Eye for Design: Creature Comforts

For a time while Newport-based photographer Onne van der Wal and his wife, Tenley, were renovating their Jamestown house (read all about it in our October issue) the well-fitted galley in their Airstream served as their kitchen. And when construction left no spot for mom and dad to lay their heads, they made the trailer their bedroom till their master suite was complete.

Photography by Nat Rea

With all that upheaval just a memory now, the van der Wals' annex-on-wheels often doubles as guest room. Parked in their flower-filled yard, the aluminum-skinned trailer has all the amenities including electricity (it plugs into the house like a toaster) and bathroom. Above all, though, it has its pedigree.

In fact, when Onne approached Tenley with the idea of purchasing an RV for business and recreation, his wife insisted it had to be an Airstream. Founded in 1931 by Wally Byam, the company is still going strong. As cool today as always, celebrities (among them Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey) can’t get enough.

There’s something about the simple shape — sort of thermos-like — that has appealed to generations of campers. The van der Wals purchased their new model in 2005, but it looks exactly like an old Airstream and that’s half the charm. Terrific hosts, the couple know guests love having their own cheery quarters, being close enough to scoot over for socializing and, most of all, the novelty.

They’re not the only ones putting guests up in some untraditional accommodations. Newporter Kristen Coates, who along with Chris Wyllie owns Newport’s Egg and Dart Gallery, refurbished a vintage houseboat and is an expert at making guests happy too. In addition to putting up their friends, the duo rent their vessel. What’s Kristen’s secret for making visitors feel at ease in unique accommodations? No rummaging. “We like to leave out fresh towels, linens and basic toiletries so guests feel comfortable just grabbing what they need,” she explains.

A few sweatshirts to chase away chills, Farmaesthetics Aloe Spray and battery-operated candles are also on her how-to-instill comfort list. Kristen even puts out raincoats and inexpensive sunglasses — in multiples — “so guests know they’re up for grabs,” she says.  

Thoughtful gestures like these are sure to transform any kind of accommodations whether it’s a yurt, a tent or a sweet refurbished shed like the one belonging to Newport architect Peter Twombly. Equipped with a small gas heater, reading lights, plenty of books and heaps of cozy blankets no one cares — we know for sure we wouldn’t — that the facilities are in the main house. In the end, it’s all about the adventure.

Got some design news or events to share? Email the details to Jen McCaffery at jmccaffery@rimonthly.com.