Airstream Makeover: Cella

Who hasn’t done a double take when driving along the highway and an aluminum-skinned Airstream has glided past? The feeling evoked might be nostalgia: Airstreams are a symbol of American ingenuity and style, harkening back to the glory days when the family car was stout enough to pull a travel trailer on vacations. The retro allure of this iconic image doesn’t escape the younger set, the so-called Millennials, who tend to embrace real things and love the idea of restoration and reclamation. No matter the age, most everyone takes notice.

I’m not sure when my husband, Kerry, and my passion for Airstreams began. While raising our three girls, we didn’t quite see the appeal of traveling around with the family packed into a small space. But as our children one by one flew the Kennedy nest, we realized that a travel trailer would be the perfect getaway for the two of us and could double as a guesthouse right here on our Tennessee farm. And, for a designer and an engineer, a travel trailer or motorhome or bus only meant one thing: Airstream. The search, one that was to take several years, was on. We were looking for a vintage model, something affordable but not too gutted for novices.

Ours was one of those luck stories—the right place at the right time sort of thing. A chance meeting of friends after exercise class morphed into “What do you want to do with your life now that you are retired?”

To which our friends, replied, “Travel around and camp.”

“Oh,” I sighed. “We’re not even retired, but we want to do the same thing! We’ve been looking for an Airstream for a long time. We just can’t find one.”

“As a matter of fact,” Sharon Johnson said in her perky voice, “we have one for sale. We just bought a motorhome.” And that was that. After texted photos and a quick look-see in Waynesboro, TN, we were the proud owners of a 1989 Airstream Excella just in time for my January birthday. I was giddy. Kerry was pleased because the hard work he had anticipated from online forums would not prove to be so tough after all. Sharon’s husband, Ray, was an electrical engineer like Kerry. He knew the ins and outs of every switch, battery, tank, and system on the trailer we christened Cella. Most everything worked, and, even better, every piece of her was intact, save the original carpet that Ray began replacing with laminate flooring. He explained that Airstreams hold moisture and must be dehumidified often, so hard wood floors are not advised.

Our Cella was in a time capsule albeit a very dated ‘80s one. But she was ours, and we loved her. She had more potential than Eliza Doolittle, more charm than any new model of travel trailer we had ever seen. We couldn’t wait to begin work on her.

Below are the “Before” pictures we took:

Sharon Johnson giving me a tour of their Airstream
I was excited from the moment I walked inside the door.
The living room sofa folded out to make a bed. All window treatments were intact.
The fiberglass shower and sink were yellowed. The vinyl wallpaper, cabinets, and laminate countertop were dated. The accordian shower curtian was brittle and yellowed. The owners brought their own water for the toilet, so the clean water tank had not been used.
Carpet removed in bedroom awaiting laminate flooring
Carpet on the walls. Interesting.
Bedside table temporarily moved for flooring installation
Larder door in kitchen beside cedar-lined closet door
First thing’s first: carpet on the walls had to go!

Kerry’s and my first step was research and lots of it. We were newbies to the Airstream world. We found the best information online at We discovered that folks were proud of the work they had done on their Airstreams and were eager to share most all aspects of their renovations including videos and pictures. Night after night we sat side-by-side on the sofa with laptops. Kerry delved into mechanical research, looking up parts and instructions for practical things like ceiling ventilation fans and batteries. I dove into Pinterest to gather interior design ideas.    Our next tasks were to decide what jobs we would tackle ourselves and which of my ideas could be adapted for Cella’s interior. Because we did not have to remove cabinetry or walls, we were mostly faced with freshening up. We could both paint, I had experience making window treatments, and Kerry was handy with carpentry. But, in the end, we chose to hire local folks who happen to be experts in their areas over muddling through the work ourselves, possibly making mistakes. Most importantly, we were able to bring friends with talents into our labor of love!

While Cella was getting her white beauty treatment, her sofa was being recovered by fabulous professional upholsterer, Debbie Englett (See resources), and curtains were being fashioned by a window treatment designer, Nell Perry (See resources), who painstakingly snipped each track clip from the old draperies and sewed them onto the new ones. (This would not have been possible had previous owners not saved window treatments and their tracks.) Once Cella was spruced up, we didn’t have the heart to leave the laminate countertops, so I began researching pre-finished wooden ones online. A night of brainstorming on our front porch resulted in the perfect solution: use our own walnut salvaged from felled trees and hire our skilled woodworking friend who had made gorgeous pieces of furniture from fallen trees on his property to design countertops (See resources). This would be the crowning touch for Cella.

The wallpaper behind the sofa was very hard to remove. This experiment led us to painting the interior.
The Johnsons told us they never used the gas stove/oven. Instead, they cooked outside. So, we had a pristine appliance! However, Kerry did have to remove it for the new countertops to be installed.
Furniture craftsman Eric Lewis designing countertops our of our walnut wood

And now for the finished product:

Our “Airstream meets Ralph Lawren” interior features momentoes from our beloved state of Tennessee. Note the newly painted white walls & ceiling, the Ikat window treatments, and the re-used wooden doors and cornices. The combination old/modern is perfect for us. Photo by Tera Wages. Rights reserved.
To add texture, we used manufactured barn wood from Home Depot on some of the interior walls. Note the lovely walnut cabinet top. See resources.
For dining, we pull out our table, recreated by Eric using the old laminate table as a guide and bring our folding director’s chairs out of the closet. These chairs are perfect of indoors and under our awning outside, and they take up little space when not in use. Photo by Tera Wages. Rights reserved.
Eric used the laminate sink covers to fashion these out of our walnut. This clever design allows us to have more countertop space when we need it.
Walnut in the bathroom as well
It was a challenge to find a small enough vessel sink, but we did! See resources.
We used the Ford automotive paint even in the shower.
Our bedroom is cozy and comfortable. We left the corner window treatments off to open up the room. Wool blankets are perfect for cool weather travel (See Resources). Photo by Tera Wages. Rights reserved.
Journals are a must for the road travelers! We try to jot down something about each trip we take in Cella. Photo by Tera Wages. Rights reserved.
My friend, Joanie, found this rug to cozy up our space. It’s washable! Cotton quilts are lighter and cooler for warm weather travel. See Resources.
No space is wasted in the bedroom. We fashioned an old box for a small bookshelf for me. I take my favorite things with me and put them out everywhere we camp. My favorite quote is on a scrap of barn wood from our farm designed by Clark and Fawn. See resources.
Photo by Tera Wages. Rights reserved.
Since Kerry doesn’t take as many books, his wall was chosen for the television. With an extending arm, we can both watch it comfortably. Wall hooks make even small areas useful for purses, belts, and even a favorite messenger bag (See resources).

People ask us all the time when we will start touring the good old US of A. Sure, Kerry and I would love to see the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but we are in no hurry to travel to such majestic sites just yet. For now, we just want to be together in our little home, visiting state parks and campgrounds nearby, entertaining friends wherever we go.    And, even when we are not camping or “glamping” as the trend is now, we can leave our house and retreat alone right on the farm in Tennessee. In fact, we did this already during the last of the renovations. We came out to work leaving the visiting kids, the kitties, and the eight combined family dogs at the house. We ended up snoozing peacefully in Cella as rain pitter-pattered on the roof. Empty nesting doesn’t get much better than this.

Next up: polishing up the exterior!

Cella Source List

Living Room

Paint: Ford White, Josh Morton, Sheffield, AL, 931-242-8061

Tweed sofa fabric: Fabric House, Nashville, TN 615-837-0000

Sofa upholstery: Debbie Englet Upholstery, Lawrenceburg, TN, 931-242-2246

Tennessee pillows: The Shoppes on Main, Franklin, TN, 615-591-8433

Turkish kilim pillows:

Ikat window treatment fabric: Sir’s Fabrics, Fayetteville, AL, 931-433-2487,

Window treatment designer: Nell Perry, 931-853-6403

Table, countertops throughout Airstream, wooden bowl on credenza: Eric Lewis of AmERICan Woodwork, Loretto, TN, 931-629-1661,

Cabinet paint: Sherwin Williams Amazing Gray

Reclaimed barn wood on walls in living room and bedroom: MURdesign 468 in color Rustik,

Teapot and teacups:

Tea towel: TJ Maxx, Florence, AL 256-764-6811

LED television: Samsung, Best Buy, Florence, AL 256-760-8188


Spice jars, chef’s knives, wall magnet, Alabama cutting board: Bed Bath & Beyond, Florence, AL, 256-760-5339

Skillet & measuring spoons: Target, Florence, AL, 256-764-6924

Drawer pulls (used on wall to hang items):


Sink (Kiernan Petite Vessel Sink) & faucet (Rotunda Straight Spout Single-hole vessel Faucet):

“I don’t care” painting: Miss Millie’s, Lawrenceburg, TN 931-762-9577

Wooden box: Old School Antiques, St. Joseph, TN, 931-845-4385


State of TN wall hanging:

Camper rug: Miss Millie’s, Lawrenceburg, TN 931-762-9577

Wool blankets, messenger bag: Ye Ole General Store, Florence, AL, 256-764-0601

Turkish kilim pillows:

Ralph Lauren sheets (Dunham sateen) &journals: TJ Maxx, Florence, AL 256-764-6811

Woven blankets: Bed Bath & Beyond, Florence, AL, 256-760-5339

Wooden boxes used as shelves: The Spotted Cow, Lawrenceburg, TN 931-762-3366

LED television: Insignia, Best Buy, Florence, AL, 256-760-8188


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