Photography courtesy of Julie Mandrell
The question is as old as the airplane itself: Can a plane take off on a moving treadmill? MythBusters proved that, indeed, it can; but for neighbor Julie Mandrell, the better question is: Can you put a treadmill inside an airplane?
While designing the presidential jet for the state of Mexico, she was asked to do just that. By the way, it’s harder than you think.
“It is very difficult to do because of FAA regulations,” she says. “You can’t just put a treadmill on an airplane without it being secured or testing it for flammability.”
The solution? She built a closet in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and attached a fold-up treadmill to the back wall.
“Anything is possible with the right amount of money and engineering,” Mandrell says. “Who would have thought putting a treadmill on an aircraft would be possible?”
As an interior designer of luxury aircraft and motorcoaches, Mandrell is used to extravagant requests. Her planes often include a master bedroom with a full-size bed, a master bathroom with a large shower and an office with wide, leather seats that make the rest of us wonder why commercial airlines are holding out on us.
Her clients include several royal families in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the emir of Kuwait, and her budgets range from $2,500 to $300 million — an unavoidable expense if you want to transform a flying metal shell into luxury transportation that also meets Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
“You’re dealing with a shoe box, so the shape is limiting,” Mandrell says. “With an airplane, you have all kinds of regulations and restrictions that make design challenging. You’re also limited on textiles and upholstery because certain fabrics don’t pass FAA burn regulations.”
Photography by Danny Fulgencio
On motorcoaches, fewer regulations allow Mandrell to execute her designs with more freedom. They still come with a master bedroom and bathroom, but also washers and dryers, ceiling fans, full-size refrigerators and other kitchen appliances. Instead of using tile for the floor, she opts for lighter materials, such as hardwoods or luxury vinyl tile, so the vehicles don’t exceed weight limits.
“I have carte blanche, pretty much,” Mandrell says. “That’s any designer’s dream. For someone to trust you with $2.5 million, then have them say, ‘I want that,’ it’s fun.”
Mandrell has been designing aircraft and motorcoaches for more than 20 years, but she started her career in a fabric showroom in the Design District. One day, her boss showed her a picture of a custom tractor-trailer that piqued her interest in transportation design.
“For someone to trust you with $2.5 million, then have them say, ‘I want that,’ it’s fun.”
She started researching Peterbilt, Mack and Kenworth trucks until she thought, “Screw this, I’m going to do tour buses.”
Mandrell didn’t know the first thing about becoming a motorcoach designer. But when a woman from Country Coach called the showroom looking for a discontinued fabric, Mandrell asked how she could gain some experience. The woman said, “I don’t have any idea, but we’re hiring.”
The encounter launched Mandrell’s career designing aircraft and motorcoach interiors for multiple companies across the country. In 2006, Mandrell started her own business, Viaggio Lux, which designed buses for NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne. Through the job, she was invited to her first NASCAR race in Indianapolis.
“I didn’t know anything about NASCAR,” she says.
“I picked Kasey Kahne that day, and he came in third. Fast forward, and I’m designing a bus for him.”
The rich and famous certainly support Mandrell’s business, but her customers come from all walks of life. One buyer was a tow truck driver who saved his money to purchase a tour bus. Another was a dad who wanted to drive his daughter and her lacrosse team to their games in style.
In 2017, Mandrell established a partnership with her husband, Patrick, and rebranded her business to Jules and Peabody, a boutique design studio specializing in private aircraft and motorcoaches.
“I’ve had the coolest job on the planet,” Mandrell says. “It all started with a phone call. It had to have been fate.”
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