Before & After: A Dull RV Becomes a Cheerful Abode in Just 21 Days
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.
Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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.