Michael Hold splits his time between two very special homes. Sharon Dale on the man who brought the Airstream to Britain
Michael Hold’s second home is something of an A list celebrity on the highways and byways of Britain. Pedestrians wave and give it the thumbs up, while motorists beep their horns in admiration.
When it’s parked up, people “ooh and ahh” at its sleek silver body and cute retro-style and experience love and envy in equal measure.
That kind of attention goes with the territory when you own an Airstream – the coolest caravan on the planet.
Created in America in 1931, the design was inspired by a plane fuselage and its rounded corners aren’t just aesthetic, they help make it more aerodynamic, while its aluminium skin makes it light and easy to tow.
The travel trailers now have cult status but were a rare sight here until Michael begged and pleaded with the American manufacturer to let him create a modified version fit for European roads.
“It all started when I went to a caravan show in Kentucky and saw them there. I fell in love with them. They have that affect on you.
“The company had only exported to Japan and Canada, never to Europe and I spent a long time persuading them we could create a European version if they allowed us to buy the body.
“I was so convinced, I gave up a comfortable corporate job to devote everything to my dream of getting them here,” he says.
Michael longed to be an architect when he was younger but instead joined the family caravan firm, later moving to the top job with the Explorer Group. Co-founding Airstream Europe with his business partners has allowed him to combine his passion for design with his knowledge of caravans.
It took him three years to make his dream a reality but now the Airstream’s American shell is fitted with a European chassis, British electrics, Swedish central heating and contemporary German furniture. The hub of the operation is at a factory in Tebay, Cumbria, though Michael lives, near Richmond.
This is where he keeps his own Airstream International 684, a 22ft, four berth retailing at about £55,000, though the smallest version is 14ft and costs about £33,000.
“They’re nothing like caravans. They are more streamlined so you use 20 per cent less fuel and the suspension is designed so they don’t bounce so much so you have smoother tow,” he says.
“People just adore them. They seem to exude a spirit of adventure. I can’t imagine having a conventional second home and going to the same place all the time. This is my holiday home and I’ve been all over Europe in it.”
He has sold about 200 of the travel trailers in Britain, mainly to engineers, architects and photographers and the owners or Airstreamers, as they are known, have get-togethers and their own website www.ukairstreamers.org
Over in America, there are even Airstream-only campsites and they’ve sparked a phenomenon known as “snowbirding”. That’s Airstreamers who migrate from the colder parts of the US to winter in the Florida sun. Their trailers all sport pink flamingos.
“We have a lot of retirees buying them. We also lent one to Chris Evans when he was doing up his house and Robert Downey Junior has one at Pinewood Studios where he is filming the Sherlock Holmes sequel.
“Some people even use them as full-time home,” says Michael, who adds that one newly-retired man now happily travels around the world in his, while his wife stays at home.
“He pops home occasionally and then heads off again. He’s thrilled with it. They do literally change people’s lives.”
When it isn’t on the road, Michael’s Airstream lives outside his permanent dwelling, a newly-converted granary.
He bought the property a year ago partly because there was room to park his second home and because he loves North Yorkshire.
“The business is in Cumbria and I could’ve lived in the Lake District but it’s too wet there. I love this area and this property has great views.”
It suits him and his three grown-up sons Ross, 26, Robin, 23, and Richard, 20, perfectly.
When he bought it, it was a blank canvas and he has added character and colour to the space.
“It was completely neutral and I wanted more warmth so I painted the walls and made a few tweaks like moving the stove from the middle of the room to the side and installing a bigger fridge freezer. When you have three boys it’s vital to have a big fridge,” says Michael.
With his family in mind, he made the separate sitting room into a cinema room as both he and his boys love watching movies.
Some of the furniture he brought with him and much of the rest came from Barker and Stonehouse with the study from Ikea.
If the boys have friends round and the granary gets too crowded, he can use the Airstream as a bolt hole.
But of course there is always the option of hitching it up and just taking off on a road trip.
“It represents freedom, though it can be tricky when you fill up with petrol,” says Michael.
“People always stop you and want to know all about it.”
Airstream: The facts
Airstreams were first built in 1931 and around 65-70 per cent of these Airstreams are still on the road today.
Celebrity owners include: Sandra Bullock, Colin Farrell, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Sean Penn and Lenny Kravitz. The Who use one when touring, designer Ralph Lauren owns four and Pamela Anderson added some more unusual extras to hers, including a stripper pole, vibrating circular bed and mirrors on the ceilings.
President JF Kennedy used one as a mobile office and former Vice President Dick Cheney and former First Lady Laura Bush both used to have an Airstream inside the military planes they were flying in so they could be cocooned inside and use them as offices.
In 1969 Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 were quarantined inside one for three weeks following their first visit to the moon, so they could determine that they hadn’t brought any “lunar pathogens” back with them.
The aluminum-skinned Airstream is based on an aircraft fuselage, with rounded corners to help increase mileage – their aerodynamics cut drag by 20 per cent.