Designer based in Scottsdale, Arizona Wendy Rogers had worked with Rob Menzies, a railroad owner and private railcar enthusiast, for years on residential and railcar projects before taking on his biggest challenge yet. Menzies presented Rodgers with a third railcar project: a 1954 Union Pacific ship originally built as an observation bar and lounge car that he envisioned as his next luxury home on the rails. The problem was that the car had been completely dismantled. Rodgers says the car was basically nothing but steel inside, and while she knew she had her work cut out for her, the designer was eager to breathe new life into the project. .
“Rob really gave me the confidence to do something as unique as a wagon the first time around and through this project I knew the ins and outs so I felt I could take it on even if it was completely stripped,” says Rodgers. “There was a staircase in the center but there was no floor or anything. I started entirely from the base.
Although the wagon was built in the mid-20th century, Rodgers felt the car’s clean lines best lent itself to the Art Deco era and was inspired by a trip on the famous Orient Express from Paris to Venice. , which she says is the ultimate example. of Art Deco wagon design. She also quickly realized that nearly every piece of furniture had to be custom-designed, as the wagon was 90′ x 10′ and each item had to be able to withstand speeds of up to 90 miles per hour in transit.
“I started thinking of the project like designing a yacht because they’re done the same way where every inch counts and all the drawers have to have pneumatic closers so they don’t open,” says Rodgers. “I kept looking into this industry for details to make the most of the space I could.” It’s also fitting given that Rodgers says these high-design private wagons are often referred to as “land yachts” by their owners.
Incredibly, Rodgers was able to create a layout that included four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, laundry room, bar, and dining room that comfortably accommodated Menzies’ family or other guests. This generous floor plan was able to be so complete thanks to the designer’s brilliant custom furnishings, which almost all serve multiple purposes, to ensure this small space would have all the amenities and comforts of home while still feeling like a hotel. luxury.
“This project helped me think more three-dimensionally because I had to be incredibly efficient,” says Rodgers. “You don’t realize how much every half inch counts when you’re used to residential and commercial projects. The closets are seven inches wide, so you must live differently here, and we had to find a place for suitcases and even storage for decorative pillows in each room to maximize space.
Rodgers also loved the challenge of creating custom pieces that had to be more than pretty faces. Each item had to not only offer some sort of storage, but also be strong enough to handle cross-country travel at top speeds. She even needed to find the right kind of paint that would be able to withstand luggage and furniture bumping into the narrow 28-inch hallways. However, all these constraints did not stop Rodgers from going all out with stunning colors and materials, such as the interior doors designed with burl walnut wood and brass inlays and the countertops created with special slabs. of quartz tiles. However, his favorite piece is the bar’s colorful backlit glass that looks like it was created during the height of the Art Deco movement.
“It’s always fun when a customer doesn’t settle for average and wants to source rare materials,” Rodgers says. “Once he committed to styling, Rob wanted to go all out with Art Deco design and run with his love of color. He loves rich tones and even the exterior of his private cars is painted magenta.
Between the top-to-bottom redesign and the countless custom parts needed to fill this small but mighty space, it’s no surprise that this private wagon project took nearly four years. Since then, this Art Deco darling has joined Amtrak trains along the East and West Coasts and also ventured to Chicago, providing its owners with modern luxury with plenty of historic charm. Anyone still unconvinced that rail travel is experiencing a new golden age is sure to guess that thought after a trip aboard this magnificent ship that puts all first-class flight amenities to shame.
Lauren Wicks is a Birmingham-based writer who covers design trends, must-have products, travel inspiration and entertainment. She is obsessed with globally inspired textiles, hosts French dinner parties and cocktail parties.