Before & After: A Dull RV Becomes a Cheerful Abode in Just 21 Days

Add to
Like
Share
By Sarah Akkoush
An Australian couple and their three-year-old son prepare for life on the road in Canada.

When Grace and Eric Koelma sold their home in Australia in 2017, they acted upon a ruminating idea of exploring the world and embracing an adventurous, nomadic lifestyle with their young son, Leo. Craving a change from the suburban norm, the couple took their work on the road and traveled in Europe and Asia, living without a permanent address for an entire year. 

While they were thinking about their next destination, they mulled over the appeal of giving Leo a place to call home, instead of shuffling around to various short-term accommodations each month. Taking advantage of Canada’s IEC Visa—a two-year working holiday visa available to those under 30; Grace and Eric were 29), the family relocated to Vancouver. 

Before:

Newsletter
Join the Renovations Mailing List

Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design

A look at the dining area before the remodel.

A look at the dining area before the remodel.

With an ignited wanderlust and itch to live family-life on the road, Grace and Eric began searching for a van that would allow the three of them to comfortably explore Canada and North America. After first looking at a VW Westfalia, they knew it was simply too small. 

"Looking at a van that size was helpful because we realized we wanted more of a tiny home on wheels than a weekend-style camper," notes Grace. Shortly thereafter, they came across a 1991 Ford Econoline RV, which they then purchased for $8,500.

Here is a close-up of the kitchen area, looking toward the back bedroom.

Here is a close-up of the kitchen area, looking toward the back bedroom.

Though the van was in great condition for its age and mechanically sound, the drab interior left little to be desired. Neither Grace nor Eric had building experience, so they figured things out as they went, enlisting the help of generous friends and fellow van-goers, while also faithfully consulting YouTube. 

Before the renovation, the camper appeared extremely cramped and dated.

Before the renovation, the camper appeared extremely cramped and dated.

However, early into the renovation, the couple was thrown a curveball when they discovered a significant amount of black mold on the inside of the cabinets while they were preparing the walls for priming. A deeper investigation led to the unfortunate discovery that there had been substantial water damage, which caused the van’s supporting beams to almost completely rot away. 

 The couple pulled off most of the back of the van to assess the situation and address the rot, and then rebuilt it with steel studs for additional structural integrity.

A peek at the front of the RV.

A peek at the front of the RV.

Once the larger structural issues were solved, Grace and Eric turned their attention to design the inside of the camper. Cabinets were saved and repurposed, getting a fresh coat of paint and new hardware. The compact interior was warmed up with pine paneling on the walls and ceiling. More so, the couple happily stumbled upon two pieces of finished wooden countertops at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which they used for the kitchen counters and a dining room table.

After:

The RV's kitchen now boasts freshly painted cabinetry and butcher-block countertops, both of which have been sourced from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

The RV's kitchen now boasts freshly painted cabinetry and butcher-block countertops, both of which have been sourced from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Other upgrades included a new shower, vinyl flooring, LED lighting, and new shelving. In total, the renovation cost $8,000, and was completed with the mindset that this camper would become a permanent home for their family’s next chapter. 

Shop the Look
Sunao Dip Mug in Yellow
Sunao Dip Mug in Yellow
From Sunao, a minimalist mug in Yellow and White with a circular flat-bottom and slender handle.
Sori Yanagi Stainless Steel Kettle
Sori Yanagi Stainless Steel Kettle
A beautiful, timeless and practical tea pot created by one of Japan's most renowned industrial designers: Sori Yanagi. The kettle is Yanagi's best-selling design in his homeland with more than half a million kettles sold yearly in Japan alone.
The Citizenry Onam Kitchen Towels - Blue
The Citizenry Onam Kitchen Towels - Blue
Elevate the everyday with this set of three hand-loomed kitchen towels.
Once the old countertops were pulled out, the couple used them as a template to cut the new ones. The tile backsplash (from Home Depot) uses stick-on tile. "Real ones [tiles] have a propensity to fall off when the van hits bumps," explains Grace.

Once the old countertops were pulled out, the couple used them as a template to cut the new ones. The tile backsplash (from Home Depot) uses stick-on tile. "Real ones [tiles] have a propensity to fall off when the van hits bumps," explains Grace.

"This was no means a super strict budget, and you could definitely do it for cheaper, but we wanted to—for the most part—use quality materials that would be durable since we were planning to live in the trailer full time for two years, with an active toddler," says Grace.

The couple had just enough wood from the ReStore to make a dining table out of the same wooden countertop. The wood surfaces, in addition to the knotty pine paneling, beautifully warm up the compact space.

The couple had just enough wood from the ReStore to make a dining table out of the same wooden countertop. The wood surfaces, in addition to the knotty pine paneling, beautifully warm up the compact space.

The kitchen's Wedgewood stove, still in working condition, was saved during the remodel.

The kitchen's Wedgewood stove, still in working condition, was saved during the remodel.

The seat cushions of the dining booth were saved and reupholstered during the remodel, and have now been used to complete the family-friendly eating nook. 

The seat cushions of the dining booth were saved and reupholstered during the remodel, and have now been used to complete the family-friendly eating nook. 

Without any prior experience, Eric completed all of the plumbing for the camper's new bathroom. "The plumbing alone took about 10 or 11 trips to hardware stores, going back for missing parts, or returning wrong ones," he explains.

Without any prior experience, Eric completed all of the plumbing for the camper's new bathroom. "The plumbing alone took about 10 or 11 trips to hardware stores, going back for missing parts, or returning wrong ones," he explains.

The new bathroom includes a polycarbonate shower, which has been spray-painted silver to mimic corrugated iron. "We chose polycarbonate because it’s lightweight, more malleable, and a cheaper option than actually using metal," adds Grace.

The new bathroom includes a polycarbonate shower, which has been spray-painted silver to mimic corrugated iron. "We chose polycarbonate because it’s lightweight, more malleable, and a cheaper option than actually using metal," adds Grace.

The airy sleeping quarters feature plenty of overhead bin storage.

The airy sleeping quarters feature plenty of overhead bin storage.

A throw from Anthropologie accents the bed.

A throw from Anthropologie accents the bed.

Leo's new play-space has quickly become Eric's favorite part of the home. "It was one of the most simple projects to build, but the most satisfying to complete because of the look on Leo’s face when he first climbed inside and saw all his toys in HIS space," he notes.

Leo's new play-space has quickly become Eric's favorite part of the home. "It was one of the most simple projects to build, but the most satisfying to complete because of the look on Leo’s face when he first climbed inside and saw all his toys in HIS space," he notes.

A closer look at the play-space mezzanine.

A closer look at the play-space mezzanine.

The renovation, which took just three weeks to substantially complete, has allowed the couple to travel, work remotely, and provide their son valuable cultural exposure that they believe wouldn't have been possible in the routines of their suburban life in Australia.

The renovation, which took just three weeks to substantially complete, has allowed the couple to travel, work remotely, and provide their son valuable cultural exposure that they believe wouldn't have been possible in the routines of their suburban life in Australia.

For more on Eric and Grace’s van life adventure, you can follow along on the Dare List Family website and @darelist.family.

Have your own renovation to share? Read our submissions guidelines and tell us your story!