Two Carpenters Turn a 1976 GMC Motorhome Into a Woodsy Wonder on Wheels

Two Carpenters Turn a 1976 GMC Motorhome Into a Woodsy Wonder on Wheels

By Marissa Hermanson
A Tennessee couple use their woodworking skills to bring a dated motorhome back to life.

Woodworkers Justin and Kathleen Brady from Bell Buckle, Tennessee, transformed a 1976 GMC Motorhome into a mobile dwelling to be used for weekend getaways and their annual pilgrimage out west. The couple had to work meticulously to make the most of the 150-square-foot space, and they got creative with cabinetry and millwork throughout.

The couple streamlined the GMC’s body by removing roof racks, exterior vents, and the rear ladder. They added low-profile air conditioners that don’t detract from its sleek contours.

"We drove it out to Grand Teton to get married in ’17, which was our first big trip in it," says Justin. 

The 26-foot RV now showcases the couple’s creative carpentry skills. "The woodwork is a focal point of the whole thing," says Justin, owner of Walnut Wood Works. "It just made sense to put a lot of that in there. There’s a lot of walnut."

The Motorhome’s 150-square-foot living space is well thought out, with a functional layout and smart storage.

The Motorhome’s exterior was stripped down to bare metal and fiberglass and then repainted in a fresh, new color scheme.

Upon purchasing the dilapidated Motorhome, the duo knew they had their work cut out for them. They stripped down the old chassis to the metal frame and did a total rebuild.

"It started as a ‘fix it up and use it’ project, but things got out of hand quickly," Justin says. "One thing led to another—it was a bare shell in no time, and we started fresh."

The couple intended for the Motorhome to be a fixer-upper project, but after they got started they realized that it needed to be completely gutted.

"We removed the upper cabinets that come standard in GMCs, because they block a lot of the windows, and that really closes in the space," Justin says.

The cabinetry is topped with Walnut butcher block countertops and a built-in end-grain cutting board.  

Shop the Look

The couple had their own vision for the floor plan, which deviated from the original layout of the motorhome. They outfitted the interior with foamed PVC walls, a white aluminum ceiling, and engineered waterproof laminate COREtec oak. They added new plumbing and electrical systems, along with photovoltaic panels, and they re-insulated the whole coach with spray foam.

The couple rebuilt the dashboard using walnut and updated the steering wheel, air vent trim, A/C controls, speaker housing and arm rests. 

"A lot of time and work was put into the design and proportions to make it feel like a place you want to spend time," Justin says. "The hallway is large and doesn’t feel cramped; and the windows really add to the sense of openness." To achieve an open and bright feel, they removed the original upper cabinets to bring in more natural light.

The cabinets are made of lightweight plywood with a white-painted birch veneer. "For the cabinet doors, the faces are made from one piece of plywood, so the grain all flows between them. We wanted this to be visible, as it’s a really cool element," Justin says. "To do this, we started with a light olive green, and thinned it heavily and painted it on thin to give the color, which is transparent enough to see the grain underneath."

Niches store wine bottles safely while the vehicle travels down the open road.

"The curvature of the thing is the biggest hassle with these," says Justin. "It’s not a Winnebago that’s nice and square. It’s sleek and modern—even though it was built in the ’70s, way ahead of its time."

The curved walls of the chassis proved to be cumbersome when building the cabinets and wall panels. The couple cut a panel by hand and used a CNC machine to digitize the curve so that they could design the woodwork on a computer using CAD software. They then cut all the curved pieces with CNC routers.

In the bathroom, the countertops and the shower seat are cut from the same piece of walnut so that the wood grain flows seamlessly. 

"We really wanted to pay attention to the curves with the design," Justin says. "It was important that we not try to force a square peg in a round hole."

The shower pan is a solid chunk of four-inch-thick walnut waterproofed with conversion varnish. Small, square Sonite resin tiles are used throughout.

To couple’s intricate and meticulous carpentry is even found in the dry bath, where they built a carved walnut shower pan. To waterproof the woodwork, they added a topcoat of conversion varnish. While the couple DIYed the interior from top to bottom, they had the exterior painted by a custom paint shop in Casey, Illinois.

The bed is located in the back of the van, along with a small TV for watching movies.

"For the color scheme, we wanted something that was classy and clean, but that also paid homage to the fact that it’s a ’70s vehicle," Justin says. "The color you see is what we came up with—retro, but modern at the same time. We kept that same theme going throughout the build. We wanted it to feel distinctly ’70s, but to also fit in with our modern taste."

Related Reading:

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Budget Breakdown: A Tired RV Is Refreshed and Relisted For $21K

This Sleek Travel Trailer Is Practically a Cabin on Wheels 

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