How One Family of Five Lives Happily In a 180-Square-Foot RV
Ashley Petrone takes us inside her renovated RV and dishes on the joys and challenges of living with less.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:51 AM
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Downsizing is no easy feat—especially if you’re a family of five—but Arrows and Bow blogger Ashley Petrone sure makes it look easy. For the past nine months, the mama of three has been hauling up in a 180-square-foot RV: A temporary abode she shares with her husband and little ones as they begin the process of building their dream home in Ventura, CA.
“When we were trying to figure out where we going to live we started looking at apartments and they were so expensive. They were more than our mortgage was on our five bedroom house,” says Petrone.
Luckily, the family of five stumbled across a used car lot where they spotted their RV (a 2003 Cougar Keystone). “There was no damage to it. It was just old and outdated,” she adds. The trailer also came with three bunk beds—an added bonus that sealed the deal.
Following a three week renovation that only set the duo back $3,000, the family moved into the tiny mobile home—selling or donating almost all of their furniture and personal belongings in the process. “If we were going to go tiny, we were really going to go tiny,” Petrone tells Domino. “I really wanted us to live minimally.”
Filled only with the essentials (and plenty of love), their now-incredibly-chic RV has given them a new perspective on what it really means to live with less.
Once haunted by blue carpeting, gaudy curtains, and a sea of wallpaper, it’s hard to imagine that their bright and airy RV was ever anything but. Inside, you’ll find just about every type of space you would in any family-approved home, including a fully-equipped kitchen, master bedroom, lounge area, dining space, full bathroom, and kids’ sleeping quarters.
While the trailer’s unusual, plastic-y surfaces and limited layout were, of course, difficult to design around, moving about the space during the renovation proved to be a bigger challenge for Petrone and her husband, who took on the project all on their own.
“At the end of every day our backs hurt in weird ways because we weren’t used to working in tight small quarters,” she recalls.
In less than a month, the duo stripped the space of its cosmetic woes; revealing clean, white walls and a fairly open floor plan. During the initial gut of the trailer, Petrone removed a number of bulkier built-in items (like a couch and dining table) that soaked up precious space. Afterward, the pair refaced all of the cabinets in both the kitchen and master suite, and added a pop of black and white checkered wallpaper near the kids’ space for intrigue.
Because Petrone knew they’d be staying stationary, she had more room to play when it came to making major furniture decisions. “I had a little bit more flexibility with picking out a really cool couch and a table and bringing in chairs that we had at home,” she explains.
The matte black light fixtures, which she designed in collaboration with Lucent Lightshop, also help elevate the mod mobile home.
The most awe-inspiring space in the trailer, of course, has to be the kitchen. With only four (!!) drawers, one pantry, and a seriously tiny oven to work with come mealtime, most would deem this cookhouse practically impossible, right?
“Amazingly enough we don’t need anymore!” says Petrone. “We actually entertain a lot. The oven was terrifying at first—it’s kind of like an Easy-Bake Oven—but it cooks very fast.”
The kitchen saw fewer fixes than you might guess. In addition to painting and refacing the original cabinetry, Petrone added a ceramic tile backsplash (something she hadn’t seen any other RV-renovators do before) and cleverly replaced the counter with what was formerly an Ikea desktop. “We bought it, cut it, and attached it as the countertop. I think it was $99.”
Despite lack of square footage, Petrone never felt like she had to compromise on style. Graphic patterns, intriguing textures, and fun wall art add character and depth to the RV, while its primarily white walls promise not to overwhelm the tight living quarters.
“I tried to stick with woods, black and white, and then little pops of color with florals and greenery. The pops of colors are tiny,” she says.
Much like in the kitchen, patterned black and white tile serves as a chic (and affordable) way to spruce up a smaller-than-average bathroom, as do the potted plant and colorful shower curtain.
Still, styling her teeny abode was no easy task. “For me, having a really patterned bedspread was just not even an option. There are just too many elements you can see from that same space,” she says. “Everytime I tried I wanted it to work, but I felt like it was clashing.”
Keeping the trailer clutter-free is also high on Petrone’s list, as just-cleaned spaces can quickly go awry when you’re living in a 180-square-foot home with four other people. While tidying up at the end of every day and hosting ”family cleaning weekends” definitely helps keep the home looking neat, so do frequent purges.
“I’m constantly cleaning out. If the kids get gifts or I get new clothes then we have to get rid of other clothes,” she says. “When we moved in I made sure there was room in every cupboard and every space to grow.” To freshen things up in the living room (without accumulating too much stuff), Petrone will switch out pillow covers every few months to make the space feel new.
And it’s not just Petrone and her husband who have had to learn to live without. Their three kiddos have also had to make some compromises. With little room toys they’ll quickly grow out and no TV for easy entertainment, they’ve instead learned to rely on each other.
“Our kids play so well together now, where they used to bicker and fight. You can’t go to your room and just walk away. You have to deal with it,” she explains. “It’s been a cool thing for our family.”
While shacking up in an RV for the past year has certainly taught Petrone and her family what it truly means to live small, it’s also shaped the way she plans on approaching their dream home (which will eventually stand on the same 2.2 acres their cozy trailer currently sits).
“We’ve realized that we don’t need anymore than that; that what’s inside of there is enough,” she claims. There’s more joy with living with less. So, I really want to be intentional. I want to choose wisely and have things that we love and not just bring a whole bunch of stuff inside of it.”
Has trailer living won you over yet? Follow along with Petrone as she documents their “joys of the in-between” on her swoon-worthy Instagram.
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