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Tin Can Homestead
The Art of Airstream Living
Formats and Prices
- Hardcover $25.00 $31.00 CAD
- ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 1, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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The Airstream trailer is the ultimate symbol of vintage wanderlust-and the classic touring vehicle’s resurgent popularity has dovetailed with the tiny house movement, resonating with design-minded individuals looking to live small. Tin Can Homestead, based on the popular Instagram of the same name, is the ultimate resource for these would-be DIY-ers, and the perfect coffee-table addition for anyone looking for streamlined, modern lifestyle inspiration.
Part practical how-to, part lushly illustrated design inspiration, Tin Can Homestead follows the story of one couple as they build themselves a new life in an old Airstream. Through personal stories and down-and-dirty checklists, this book guides readers through all stages of creating their own Airstream homes-from buying a trailer to plumbing and electrical work. With a hip, bohemian aesthetic and a fresh authorial voice, the authors pair their DIY knowledge with lifestyle advice-including dÃ©r, design, and entertaining-and abundant illustrations, from in-process photographs to hand-drawn illustrations.
Our journey to tiny living began with a text. My husband Brett was driving to work, or rather, stopping for coffee and dreading arriving at work. While waiting for his order, he sent me a message, “what if we took a year off to travel?”
He told me later that this was prompted by a documentary he had recently seen, in which a rich and successful surgeon, who was suffering from depression and feelings of deep unhappiness, sold everything he owned in favor of buying a condo on a beach. After the surgeon quit his job and moved, he chose to spend his days in-line skating up and down the pier and was happier than he had ever been. In changing his life in such a drastic manner, the surgeon had shirked conventional ideas about what should make someone happy and successful. At that time, Brett was feeling stir-crazy and stuck in the day-to-day mundane—seeing that documentary only exacerbated his feelings. So, when he sent his text about quitting our jobs and traveling, he expected my answer to be something along the lines of, “yeah that would be nice, with what money?” Instead, I texted back, “what if we bought a van and lived in it?”
We both share a love of travel, so when I received Brett’s text, I was game for that part of things. But, when I got to thinking about how we could make it happen from a practical standpoint, I realized that paying for a place to stay is always the most expensive part of travel. But, if we brought a place to stay along with us, we could make it work.
Three months later we were the proud owners of an orange vintage 1978 Volkswagen van that we dubbed “Wes Vanderson.” (Brett said it looked like a prop from a Wes Anderson movie when he found the advertisement for it; I came up with the name.) Ever the romantic, if I was going to spend six months living in a van, I was going to do it in classic Americana style.
We spent the next six months saving for time off and converting the van from a transporter to a camper van. Once it was finished, we took six months off, heading north from Seattle up through the west coast of Canada and across the entire country to Newfoundland—the easternmost tip of North America—then back down in a meandering crisscross all over the United States. We drove and hiked and read and explored and met people from all over. Many of those friends were acquired online, through our newly discovered community of “van lifers” on Instagram. We connected with people living in vans and recreational vehicles of all types, and as our trip began winding down, we started thinking about what our return home would look like. We had left Seattle at the beginning of the summer, handing back the keys to our apartment and putting everything we owned into a wooden storage pod. We couldn’t afford to travel forever and we couldn’t afford to buy the cabin we had dreamed of settling into one day, so where did that leave us? We were heading back to a wood crate filled with belongings we didn’t miss in a city we couldn’t afford. The idea of returning only to move into an overpriced apartment and work jobs that didn’t pay a lot just to be able to afford to live in it seemed so awful. It felt like we’d be living just to pay bills. It seemed we would somehow be denying the transformative months we had spent living differently if we just settled right back into our old lives like the trip never happened. So we started brainstorming.
During our wanderings we had connected with a bunch of different nomad families through Instagram. Among those nomads were a couple of ladies under the Instagram handle The Modern Caravan. Kate and Ellen were traveling with their daughter in an Airstream, and I remember being so enamored with the way they had transformed their space. This was right around the time when I was sharing a bed that was only slightly bigger than a twin size with a six-foot-two-inch tall, broad-shouldered man and a dog. Both of them sleep like starfish, with their limbs splayed this way and that, which, among other things, was making van life seem less and less glamorous. In the morning I would untangle myself from a pile of limbs and then see a photo of a room with a gorgeous bed, piled with a fluffy ivory duvet beside a warm birch plywood sideboard and complete with a Chemex coffeemaker, nested in the middle of the woods somewhere. The contrast was stark. I remember being particularly obsessed with the above photo.
Up until that point every trailer and recreational vehicle I had ever seen was filled with dark wood laminate. Every inch, from floor to ceiling, was crammed with as many utilitarian cubbies as possible (not to mention the awful upholstery). And don’t even get me started on showering above a plastic toilet. It’s always been incredibly important to me that the spaces in which I exist are aesthetically appealing. Living in an RV seemed to contradict that inclination in every way possible. But, after seeing the way those amazing ladies had transformed their space, it seemed plausible to take on RV life in style. Their space felt so light, airy, and modern—and they were pulling it behind them to places like Alaska and Joshua Tree. We loved how untraditional it was. I mean, they had a wood dining room table with hairpin legs! (We had a similar one in Washington, sitting in a crate with everything else we owned.) And so we began to discuss how we could live in an Airstream back in Seattle. We imagined ourselves on a site in the middle of the woods in the Pacific Northwest, building fires outside and falling asleep in a regular-size bed.
Brett and I already knew that we did well living together in a small space; the Volkswagen was tiny, so the comparative size of an Airstream seemed huge. As we traveled from place to place, I began my research. I read Airstream forums about renovations and common problems; I discovered Airstream classifieds and perused them daily. We figured since we were heading back to Seattle in a couple of months, we could buy an Airstream wherever we found one and bring it back with us.
We spent a lot of time in coffee shops—and still do—as we’re both coffee addicts, and Brett was enrolled in full-time university online. He would study, and I would endlessly scour the classifieds, drawing and redrawing Airstream layout plans. The first one I sketched out was in a coffee shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, pictured above.
Besides deciding what the interior was going to look like and where we were going to buy an Airstream, we also had to figure out the more important question of where we were going to put a trailer when we did find one. Obviously, buying a chunk of land was ideal, but we were going back to Seattle, and with the tech boom and the skyrocketing cost of land it seemed pretty unlikely that we could afford anything. Besides, while researching tiny living I discovered that you can’t necessarily plop an Airstream or tiny home wherever you want and expect no one to bother you, even if it is your own land. I read about laws that prohibited living in tiny dwellings unless there was already a bigger house on a lot (and then what’s the savings?) and learned that living in driveways full-time wasn’t exactly legal either. I eventually arrived at the conclusion that an RV park was probably our best bet. I began to research parks within commuting distance of Seattle. You don’t have to drive too far outside of Seattle to be in the middle of the woods, and we needed a place we could live stationary and long term—a homestead.
In the meantime, I was researching what to look for when buying a vintage Airstream. I learned about the trailer frames (chassis) and common rust problems, about the fact that all Airstreams leak and what leaking is easily fixed and what isn’t. I read about how many abandoned Airstreams become homes to mice, insects, and other vermin, which can mean that you will need to rip out all of the trailer’s walls and insulation to remedy the problem. I compiled a little list of things to check out when we were viewing prospective new homes—I had read horror stories about people stepping right through rotted floors, or trailers coming away from rusted frames halfway down the highway behind their towing vehicle. I also contacted our pals Kate and Ellen from The Modern Caravan and used them as a sounding board for shopping. They proved to be an invaluable resource throughout our process. Here’s the checklist we came up with:
Once I had this list to run over in my mind, I felt a little better wading through the piles of classifieds. The first Airstream we looked at was in rough shape, and the floor was so water damaged that Brett’s foot went right through it.
One of the things that was important for us to determine early on was how much we wanted to renovate our Airstream. There are some people who buy trailers, leave the existing layout and furniture, and give them a cosmetic makeover: a new paint job, fabric change, appliance swap, etc. This requires a different set of guidelines when viewing the trailers. Some people tear everything out, including the walls, and take it right down to the studs and frames, removing the subfloor and even grinding down the frame. I knew I wanted to gut our Airstream entirely. I wanted to do all our own flooring, cabinetry, and appliances, and I wanted to customize the layout. But I also decided early on that I wanted to avoid taking the walls out if I could manage it, and I wanted a subfloor that was mostly in good shape (instead of having to replace huge chunks of soggy subfloor). With those parameters in mind, I looked for an Airstream that was already gutted to save on demolition time and the expense and trouble of getting rid of all the interior materials that weren’t needed.
One of the first things I discovered about RV parks is that they’re really hard to get into. Many of them don’t allow long-term occupants, and if they do, there are restrictions on how old your trailer is allowed to be. Many have waiting lists and some do credit checks. I’ve seen a lot of school bus conversions lately that are beautiful, but most RV parks do not allow school buses, and they definitely don’t allow tiny houses. These are all things to keep in mind when pursuing tiny living, and another reason why a travel trailer is a good choice. We got our spot in our RV park by the skin of our teeth due to a combination of my perseverance in cold-calling every RV park within a fifty-mile radius of Seattle and Brett sweet-talking the manager the day of when she initially complained about the state of the Airstream on moving day. The other thing to keep in mind is that most RV parks don’t want you renovating your trailer at the RV park. We parked our trailer in a friend’s driveway for a month or so and worked on it a bit before towing it into the RV park. When we moved it in, it was an empty, scrubbed, painted, and primed shell with roller blinds (so the management of the park couldn’t see that it was entirely empty). We didn’t exactly have permission to be doing any renovations, but we kept our renovating to reasonable hours, were very friendly with our neighbors, and always made sure to clean up outside right when we finished our work for the day. Most people in the park were more curious than annoyed, and we invited quite a few neighbors inside to see what we were up to. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
After making sure we had a plan for a legal place to put our Airstream, we were able to firm up how we wanted to live in it. We planned to live stationary in our Airstream; we were going to live in an RV park so we didn’t need to worry about getting power off batteries or making sure our tanks were plumbed in for off-grid use. After six months of tooling around the country in our Volkswagen, we wanted to stay put for work—and sanity. Our future travel plans wouldn’t include bringing our home. We basically wanted our Airstream to serve as a tiny house, and so we planned, wired, and plumbed it that way. And since I had decided that I didn’t want to rip out all the walls, I worked on designing the interior in such a way that we could run all the electrical and plumbing through the walls and cabinetry we were installing. How you live in a space determines so much about its design. If you love cooking, you prioritize kitchen space; if you love guests staying with you, you make your layout guest-friendly. If you have kids, they need places to sleep and play. How much storage do you need? Are you renovating it to live in or just for travel? Will you be using it as a mobile office; what kind of a workspace do you need? These were all things we considered when planning our space.
- On Sale
- May 1, 2018
- Page Count
- 216 pages
- Running Press