before and afterDIYinterior designInteriors

Before & After: An Airstream Trailer In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover

by Erin Austen Abbott

Living an in alternative home might not be for everyone, but for Natasha Lawyer and Brett Bashaw, renovating and living in a 1972 31-foot Airstream Sovereign has only brought them closer (no, really, they share 200 square feet). “We started with our mutual desire to see the country,” Natasha recalls. “Last year my husband Brett and I bought a 1978 Volkswagen van, converted it into a camper, put everything we owned in storage and handed back the keys to our apartment. We traveled for six months living inside our Volkswagen which we christened with the name ‘Wes Vanderson.’ We began by crossing Canada from West to East, ending in Newfoundland and then headed South entering back into the United States in Maine and continuing our journey through the States. We loved the alternative way of living, and as our trip started winding down, we began talking about how we could live differently when we returned home. After such a transformational trip we didn’t want to simply return to regular life as it was before, as though our amazing journey never happened. We got the idea of renovating an Airstream to live in from lovely nomadic Insta-friends, Birch and Pine and started planning for it during the tail-end of our van trip. Eventually we sold our van through our Instagram account, bought a tow vehicle for our pending Airstream purchase, and headed back to Seattle. We purchased a gutted Airstream in Portland on the way home and started work on it in February of this year.”

Natasha and Brett have scrubbed, primed, painted and installed to transform their Airstream into a beautiful home for them, their two dogs and 59 plants! Taking Natasha’s art background and mixing it with her two years as a display designer for Anthropologie, the couple had the ground work for diving into the renovations. “We had Natasha’s Dad come help put up walls, wire, and guide us in the plumbing of the Airstream and then we started on cabinets,” they tell us. “When we moved in here, we had no running water, but after living in a van for six months it just felt like so much space for us! Since February we’ve gradually put up walls, built a closet, got the water running, installed a toilet and sink, built cabinetry, a daybed, added shelving, tiled a backsplash, whitewashed walls, installed fixtures, and have continued to add to our home by planting a container garden and building a patio outside. We’re eight months in and we’re about 75% finished at this point. As we’ve started wrapping up most of the major work on the interior, Brett has begun working on the exterior; buffing the aluminum to a mirror shine.”

I hope you enjoy this makeover as much as we do. It’s truly a beautiful transformation to take a gutted, moldy Airstream and turn it into a warm and inviting home. —Erin

Photography by Natasha Lawyer

Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"The day we found our Airstream in Portland, OR. We had been looking for a 31-foot 1970s airstream that was already gutted since we wanted to start from scratch and it would save time not to have to rip everything out. This one fit the bill. It was moldy and leaking and covered in spray paint and we knew we were taking on a huge job. When we towed it home from Portland to Seattle, WA, the Airstream wiring shorted out the electrical on our 4Runner and we ended up stalled in traffic in rush hour in a turning lane with a 31-foot trailer behind us. We waited four hours for a tow truck that could tow both us and our trailer while people honked and yelled and whipped around us. It was quite the baptism by fire," Natasha remembers.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"After pulling everything else out of the Airstream, ugly valences, a broken water heater, and a rusted old hood fan that we didn't need, we scrubbed down the walls and put our coats of paint & primer on. It made such a HUGE difference. It gave us the first glimpse of what our home could really be," Natasha shares. The paint color is Behr's "Frost."
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"A picture of our original Airstream plans," Natasha notes. "Things shifted around a few feet when building, but mostly the layout stayed the same -- we wanted a ton of counter space and a bed we could access from both sides without having to climb over one another to get in."
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"Installing our engineered end-grain flooring. We fell in love with end-grain flooring when we saw it in these rad coffee shops [like] Revelator Coffee in the south while traveling the country last year." Natasha shares. Source: Engineered end-grain flooring from Kaswell flooring Systems.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"This is me under the Airstream pulling wire," Natasha tells us. "We did all of our plumbing and electrical ourselves outside in Seattle in the winter which meant a ton of rain. We put on garbage bags and crawled around pulling wire and plumbing the underside of the Airstream. There is very little clearance and we were soaked and absolutely miserable by the end of it."
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
The Airstream begins to take shape at this point with a rough platform built for the bed, the floor down, and framing up the walls with steel studs.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
The first wall covered with shiplap, temporary lighting, and the cabinets going in. "We used the most gorgeous birch ply and kept the natural grain of the wood on the cabinets," Natasha shares.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"Our doorway visually separates our living room from kitchen. The television cabinet on the left and range cabinet on the right. We have our garbage underneath the range and sliding baskets for our shoes there as well. We also still have an ugly little pipe with a fan in it above the stove where the hood fan used to be. It's super thick steel and for the life of us we cant get it off; I think I'll have to rent an angle grinder and go at it. Hopefully we'll be able to get our cabinet doors in soon to cover it up," Natasha says. Sources: Sliding baskets, wall sconce, rubbish bin and TV stand from IKEA, pots and brass wall rail from Schoolhouse Electric, Record player from Urban Outfitters and daybed mattress from Anthropologie.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
The view from the kitchen towards the back of the Airstream. Natasha shares, "I whitewashed the shiplap in the main area and I love the airy Scandinavian feel it gave the room with the layered wood tones." Sources: Brass wall rail & Dansk Pots from Schoolhouse Electric, wall sconce from IKEA, air plant holders from Umbra.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"Our live-edge kitchen shelves. I had to wait for months before we could afford to do the backsplash as we were prioritizing things like a toilet and running water, ha. I love, love, love this shelf and backsplash. Hexagon tiles were a long-time dream for me and this was our first place I could make it happen," Natasha shares. Sources: Shelf brackets from IKEA, live-edge lumber from lumberyard, honeycomb tile from Home Depot, brass planters and turquoise recycled glass tumblers from Schoolhouse Electric, sprinkle plant pottery made by Natasha, wood bowls were thrifted, white mixed pattern stacking cereal bowls from World Market.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
The view of the large countertop and sliding cabinet doors. Natasha was able to get so much storage and also build the fridge into the cabinet. Sources: Bella toaster and brass H&M Home cake stand. Brass faucet from Kingston Brass; soap holder from Muji. Magic Chef fridge is peeking out from behind the cabinets as well.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"A little detail shot of our kitchen counter. Hanging art in the Airstream is a bit of a challenge because the walls are all curved. I found these vintage brass clips at a shop in Portland and used self-tapping screws to screw them into the aluminum. This way we can clip our artwork up and change it whenever we feel like it," Natasha offers. Artwork by Kristen Barnhart.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"I built the daybed around this Anthropologie mattress I fell in love with. After it was finished we went on a hunt at Target for lumbar pillows that worked with the print and found pillows in the EXACT SAME FABRIC. It absolutely blew my mind; serious daybed miracle. We spend so much time here looking out the window at our little pond, watching TV and me drawing while he reads. The light in here is absolutely incredible. I got the idea of a white television into my head a while back and scoured the web until I found this LG model, we love this space so much." she shares. Source: triangle shelf from The Small Savage Wild.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
Art from People I've Loved, that was picked up last year, at a little shop in Halifax, during a cross-country trip that Natasha and Brett took.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"Our dreamy bedroom, I love it in here. Brett and I went to town installing toggle hooks in the ceiling and hung a ton of plants up. It's like sleeping in a rainforest, which is basically a life dream for me left over from watching 'FernGully' as a girl. We picked up our blanket ladder when traveling in New Mexico and the Turkish throw we bought in Nashville on our second anniversary. Every year we pick out an anniversary gift together based on the traditional gift for the anniversary, that year was cotton," Natasha shares.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
The bedroom (formerly the bathroom before renovation) had a giant hole in the wall where the shower used to be that exposed pink insulation, so Natasha and Brett built the cabinet over it, which is now used as a hamper.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"We built our little patio as soon as the sun came out in Seattle and went to work on our container garden. It was my first time planting a garden and it was such fun! We had fresh kale, lettuce, chard and potatoes this summer and we're still getting tomatoes from our plants," Natasha shares. Source: Modern white patio chair from IKEA, triangle umbrella from Target, Airstream letter 'A' found at a demolished McDonalds.
Before and After: An Airstream In Seattle Gets a Complete Makeover
"In August, Brett finally started shining the exterior of the Airstream and it made such a difference. We were about halfway through our first pass with the rotary buffer at the point this photo was taken and it seriously blew our minds! The added benefit is that the shiny surface reflects more light now so it's cooler inside. The driftwood leg table I built for our Volkswagen bus, we took it when we sold the Volkswagen and now it's our planting table. It went all over North America with us so it's a major sentimental piece."

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  • Great space and a great starter home! Kudos!

    A couple of questions:
    When you work with framing a new wall into the trailer (say one of the side walls of the bathroom), do you work with slip joints between the trailer and wall framing to allow for movement?

    Did you find any books extremely handy during your project? A trailer wiring and plumbing hand book? A zen guide to trailer maintenance?

    Thanks for a great project write up, and good luck in your new home!

  • this is simply awesome. i love everything you did and your boundless enthusiasm springs out at the reader. aND the plants… goodness me – you are fantastic. many moons ago I travelled in a 3rd hand VW bus for 5 months, and knew after that experience that I was done with ‘camping’….

  • This is gorgeous and so inspiring. We are currently renovating a 27′ 1976 Airstream Overlander and hoping to be ready for the road by May. Did you document any of your projects on the Airforums? I’d love to follow your renovation more closely, if so! Many thanks and happy living!

  • Oh, your trailer is lovely. This weekend we spent very rainy days camping in our motor home in a park near Tacoma, still fun/cozy. The most amazing part of this is: you can grow tomatos in Seattle?? I’ve given up. I feel my role in life now is to support the farmers markets.

  • Natasha and Brett did such a wonderful job, it’s so beautiful, it’s been fun following their Instagram page to see all the changes and evolution of their home.

  • What rules and regulations determine where you can park and live in a trailer in Seattle? Is it hard to find a place? What was your experience?

  • An Awesome finish to a brand new beginning.
    What a wonderful and cozy home youve designed. Im totally impressed.
    Im a professional artist and have a client that wants a commissioned piece of art from me to put on the walls of his new Airstream. I was wondering if you had any wall art and how you hung it. The curves in the walls would seem to be a challenge to me. I dont think anyone sells curved canvases, is my problem.

    Thank you and good luck in your new endeavors. May they be as successful as this one.
    Barbara Lemley

  • I have an airstream gutted and in similar shape as your “before” photo. Did scrubbing, painting and priming do the trick. Was there much calking ,resealing or pulling out of mouse dropping infested insulation. It looks just beautiful.

  • I was wondering what material you used for the ceiling. I’m about to start redoing our 1996, 30′ Excella 1000. The ceiling is sagging and not able to stretch the material back in place. Any help would be appreciated