Cabinets in an Vintage Airstream

Building cabinets in a refurbished 1968 Airstream is a worthy challenge.  Why so? It is a matter of curves.  An Airstream is a tube with a flat bottom and rounded ends.  The floor is relatively flat, though in an older trailer, the frame may bow a bit at the axles.  It can bend off a bit to the sides.  Then, of course, the trailer is only as flat as it has been leveled. The main part of the tube appears to be symmetrical, but it isn’t.  If you get a good template of the shape at one spot, it does not fit anywhere else.  So every critical point requiring a templated cut is different.  The front end and the rear are not bookend matches either.  They both have their own particular geometry, and after working with mine, I suspect no two vintage Airstreams are alike.  

The Airstream has a reputation, much like the Harley Davidson, that, upon intimate investigation, turns out to be highly myth based.  They are expensive new, expensive to buy restored, and hold a following of devoted enthusiasts.  But when you tear one down to the bones, there is not a lot of there there.  Kind of flimsy if truth be told.  The genius behind the myth seems to be the aircraft aluminum.  A brilliant drawing down from the sky to the highway.

So making cabinets in a funky aluminum tube begins with carefully taking apart the old ones.  Looking carefully at how they did it at the factory back in the day.  Saving parts and pieces.  Taking pictures.  Learning some new tricks.  Marveling at the hundreds of varieties of Aluminum molded trim pieces they availed themselves to.  Much of what I put back in place of the old mimics the original building techniques.  The face frames and doors were pretty straight forward. The cabinet cases, side walls for cabinetry, and opportunities for utilizing spaces created the most interesting challenges.  For instance, the kick space is usually dead space in a kitchen.  But in a trailer, where storage space is golden, that little space under the cabinet floor is critical. There are also wheel wells to deal with, lots of windows, irregular framing supports, and the fact that this contraption will be pulled down the highway at substantial speeds. 

My approach to the cabinets was to make them functional.  Keep it simple, and use all the space I had as efficiently as I could.  To this end, I have to give credit to the original design.  They did accomplish this well.  My cabinets are better made, but heavier than the originals. They had some cool aluminum trim pieces I did not have access to.  But I have better hinges and slides and materials to work with.  I ended up with a functional space.  I think it comes to about 270 square feet total.  There is a full functioning kitchen.  Two closets, lots of drawers and cabinets.  A bath vanity and built in shelves.  Pretty cool deal all the way around.  A lot of fun to do once.  Not sure I will venture in again.  But glad I did this one.