While our new 2018 Tommy Bahama 27FB Airstream is loaded with storage, the closet area was set up from the factory to have double doors that lead into a single closet with a clothes rod that stretched the space. The Airstream closet space left a little to be desired.

This was fine for our short trips and weekends away, but as we started preparing for a longer three-month trip we found we didn’t have much of a need for a hanging rod. We were packing more folding items like shirts, pants and shorts that don’t require a hanging rod.

Better Use of Space

I looked around and found some potentially good solutions out there like store-bought organizers and separate storage boxes that we could put things in, but it left a ton of unusable space around them.

So, being a handy kind of guy, I decided to build some shelving that would utilize as much of the space as possible.

This post explains how we went from the original clost layout

starting Airstream closet
Original Airstream closet layout (with the doors removed)

To this new closet layout

finished airstream closet
Finished closet layout

Here is how I installed shelves in the hanging closet of our Airstream.

As they say, there are “100 ways to skin a cat,” and after looking around on forums and Google, I found there are some very creative solutions that people have come up with.

This is the solution that I took and that you can replicate by following these instructions.

Original Airstream Closet Configuration

Here are the images of the closet as it comes originally. (I removed the closet doors.)

I’m not sure who is camping with that many hanging clothes, but that doesn’t really suit our clothing needs.

We needed more storage for hiking, biking, and everyday clothes.

In this configuration we ended up hanging almost everything to fit it in. Not very practical.

completed airstream closet
Original closet with doors
starting closet
Original Airstream closet layout (with the doors removed)

The upper opening was in about the same shape.

We would stuff towels and things up there, but you would always have room on the top, or would need the thing on the bottom in the back behind everything. Not a very efficient use of space in this Airstream closet.

start upper closet
Upper closet original layout

Upper Closet Section

So, let’s start at the beginning. I started on the upper portion of the closet first.

I decided to divide it into three sections — the top half being open all the way across the span of the closet, and the bottom half divided into two separate sections.

First thing I did was take measurements and make a shelf to make two shelves in the top section, rather than the one large shelf. Because of the center post I had to make it in two sections — a left and right side.

I made all my measurements and cut the shelves to reach all the way to the back.

Remember the back wall curves in, so you have to do a little math and figure how much shorter it will be from doing the measurements from the bottom.

All Airstreams have slightly different dimensions given that the slope of the walls are not entirely uniform; hence, the need to do your own measurements for your Airstream closet.

I also built up a center support from a piece of plywood  that I doubled up to make 1.5” thick to support the shelf halves.

upper cabinet verticals in Airstream closet
Upper closet section with vertical support

In this picture, do you see the two little dark spots on the bottom of the vertical?

This is where the screws from the factory were holding the original shelf, so I cut a little notch in the bottom so the screws would stay and the board would span the screws and sit flat.

I put some screws up through the bottom into the vertical to hold it in place.

I also toe nailed a screw in the top into the middle support. This will be covered by the shelf.

On each side I also put a ½” block that matched the middle support and screwed it to the wall. These will support the shelves.

upper shelves in closet
New upper shelves for the Airstream closet

Here is a picture of my upper shelves before installation. I brought the front of these all the way to the front of the cabinet. That is why all the custom cuts.

They wrap around the side walls and the middle post.

Once I got the middle vertical support in, I double checked the depth of my shelves to insure they weren’t too long to go in.

I made these pretty tight, so it took a little trial and error to get them in, but they fit great and nothing will get lost down the holes on the side.

upper shelf area in airstream closet
Upper shelf added to the closet

The finished product up top almost doubled the storage up there and you don’t lose anything in the back.

Lower Half of Closet

Now, onto the the lower half of the Airstream closet.

I contemplated removing the entire hanging bar to get it out of the way on the new shelving side, but thought while this would work for me, should we ever sell our Airstream, the new owner might want all the hanging area, and I made all the pieces removable should I ever want to remove them and would have minimal screw holes to patch to put it back to stock.

I started by filling in the bottom with a vertical support and a bottom shelf that would sit on the box that is already there for the plumbing. It is on the bottom back of the closet.

I read Airstream forums and started finding that the bottom of the shelf is pretty flimsy to support a shelving system or a bunch of storage crates.

I decided that I didn’t want to design it so that the entire shelving system was required to be supported by the factory installed closet bottom.

Instead I decided to build my own bottom support for the shelves.

lower shelf
Lower shelf

The first piece to go in was a bottom support shelf.

Middle vertical section
Middle vertical section of Airstream closet

I started the installation on the lower piece. The thicker vertical piece will go behind the post.

I left a gap at the top so the upper vertical will sit on top of the thick piece and the seam  will be in line with the post in front.

I used a [amazon link=”B011PGOPPS” title=”Kreg pocket hold jig”] to attach the shelf to the vertical support and put some on the shelf to screw into the side wall to support it.

The back of the shelf will be supported by the box in the back of the closet and will take most of the weight from the rest of the shelves. This was designed so that everything rides on this and not the actual closet bottom.

I also opened the cabinet below which is the access for the plumbing from the outside and also to the shower.

There was just enough room to get a drill in there and put some screws from below to support the vertical piece.

I also toe nailed a screw in from the top for a little extra support. This screw will be hidden by the other vertical panel.

upper middle vertical in airstream closet
Upper middle vertical

I forgot to take a picture of the process, but the vertical middle panel took a little work to get right.

Because the back slopes in, I measured the bottom to the back, then the top to the back and guessed at the curve.

I also had to cut a notch in the top to go around the hanging bar.

I cut it out with a jigsaw, and smoothed it out with a belt sander and kept working at it with the sander until it fit nice and snug. It actually came out pretty close.

Once I got it to where I liked it, it put it in place and attached it, resting it in the slot on the lower shelf support I left room with.

I put a few pocket holes on the top edge to screw into the upper shelf to help support the weight of everything.

middle vertical installed
Middle vertical installed in Airstream closet

I forgot to fix the lower shelf and take out where it was sagging before I started doing this and it left a gap.

No worries, I just like it to be a little tighter for my taste, but it works like I wanted. I screwed it down and all the weight will be supported by the lower shelf for the remaining shelves.

On the home stretch now.

With the middle vertical panel installed I can finish putting in the rest of the shelves.

I decided to put in two more shelves to give a little more room and not make it such a tight cubby to get stuff in and out.

making shelves
Making shelves

I took some white melamine that I got from the local home store and cut it to size.

I also got some of the pre-glued edge tape to put on it to finish the raw edge. Easy enough to do. I have an old iron to do this with so as not to get glue on a good iron.

You could also use a heat gun if you have one; it’s just a little more difficult to not get it hot enough that it sticks well, or not too hot to discolor the tape.

Once these were prepared it was time to put them in.

I cut some scrap wood into the height that I wanted to hold each shelf off the one below so I could attach it.

I put some pocket holes in the bottom of the side that goes to the closet wall, and ran screws through the middle vertical support into the edge of the shelf.

pocket holes in bottom of shelves
Pocket holes in bottom of shelves

Here is an image of the bottom shelves installed in the Airstream closet.

shelves installed in airstream closet
Shelves installed

This last picture shows a pretty good shot of the upper vertical piece in place and all the shelves installed.

It came out pretty well. It turned out to add a ton more usable storage in our closet.

We still have a good area to hang jackets and a few things on the right side of the closet, but this is a much better set up for us.

I, being the gentleman I am, took the top half of the closet for my stuff, and gave the wife the bigger three shelves for her stuff.  

finished airstream closet
Finished Airstream closet layout

Now that we are two weeks into the trip, across some really “great” highways and even down some very bumpy dirt roads, everything has stayed in place.

And we are much happier with our storage now.