Space Architect Discusses Trailer Building




Head Designer & Former NASA Architect Discusses Trailer Modulation & Creation At National RV Show In Louisville, Kentucky

Garrett Finney Photographed Inside The Cricket At The National RV Show In Louisville, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Continuing to evolve the architecture of how one looks at the outdoors is the constant challenge, especially in the design of new ways to enjoy camping. Garrett Finney, CEO and master designer at Taxa Outdoors, takes it to a whole new level. He is a former NASA designer who worked on lunar habitats and possesses both a bachelors and a masters from Yale University in architecture. He now brings his training but also his distinct love for the outdoors (specifically backpacking) to the new aspect of designing almost a hybrid teardrop. Finney sat down at the RVIA Industry Show in Louisville Kentucky to discuss inspiration, practicality and a philosophy of building.

The Buzz: Looking the design of some of your creations, where does the spark point for you at Taxa come from?

Garrett Finney: Don't kick me if I bore you somehow, but the founding story is [that I was] an architect by training for a while, then moved to Houston to work at NASA.  I was a space architect, designing and working on the insides of the International Space Station and then consulting on lunar habitats. But I've also been an East Coast person and a serious outdoor backpacker, kayaker, growing up. Then I got to Texas…

The Buzz: Were you still camping and stuff when you were in Texas?

GF: In Texas?

The Buzz: Yeah…while you were working at NASA…

GF: I started a family.

The Buzz: Got it.

GF: So a lot of things happened simultaneously. I was an expert in people in small places. I'd always disliked RVs in my snotty, east coast backpacker way. But then I got to Texas and 1 in 11 families owns an RV. I think that's a nationwide statistic. But it was like there were so many more. And I'm a designer. And I'm interested in-- it's like, "Oh, an RV." So after NASA, I'm an expert at people in small spaces. And here’s a small space, and yet they're not nearly as small as they could be. Whereas the product for me, because I'm in Houston, maybe I want to go camping with my baby but it's hot and humid as hell. Maybe I even want an air conditioner. I'd like to say that I don't… but I do. My paradigm for me in the market wasn't a house on wheels. I'm a designer, so I started drawing. And I flew to Airstream first and said, "Hey… Hire me because I'm an award-winning architect and I worked at NASA." And they said, "Nice to meet you." And then I went back again and said, "Now…don't just hire me…here's an idea of a small thing. But how come you're not concentrating on people like me."

The Buzz: Valid point.

GF: Well, I'll get to that. But it's-- and that means a slightly outdoorsy set. I don't want to bring a TV to a national park. I don't want to bring a vacuum cleaner to a national park. I've met all those people on the road. They’re crazy adventurer people who live in motor homes and they're super cool. But they were missing this whole crowd that's a big crowd.

The Cricket Out Among Nature. [Photo Credit: Taxa Outdoors]

The Buzz: I get your thought…because on the ISS, you're not looking at the TV over there, you're looking out the window…at what's flying by underneath you.

GF: Well, there's that. But also I create things that have useful ceilings. Ceilings aren't just for lights (chuckling). They're [there] to hang things from and to attach things to. And how do I design a thing that accommodates that? I started drawing what would become the Cricket, and saying, "How do two adults and two kids go out?" We owned a four-cylinder Subaru. My performance characteristics [for the design] came from a kind of systematic post-NASA thought of I don't want to pay storage fees. It's got to fit in a garage…it's got to be towable by the kind of car that's common but adventurous in all these different regions. And I tend to design by Venn Diagram. It's like, "Okay. There's the car. There's the home storage. There's the on-the-road." So once it fits -- and gets small enough to fit in the garage -- it shouldn't get any smaller, because then you can use it when you're on your way.

The Buzz: Looking at the Tiger Moth here in comparison to the Cricket…when you come down specifically to design of that…where did the gullwing door come into play?

GF: So I'm going to answer you indirectly a little bit. The way we designed the Cricket-- the smallest dimension you really have to deal with is 36" -- which is a wheelchair-clearing door. So we built a cardboard mockup of the Cricket in my office and put the coffee machine on the countertop, so that all four or five of us had to walk and bump into each other. [We had to] figure it out like, "How small can this thing be, and where does it need to be tall, and where can it be short, and how much storage [does it need? When I go camping, [how] much stuff do I bring?” And once [we saw that], it's like, "Oh. We don't need more space. We could give it swallowtail and achieve our aerodynamic goal. And we can start storing things on the outside." [And] there's real physical testing. Like, "Let's get a big person in here and a small person." So the Tiger Moth [by comparison] -- it's a smaller unit, and we did similar things. It's like, "Hey, we want something even smaller." Teardrop trailers [of course] are very popular…

The Buzz: Are you surprised by how that interest has evolved?

GF: No. It is similarly efficient to us. It’s like, "What is our version of a teardrop trailer?" If we say, "A teardrop's trying to be a little cottage on wheels”, it becomes “We want to be adventure equipment you sleep in." So our Tiger Moth is a double bed in a box with an outdoor kitchen, but we do it in such a way that hey, if it's rainy or it's hot as hell, you can throw open two sides of this thing and sit upright on a couch and be on a porch instead of a coffin.  So that's ventilation…that's light…that's thinking of rainy days. And if we are [all]  the same weight then you can put three mountain bikes inside the vehicle or under the cargo deck on top. It’s our version of what is the equipment version of a teardrop [is]. We [just] came up [with a] kind of angular thing but it's all about camping. We’re…I don't know…if you look out the window, it's like a camp kitchen. It's like being a boy scout.

Views From Inside The Cricket At The National RV Show In Louisville, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: Inside this specific model [The Cricket] the optimization of space is insane. You don't see people alot doing this. But it interesting that should be the first practical application you would think of.

GF: Obviously the RV industry is booming. I can't say they're wrong. I can say I know there's a big crowd of former tent campers who dislike RVs who are buying our products. That's great and I think obviously, there's a millennial argument and there's efficiency [in that]. And there's also people who buy higher gas mileage cars who don't want a giant SUV.

The Buzz: And you can pull this with…

GF: A 4-cylinder Outback. We’re not a cheap product, but we've designed away, on purpose, the purchase of a tow vehicle. Can I name names?

The Buzz: Sure.

GF: The new Airstream Basecamp is cool, but it weighs 1200 pounds more than this to start with. I would have to buy a new car if I wanted to tow that. And I have this big chart I've prepared -- I didn't get it into presentable graphic design -- but of every tow capacity vehicle for sale right now and how our trailers match all of them.

The Buzz: How much does the Cricket weigh?

GF: Just under 1500 pounds.

The Buzz: And the Tiger Moth?

GF: That's 900 pounds.

The Buzz: Is that just because of materials?

GF: It's smaller. I mean, this is a 12-foot box and that's an 8-foot box (laughing).

The Buzz:  And you were thinking in line like NASA, with people going to Mars, [to] what do they really need?

GF: Right. And I'm totally influenced [by that]. We all brought in the stuff we would go camping with [which] means I'd bring duffel bags and gear bags. I don't expect to have a place to hang my sport coat.

External View Of The Cricket At The National RV Show In Louisville, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: But you were never a camper though from the get go though…

GF: Outdoorsy.

The Buzz: Outdoorsy. But it was never an RV thing.

GF: Right, right. So again, the house on wheels paradigm says F your designer [like] "Hey, I've got to get a closet in here and I've got to get a microwave." I'm like…I can barely bring myself to wear a jacket in the city. I just need a place to hang my sweatshirt and I need to be able to go to the bathroom but I don't really need a room that's separate because I'm camping. But it's like I want to cook differently than I cook at home. I don't want the same microwaved popcorn. I want to be forced to make over the campfire popcorn. I keep trying to think of the right way to say this…there's something about camping that I think is very important. It's something about [being] the right kind of pain-in-the-ass.

The Buzz: But do you see camping more as an individual sort of pull or a family thing?

GF: Oh…either way.

The Buzz: Is there a different balance? For example, a father will take his daughter and if she doesn't want to be out in the tent, she might be more acceptable to this.

GF:  There is a grayer area in what I'm trying to do. It's like…what is “comfortable camping”? Because we totally want you to have a great night’s sleep and to be able to go to the bathroom without going outside and to be able to get clean and out of the weather. Yet…at the same time, we expect that you want to be outside if you can be. So if you can cook outside, you'd probably want to because that's the kind of people we sell to. What does that mean? It means if you're used to sleeping on the ground, you look at our cushions and say, "Oh, my god. A two inch thick cushion." But if you come from [purely an] RV culture, you're like, "That's not a 10 inch thick, queen size, powder puff mattress." It's pretty easy to find out who you are and sometimes there's the husband/wife split either way. It's like “this is me” and “that's you” and therefore “I'm not going with you”. The “right kind of pain-in-the-ass” means I have an electronic coffee machine at home and I have a french press here. To me, that's a bonus. It's like “this is different and this is fun” because I leave my house at home and I go into nature.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

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