The last I checked in with Matthew Hofmann, the LEED AP architect and vintage Airstream rehabber extraordinaire had recently completed a cozy little guesthouse-on-wheels project for an avocado rancher seeking a retreat where guests could feel “comfortable and not worry about staining the carpet.”
The hospitality-minded leanings of that client must have rubbed off on the principal of Santa Barbara-based HofArc, as Hofmann recently dropped me a note sharing photos and details of his latest rounded aluminum shell-centric project: A luxury boutique hotel property composed entirely of lovingly restored vintage Airstream trailers — all manufactured in 1950s through the mid-1980s — dubbed the Santa Barbara Auto Camp.
To be clear, the Santa Barbara Auto Camp was in existence long before 29-year-old Hofmann and his business partner Neil Dipaola, the young, sustainability-minded developer behind the Loop Isla Vista project that I featured this past summer, stepped in. Serving as a “gateway to the American Riviera,” the Santa Barbara Auto Camp was actually founded in 1922 as a campground for visiting motorists by Santa Barbara city councilman A.W. Dozier. His vision was that travelers would “lay in a supply of groceries, take in our theaters, spend a little money, and get an idea of what Santa Barbara really is.”
Earlier this year in celebration of the park's 90th anniversary, the property experienced a rebirth of sorts with the introduction of five sleek, shiny, and glamp-worthy Airstreams all refurbished by Hofmann. The tricked-out trailers join about 30 existing vehicles in an adjacent RV park that's home to many full-time residents.
Says Dipaola: “The SB Auto Camp’s mission is to be true to a time when travelers were drawn by the simplicity of life. From the vintage Airstreams, to the décor, to friendly local color, our goal is to honor the authenticity of the past. This quiet cluster of oaks, located within the heart of local shopping and eateries, allows guests to rediscover the magic.”
Offering “a unique, luxuriously-appointed, boutique lodging experience,” each built-in-Ohio trailer was salvaged before undergoing careful renovations that maintain a timeless, retro appeal while incorporating modern, earth-friendly additions: bamboo and locally sourced hardwood flooring, recycled glass tiling in the bathrooms, zero-VOC finishes, LED lighting, dual-flush toilets, and on.
And, of course, there’s the standard amenities that you’d expect to find at any high-end hotel room that's not encased in a shiny aluminum shell and parked in an RV encalve: 500-thread count sheets, “screaming fast WiFi,” wall-mounted flat-screen TVs, air conditioning, mini-bars, and fully equipped electric kitchens. One unit even includes a claw-foot bathtub. Yes folks, an Airstream trailer with a claw-foot tub.
Each Airstream comes equipped with its own BBQ grill and the use of vintage Huffy beach cruisers are complimentary to overnight guests. And on the topic of bikes, various local attractions including the historic Santa Barbara Mission and the downtown shopping district are just a short ride or walk away. Santa Barbara's famed beaches are a bit further off on the other side of the 101.
“The goal in design and construction of these Airstream’s was to blend the iconography of Airstream’s past with a honesty in adaptive design to create a most functionally intuitive experience,” explains Hofmann on the Santa Barbara Auto Camp website. To date, Hofmann, a former full-time Airstream dweller himself, has renovated more than 20 vintage trailers outside of the SB Auto Camp project.
He adds: “Each Airstream has been uniquely designed to connect yesterday with today, without giving up modern comforts. Our spaces also help connect people with their inner souls and outer environment … and one way we did this was to maintain simple lines and remove the clutter.”
Each trailer — choose from a 1973 Airstream Sovereign, a 1984 Airstream Motorhome, or a trio of classic 1959 Airstream Overlands — sleeps up to four people with rates starting between $139 and $169 per night.
As vintage Airstream hoteliers with plans to further expand their concept, Hofmann and Dipaola follow in the footsteps of B52s singer Kate Pierson (the toast-munching, disembodied redhead, not the blonde with the Carmen Miranda headpiece). Last year, Pierson and partner Monica Coleman shipped the six rehabbed Airstreams that had once been permanently parked at their beloved but flood-prone Catskills getaway to their newest property, Kate’s Lazy Desert in Joshua Tree, Calif. As you can see from the Kate’s Lazy Desert website, Pierson and Coleman — they worked with local artists Maberry-Walker, the owners of the original “Love Shack" — took a decidedly more kitsch-happy route than Hofmann when it came time to focus on interior design.
Lots more info — and a reservations page — over at the Santa Barbara Auto Camp website. The Los Angeles Times also recently ran a great piece on the SB Auto Camp complete with some tips from Hofmann on how to brighten and open up cramped, seemingly impossible-to-work-with living spaces. "It’s more than just painting the walls white,” he explains. “It’s how the space feels as you move through it.”