|Finished birch interior|
We wanted a lighter, warmer interior for our trailer. We also wanted to keep the vintage Airstream feel that came from the lightweight aluminum frame construction used in the early 1970s. If I had to give a name to the design style, I might call it Retro Futuristic, looking back and forward at the same time.
The work taught us about all of the interior systems in the trailer, since we ended up removing and/or replacing nearly everything on the inside. If you are facing similar work, I hope this blog gives you the information you need to help in your decisions or your work. I hope it serves to encourage. I am not a woodworker, but I have learned how to handle wood. I am not a wood finisher, but I have learned to handle finishes to a level that works for us. I find that I enjoy the engineering sorts of challenges (see the Versatile Desk post in this blog), but that wasn't strictly necessary for this interior. If I can do it, you can do it.
There are only a few essential tools. I couldn't have done it without the jigsaw, the cordless power drill, the palm sander and the pop riveting tool. Hand tools such as hammers, screwdrivers, adjustable wrenches and a rubber mallet come in handy. It helps to have an accurate table saw. I had access to one nearby and sawed things in batches. This took extra planning, but I had no other choice. My hand isn't steady enough to do the long, straight cuts with a jigsaw and I'm not strong enough to wield a circular saw with safety and accuracy. Read more for pictures and details.
Our work process was to start down one side and come back up the other, so we never had more than half the kitchen apart at a time. We don't have interior workspace at our house, so the trailer was both the workshop and the project. You'll see pictures of the crowding this sometimes caused. I'll divide the description into Kitchen, and Back Room. I go into more detail about the tall kitchen pantry in another post.
The issues we faced with the kitchen included saggy, particle board tambour under the sink, a functional but rusty original stove, kitchen counters in Harvest Gold formica, and walls of dark, wood grain plastic laminate. The whole effect was dark, worn out and weary.
|The old stove needed work|
|Powder coat on the lid and stove top, and spray paint behind the knobs|
The kitchen sink cabinet needed a few improvements, all of them interconnected. We kept the original sink, but replaced the faucet. We kept the original aluminum framing, but replaced the veneer facing and the 1/4" thick side walls. We kept the original tambour mechanisms, but replaced the tambour with real birch. Any retrofit introduces constraints since the new seldom matches the old. Prepare to be flexible and open minded in seeking solutions.
The sink came out easily after the shelf under the cabinet had been removed. There are screw on the underside that loosen with a wrench and a screwdriver. It helps to be as flexible as Gumby and to have three hands, but it is possible even with human constraints. Plumbing tools may be required.
The stove came out next. Removal became a game of "hunt the fasteners" while I found screws from a variety of angles. There are a couple of tricky bits here. First, turn off the propane to the trailer. Then, as soon as you can reach it, unscrew the propane line from the stove. Next to the propane line is an essential, delicate and irreplaceable part. It is the tube that holds the thermocouple. Carefully disconnect this as well. Every fastener from each task was immediately placed in a labelled baggie.
|Vertical trim removed|
I was so concerned that the veneer would fall out of its channel that I cut it as tight a fit as I could. I forgot that I was working on this in January. In warm weather the veneer expands and buckles a bit. I special ordered the veneer through a local independent lumber store. The veneer comes with a paper backing and can be cut with scissors.
|Horizontal veneer replaced|
|Vertical veneer replaced after riveting horizontal bar|
The tambour enters the channel at the edge where it opens. There is a bit of the inside edge of the aluminum channel that can be bent down, allowing the tambour to move out of the channel and into the cabinet under the sink. This is also how the new tambour goes back in. After the tambour is back in, the tab can be bent back up so that the tambour won't get derailed when it is pulled closed.
|Tambour and veneer in place, cabinet side being varnished|
The kitchen counter sparked some debate. Harvest gold isn't necessarily the wrong choice. But next to the warm undertones of the birch, it took on a sickly, greenish tinge. Replacing with laminate was definitely an option. Laminate is easy to clean. It comes in a wonderful variety of colors. It is light weight, easy to cut and relatively simple to install. Butcher block, on the other hand, never melts when something hot is set on it. It ages gracefully, developing a patina rather than looking old and scarred. It can even be sanded down and re-oiled for a nearly new look. We plan to keep this trailer forever and we don't relish replacing the counter again, so longevity was the factor that tipped the scales in favor of the warm, wood tones of butcher block. Two beech Ikea counter tops were just the right size to replace the kitchen sink counter, the counter above the fridge and make a top for the desk in the back room.
|Warm wood tones in the kitchen|
|The old laminate has since been replaced|
The Back Room - Walls, Closets and Upper Cabinets
Renovation here can be summed up as "remove, copy and replace."
|The old wall was 2" too wide|
Each bulkhead in our trailer is made from 1/4" thick material, held in place by curved aluminum channel attached to the inner wall of the trailer and by a straight piece of extruded aluminum that is screwed into the ceiling and floor. The curved edge of the bulkhead is a snug fit in the channel, but is not actually attached to the aluminum. The straight piece assures that it will not fall out of its channel. I do not know why the curved part floats. It may help the insides move a bit if the trailer flexes while under way. Or it may just be a time and cost saver, since restraining it isn't necessary.
|Hmmm, the open plan looks tempting|
The straight channel is held to the bulkhead with a number u-shaped spring clips that fit inside the channel and have inward facing barbs to grab and hold the bulk head. They are usually spaced about a foot apart but this can vary widely, depending on how thorough the assembler was being that day, I guess. If you lose one, don't worry. Because there is a slight lip at the inside edge of the channel, it is easier to slide the channel off lengthwise than to force it off sideways. Then the u-clips can be pried off with a screwdriver and saved for later.
|The new, narrower wall in place|
|Upper cabinet off and veneer in place|
|Pictures help with reassembly|
|Upper cabinet off the wall|
|Finishing a cabinet underside|
|The center divider, which doesn't show, keeps a bit of the trailer's history|
It's nearly exactly the same space as before, but it feels completely different. Our bed is permanently set up on the front dinette so this is the view we wake up to. Yes, it took a lot of time and scraped knuckles and a lot of chores and housework didn't get done, but we have no regrets. It's lovely.
|Here's that original picture from the top again, now that you know the story.|