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Tiny mobile homes have long been havens for cross-country travelers, and no vehicle sums up adventure quite like an Airstream. The iconic silver bullets, which became symbols of easy, nomadic living when they first arrived on the scene in the 1930s, have been making a comeback. Thanks to innovative renovators like Kate Oliver and Ellen Prasse, the wives–turned–business partners behind The Modern Caravan, the vintage vessels are getting a fresh, 21st-century facelift.

After deciding to trade their 9-to-5 jobs for a life on the road three years ago, the pair made flipping retro caravans into tiny, contemporary retreats their full-time gig. To date, the couple has renovated six Airstreams: three for clients and three for themselves. Their latest fixer-upper (dubbed Isla) might just be their most stylish transformation yet. Created for clients Chris and Page, a young couple who, after a three-year stint in Puerto Rico, decided to switch gears and explore North America, the Airstream is a mod vision in pink. Oliver and Prasse wanted to design a caravan that would continue to fuel their inner wanderlust.

“As we worked through the design plan, we were able to use our knowledge of living in an Airstream to help them understand how the space would be used,” Oliver tells Domino.  “Living tiny is a willing sacrifice, and it’s not the same as living in an average-size home, which is why we work so closely with clients to determine the things they need the most, and then the things they want the most.”

If you’ve ever wondered whether a residence-on-wheels can feel like a real home, this mobile retreat will put your questions to rest. Read on for six key small-space living lessons we learned from this $60,000 reno.

Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s easy to fix

While Chris and Page’s needs for their new home were pretty basic (the couple wanted a full bathroom, king-size bed, accessible storage, and a functioning kitchen), the remodel proved to be Oliver and Prasse’s most challenging yet. “This was the first client renovation that we actually traveled and lived on-site with, so that was quite a learning curve,” shares Oliver. “Outside of that, the Airstream itself was poorly constructed. It came off the factory line in bad shape, and it was our task to fix those mistakes. We faced a lot of setbacks that held time hostage, and it was difficult to regain momentum sometimes, as the setbacks seemed to come every few days.”

Repairing the large gaps between the outer skin and windows and polishing the exterior were just two big tasks on their to-do list. In the end, Oliver and Prasse were working through the holidays in order to complete the space a month and a half later than they had originally anticipated.

Ward off clutter with custom built-ins

Be it a 100-something-square-foot apartment; eco-friendly hut; or, in this case, a retro caravan, no smaller-than-average home can make do without ample storage. Taking full advantage of every nook and cranny, the sleek built-in wardrobe, which lines the hallway leading toward the bedroom, offers extensive room for the couple to hang, organize, and stash their daily gear. “When deciding on what storage to incorporate in a tiny space, the first rule is accessibility: If you can’t easily get to your stored items, there’s really no point in having the storage,” explains Oliver. If given more time, Oliver notes she would have liked to wallpaper the interior of the closet “something deep, dark, and floral” for an unexpected pop of color.

“Living tiny is a willing sacrifice, and it’s not the same as living in an average-size home.”

Feeling motivated to hit the road yourself? You can keep up with The Modern Caravan’s latest projects and adventures on Instagram, or peek inside Oliver and Prasse’s current home for more tiny-home inspo.

Elevate tight corners with luxe-looking fabrics and materials  

Contrary to popular belief, square footage and style are not mutually exclusive. A refuge for natural sunlight, the velvet blush pink seating that punctuates one end of the Airstream packs more style than most average-size living rooms will ever see in a lifetime. Dark wood detailing, an acrylic coffee table, and mustard-colored sconces complete the ultra-modern scene. “It’s so cozy and welcoming, and it makes the space feel like a Paris apartment and not like you’re in a camper, even though you are!” says Oliver. “When Claire, the client’s sister, who did the upholstery work, brought the finished cushions into the space, just a few days before we wrapped the project, it made the Airstream whole and complete. It was an incredible moment; we’re so proud of how it turned out.”

Something you’d only ever expect to find in a trailer or mobile home? Herringbone floors. The patterned floorboard design not only helps tie the living room, kitchen, and master suite together, but gives the vintage Airstream its contemporary edge.

Neutral kitchen palettes need not look further than the outdoors

The same earthy tones that are employed in the living room effortlessly envelop the kitchen. Decked out with rich walnut cabinetry, a custom-fitted sink, Fireclay tile backsplash, and solid Corian countertops, the teeny cookhouse feels charmingly rustic yet undoubtedly of-the-moment.

“I am always and forever in love with desert palettes, and we’re currently in Arizona for a renovation project, so I have a constant parade of inspiration out my front door, especially at sunset and sunrise,” says Oliver.

“It’s so cozy and welcoming, and it makes the space feel like a Paris apartment.”

While the finishing touches are ultimately the clients’ to choose, Isla serves as a clear reflection of the places, materials, and colors that are currently inspiring Oliver. “Terracotta tones, soft peaches and pinks, and natural elements and fibers are things I’ve long been drawn to,” she says. “They’re all having a moment right now, so everywhere I look I’m seeing things I love being used in new ways.”

Good bathroom windows will always brighten your day

photo by kate oliver

In the miniature-size bathroom, Oliver and Prasse were able to squeeze in a custom tiled shower and a generous vanity. Depending on where Chris and Page decide to park their mobile residence (overlooking the Grand Canyon? along the Pacific coast?), the couple can soak in stunning views while they bathe.

Don’t purge everything you love in the name of downsizing

“It’s okay to want to be comfortable and have the things around you that bring you joy or help you live your best life,” shares Oliver. If you’re considering downsizing, it’s fine not to push every single boundary just because you’re making a drastic shift. “You’re giving up a lot already, so small comforts, like bringing a KitchenAid mixer on board because baking brings you joy, should be given their due.”

This story was originally published on March 28, 2018. It has been updated with new information. 

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