A pair of Calvin College grads and their kids have moved back to West Michigan with an Airstream trailer and a vision in tow.
Gwen Kwasteniet-Vogelzang and Tim Vogelzang — Chicago-area natives who graduated from Calvin in 2001 with degrees in communications and accounting, respectively — spent the past 16 years in Denver, where they adopted a son and a daughter, Rylan and Reagan.
Over the years, the Vogelzangs have spent many summer vacations in West Michigan with extended family on both sides. A recent trip back for a family funeral gave Kwasteniet-Vogelzang and her daughter a chance to explore Grand Rapids, which wasn’t one of their usual vacation spots.
Once back in Denver, she told her husband how taken she was with the transformation of the city over the past 17 years, how much there is to do and see, how “thriving and creative” it seemed — and especially the beauty of its natural waterways and forests.
“What essentially brought us back was trees and water,” she said, noting Denver had become “oversaturated and a concrete jungle,” with a high cost of living.
They moved to a log cabin on a 4-acre property in Grand Rapids 12 weeks ago, towing their Airstream trailer, “Magpie,” from Denver a few weeks later in preparation for the launch of their meeting and events business, Four Birds Airstream Gathering Spaces.
“Four” refers to the four members of the Vogelzang family, and “birds” refers to the meaning of their surname in Dutch, “birdsong.”
The business idea arose in a roundabout way.
Twelve-year-old Rylan Vogelzang has autism and Tourette syndrome. In 2017, he drew a series of 15 pictures paired with explanations about what it’s like to live with autism. The family turned the pictures into a small-scale art show, which led to a YouTube interview, which led to a publishing contract for “If I Squeeze Your Head, I’m Sorry,” a picture book coming out this September that is meant to entertain, inspire and educate readers about autism.
Just before the book deal happened, Kwasteniet-Vogelzang was looking to buy a brick-and-mortar space in Denver where they could host the adoptive and special needs parenting group she led at the time, then rent the space out when not in use to help pay for it. After the book deal, she added the goal of hosting book signings and events in the future space.
“During that yearlong process of looking for a space, God just kept shutting door after door after door, and it just wasn’t happening,” she said.
“My husband just kind of said, ‘Well, you should just get an Airstream, just do the book launch out of there, and that way you can travel to schools.’ We kind of laughed about it, and now, here we are.”
While still in Denver, before the family decided to move, they bought an Airstream and had the trailer renovated — the contractor completely gutting and redoing the interior.
Kwasteniet-Vogelzang used her previous experience as owner of a Denver interior design business to furnish it in tasteful contemporary hues and patterns once it arrived in Grand Rapids. It also is outfitted with an “outdoor living room” that can be set up in front of the trailer with a swing and soft seating.
After relocating to Grand Rapids, Kwasteniet-Vogelzang broadened her goals for the business. In addition to using Magpie as an “intimate community space for special needs and adoptive families,” she is marketing its potential uses as a conference room, lounge, bar, pop-up shop, photo booth, trade show booth, bridal party space and more.
She said it also will be ideal for her son’s traveling book launch in September, as it will provide a “consistent feel for him, which he needs.”
The trailer seats 12-15 people on the inside and several more in the outdoor living room. She said dishes will be an optional add-on for clients to use in the built-in kitchen.
The Vogelzangs’ motto for Four Birds — “gather, give, grow” — guides the business’s mission. They want it to be a place of deep connection, where people pour into each other and grow. They also plan to give back 10% of their profits to community nonprofits. Additionally, each month, nonprofits will have an opportunity to nominate an event or gathering that they would like to use the trailer for, and the winner will be able to use Magpie for that event for free.
Kwasteniet-Vogelzang said before meetings, she will set out a “cellphone siesta box” so people can unplug for the duration of the gathering.
“We just really want people to put their phones away and look each other in the eyeballs and gather intentionally. I don’t want this to be seen as just a party room,” she said.
Kwasteniet-Vogelzang said while she will require a deposit, she does not have a set price list; it will be negotiable. That, too, is intentional.
“I’m going to make people call me for pricing because I want to talk to them and say, OK, why do you want to use this for a meeting? Let’s dig into your why. What are you trying to accomplish in your meetings so that people can start thinking about the intention behind bringing people together and make it effective?”
The minimum rental block will be four hours, but Kwasteniet-Vogelzang said people will be able to rent it all day or all weekend as needed.
Her role will be to facilitate the transaction before and after, but she will not be present for the events.
In addition to the other uses, Kwasteniet-Vogelzang plans to host two-hour workshops out of Magpie on her own property on topics such as the Enneagram personality test, art-making, hand-lettering, succulents, and food and wine, all featuring different speakers.
The Airstream also will be available to use for ticketed events, which will allow people who can’t afford the upfront cost to use it anyway, and the business will take a cut of the ticket sales.
“We just want to make (Magpie) as accessible as we can for everybody to enjoy her,” Kwasteniet-Vogelzang said.
Four Birds Airstream Gathering Spaces made its debut at The Collected Market, a curated maker showcase held April 26-27 at Briar Barns, 693 10 Mile Road NW in Sparta.
Photo: Courtesy Pasagraphy
This article first appeared in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, a sister publication of GRMag.com.