From standard to stunning, the Christiansen family remodels their Airstream to create a home away from home.
Jessica and Charlie Christiansen have never shied away from big projects. Together, they’ve gutted and repurposed 40,000 square feet and four floors of the JCD building, now known as River Park. They bought and remodeled a building to house their pizza shop, West Main Pizza. They’ve renovated, added on to, and flipped numerous homes, and they recently remodeled their current home for the second time. But this dynamic duo finally met their match when they purchased a 150 square foot, 25-foot long, 1968 Airstream International Tradewind.
“Charlie says he would rather do another shoe factory than another camper,” owner Jessica Christiansen says. “He and I have done a million things together, and this was the most challenging.”
He & I have done a million things together, and this was the most challenging.Jessica Christiansen
Jessica is upfront in sharing that the idea of purchasing a trailer was hers and hers alone. She says Charlie had no desire to purchase one, and he certainly had no interest in renovating one. Though she didn’t grow up camping herself, she says she spent time camping with Charlie’s grandparents, Estella and Calvin Christiansen, and her heart was set on providing the same opportunity for her daughter, Lincoln, 6, and son, Calvin, 3.
She had been researching and searching for over a year and was on waiting lists at several dealerships when she stumbled upon a vintage Airstream trailer on Facebook Marketplace in July 2019. While the configuration wasn’t perfect or practical for her family, Christiansen realized that with a solid shell, she could build the camper of her dreams.
Jessica and Charlie traveled to Cole Camp, Missouri, where they first laid eyes on the Airstream. For Jessica, it was love at first sight. She discovered, with great relief, that the shell was in good shape and the trailer had most likely been stored under a cover.
The Christiansens purchased the trailer for $7,500, and the couple she purchased it from delivered it to their home in Jefferson City.
“It could have been camped in as is, but nothing had been touched in it since 1968, and I didn’t feel comfortable taking my kids without reliable electric, so we gutted it,” Jessica says.
Though the Christiansens handled the demolition themselves, one of their first challenges was finding people who were willing and able to work on an Airstream, which features curved walls and lacks square edges. Dan Webster, from U.S. Rents-It, and Vintage Trailer Supply, an online store, were integral in providing expertise and replica parts for the project while a team of carpenters, electricians, and plumbers who’ve worked with the Christiansens on other projects jumped in to help.
The Christiansens ended up having to replace the insulation, wiring, plumbing, holding tank, appliances, awning, and several windows, and they had to strip and polish the mirrored finish on the outer shell. In addition, they also invested all new wheels, axles, bearings, shocks, and tires along with stabilizers and sway bars to reduce the risk of jackknifing and rollovers.
“We wanted the peace of mind to know that we did everything right,” Jessica says. “There was no sense in spending $30,000 to $35,000 to fix it up if the foundation wasn’t good.”
With a blank slate, they had a couple of non-negotiables in mind. Jessica says comfort and convenience were her main priorities, and the final layout, which sleeps six, checks all the boxes.
“I wanted to have comfortable sleeping for our family of four,” Jessica says. “Most Airstreams require breaking down the dinette for sleeping at night when there are more than two people, which I knew I wanted to avoid. I am really excited about the fact that I was able to design it in a way that everyone should be able to sleep comfortably, and it’s multifunctional.”
A king mattress doubles as a futon in the living space during the day, giving the Christiansen family the perfect hangout during inclement weather. At night, the cream-colored futon mattress is laid flat, meeting a stationary dinette bench that is covered in pink velvet. The Christiansens custom-built the kids’ beds, which are the length of a standard twin bed, but narrower, to fit the tiny space.
“I felt that long-term, I needed the sleeping arrangements to be sustainable because I want my kids to travel with us when they’re teenagers. Plus, I wanted to have sleeping arrangements for another adult couple for an adult trip.”
It makes all the hard work, time, energy, and money worth it.Jessica Christiansen
In addition to the dinette’s pink velvet benches, the camper features a gas stove and a small oven. The entire trailer boasts a southwestern vibe, courtesy of a fabric in pink, green, and black that the Christiansens purchased on Etsy. Charlie’s grandmother, Estella, used the fabric to create straight curtains, which provide the perfect amount of privacy and style.
Inspired by pictures she saw on Instagram, Jessica also repurposed a wool blanket she purchased in Mexico as a divider between the kitchen and bedroom area.
“I’m trying to let the curtains and the southwest vibe drive the eye while keeping the rest of it pretty simple,” Jessica says.
Jessica also designed the trailer with the capabilities to boondock, which means the Christiansens can camp without connecting to the hookups found at traditional campgrounds.
“We have the ability to hook up at campsites, as most RVers do, but we also are able to self-sustain with solar power, a composting toilet, and a water holding tank,” she says.
After their first camping trip this past April, both of Christiansens’ children decided they want to spend their birthdays camping, and they’ve planned several more camping trips over the next few months, including a trip to Whitefish, Montana, for a week in August.
“It makes all the hard work, time, energy, and money worth it,” Jessica says. “This is all for them. My goal is to take them to all the national parks in the United States. I just feel like they’re growing up so fast, and I genuinely want to create as many memories as I can.”
This is all for them… I just feel like they’re growing up so fast, and I genuinely want to create as many memories as I can.Jessica Christiansen
RESOURCE LIST: Estella Irene Christiansen, Seamstress | Allen Wilhoit, Carpenter | Andy Wilbers, Plumbing | Jason Lallier, Master Electrician | Mike Cook, Painting | Scott Weber, IEI Specialty Metal Work | Dan Webster, U.S. Rents-It, Undercarriage and Awning | Dwayne Woods, Upholstery | Christy Johnson, Staging