Project Spotlight: Isla
"The easy choice in a tiny space is to go white with the tile, which I’ve done in the past, but I wanted something with a richness, a bit of spice. It’s still a neutral kitchen, but it feels fresh and different in the way it is neutral," says The Modern Caravan's Kate Oliver of their most recent Airstream project, Isla. Going for a look that was "Parisian, feminine, soft, and sophisticated," this space created for their clients is all that and more. We talked to Kate about their Airstream renovation business, what inspires her and more about Isla below.
You might remember The Modern Caravan from this past project feature that was for their own Airstream:
Tile Shown: 1x6 in Tusk
Here's a bit about Kate:
My style can be described as…Earthy, natural, approachable, and evolving.
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. Summarizing my philosophy, it would simply be that to 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, and being able to finally work as a designer...there’s no better feeling. I love designing spaces...the something from nothing, the transformative nature of the work.
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.
Image: The Stork and the Beanstalk
My best design advice would be…Design from a place of vulnerability. Don’t fall prey to trends...they really do come and go. Learn to love and listen to yourself - only then is your space a true reflection of yourself and your needs and the way you live. While there is nothing new under the sun, this shouldn’t restrict us from creating something personal and true.
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.
Tile Shown: 1x6 in Tusk in their last project
Can you tell me a bit about more about The Modern Caravan?
I’m the founder and designer of The Modern Caravan, a company that renovates vintage Airstreams that I run alongside my wife, Ellen. We’ve been in business for a little over a year, and are on our fifth and sixth renovations. One of the neat things about the way we work is that we’re full-time travelers, and we live in our own Airstream while traveling to our renovation jobs. As we move deeper into the work, we’ve realized we want to step back from renovating next year and focus on ourselves, our family, and developing ways to help other DIYers renovate their spaces on a larger scale.
Tile Shown: 1x4 in Nutmeg
Can you tell me a bit about this project? Is there a story behind Isla that you'd like to share? (Also: how did this airstream get the name Isla?)
Isla was named by her owners - our clients, Paige & Chris. We designed and renovated Isla over just shy of five months. The renovation was a full gut job, which meant there was a lot of dirty and tough work to get the Airstream safe, waterproofed, and road-ready before we began the interior build. This involved repairing the chassis, restoring windows, installing new electrical and plumbing systems, polishing, installing new axles - the list goes on.
In terms of the build, this was our favorite and best build yet, and we’re very proud of it. We’re so excited for Isla’s owners to enjoy the space and call it home. This was our first client renovation we did while “on the road”, and it was really tough for a lot of reasons, but we came away from it learning a lot of valuable and needed lessons. We’re in the middle of shifting our focus and redefining how we’d like to run our business from here on out, and we have the Isla project to thank for that, as painful as it was at times.
What is the overall aesthetic you are going for?
Parisian, feminine, soft, and sophisticated.
Let's talk about the kitchen--what were the goals for this space?
Our client loves to bake and cook (and is really good at it!). I wanted her to have tons of counter space and storage, but also have a space that she wants to be in and spurs creativity. We knew we wanted to do custom walnut cabinetry for our clients - all of which was designed by me and built by my wife, and balance that deep, warm, rich brown with creamy tones and champagne brass to lighten the space.
Tile Shown: 1x4 in Nutmeg
The easy choice in a tiny space is to go white with the tile, which I’ve done in the past, but I wanted something with a richness, a bit of spice. It’s still a neutral kitchen, but it feels fresh and different in the way it is neutral.
In terms of tile, what look were you going for?
Modern, earthy, inviting. It was important to not make the space look too ‘glam’, which our client didn’t want. It could have easily gone that direction with the other elements: the solid surface countertop and integrated sinks that look like marble (but aren’t!), the blush pink velvet sectional sofa, the acrylic coffee table, et cetera, but bringing in handmade clay tile grounded the space just as I’d hoped it would.
What made you choose 1x4s in Nutmeg? Were there any other contenders?
There were some other tones, but I can’t remember which ones! I wanted the shape from the beginning. I love that we took the tile vertical, drawing the eye upward a bit and connecting the bulk of the kitchen (cabinetry, countertops, appliances) with the rest of the space.
Tile Shown: 1x4 in Nutmeg
How did the installation process go? Did you face any challenges?
None at all. Ellen and I worked in tandem for the curve around the window and the corner, where the curved wall of the Airstream meets the traditional square wall of the kitchen, but otherwise, I worked solo on installation. Ellen used the wet saw to cut those perfect curved lines. We had the entire space tiled in just a couple hours!
You and Ellen are Fireclay Tile pros at this point--any tips you've learned about working with handmade tile that you'd like to share?
It’s important to remember that each tile has subtle variation in tone, but this is what we love about it! It’s perfect. We’ll forever use Fireclay in our projects - the possibilities are endless, and the look and feel suits our style so well.
And lastly, what other shapes and colors are you hoping to use one day in future projects?
I’ve got a little something up my sleeve for our Airstream home - hint, it’s color! - but I’m going to keep that one to myself for a little while...I love the element of surprise.
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