Harley Opsahl has camped in a tent exactly once. It was several years ago: She’d just moved to Denver from Washington, D.C., with her husband, Ari, and he, the outdoor enthusiast of the family, suggested they give it a try. “It was freezing, even though it was August,” she laughs, recalling their sleepless night in the mountains. “Although I like the outdoors, I do appreciate a little bit of luxury in my life. We couldn’t afford an Airstream at the time, but we started to dream of owning one.” Then the pandemic hit, and Ari, the CEO of Tivoli Brewing Company, found a 1974 Airstream Ambassador for sale at a price within their budget.

With walls stained yellow from cigarette smoke, the dilapidated trailer would require a complete gut down to the frame. But Ari and Harley, who had already renovated three houses, weren’t afraid of a project—and the COVID-19 lockdown had given them plenty of spare time to complete it. As Ari worked on the structure—“I actually built crane hoists in our driveway to lift the entire aluminum shell off of the frame to start from the bottom up,” he explains—Harley, a VA nurse practitioner, started on the design. For help, she called on a good friend, Denver interior designer Jess Knauf. “I knew Jess would be the perfect person to help our mobile home meet my standards,” Harley says.

“You can like interior design and like camping—those traits aren’t mutually exclusive,” says Knauf, who happily took on the project. “The Opsahls’ aesthetic is classic with a twist,” she adds, referring to the couple’s Hilltop home, which she helped decorate. “But the fun thing about an Airstream is that you can take a few more risks and make bolder decisions than you might in a primary home.” For Knauf, that meant embracing cheerful, graphic print fabrics, wallpapers, and bedding with a nod to Americana. “Using primarily Schumacher fabrics, we were able to pull together a mix of everything we wanted, from campy plaids to hand-embroidered linen to unique hand-block prints,” she says. The luxuries of home have a place, too: custom kitchen cabinets painted a vibrant blue, a gas stove, sparkling Dutton Brown sconces, and beautiful ceramic bowls and mugs from Denver’s New Americana Home. And although each room in the trailer has a distinct color palette—green and yellow in the bedroom; blue and tan in the bath; red, white, and blue in the kitchen—the 188-square-foot space feels unified. “I am proud of the fact that we treated this project as something special. We didn’t dumb it down just because it’s a camper,” Knauf says.

The Opsahls’ Airstream serves two functions: It’s a guest house for out-of-town visitors when it’s parked in the driveway and a camper for Ari, Harley, and their three kids when it’s out on the road. “I loved the challenge of this project: figuring out how to make something semi-utilitarian really cozy,” Knauf says. “What made it easy is that this family isn’t afraid of having nice things—they treat them well but also enjoy them.” To increase the functionality for the family of five, Knauf built practicality into every design detail, from fabrics and wallpapers stain-treated by Fiber-Seal of Colorado, to a banquette that transforms into a bed, ensuring everyone gets a comfy spot to sleep. “I love the memories we are creating with our family,” Harley says. “We get to show the kids our beautiful state, all while feeling like we’re staying in a five-star resort.”

This article was originally published in 5280 Home June/July 2023.
Cheryl Meyers
Cheryl Meyers
Cheryl Meyers is a contributing writer to 5280 Home, which means she gets to spend her days writing about Colorado’s most beautiful indoor spaces.