So you like the tiny house movement, right? Want to fit everything you own into a 100-square-foot house with a lofted bed and a toilet that converts into a dining room table? Better yet, do you want the ability to tug this incredibly adorable house on a flatbed behind your Prius and park it wherever you like on trips across the country?
Great, that will only cost you a kabrillion dollars. Of course, if you don’t have that much disposable income, you can just build it yourself. No big whoop.
Don’t get me wrong, I love DIY, but building such a thing without experience would require a whole lot of patience and whole lot of time and still would cost some serious moolah. Want an efficient, mobile structure that has everything you need to live, actually was built to be transported, and does not require existing infrastructure to land somewhere for a while? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to rekindle our love for the good old American trailer. Ta-da!
I recently drove up to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to meet with Christie MacDonald and Shawn Fairchild to learn about their passion for restoring vintage trailers. Airstreams have been embraced by hipsters from Austin to Seattle, but there are so many more options that for some inexplicable reason, we never hear about.
About 2-1/2 years ago, Christie and Shawn got together to start Vin Tin Tin, a business restoring mid-century trailers. There are many components to the business, but perhaps my favorite is their plan to acquire land to rent out a collection of their favorite restored trailers in the same way you would rent out cabins on a plot of land. They would be pretty much permanent in their locations with period-appropriate awnings and regular maintenance to keep them looking as amazing as they do in their temporary warehouse home.
Shawn works on mega yacht interiors during the day and therefore has a wealth of experience working with the same materials found in these trailers, as well as furniture set at a smaller scale. Christie is passionate about research and scouting for new trailers—in fact, they both do all of the work and love all of the components of this business. They are happily hoarding any and all vintage items to fill up these trailers in their huge warehouse—from canopies to ashtrays—all completely to period and in excellent condition.
Nothing can compare with authenticity. And heck, the 50s and 60s were already campy and the vibrant colors and boomerang patterns and metal and curved corners elevate the heartbeat and can’t help but make one feel cheery.
Mobile Home History
In the beginning, the mobile home was an innovation for the wealthy. They came up around the start of the automobile era and allowed for long, leisurely trips before highways sprawled and cut across the landscape and emptied into avenues lined with motels. During WWII, the federal government, focusing more on portability and convenience than luxury, purchased tens of thousands of trailers to house workers producing goods for the war. After the war, trailer parks started popping up on college campuses to house former soldiers under the G.I. Bill.
Things shifted further in the 1950s and the mobile home became a low-cost residence, often parked permanently in a rapidly growing number of trailer parks around the country. Today, there are 8.6 million of these homes, housing around 12 million people. A stigma still surrounds the trailer park, though that may be shifting again as retirees are buying them up like crazy.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of regulation surrounding trailers—often in an effort to combat this stigma. Christy and Shawn explained that the smaller trailers that they work on are generally not welcome to park in otherwise trailer-friendly areas. There are rules in place that restrict trailers over a certain age—rules like this are basically intended to keep out people like Cousin Eddie and his rusted 1972 Ford Condor. Of course, trailers made now are made with increasingly lousy materials in an effort to keep them enormous but also meet fuel efficiency regulations. They’re downright flimsy compared with vintage trailers, and utterly forgettable. But, as we’ve seen with architecture, we are told to value bigger, crappy living quarters verses smaller, quality spaces that work. Don’t get me started.
Fortunately, to combat this nonsense, Christy and Shawn also plan to make land available for smaller trailers to come and hang out and live their handsome little lives. Check out the pics and links below for more information, and especially follow Vin Tin Tin’s Facebook page for more pictures and information on their future endeavors. I’ll wave to you from the Shasta I’m renting on their land.
For more on the restoration work of Vin Tin Tin, check out their picture-laden Facebook page.
For more on the history of pop-up campers.
A rather fascinating New York Times article on today’s trailer parks.
My god, even the curtains are original in this puppy. Swoon.