Just over 10 years ago, the former owner unhitched the 22’ Safari Sleep Airstream, gave a brief tutorial on water, gas and electric and then left the dull, hulking vehicle in my driveway. That was the beginning of MAK Design+Build. Our vision was to make this symbol of American ingenuity a home for a construction company that–like the Airstream Trailer Company itself—valued quality, innovation and design.
Our first remodeling project was to convert the 180 square foot travel trailer into a suitable office space. From the cabinets made of Dakota Burl to the workstation built over the toilet, every square foot was stripped, repaired and rewired for its new purpose. Staff meetings were a little tight but we had room for a printer on the range and rolls of plans in the shower and we loved being part of the Wally Byam design legacy.
The emotional appeal of an Airstream trailer is undeniable. It invites daydreaming about everything from family car trips to Lucille Ball to NASA sending astronauts to the moon. You don’t have to know that it is made of aircraft aluminum to feel its potential for flight. Even though our Airstream has not moved more than 3’ since the day it arrived, its aerodynamic shape always seems eager to speed to new horizons.
The design genius is in the ability to embody opposing passions simultaneously: it is futuristic and nostalgic; adventurous and homey; technical and comfortable. The interiors of the trailer are ever changing and subject to the whims of whoever has adopted the vehicle. Just like our own office conversion, the inside can serve any purpose.
In contrast to the adaptability of the interior, the exterior is always the same. The shape and material define the Airstream and Airstream owners go to great lengths to heighten the impact of both. There is no shortage of resources for step-by-step instructions on how to make your old trailer into a shining starship. Cyclo Polishers, compounders, wool polishing pads, yards of heavy cotton fabric, scaffolding, and several grades of polishing compound are just a few of the things that you need to get the job done. It is both a labor of love and a real financial investment to polish a thing of that size. But there is a pay-off.
When the aluminum surface is polished to a mirror finish a magical thing happens: the enormous vehicle seems to disappear. The Airstream melds into everything around it, reinforcing its potential to conquer space and time—without even leaving the driveway! And of course when the trailer becomes a giant three-dimensional mirror we see ourselves in that somewhat distorted but vast reflection and are reminded of our own place in the big picture.
The trailer took MAK a few years down the road, but when we hired our full-time designer we had to move into a downtown office with room for real IKEA office furniture and a working bathroom down the hall. We now have a full staff of uniquely talented designers and exceptional builders who add new and better things to the world everyday. And though our office no longer has to be registered with the DMV, it’s still our vehicle for change.