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Installation Stories: The Modern Caravan

Posted by: Kali • Apr 5

Installation Stories: The Modern Caravan

All Images: Kate Oliver, Birch and Pine. Design: The Modern Caravan

"I wanted to create our dream space, a home that is truly reflective of who we are, what we love, and where we’ve been, and where we’re going." These are the words of Kate Oliver, one half of the couple behind The Modern Caravan, of their 1977 Airstream that they call "June." Kate and Ellen thoughtfully and lovingly restored their classic RV so that they could travel the country and renovate their client's airstreams along the way. Every single detail of this space is both beautiful and intentional, so we're honored that they chose our tile for their kitchen backsplash. 

We're sharing more about Kate and the story of "June" below: 

This Is June...

This is Kate: 

Here is a bit about Kate...

My style can be described as…
Earthy, natural, and consistent. For too many years, I fell prey to trends and peer pressure to decorate and dress a certain way, yet as I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), being myself is far preferable. Leaning into the neutrals and desert tones I love brings me joy and confidence. Wearing worn tees and loose jeans and slip on leather shoes is who I am, and who I will be, even as trends and styles shift and change and move on without me.

My design philosophy is…
While there are definitely colors and textures I’m drawn to, I am much more interested in how a space affects us as human beings. The homes we inhabit are where we spend the majority of our lives, and where we do the most intimate living: where we love, cry, break, scream, laugh, get sick, learn to parent, where we cope, where we create and learn and grow. When folks come into our home, it’s most certainly not grand or perfect - yet time and again, no matter the space we are currently calling ‘home’, our guests routinely speak to the way the space makes them feel - that it’s special, peaceful, that they can feel that the life lived in it is a genuine one. So if I were to sum up my design philosophy, it would simply be that I create spaces that allow life to happen, transformative, creative, real and raw life. No pretenses, instead, intention. Warmth, acceptance, and approachability define my design work, a gathered life: pieces that have had lives before us, and wear their stories in the cuts and imperfections and worn, unraveling threads.

I got my start…
I’ve had a love affair with art and design as long as I can remember. As I’ve grown older, and life has layered itself on me, I’ve realised how deeply and truly I am an artist, and that the things I create are so beautifully intertwined, no matter how different they may appear on the surface. For far too many years, I felt my focus should be solely on one media, yet I was doing myself and my work a disservice. While I’ve honed in on the areas of work I’m most passionate about, I see how each one works with and guides the next. The creative work I do is intrinsically linked - as a writer, I can write about the way I design, as a photographer, I can photograph the spaces I design. Working with these vintage Airstreams has given me a chance to design tiny spaces and think outside the norm, changing the perception of living in a trailer, and shown me that though I have often doubted my hands, and their ability, I can create beauty with them. What I do is no longer just visual or written, it’s tactile, physical.

I find inspiration in…
The desert, the way light changes in a space throughout the day, the written word, the way a thunderstorm rolls through in the spring and how the sun breaks through the clouds and warms the air again, the right song, with the right lyrics, in the right moment. There’s never a lack of inspiration if you make yourself awake to it. The mundane, the things that many might walk right by and never see...I see, or hear, or feel.

I can't live without…
My wife and daughter. I don’t need much else.  

My best design advice would be…
What do you love? What makes you tick? How do you feel in your space(s)? Answer those questions honestly and start designing your space from that place of vulnerability. Don’t fall prey to trends...they really do come and go. Learn to love and listen to yourself.

I love tile because…
It transforms a space! It adds a back-to-the-earth, bringing the outside in, transformative element that nothing else can replicate.

My favorite Fireclay tile color is...
Tusk, what I chose for our Airstream! It’s the perfect shade of white - warm, yet still neutral. It doesn’t compete with the space, simply enhances it.

Tile Shown: Kate chose our 1x6 Tiles in Tusk for this project. 

1. Can you tell me how you got into renovating airstreams? Were you designing interiors prior? 
We bought our first Airstream nearly three years ago, and there were a lot of deeply personal reasons. We had both been seeking and coming up empty-handed...for answers, a path. We were longing for friendship and acceptance, which was hard to come by in our semi-Southern small town, careers we were passionate about, and overarchingly, more purpose in life: we were looking around at the life we were uncomfortably settling into, and realizing we were just reacting instead of creating. As we were finishing up our first Airstream renovation and readying to travel with it for the next year, we had a conversation about how well suited we both were for this work, how our strengths and talents complemented each other’s, how alive we felt. We knew, however, that to pursue this kind of work is not something to do lightly - there are layers of intricate systems and structures that one must understand thoroughly when renovating...especially when working for other people. By doing all of the work ourselves for the past three years of renovating, we were certain that we had prepared ourselves enough to start our business.  

I’ve been working as a freelance interior designer for the past year, but outside of designing my own spaces, I’d not worked for anyone else prior to doing that first Airstream. I am self-taught.

2. How is designing/renovating airstreams different than brick-and-mortar homes? 
There are different considerations and far fewer options for fixtures, finishes, and appliances. In a brick-and-mortar home, you’re likely not considering the weight of everything you’re bringing into the space, but onboard an Airstream, weight matters. We’re adding up the weight of plywood, the stove, and saving room for the weight of our things too - dishes, clothing, et cetera.

In an RV, you’re working with two plumbing systems (that feed into one), and AC + DC power, yet in a house, you’re working with one system and generally just AC (shore) power. You can select that larger scale tile, not worrying if it’ll crack going down the highway. RV appliances have long had a history of being less than aesthetically pleasing, though companies are catching on and changing this, there are still very few options for sleek, modern appliances.

When choosing furniture, it’s built in and customized - including the bed and the seating areas. Each element has to serve a function, be secure, and be aesthetically pleasing before we will build it.

3. Can you tell me a little bit about this airstream? Is there a story behind this project that you'd like to share?
We purchased this Airstream last year and spent a little less than five months (consecutive days, averaged at eight hours per day) renovating it entirely. We repaired the chassis, installed a new subfloor, ran new electrical and plumbing, insulated, and did the entire build ourselves. We don’t hire out for any of the work, rather, we draw on our skills and experiences.

We will be living and working out of this space as we travel around the country to our clients’ renovations. We didn’t know that this is the purpose this Airstream would serve when we purchased it, but we’re ever-grateful for how the story of this trailer has evolved and grown along with us.

4. What sort of aesthetic were you going for?
Earthy, and neutral - calming. A blank slate to write on. I wanted to create our dream space, a home that is truly reflective of who we are, what we love, and where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

5. How did you come up with your color scheme and design?
The layout was largely based on practicality. With our first Airstream, we went for an open concept, which might be fine for folks without kids, but we have a daughter! We decided to create distinct spaces, yet still wanted an open feel. We used whites and browns to achieve this, and chose to forgo upper cabinets and crafted new aluminum endcaps to open up the space. The result is exactly what we were going for - it feels like a home. It’s warm and inviting and light and bright all at the same time.

6. As for the tile, why did you choose this color and size?
Quite simply, I fell in love with this tile. I love how modern it is! Moreso, I am always looking to do something outside the norm, and straight set tile isn’t something I’ve seen in an Airstream before. When designing these tiny spaces, I refuse to be limited by what’s expected in a “recreational vehicle”, because the Airstreams I’m designing are more than weekend getaways - they are homes. This Airstream is going to be our home - and we should absolutely love it. I loved this tile for not only the straight set, or the unexpected dimension, but the subtle edging where the glaze thins on the edges and you can see the reddish clay underneath. It’s earthy and raw and approachable, yet unmistakingly sophisticated.

7. Do you usually choose a smaller sized tile in your airstream projects? If so, why?
We did a small black matte hexagon in the shower in our first Airstream (1”), and we used penny tile in our bathroom. It is wise to choose a smaller tile for an RV, as the roughness of the traveled road could potentially crack a larger tile. Using these thin 1x6” tiles didn’t concern me, but a 3x6” tile would. We also used a flexible adhesive and grout (non-silicone) so the tiles would be able to flex with the movement.

8. How did the installation process go? Did you face any challenges?
Cutting the curve on the tile around the iconic curved windows of the Airstream! Luckily, my wife is a whiz with the wet saw. I made a live video for our Instagram of her cutting the curve on a tile and everyone was so impressed, and rightly so - she’s fearless, precise, and so damn talented.

9. Lastly, are there colors or shapes of ours that you'd really like to use in future projects?
I’d love to use the Chaine Homme, Triangle, and the Picket (especially the Picket). There’s an Airstream we’re doing in Austin that I’d love the Picket to make an appearance in. I’m also really into adding pops of rich color lately, so I’d love to use Venetian Green or Navy Blue in a space, and I love the rust tones of CinnabarAntique, or Vintage Leather. At some point, I’m sure I’ll have used all five of those colors, they’re all so good. I’m officially a diehard Fireclay fan: what you see is what you get, and what you get is nothing short of stunning.

Tile Shown: Pickets in White Wash 

Inspired by this project? Order color samples online now. Need some help? Simply call, chat or fill out our Design Assistance Form and one of our talented design consultants will get back to you shortly. 

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