An American Icon, Just a Bit Clipped

This designer-edition Airstream comes equipped with an awning and lawn chairs.
This designer-edition Airstream comes equipped with an awning and lawn chairs. (Courtesy Design Within Reach)

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

As design icons go, the Airstream -- all sensuous curves, gleaming aluminum and industrial rivets -- is a beauty. Wally Byam, publisher of a do-it-yourself magazine, first experimented with trailers in the 1920s by mounting a tent on a Model T Ford chassis. But his breakthrough came in 1936 with the launch of the Clipper, the first of what became a full range of aluminum-shell trailers and mobile homes that today enjoy a cult following among hipsters and retirees alike.

The original Clipper was 24 feet long. Now, the design-driven can own a scaled-down 16-foot version that sleeps four. It was created by Airstream, now a part of Thor Industries, and Design Within Reach, that retail temple of classic modernist furnishings. It sells for about $50,000.

The DWR model appeals to a younger, "different type of buyer, who will use it for purposes other than camping: pool cabanas in the Hamptons, guest rooms, mobile offices. Our customers used to be in their 60s, 70s and 80s," said Patrick Botticelli of Colonial Airstream in Lakewood, N.J., which claims the highest Airstream sales figures in the country.

In addition to the built-in beds, cabinets, bathroom, kitchen and air conditioning standard to most Airstreams, DWR's edition -- which costs about $4,000 more than the similar non-designer model, Botticelli said -- features a bright red awning, a Howard Nelson ball clock and two lawn chairs. He says it is light enough to be hauled by small SUVs.

DWR commissioned architect and longtime Airstream design collaborator Chris Deam to undertake the project after he created buzz at the 2000 International Contemporary Furniture Fair with his own refurbished old trailer. For information, go to

Annie Groer

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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