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Trailer Chic: The Vision of Christopher Deam

by on Mar 20, 2007

Little did Christopher Deam know when he and fellow architect Thom Faulder designed Deam’s brother’s 675 square foot bungalow back in 1992 that his career would take him to the world of trailer parks. To appreciate the unfolding of this story, we need to start with Deam’s childhood.

Born in 1962 to a naval pilot father, Chris lived a nomadic life, moving from one coast to the other and back again. From here it’s an easy leap to see how this constant mobility coupled with the influences of both aircraft and sea craft influenced the design of that little bungalow.

Housing plan outline with living room, kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and a closet.

When faced with its meager footprint, Deam used those space-saving devices of trailers and boats, blurring the union of architecture and furniture. For example, the architects used the primary wall of the residence to house architectural cabinetry. Deam has been quoted saying, “The new interior is analogous to an Airstream trailer, where everything is built-in, under a thin skin.” It’s no wonder the home, which garnered a design award from the American Institute of Architecture, was dubbed the “Airstream Cottage.”

Green ceramic bowl on top of table next to shelves and bench in a dining room.

Flash forward to 1999. Chris, working at his architecture and design studio CCD in San Francisco, was approached by Wilsonart. If the company sounds familiar, it’s no wonder. Any laminate surface you might have in your home was probably manufactured by them. Wilsonart was familiar with Deam’s work and commissioned him to design a booth for the 2000 International Contemporary Furniture Fair. “I decided to create a reusable trade-show booth that would be a real built space to show off their product,” Deam said of the plan. So, he decided to gut a vintage Airstream trailer and rebuild its interior using Wilsonart’s product, incorporating his modern design esthetic. The outcome attracted much attention, including Wade Thompson, the CEO of Thor Industries, the company who just happens to manufacture Airstream trailers.

Airstream needed a shot in the arm. As their demographic aged and died off (their average customer is 50), they had to attract new–younger–consumers. Deam was up for the challenge. Thor commissioned Chris to design the interiors of a line of their trailers: The Airstream International CCD.

Airstream trailer parked an asphalt in a wooded area.

A prototype of the first Deam-designed Airstream was shipped off to Bismarck ND, where it fell under the discriminating eyes of the members of the Wally Byam Caravan Club at their 2000 rally. Wally Byam, you see, founded the Airstream company back in 1929, and members of his namesake club are generally considered purists. How would they react to this ultra-modern design of laminate surfaces and gleaming interior aluminum skin?

A full range stove sits in a camper.

Response, in general, was enthusiastic. Deam recalled a particular comment of a 70ish year old club member. The gentleman wasn’t particularly thrilled with Chris’s modern design, but he appreciated the functionality of it; specifically, he imagined how easy the laminate and aluminum surfaces would be to clean. Was Deam offended by this observation? Not in the least. Chris understands that people will or won’t like modern design, it’s as simple as that. The artful trick is to draw the appeal of those who aren’t fans. He does this by considering the performance criteria of the object–be it furniture, home or trailer–and make people want to choose modern design for its functionality, which, among other things, includes ease of cleaning.

" A Room of Peace"

Production of the Airstream International CCD line began soon after the unveiling of its prototype and now accounts for 40% of Airstream’s overall sales. Would the profitable union of Deam and Thor endure?

Of course. This year marks the debut of Chris’s Glassic Soho park model trailer from Breckenridge, another division of Thor. Pegged as ultra-modern, the tow and drop trailers will be available in three floor plans, each with 400 square feet of living space, and a ‘wall of glass’. The fully furnished trailer will be priced out at around $60k.

A large compartment has windows on one side.A sun porch with a grey couch.

What’s next on the horizon for Christopher Deam? I foresee a Deam-designed trailer park open only to Breckenridge’s Glassic, Airstream’s International CCD line of trailers and any furture offspring Deam+Thor may produce.


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