1978 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht Remodel

Airstream Back Before and After I think the best word to describe what I’m feeling right now is giddy. It took a lot of hard, sometimes disgusting, always sweaty, work to remodel our 1978 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht, but we did it. This may be one of the proudest moments of my life. I may even be more proud of myself than when I graduated from undergrad and grad school. Not even kidding. But before I pop a bottle of champagne, let’s get to the details!

You’ll notice we didn’t restore the Airstream to original. We’re not purists and we only had a budget of $1,000 to fix her up. (We bought her for $5,000, more about our buying story here.) We went slightly over budget due to the amount of paint we needed. We severely underestimated that. Unlike many of the Airstreams you might see online, we also live in this thing. Full-time. We tried to keep the integrity of our original Airstream, but tailor it to fit our needs.

When you enter the Airstream and look left you’ll see what is in the picture above. We tore out the Cookie Monster blue carpets and replaced them with laminate flooring. We created a window in the wall beside the kitchen to open up the space, replaced the gas fridge, George built shelves, a desk and a bench for napping! We replaced all the window screens. (Here’s how to do that.) We also tore out some of the overhead compartments to open up the space. My main job was painting. The Airstream had gas heat which can leave sticky gross stuff on the walls and we think maybe someone smoked in here, so it was my job to thoroughly clean everything (bleach was my best friend), then coat pretty much everything in Kilz and cover it with a bright white paint and primer. In some places it took four coats. On the storage compartments and the weird plastic spots, we used Rust-oleum gloss white spray enamel. On the countertops we used a custom-color oil-based enamel. Overall, the paint has held up pretty well. Some spots have needed to be touched up, but I think the white paint was the most transformative aspect of the remodel.

Airstream Bed Area Before and After copy

If you look to the right in the Airstream, you’ll see our spacious queen-size bed. To me, a big bed was more important than a dining room, so we tore out the benches, and George built us a custom bed frame. Read more about tips on creating thatย here. I also made a ton of pillows because… luxury. (Here’s how I made the pillows here.)

Airstream Cooking Setup Before and After

I didn’t have a great photo of the “before” oven because we found a huge mouse den in there and I had to get it out ASAP. ย We use a convection oven and two burners for cooking. It works out pretty well. There’s no Thanksgiving meals going on in here, but our oven fits a full-size pizza, so I’m happy.

Airstream from Back before and after

If you walk through the kitchen and turn back around, this is the view you’ll see. You’ll notice we took off the covers from the kitchen cabinets and replaced them with super-cute curtains that my mom made. From here, you’ll also get a better view of the custom bench and drawers we have for hiding all kinds of crafts and art supplies. George crafted the drawers out of barn wood from the tobacco barn that is on our property. The storage area also houses our large record collection. When we were purging all of our worldly goods, we decided vinyl is one thing that we just couldn’t live without.

Airstream Bathroom Before and After

Oh my god, the bathroom, the bathroom. I’m not kidding when I say that I was scared to even go in the bathroom before the remodel. That camper toilet scared me. A real toilet was priority 1 on my list. Cleaning this bathroom really made all the difference. The “wallpaper” was actually really pretty under the 10 layers of dirt. Then again, we painted with oil-based enamel on the countertops, replaced the lights and did this fun, washi tape design on the mirror. (Here’s that how-to.)

Airstream Shower Before and After

Then the shower! Oh my. Still to this day, George and I have no idea why someone would try to spray paint a shower blue (to match the carpet?!?!). To remedy this situation we took the easy way out and used a kit that we found at Lowe’s. I’d love to one day have a luxurious tub or at least a prettier shower, but sometimes the cheap way wins. We also purchased and installed a very nice shower head.

You can’t see it in these pictures, but we started off with the floors all laminate, but had to replace the bathroom floor when our hot water heater started leaking. That was unfortunate, but it’s been the only big issue that we’ve run into (fingers crossed).

This remodel was a whole hell of a lot of work. George and I have thought about doing it again, but we’re not mentally (or physically) prepared for it. Now that you’ve seen the before and afters, I’ll be sharing more glamour shots tomorrow!

Happy Airstream Week!



36 thoughts on “1978 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht Remodel

  1. Erika

    You have done so much! It looks so cozy, and clean. You’ve both done a wonderful job. Congrats on the one year milestone. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. amstincan

    It looks absolutely amazing! I love the white with the splashes of color from fabrics. The rustic wood drawer fronts are terrific. Such a light and bright living space! Wonderful!

  3. ontheupcyclemom

    All I can say is WOW! It has such a fresh clean look now which makes it look more spacious. I am glad you were able to save the wall paper too, I love it. You guys did an amazing job!

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  5. Dana

    I love what you guys did! It really makes me want to go out a buy an airstream and live a small life! How do you guys do laundry? Do you own the land you are parked on? Have you traveled with it yet?

    1. melanie Post author

      Thank you, Dana! 1. We do laundry at relative’s houses. 2. We live on family land 3. We haven’t traveled with it yet. We like to think of it as homesteading. I have a regular day job, so I have to be at work on the weekdays. But we’d love to travel with it one day.

  6. Holly Farley

    First off….I’m in love with your air stream, I’m jealous. I have an airstream and right now though original its still sticky walled! ( as most of the old ones are) Was yours? Did the bleach take it off? How did u prep the surfaces you spray painted? Any help is greatly appreciated…. As I’m trying to talk my other half into doing this to mine ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. melanie Post author

      Holly, the bleach-water mix did take most of the yucky stuff off the walls. The surfaces we spray painted (like the roll-top cabinets) we cleaned really well with a bleach-water mixture, then lightly sanded and then cleaned again. On the walls we Kilzed everything– some places more than once, then used a paint/primer in one. It still took about 4 coats in come places. It was a painful process, but worth it.

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  8. Nathan

    Hi, this looks great! We just purchased the exact same year and model. Question: did you guys reseal the windows and if you did how did that go?

  9. Elizabeth

    Hi Melanie- I have a wooded lot in north florida and want to live in my Avion (very similar to an airstream.). I have been advised to put it on a concrete slab but really would prefer to stay away from that if possible. Is your airstream permanently parked and is it on a concrete slab? If not how do you protect the undercarriage from rotting?

    1. melanie Post author

      Elizabeth, we aren’t on a concrete slab, but we did raise the Airstream up a bit to protect the tires with concrete blocks. We don’t worry too much about it rotting– it is metal, after all. Although it might be different in Florida with the rain & humidity that you have there. Every few months we crawl under there and make sure everything is ok. We’ve been there for 2 years and had no problem.

  10. Pingback: Living in an Airstream: A Two Year Update – a small life

  11. Miriam

    Hi Melanie.. your airstream looks great!! I am needing to clean and paint inside and need your advise on what you used to clean and paint. It has the sticky walls.. eewww..

  12. RaShel

    Hi Melanie! I know I’m a couple years behind in checking out your renovation, but I am curious where you found/made the light covers in the bathroom? We have a 1979 Excella and are slowly (and budget wise) updating and repairing while we can. Those light covers are one of my “need to do’s”! Any info is appreciated!

    1. melanie Post author

      Hi RaShel, the light covers were actually original! We lucked out. You might be able to find something similar on Ebay? Good luck!

  13. kyflgirl

    I have an Airstream that is probably the same model as yours – I’m not sure of the model because I have not picked the Airstream up from its previous owner yet. (It’s a partial payment for services rendered.) The Airstream has been abandoned for a couple of years , looted and basically ransacked inside so I expect to have to do a great deal of work and rebuilding. Did you consider not using built-ins to allow for flexibility?

    Did you try cleaning the walls with TSP? IF so which was better bleach or TSP?
    Did you do anything about insulation to make the camper liveable in the winter? I have been told it’s crucial to have a camper that is insulated for “all season” if you intend to live in it year ’round. If you didn’t do anything about adding insulation, what part of the country are you in and how comfortable is the Airstream in the winter?

    Also, did you handle constructing the cabinets and other built-ins with the rounded walls?

    1. melanie Post author

      Hi! Thanks for reading. Here’s the answers to your questions:
      I only tried bleach.
      Here’s how we heat and cool it. http://asmalllife.com/2016/04/14/heat-cool-airstream-travel-trailer/ We do live in the southern U.S., but we get snow occasionally.
      We measured and cut curves, if necessary. We also kept much of the original built-ins.
      I’m not sure what you mean by not using built-ins for flexibility. Our trailer is still light enough to pull, if that’s what you mean.

  14. nicole

    HI! Just purchased myself a 1978 ambassador. It is pretty much identical to your Sovereign… Honestly not sure what the difference is in the two of them. Even the wallpaper in the bathroom is the same! Anyways… super inspired by your design and looking to do something similar to mine as well. Now, for the kitchen, did you repaint the original cabinets under the sink, or are those new? Thank you for all the great info, I am sure I will be referring to your site often.

  15. Cate Manfe

    Melanie-I read your blog a lot. We just bought a 1981 Excella and are moving into it with our two boys under 3. It’s my first week working on it coming up, and there is floor rot with a hole next to one of the front windows… Did you guys have any floor rot? Any advice on products, tools, etc.? We had bought this planning on sanding and painting-the floor rot is throwing a wrench in that plan and I’m panicking a little.

    1. melanie Post author

      Hi Cate, I feel for ya. Luckily we didn’t have floor rot. The floorboards were a bit damp when we got them, but nothing too bad, definitely not rotting. We ended up drying them out with fans and then we painted the floor with Kilz to help protect it in the future. Here’s some advice that might help: http://vintageairstream.com/floor-replacement/ Good luck!

  16. Jessica Meinhofer

    I love that you kept the wallpaper in the bathroom. It is really cute!! The entire thing was really well done and it’s refreshing to see folks working within a small budget and really making it what they need and want. Thanks for sharing!!

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