here!), and then there's that tiny insignificant detail of moving out of our house, downsizing everything we own, and getting back on the road. 

 So many rainy, dark days - working in the rain isn't much fun and doesn't lend itself to great photos, either...this image was taken a few weeks ago. 

So many rainy, dark days - working in the rain isn't much fun and doesn't lend itself to great photos, either...this image was taken a few weeks ago. 

With just 28 days until we move out of our house and into the Airstream, we are just trying our best to keep our heads above water, finish the renovation project beautifully, say our goodbyes to friends and family, and transition smoothly (or smoothly enough) into a very new way of life. Yes, we've lived on the road before - but it was a very different experience than this (though the crazy workload is very similar). This time though, it's not our Airstream we're pushing to finish...which brings us to the real point of this post: an update on our progress in Siya and Kristen's Airstream home.

 Progress: dry fitting custom countertops and tabletop. Appliances, receiver, subwoofer, converter box installed. Time to paint and make some cabinet doors and drawers! 

Progress: dry fitting custom countertops and tabletop. Appliances, receiver, subwoofer, converter box installed. Time to paint and make some cabinet doors and drawers! 

We've made excellent progress over the last month. We previously left you all with updates regarding reinstallation of panels, paint, wiring in light fixtures, et cetera. Since then, we've done the following: 

  • Laid flooring
  • Framed out the entire Airstream: 
    • bathroom walls
    • bed
    • street side cabinetry 
    • curb side cabinetry
    • dinette
    • new wheel wells (plus insulation) 
  • Installed bathroom/kitchen dividing wall (using 1/4" ply)
  • Installed toe kick on cabinetry and secured to Airstream
  • Built fridge platform and installed undermount fridge 
  • Installed kitchen sink 
  • Built platform for oven and did dry install
  • Cut Elm planks and assembled tabletop, began planing/sanding process
  • Installed a city water inlet
  • Switched out fresh tank vent plumbing for new and properly angled 
  • Fleshed out dinette framing with 3/4" ply and cut drawer front, along with top down openings for storage access
  • Seat cushion foam cut to fit, linen upholstery cut and sewn
  • Installed subwoofer, receiver, outlet, and converter box in dinette benches
  • Built out bed, along with front laundry access
  • Installed and wired AC + DC outlets in bed frame 
  • Began ripping barn wood planks for custom countertops
  • Wiring up the AC + DC into the converter box 

And I'm sure we're missing tons of other little things, especially as this Airstream is really coming together! Though we've still a long way to go (and in all likelihood, 20 hour days ahead of us starting next weekend), we're confident that we'll get finished on time. We are getting so excited to do this big reveal for Siya and Kristen, as they are our only clients who will not be (or rather haven't been), with us for the entire duration of the renovation. Their jobs as travel bloggers take them all over the world, which is so incredible - so there is something really special about this renovation. We're doing our best to keep from oversharing so these two get a big surprise when they walk into their home for the first time! We will definitely be getting some video of their reactions, so stay tuned for that. 

Two months down, one to go. 

 

Week 4: 1976 Airstream Sovereign

 Ready for flooring! 

Ready for flooring! 

Sitting with an extra dry gin martini (with a caper berry, my favorite), to soothe the adrenaline rush and relax myself after the past weekend of crazy. It's been absolutely pouring here, just buckets and buckets of rain. Much of the Midwest is under flood warnings, and we are no exception. Rain poured into part of our basement (luckily far from where we're storing renovation supplies), and onto our backs as we stepped out and back into the Airstream repeatedly. I even found myself (not wanting to lose any more time due to the storms) on my hands and knees scrubbing window frames as the skies unleashed. The thunderstorms brought lightning, which dampened our efforts at times, and overall, the rain always contributes to slowed productivity when working on an Airstream, as the lines between indoor and outdoor are so blurred. Yet we pushed through and pushed on, and had an incredible weekend to be proud of. 

 Last week, before we laid on that first coat of primer. We used Zinsser on this Airstream, but Kilz is just as good and we've used it in the past. We recommend both of these primers when painting over the skins with the existing vinyl for stain, grease cover-up and fantastic grip/stick. 

Last week, before we laid on that first coat of primer. We used Zinsser on this Airstream, but Kilz is just as good and we've used it in the past. We recommend both of these primers when painting over the skins with the existing vinyl for stain, grease cover-up and fantastic grip/stick. 

 Cutting the aluminum - keep it in the box while it's still got quite a bit of length to it. Cut a slit along the long side of the box and slide the aluminum skin through the slit. Repeat this process until all your pieces are cut to length. This image was taken when we only had this length left in the box, and removed it only then. The tight coil and pressure could be dangerous, but mostly, it's much more manageable to cut, especially in a tight space. 

Cutting the aluminum - keep it in the box while it's still got quite a bit of length to it. Cut a slit along the long side of the box and slide the aluminum skin through the slit. Repeat this process until all your pieces are cut to length. This image was taken when we only had this length left in the box, and removed it only then. The tight coil and pressure could be dangerous, but mostly, it's much more manageable to cut, especially in a tight space. 

Friday night we took off, per the usual - our one night off per week to recuperate, be together as a family, or hang with our people. We spent time with our amazing friends, Scott and Erin, and their brood of girls. Lots of wine and the most amazing salmon (flown in fresh from Alaska) and such good conversation. We are going to miss them so much! 

We were up bright and early Saturday morning to strong thunderstorms, making a Lowe's run for some electrical supplies and then crossing some items off our personal to-do list while we waited for the lightning to slow. As soon as the dangerous weather cleared, we hit the Airstream work hard. We worked consistently the rest of the weekend, taking breaks only to eat and sleep, with serious focus and determination. Knowing we've had this Airstream for one month and have only two months left to finish is pretty good motivation to kick it into gear and get shit done. 

 Clean, gorgeous end cap. The dining space is going to feel so open and inviting. Picture some cozy benches with neutral, gray linen cushions and a custom solid Elm table, made right here by us. 

Clean, gorgeous end cap. The dining space is going to feel so open and inviting. Picture some cozy benches with neutral, gray linen cushions and a custom solid Elm table, made right here by us. 

Here's what we've been working on since we last checked in: 

- Finished installing/riveting in ceiling panels

- Installed remaining patches

- Cleaned the skins thoroughly

- Custom cut aluminum for both end caps and installed

- Primed

- Painted

- Installed electrical boxes (in skins only)

- Wired in 35 DC recessed lights and 2 custom made swing arm DC sconces, installed

 Wiring in one of the DC lights - after 35 of these, I definitely felt like Popeye. My forearms were getting a crazy workout. 

Wiring in one of the DC lights - after 35 of these, I definitely felt like Popeye. My forearms were getting a crazy workout. 

- Installed/wired AC outlets

- Installed/wired DC switches (in skins only)  

- Cleaned and installed window frames/screens

- Reinstalled door frame

- Painted window frames

- Cut aluminum to square and installed Fantastic Fan framing (link below to the fan model we love)

- Reinstalled AC unit and ceiling assembly

- Installed four Furrion speakers

- Cleaned and prepped for floor installation 

 Lots of white primer and lots of wire. 

Lots of white primer and lots of wire. 

Most of this work was done in the past two days, starting at the DC lighting in the above list. The end caps, along with priming and painting, took about a week. We've been surprising ourselves, quite honestly, with our ability to keep at this work at such a fast clip. Hard to believe that just two weeks ago, we were finishing up insulation and installing interior skins, or that just one mere month ago, we were gutting and taking out interior skins and wiring to start fresh. 

 Everything starting to come together. The recessed 12v lights came from Amazon and we love how they look so much we may replace the ones in our own Airstream. Link below - we purchased the white finish, which we love. The lights blend in perfectly with the ceiling, keeping the look clean throughout, which is good, since we have 35 lights up there!    The 12v swing arm sconces are from   Lucent Lightshop  , and were custom made for our partnership. They are launching a 12v line of RV lighting and asked if we'd try out their product. We love how they look and the smaller sizing suits the Airstream bedroom space so well. 

Everything starting to come together. The recessed 12v lights came from Amazon and we love how they look so much we may replace the ones in our own Airstream. Link below - we purchased the white finish, which we love. The lights blend in perfectly with the ceiling, keeping the look clean throughout, which is good, since we have 35 lights up there!  

The 12v swing arm sconces are from Lucent Lightshop, and were custom made for our partnership. They are launching a 12v line of RV lighting and asked if we'd try out their product. We love how they look and the smaller sizing suits the Airstream bedroom space so well. 

Thanks to Airparts, Inc. for the aluminum for our custom end caps - we ordered the 60-inch width this time around and just loved the flexibility it gave us in cutting those curves for this project. While the end caps aren't a quick project, we love how they open up and modernize the space instantly, as opposed to reusing the original molded plastic from the 70s. We think a lot of folks make the originals look fantastic, we just prefer the open, clean look for our Airstreams. 

On another note of gratitude, this one is for you all: thank you for hanging in there, guys. Our tight turnaround on this project, along with finishing up our current jobs, limits time to produce content (and respond to comments/emails) significantly. We can't thank you enough for your patience with us! 

Until next time, folks. 


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