There's a peaceful feeling that washes over you when you walk onto the El Cosmico grounds in Marfa, Texas. It's quiet except for the occasional slap of tepee flaps, isolated from everything but the sun. There's no wifi (except in the main lodge), which is by design—to some degree, you're forced to unplug and interact with your surroundings, or just to relax. And with the trailers, tepees, yurts, and tents they have, that's not hard to do.
From the outside, the trailers might just look like brightly colored boxes. There's no way they could be comfortable or spacious, you might think. And you'd be wrong. They're meticulously designed and decorated, with beds, couches, and chairs galore. They even have outdoor patios where you can sit and enjoy a beer as you look out over the rest of El Cosmico's grounds. To find out more about the work that goes into decorating a trailer (or any of the other accommodations at El Cosmico), we talked with Liz Lambert, El Cosmico founder and chief creative office of Bunkhouse. She tells us about how El Cosmico started, the work that goes into decorating, and the ways they find their next addition to the trailer park.
How did El Cosmico start? How many trailers did it have? What did it look like then, and how did it grow to what it is now? What came first?
When I bought it, it was a pasture with a horse shed and not much else. A Marfa city councilman lived in his own Airstream on the property while we were noodling with the first iteration of El Cosmico. When we opened, we had five trailers, a few safari tents and a bath house. The fence was loose and you'd see pronghorn antelope on the property while you were taking a shower.
How do you acquire more trailers? Where do they come from?
Word of mouth, mostly. People know we have trailers so they will call us up or send an email. Craigslist, trailers on the street with for sale signs—we're always on the lookout.
Where do the names of each trailer come from?
Really, there was no larger organizing principal around the names. For most of them, we used their original names—Spartan Mansion, Vagabond, Kozy Koach—because they are just so good. Then we got a little trailer and painted it pink, so she became known as Little Pinky. We got her a companion, so we called it Amigo.
What's it like to design a trailer, yurt, or tepee?
More complicated than you would think. The ready-made trailers, like the Kozy Koach, have the original interiors—beautiful built-ins and wood paneling, like the inside of a boat—but finding those in pristine condition at a decent price is a challenge. When we started to think about ideal trailer configurations as more of a hotel room than a portable home, it made more sense to gut trailers and build the interiors from scratch and simplify the whole thing.
We’ve worked with local woodshop Enabler in Austin on the last couple and that has worked out really well—we can make the spaces more livable and accessible, but also so we can redo the electrical and plumbing and, most importantly, add foam insulation. The desert is hard on these old trailers. Yurts and tepees are easier, since they are big, open spaces and are ingeniously designed to weather the elements.
How do you decide on color schemes?
From the beginning, I was inspired by the saturated colors of India, and in particular, the colors of buses and trains and rickshaws in India, for El Cosmico. I google "Indian Transportation" and I hold Pantone chips up to the sky, and we discuss it in the office, plotting the existing trailers out on foam board—really, we just make it up as we go along, like a lot that we do. I love tone-on-tone color schemes. The Vagabond trailer became the "Vag-a-bond" once we painted it two shades of lavender. Sometimes a trailer tells you what color it wants to be, from the color of the porcelain of its original sink or a remnant of the old vinyl flooring.
What's one kind of trailer you'd particularly like to get at El Cosmico that you don't already have there?
There's this great image floating around the internet of this maze of 1950's era trailers stacked on top of each other (I think it's actually a stage set). I would love to have a multi-level unit at El Cosmico. We're beginning to work with containers, which probably offer more structural integrity for stacking, but I always return to the idea of the high-rise trailer park with the most enthusiasm.