This is the story of Cate and Chad, better known as Argosy Odyssey! Here they outline their Airstream remodel project in full detail. Check out the full cost, the modified floor plan, and their pet goat!
In the fall of 2015, my husband, Chad and I sold our bar, The Bywater, in Asheville,NC. At the same time, we were savoring the last few months we had with his son, Kepler who was soon to graduate and head to college.
Before we got married, we both knew that as soon as we became empty nesters, we would travel and pick out a new town, but had only recently decided to trade a stick-built home for a home on wheels. We wanted a vintage camper that we could remodel because between Chad and my skill sets, we could get it done a lot cheaper ourselves than purchasing an already road-worthy rig.
So I began obsessively combing Craigslist, Airstream classifieds, and online forums for our future abode.
After a few weeks, I finally came upon a 1976 Airstream Argosy.
It was 22ft and for sale in Forest City, NC. Described as a shell, who’s interior needed gutting, it was supposedly structurally sound with only a few dents on the exterior. We decided to go for it, and our $2k purchase was delivered to our driveway a week later.
Neither of us had any experience with camper remodels so this project was a huge and fluid learning process. Buying the Argosy was a big gamble, for all we knew, the trailer could have been a hump of aluminum junk.
The floor was rotted out, the frame was rusty, the skins were moldy, and there were mummified mice embedded in the insulation. Before we began to pour anymore money into the project, we needed to make sure we hadn’t made a $2k mistake.
We took our Argosy to Mark Coyne, the highly recommended owner of RV Services in Asheville.
With bated breath and fingers crossed, we waited to hear back from Mark. He reported back 10 days later and said despite its 40 years and dingy appearance, it was in good condition.
Now where do we start? Everything on the inside needed replacing and considering it was our first time renovating a camper, the task and amount of work needed was overwhelming.
Luckily, Chad had experience in nearly every kind of background for the project.
Including cabinetry, plumbing, electrical, and insulation.
Anything he didn’t know, he could learn by watching YouTube video. Or by asking Mark. After getting the green light from the shop, our first task was gutting what was left of the inside.
We had to take down the remaining cabinetry, interior walls, sinks, flooring, and plumbing. Removing the rotten floor and 40yr old insulation was by far the nastiest job of the project. Even if it was the easiest. Once that was complete, Chad cleaned off and reprimed the frame, and laid down new insulation along with a vapor barrier.
With the subfloor nearly finished, he mapped out where everything would be placed.
From the plumbing, electrical, gaslines, cabinetry, and appliances. Most things were found by downloading the original 76’ manual. But several details weren’t mentioned so we had to figure it out on our own.
Unlike the original floor plan, we tweaked our design.
The biggest change was moving the bed to the front bay and creating a convertible dinette.
We also wanted to shed as much weight as possible so we picked lightweight materials and created as many dual purpose areas as we could. Think: hidden compartments, shelving, and storage space.
Another unique addition to our Argosy, was a porthole from a decommissioned ship. It was bought by our family in Nantucket as our “camper warming” present. We love having the extra window in the door and it’s pictures have become a favorite feature of our blog, Argosy Odyssey.
While Chad worked on his own projects, I had other jobs.
I was in charge of cleaning the skins, painting the interior, and sourcing materials.
As the Argosy’s interior was near completion, I started working on the exterior. Originally, I wanted to do a retro look with a two-toned paint scheme.
But after pricing out a professional paint job (that would’ve cost $12k), a friend suggested I paint a mural myself. Not only did this save thousands of dollars, but it also made us a one-of- a-kind Airstream.
The cool thing about the Argosy was that it’s the only Airstream model that came out of the factory painted white.
Which is essentially one giant blank-canvas for an artist.
Before I began to paint, I prepped the surface by lightly sanding it, giving it a bath, and mapping out the mural. I used Valspar’s anti-rust armor oil enamel which is more affordable than auto shop enamels.
I chose the theme, “This Land is Your Land”, and painted the eternal words of Woody Guthrie around the camper; from the California Redwoods, to the sparkling desert, ribbons of highway, and waving wheat fields of the Midwest.
After I was done, I applied an enamel clear coat.
By the time I finished the mural, Chad had finished the cabinetry and installed our appliances.
The renovation was finally complete!
While brand-new out of factory Airstreams this size can average $45k, we completed the job under $10k.
This includes the shell, renovation, appliances, and contracted work.
Looking back, we’re so glad we decided to do the project ourselves, It saved us a ton of money we later used for travel, but we also had a full-time home that was personalized just for us.
Since our maiden voyage, we have traveled 30,000 miles, encompassing 2 countries, over 20+ states, and countless national and state parks, monuments, and roadside attractions. Because we don’t stay in campgrounds and only boondock, we’ve saved thousands of dollars and we’re always surrounded by beautiful and remote nature. Our pet goat, Frankie and our pup, Maggie love Airstream living and enjoy exploring all the changing landscapes.
Selling our house for this Argosy Odyssey was one of the best choices we’ve ever made.
It has been a life changing experience. Everyday is a new adventure and everyday we learn something knew. We look forward to seeing where our Argosy Odyssey takes us and we’re grateful for the chance to experience this journey of a lifetime.
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