The longer I live in Bend, the more surprised I am to discover that Central Oregon is a continuing hotbed of RV notables: EarthCruiser, Host truck campers, Zamp Solar, reality TV darlings Justin and Anna at Flyte Camp, and now, built right around the corner, the new Nest Caravan: the only molded fiberglass trailer manufactured west of the Mississippi.
Robert Johans, President of Nest, let me peek behind his fence and inside one of the innovative trailers, rolled out just eight months ago.
A “long time camper,” designer and builder Johans (who also owns a ’65 Globetrotter Airstream) moved from Los Angeles to Bend about a decade ago and became renowned for restoring vintage fiberglass trailers: Bolers, Scamps, Casitas, Trilliums, Trail Mites, Love Bugs, and U-Hauls. “People were bringing them from all over the place, and spending a lot of money to have these old trailers restored,” he said. “And they were never made very well to begin with.”
“I thought, if you’re going to spend that kind of money for an old one, why not design a brand new one? One that’s built right, with a lot of integrity.”
Johans envisioned his high-quality, tricked-out Nest to fill the market gap between “the cheap trailers” priced in the teens and low twenties and the entry-level Airstream. “It’s a good fit for those who aren’t ready to step up to the big bucks for an Airstream,” he said. “And the aesthetics kind of have a familiarity.” Agreed! What is it about the Nest that smells a little ‘streamy? (Here’s a clue: the exterior was styled by Bryan Thompson, designer of the BaseCamp.)
Intended to appeal to adventurous empty nesters (“Dwell Magazine boomers”) and well-off young technomads, the solar powered trailer features marine and aviation components (as opposed to “the standard RV plastic stuff”)—like a heavy duty boat jack, mod exterior docking light, and quality hoses. “It’s muscular, but tasteful,” said Johans. Inside, there’s a simple wet bath with a shower wand and portapotty, cork and/or Flor carpet tiles on the floor, sexy lighting, teeny galley fixtures, a work/dining counter, and an enormous, always-deployed bed. (Okay, it’s just a queen mattress, but in a 16-foot trailer? That’s enormous.) “We found the number one thing people want in a compact trailer this size is a queen size bed,” said Johans. “It dictates all the geometry inside.” Hence the skinny rear entry door (with a removable step bumper allowing for a swingaway bike rack).
The whole package exudes a minimalist, Eurostyle, vaguely mid-century vibe—with no lame supergraphics on the outside, either. “Design is everything,” said Johans. “Design, innovation and quality.”
The Nest has three main molded fiberglass components: a top shell that fits above a bottom shell, and a rear cap. Propane tanks and storage are hidden beneath the integrated nose cone. To say Mr. Johans is not a fan of our prominently featured, front-exposed propane tanks is an understatement. “The trailer industry sucks when it comes to aesthetics,” said Johans, a former graphic artist. “It’s very, very poor. Designers do not do these things for some reason. Why not design one properly?”
“We’ve been living with old school design and technology for a very long time,” he said. “The Europeans are way ahead of us.”
The Nest is frameless, with a towing delta and a monocoque construction to carry the load. (Our late model Airstreams are semi-monocoque, with inner and outer aluminum layers on an integrated aluminum frame.) Without a steel frame, the 16’6” Nest weighs in at 2400 pounds dry and can be mated with a 6-cylinder tow vehicle, like Johan’s Jeep (though he imagines it best rigged with a Porsche Cayenne).
“I had this issue about an ugly, weird-looking trailer behind your car,” he said. “They should be a unit.” The Nest can be painted to match your tow vehicle—or make a style statement with the creamsicle-like Tangerine treatment. (After all, “orange is the happiest color,” said Frank Sinatra.)
“We’re not trying to build cute,” Johans said. “We’re not trying to build quirky. Or retro. We’re taking the industry forward with clean, contemporary, automotive styling. It looks appropriate behind your nice car.”
A hit at the recent Portland RV show, Nest Caravans will go into production this winter for delivery of product in spring—just in time for the 2016 Northwest camping season.