Monday, December 29, 2014


They are found in Airstreams both modern and vintage - some version of the roughly triangular overhead cabinet, its slanted or sloping rear wall courtesy of the exterior curvature of the motorhome or trailer:
Miscellaneous representative Airstream upper cabinets, clockwise from top left:  A unit under reconstruction with the end cap removed, a vintage trailer, and a view screengrabbed from a 2015 Flying Cloud.  
Our 2007 Airstream Interstate also sports its own version of this cabinet throughout, albeit in a smaller and blockier form than some of the historical trailer renditions.
Looking lengthwise down one of our cabinets.  This one measures 31" long x 11" high x 11" (at the bottom) to just 3" (at the top) deep.  There's a wood trim piece across the lower front; it is intended to keep items from launching out of the cabinet when the door is raised.   
I must confess that I have been having a devil of a time keeping stuff organized in these cabinets, which constitute a large percentage of our available storage (our vehicle has seven of them).  Some of the Airstream trailers have cabinets that are large enough to accept an extra shelf in the middle despite the sloping rear wall.  This is not the case with the Interstate's cabinets, which are just too small for a shelf.  So what happens is that everything tends to end up in a heap at the bottom of the cabinet, no matter how well organized it might have been to start with.
Like my entire travel wardrobe, for instance.  I prefer to keep it in one of these overheads right above the bed, but obviously this isn't working from an organizational standpoint.  I start out each trip with a nice neat folded assortment of clothing which inevitably becomes jumbled to the point where I have to scoop the entire works down onto the bed and paw through it every time I need something.  Simultaneously, there is space in the upper part of this cabinet that is being wasted.
To improve upon this mess shown above, my husband and I custom-cut and installed segments of 4-inch PVC sewer pipe to form a series of cubbies to hold and organize all that clothing:
As you can see, every cubic inch of that unusual three-dimensional triangular shape has now been taken advantage of.  And I think it looks cool also!!!
I am an average-to-small sized woman and so this arrangement works very well for me (my clothing is correspondingly small).  Four-inch pipe would probably not accommodate all the clothing that a large man would need to take on a trip, and of course it wouldn't be large enough for very heavy clothing such as sweaters.  But as my husband noted, many traveling men are less inclined to change their clothing as often as women anyway, so maybe it evens out.
BTW, the trick to using a storage system like this is to roll your clothes rather than folding them.  I tend to travel with non-wrinkling clothes and I find rolling to be the most efficient packing method even if I am just using a suitcase. 
Here is our build sequence for this project.

We removed the front facing but left the existing wire conduits in place, as they did not require modification for our planned improvements.  We will save the front spacer in case we ever sell our Interstate so a future owner will have the option of re-installing it if they wish.  
I took the best measurements I could of the inside of the cabinet.  It's made of a thin finish plywood and is not totally uniform from place to place, so even if you measure exactly, you might see some variation as you move from one end of a cabinet to the other.  
If you are not an experienced DIY person, this pipe-fitting process can be very frustrating.  I measured the vault angle at 45 degrees, but in practice, it actually proved closer to 47 degrees.  
Note that we were using PVC sewer pipe, which is not the same as water pipe - specifically it is much thinner.  Schedule 40 PVC would have the same outer diameter as this sewer pipe, but it would be too thick for this application.  We got a 10 foot length of this at Home Depot for less than nine dollars.

This project requires a fairly sophisticated saw because you have to set precise angles and also cut into a cylindrical object, which would be difficult to do manually.  
Unless you are a skilled craftsman who does this kind of thing routinely, expect to make some mistakes and do some trial and error.  Here you can see that we got the rear angle correct, but we initiated that angle at a too-high location on the pipe segment, such that it does not push all the way to the back.  
Working methodically is the key.  Once you get a test piece that fits well, then size the others off that piece.  
The saw left some rough edges and chips, so I created this apparatus for sanding:  A 220 grit piece of sandpaper taped to a flat board which, in turn, was held in place with one of my husband's 45 pound weights.  I could then grab the pipe segment with both hands and rub it against the sandpaper.  
And I also took off the sharp edges using the same grit sandpaper.  
Here you see the entire bundle dry-fit on our Interstate's couch and awaiting install in the cabinet.  You can see that the top row sacrifices depth and volume to the sloping rear wall, but there will still be good storage space available even in those shorter segments.  
There are a number of fastening methods you could use in a situation like this.  I chose heavy-duty double-sided tape because I am notorious for pulling my inventions back apart again for the purposes of re-tweaking.  This tape holds firmly but if I want to modify this pipe bundle at some point down the road (pun intended), that option remains open.  
For the deeper bottom row, I put one square of tape beneath the pipe and one square on each side where each piece makes contact with the next.  Those pieces of tape hanging in the foreground don't yet have their red protective covers peeled off.  
For the shallower top row, I put one square of tape where the upper pipe contacts each of the lower two.  I found that it was best to first dry fit and position the rear oblique cut against the sloping wall, raise the segment up a bit as shown here, and slide each piece of tape into the contact points.  This way I would not accidentally skew the rear cut angle of the pipe relative to the wall slope, if you get my meaning.  
Everybody loves a before-and-after shot.  This is the very same collection of clothing in each shot, nothing added, nothing deleted.  
How about an oblique shot as well?  Now you see it...
...and now you don't.  
I must say, my initial reaction to the final result has been better than I expected it to be.  In other words, I like it even more than I thought I would!!  I can see all of my clothing at a glance, and I will no longer have to think about when I need to do laundry on the road - the empty cubbies staring back at me from the cabinet will tell the tale as to how much clean clothing remains (there will be a different area set up for dirty laundry).

Now I need to come up with additional space-maximizing ideas for the other six triangular cabinets that will hold other equipment and food.  That will be a subject for future posts.
Me organized now!  At least in this one cabinet!


  1. Oh this is nice, so inventive. I am at home waiting for refrig repairman and reading many of your posts. It seems round things use up more space, I wonder if they make 4 in vinyl fence posts, you know square?
    I have used your idea of making templates already in our motorhome, measure 3 times, make a template, measure some more, saves lots of your materials.

  2. I love that idea because it would definitely capture more storage space than the cylinders. I think the trick would be finding fence posts that were thin enough, such as the ones that serve as sleeves over pressure-treated lumber (but are they rigid? I don't know). On our recent long trip, my husband started expressing interest in having his cabinet converted like this, but he's larger and his clothing is bulkier, so square really would be better for him.

  3. I am always fascinated with the generosity of DIY people who are so willing to share their expertise and ideas on blogs and on youtube. I am a person who needs every step spelled out along with pictures. Thanks so much!