From finding the perfect base model to picking cabinet colors, learning how to renovate an Airstream is hard work. In this blog, we’ll explore the ins and outs of Airstream renovation with HostGPO member Karli of Kesco Homes. Karli recently finished renovations on a 1987 Excella, that is the definition of, “clean, cozy and homey”. She covers everything from the planning stages to the final touches and also provides tips and tricks she learned along the way (including where she bought her parts and the best painting tip of all time!). So, if you’re thinking about taking on the challenge of renovating an Airstream, read on for insight and advice!
What made you decide to renovate an Airstream?
We chose to renovate an Airstream, honestly, because we liked them! Our goal is to create a whole experience around the Airstream, so that way it becomes the destination itself.
What model Airstream did you choose and why?
So we have a 1987 Excella and we chose it because it checked all three of our boxes. The first box was that we wanted one that was a bit longer since the goal was to have it as an Airbnb. We figured a little bit more space would be better, so this one is 31 feet long. Our second and third boxes were for it to be a vintage, but well-cared for model. That way we can add our own style and design into it so we could make it our own.
How did you choose your design style?
Using a word to describe our style is kind of hard. What I try to achieve is clean, cozy and homey. I want people to walk into any of our properties and feel comfortable, like they are at home. That’s always my goal. When I saw the interior pictures of this particular Airstream, I just knew I wanted to paint the cabinets green. I have been feeling the earthy colors lately and I love green– I try to sneak it into all of our properties.
Where did you source your Airstream parts?
The parts we needed that were specific to a travel trailer we were able to find online on websites like rvpartscenter.com and campingworld.com. Other than that we used Home Depot, Lowes, Amazon and local lumbar yards. For example, we bought LVP flooring from Lowes, the same we would use in a house.
How long did the project take from start to finish?
It took us about 2 months and we were basically in there all day everyday.
What did you find to be the most useful tool in the renovation?
Maybe you think this wouldn’t make a big difference, but it made a huge difference. So, we found this spray paint, spray gun. We found it in Lowes and it was a Rust-Oleum custom grip sprayer. It attaches to the top of a can of spray paint and it has a trigger instead of having to use your finger to spray the paint. It made all the difference for us; save us time and our hands!
What are your top 3 lessons learned from renovating an Airstream?
The first lesson is that primer is KEY. The interior of Airstreams are made of so many different materials; there’s vinyl, metal, plastics, so all surfaces need to be thoroughly cleaned in order for paint to stick to them. First we used a vinegar wash, followed by a liquid sandpaper, then primer (we chose a Kilz product), and then we painted.
The next lesson is to make sure everything is sealed on the outside; the windows, the seams, even around the lights! Just because you don’t see it leaking on the inside, doesn’t mean that it’s not leaking in from the outside. We used a product called Sikaflex, which was a little tricky to work with in the beginning, but we got the hang of it! Tip: if you ever use it, make sure you have acetone on hand.
The last lesson is something that we learned a long time ago and we apply it to all our projects. Do it once, and do it right. Even if that means spending a little bit more money just to ensure the quality is there. When we purchased the Airstream, all of the plumbing was working fine and we decided that it should be replaced anyway, so we upgraded everything to PEX plumbing.
What were your pain points?
Painting! It’s nothing like painting a house and it took way longer than expected. Mostly because there’s so much prep work involved and I would say if you don’t do those steps to prep the surfaces, then the paint won’t stick.
Which part was the most fun and why?
Honestly the fun came at the end when we got to put the whole design together and see it turn into what we were envisioning. We got to order custom fabrics, and cushions and I found some rugs and bedding that I really liked, but during the renovation I don’t know if fun is the word I would use. It was a huge learning curve for us, it took us a bit longer than we had anticipated and it’s really nothing like renovating a house.
What’s the most recent item that you can remember that you’ve ordered from HostGPO?
My most recent HostGPO purchase is actually a West Elm couch that is for a new project that I will show you soon!
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