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After attending college back East, Spaulding eventually yielded to the West’s tractor-beam-like pull on her, landing in Santa Barbara in the mid-’90s before moving north to San Francisco where she worked to earn her master of fine arts in small metal sculpture and jewelry from the Academy of Art University.
For her thesis project, which focused on the idea of “portable sentimentality and functionality,” Spaulding made eight miniature dioramas of the interiors of places she had previously lived—her childhood room in Tarrytown, her apartments in New York and San Francisco—and displayed them in vintage makeup travel cases.
However, she was unsure of exactly how she was going to present her collective body of work until she and Greg took a trip to the Salmon River in Idaho and passed through a small town called Challis. There, she saw a 24-foot 1967 Airstream Trade Wind with a “for sale” sign and suddenly she had an epiphany about how to show her thesis.
“I thought, ‘[My project] is all about making a space for home wherever you go’ and it all came together when I saw the Airstream,” she says. “Greg looked at me and he could just read my mind. And so we did a U-turn and bought it and towed it home.”
Back in San Francisco, Spaulding set to customizing the interior while keeping true to its ’60s vibe. The former owner had been a smoker, “so it had some layers of grunge,” she explains. “It was pretty much, ‘Take out all the walls and cabinets and start over.’ ”
After eliminating two interior walls to enlarge the 170-square-foot space into a light-filled room, she ripped out the dark carpet and put down wooden flooring. Other additions included a stylish wraparound couch, an asymmetrically curving desk (which she jigsawed herself, coated with clear resin and then attached to a piano hinge so it would fold down and save space) and stainless-steel veneers for the overhead cabinets.
Keying off her “portable sentimentality” concept, she wallpapered the bathroom “with maps of places I’ve been and places I wanted to go” and created a kitchen countertop covered with “postcards that people have sent me or I have sent myself.”
Her trailer—and the thesis-showing inside of it—was a success and eventually caught the eye of best-selling author Bruce Littlefield, who decided to include Spaulding’s zestfully reimagined Trade Wind in his 2005 book Airstream Living.
“The thing about Kristiana is that she’s a very likable person,” says Littlefield, whose childhood affinity for Airstreams once led him to open a bar in one behind a restaurant he owned in the Catskills. “Mix that with her amazing imagination and creativity and you can’t help but fall in love with her and her art. She’s taken what you would think to be a traditionally male-dominated project and turned it upside down and said, ‘Women can do this too.’ And she’s not only done it, she’s done it well.”
After graduate school, Spaulding thought jewelry would be her sole business, but her trailer work started being featured by tastemaker websites and publications such as ApartmentTherapy.com and ReadyMade magazine. At the same time, Airstream’s enduring appeal was re-entering pop culture consciousness. Hollywood stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks were embracing the comfort and convenience of having a home on wheels. In 2007, New York’s Museum of Modern Art added a 1960 Airstream Bambi Travel Trailer to its permanent collection, calling it a “cultural icon” and displaying it in all of its gleaming, riveted, aerodynamic glory in the lobby.
And as Spaulding’s reputation grew, people started coming to her with other trailers for sale. “I thought, ‘Oh wow, I can flip them,’ ” she says. “I’d buy one and then I’d buy another but I couldn’t ever let go of them.”