Home Office Makeover
Alameda Couple Moves the Biz Into a Travel Trailer
Marcy Voyevod and Tim Englert, partners in Blue Lotus Project, weren’t exactly unhappy renting office space for their Alameda remodeling business. But the notion of having an office close to home appealed to them for many reasons, from saving money to minimizing their ecological footprint. The couple—she’s an interior designer, and he’s a master carpenter and contractor—investigated building a new office in place of the garage of their West End Craftsman bungalow, but city building restrictions prevented them from adding a suitable new structure.
It was a Sunset magazine article about The Shady Dell, a quaint vintage trailer park/bed and breakfast–style resort in Bisbee, Ariz. (also catalogued in the book Ready to Roll, by Arrol Gellner and Douglas Keister), that planted the seed of an idea to restore a vintage travel trailer for an office.
Through Internet research, Englert found the mother lode of sources in Gold Country, Auburn specifically, where two large poultry barns belonging to Vince Martinico, a travel trailer devotee who longs for a museum to commemorate the compact units, were full of discarded trailers, campers and other vehicles. The one that spoke most to Englert was a 19-foot aluminum 1951 Silver Streak Clipper, a rounded rocket of a trailer Englert describes as a “rocketeer trailer.” It was, he discovered, designed by Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream Inc.
“He was like the Henry Ford of trailers,” Englert says, pointing out that the shape of the better-known Airstream trailers vaguely resembles a loaf of bread while the Silver Streak offers a more streamlined profile.
“Tim really loved this design,” Voyevod says, adding with a frown, “It was pretty much a wreck.” Voyevod admits when she first saw the trailer and its dilapidated interior on the Auburn field trip, she was momentarily horror-stuck at the thought of, “Oh, no, here we go again.”
“Our house was our first big project,” Voyevod says, with Englert adding, “It scared everybody else away.” But as a designer with an able contractor as her remodeling partner, she was game for the trailer project. “I knew he could make it really nice. I knew he could make a cool place.”
They wound up with a shell, which cost $1,900, rotten floors, multiple layers of paint, broken windows, mud-dauber nests and all. The scope of the project wasn’t too daunting, given their backgrounds and success at overcoming an even worse situation with their house.
When the trailer arrived via tilt-bed truck and was parked over the former homeowner’s makeshift backyard lube pit, Englert got down to the Herculean business of stripping paint, polishing, buffing, repainting, rebuilding the bushings, buying new tires, reinforcing the floor joists, repairing the floor, fixing the windows and skylight vents and rewiring the electrical circuits.
Voyevod didn’t want the remodel to be historically accurate; instead, she envisioned a modern renovation with green materials. She and Englert worked on the design together, but Englert applied all the muscle. One of the major challenges he encountered, he says, was the curved wall interior, but he figured it out.
The rebuilt floor is covered with sound-absorbing click-and-lock cork tiles. An upholstered settee with a kidney-shaped Alkemi tabletop of aluminum shavings encased in resin—a castoff—provides a conference table and hides the electrical heart of the trailer. A semicircular laminate surface serves as Voyevod’s drafting table and anchors the opposite end. In between, Englert pieced together 3-foot sections of iroko butcher block discards for handsome counter workspace and added perforated stainless shelves. He also installed translucent vertical dividers of Panelite, an aluminum honeycomb material in fiberglass, which was the most expensive splurge at $600 per panel. These presented another challenge to fit, as the trailer expands and contracts as much as 3/8ths of an inch, Englert discovered.
Finishing touches include wheeled cabinets, mini track lighting, new electrical panels, data lines, phone lines, fax, a wireless setup for computers and comfy, stylish Herman Miller chairs.
“We like the fun aspect of it. Why sit in a cubicle when you can sit in an airship cabin?” Englert asks. “We’ve built something. It’s like an investment and we’ve put into it.”
The rebuild cost about $10,000—about what Voyevod’s paid annually for an office on Linden Street in Oakland—and has created a cozy yet sleek contemporary mobile home office that is 7 by 20 and occupies 120 square feet, comfortably accommodating up to three people.
“It’s like being in a spaceship or submarine or airplane,” Englert says, noting the trailers were in fact fabricated at one time in much the same way as airplanes.
Is there a downside to this office paradise?
“People over 6 feet tall have a problem,” Voyevod says of the low clearance, but she just warns them to watch their heads. And this summer’s brief intemperate heat was unbearable on a few afternoons, despite Englert’s building of a sun-sheltering tiki hut. The heat meant Voyevod worked early, vamoosed in the hot afternoon then returned for more work in the cooler evening hours. The rainy season is quite cozy, thanks to a cranking heater.
But the added bonus, of course, is that this 100-square-foot backyard office has wheels and can travel—it’s registered, licensed and insured, just like the recreational vehicle it was originally meant to be.
“It’s something we can take with us,” Englert says, insisting it’s a one-person job to roll the trailer around. Now that’s a real mobile office.
—By Judith M. Gallman
—Photography courtesy of Muffy Kibbey, www.muffykibbey.com