Life on the Road, Vintage Argosy Style
A family of five in the throes of renovating a vintage Argosy trailer prepare for a year of nomadic living
Life on the Road
Some may consider Melanie Raver, a San Diego interior designer, and her husband Dave, a freelance industrial hygenist, crazy.
Fifteen months ago, the couple and their three girls—Summer, 8; Capri, 5; and Brooke, 3—drove to Grove, Oklahoma, to pick up the 1973, 24-foot orange Argosy trailer they’d purchased online. The plan? Update it, decorate it and embark on a journey to find their forever home.
They aren’t alone. According to the RV Industry Association, one million Americans live full-time in their RVs, Airstreams and other camper trailers and most, like the Ravers, do it by choice.
It’s not that Melanie and Dave are trying to escape their Oceanside neighborhood. Dave was born and raised in Encinitas and Melanie, a Pacific Northwest girl, has always gravitated to the coast (she went to school in Santa Barbara), but their current 3,000-square-foot home isn’t quite their dream residence. “And Oceanside might not be where we’re supposed to be,” Melanie adds.
Two years ago on a camping road trip up the coast in their pop-out trailer, the Ravers spent a few nights in Sebastopol, a small town just north of San Francisco. “It was so charming, there was a Whole Foods, and we thought, this might be it,” she says.
Upon returning to Oceanside, Melanie started looking into the logistics of moving to the city 550 miles north of San Diego. “We thought, ‘We’ll rent for a year and then decide if it’s a forever place for us,’” she explains. “But rents were outrageous.”
It was late one night when Melanie was adding to her own Instagram feed that she came across a post from Ashley Petrone (@arrowsandbow), who had lived with her husband and two kids in their self-renovated Airstream while building a home. Ashley talked about how living tiny meant living with intention, which totally spoke to Melanie.
“All of a sudden, I get this idea,” says Melanie, who openly admits to needing her own space and indulging in long, relaxing baths every night. “Instead of renting a home, we’ll live in an RV for a year, traveling to lots of cities and towns across the country until we find the right fit for us,” she says. “We’ll have the opportunity to really check out the vibe of the places we like—attend library story times, check out the elementary schools in the area, perhaps even try out a dance class or two.” With Dave and the kids on board, Melanie started making plans for their adventure of a lifetime.
After settling on the Argosy—Airstream’s painted cousin—for its vintage charm, endless photo ops and practical size that allows them access to National and State Parks, Melanie and Dave located the perfect model more than 1,500 miles away. The family of five had to embark on a two-week road trip to get it.
Once home, Melanie started mocking up plans. “It’s going to be where we live so I have to make it mine,” she says. “The fabric I found [a sort of ethnic zig-zag pattern in sienna, navy and white shades] started it all.” The textile now covers large cushions that sit around the deep bench they built for the dinette space, which will also transform into a queen bed where she and Dave will sleep. The bench beneath includes lots of deep storage where Melanie will stash the cushions when the area morphs into her boudoir and wears the delicate floral bedding collection she already bought. When the quintet’s not out exploring with Rainier, the family’s black lab (yep, she’s going too), Melanie sees lots of time spent around the table playing games.
But not everything has come together as harmoniously as the fabric and the vision. Weather set them back. Dave’s work schedule set them back. Builds have taken longer than expected and initial selections—such as the wood flooring—have been ripped out and redone when aesthetically it just wasn’t right. The refrigerator and the range, which Melanie and Dave purchased for the redo, now sit in the garage in boxes after Melanie upgraded to higher-end models that fit the layout and her intentions for her mobile lifestyle. “I plan to make bread and muffins with the girls,” she says. “I need appliances that can handle lots of use. Modifying is part of the process. As a designer, I want things to be 100-percent right. I always say that design is a lot like surfing. There are ups and downs and sometimes you fall. But if you don’t fight it, and you let it take its natural course, amazing things can and will happen.”
And sometimes you have to shift your course. She’s modified the original kitchen layout and design four times to accommodate better appliances, more storage and some natural wood to warm up the mostly-white interior space. One kitchen sketch had navy base cabinets, a decision Melanie was still debating at press time. And she continues to fine-tune the details—such as a wallpaper accent in the girls’ space.
Plus, she’s learning to build her designs. Thus, it took three days for the couple to construct just-the-right-size drawers to slide under the girls’ beds. “Who stresses about drawers?” she laughs. It was no easy task, but after watching countless YouTube videos and making some mistakes, Melanie and Dave made drawers with the ideal amount of storage for clothes. The few favorite dolls and stuffed animals the girls plan to bring will go in niche shelves that Dave framed and in macramé slings Melanie is having custom made from a table runner she found.
The design and renovation process has been one big puzzle that Melanie has had to sort out along the way. As the family moves closer to completion, the reality sinks in that this dream is going to be a major life change. Now, there are fears to sort out: “What will I do without my soaks in the tub? Will I feel claustrophobic? Where am I going to put all my shoes?” she asks. “But when my mind goes negative, I remind myself of all the really cool rewards this experience will potentially bring us, and I remember why I came up with this idea: the intentional living.”
The Logistics of Nomadic Life
Interior designer Melanie Raver sketched a master plan for the 1973 Argosy camper she and her husband Dave are redoing. The closer they get to completion, the more she’s had to start thinking about all the nitty-gritty details before the family of five (and their pup) hit the road.
What will the girls do for school? Melanie found a local homeschool program that she’s pretty sure will work for her girls. Each of her daughters would be assigned a teacher and a packet of work she would be responsible for completing. And each would have regular FaceTime meetings with their teachers.
What will they do with their house?
Because the rental market in San Diego is currently so strong, and the couple will rent their home furnished—and professionally designed by Melanie (follow her ongoing transformations @raveinteriordesign)—Realtor friends say they’ll have no problem finding quality tenants, especially with their proximity to Camp Pendleton.
Where will they put all their stuff?
There might not be an absolute answer to this question until the couple have renters. Melanie is currently in the process of purging and donating, but maybe there will still be some space in their three-car garage for their personal stuff?
What will they do about doctor and dentist checkups?
Melanie’s laid out the plan with the girls’ doctors and talked to their insurance company about in- and out-of-network options. Thanks to modern technology, Melanie can have virtual visits with her kids’ doctors and even get prescriptions filled from the road.
How will the family socialize outside of each other?
Melanie is actually most excited about connecting with friends and family—sometimes for extended periods of time—along the way. Plus, she and her crew have already been invited by several of Melanie’s Insta buddies to join in fun happenings all over the country.
How will they make alone time work?
The Raver family plans to take advantage of Airbnbs and the occasional posh resort during their year away, which will allow for more space and some luxuries not akin to life on the road (like a long soak in the bath). At other stops, nature will provide a getaway. “If I need time alone, I can take a long walk, or let Dave take the girls on an adventure hike while I steal some quiet time in the trailer, and vice versa,” Melanie explains.
What does a year of nomadic family living cost…roughly?
Melanie Raver crunched the numbers to figure out how to make life on the road feasible for her family of five. They obviously won’t have the same monthly expenses. “My gym membership is over $100 a month,” she admits. And they won’t have monthly electric, water and other homeowner bills to pay.
Plus, it looks likely that they can make money renting their home each month based on what they owe and what they estimate they can get for it. The Ravers also have a healthy savings account from a home the couple bought, renovated and flipped back when they were newly engaged.
Here’s what they anticipate spending monthly during the 365 days (or so) they’ll be living large in their tiny trailer:
Health insurance: $900
Car insurance: $260
Groceries/eating out: $1,300
Total monthly expenses: $5,410
The Comfort Zone
Though Melanie and Dave Raver and their three girls are downsizing from 3,000-square-feet to less than 200, Melanie and Dave came up with a few ways that they can bring some family faves with them.
After picking up their Argosy in Oklahoma, Melanie connected with North Carolina artist Cindy Michaud (cindymichaud.com) online. The fellow Airstream owner created a drawing for the Raver’s trailer (pictured at right).
Reheating is simple with a double boiler. “I grew up without a microwave, and we still don’t have one, so we do everything with the double boiler already,” Melanie confesses. She scored hers at Goodwill for $10. Places like Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond also have options.
Melanie and Dave received Weber’s Way to Grill as a wedding gift. The couple loves to grill at home but suspects that grilling on the road will be how they cook most of their food. Their favorite thing to barbecue? Carne asada, peppers and peaches. Melanie says she wants to try the brats with apples and onions from the book.
“I work out most days so keeping my fitness routine on the road is a MUST.” She’s digging out her Insanity workout DVDs and using a wireless CD player to sweat outdoors. Plus, she plans to get creative—tricep dips on picnic benches and squats with a 5-year-old on her back.
Rather than get plastic pieces, Melanie is bringing each family member one plate, bowl, cup, etc. It’s all they have room for, but Melanie’s not willing to sacrifice quality. Her mom, a ceramicist, created handmade dishes (below)—dyed to match the camper—for each of them. Hopefully, it will also help teach her younger daughters to take good care of fragile possessions.
Each of the three girls will have a drawer or hanging basket where they can stash favorite dolls or stuffed animals. “But it has to fit in that space,” Melanie emphasizes. “I want them to make the decisions about what’s important to them.” Beyond that, she’s bringing building toys, Barbies, a small, wooden dollhouse, books and art supplies for the girls to share.
Melanie wants each of her girls to have their own personalized area even though they’re literally going to be on top of each other in bunks. In fact, Brooke wasn’t happy to be assigned the bottom bunk. “I told her we’d design a fun fort for her by putting a peel-and-stick modern floral wallpaper on her ceiling,” Melanie reveals. “I also plan to add fairy lights. The important thing is that even though each girls’ space will be small, it should overflow with personality.” In Summer and Capri’s bunks, there might be garland, and each girl will get a different set of sheets that fit them.
Charting a Course
The year that the Raver family will spend on the road is all about finding their forever place to live and connecting with family and friends. Here, a few of the places they know they’ll stop:
Washington: The Ravers will stay with Melanie’s parents in Seattle for a while.
Montana: Dear friends live in Big Sky Country.
Indiana: More family lives in the Hoosier State.
Vermont: Some of their besties reside in the Green Mountain State.
Tennessee: The Ravers will meet up with Melanie’s dad’s side of the family in Memphis.
Florida: They’ll reconnect with Melanie’s folks for a vacation.
Colorado: There will be lots of hiking in Denver with Melanie’s best friend.
Follow along Once the Ravers hit the road later this year, we will be checking in with them along their journey. Check back in here to find their off-the-beaten-path favorites and also for Melanie’s must-have designs and all her clever tips as she finishes this vintage Argosy remodel.