Published on August 22, 2020

rv kitchen with light blue cabinetsPin It
Photography by Barrier Photography

In 2018, Elizabeth Swing was getting ready to move to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a year with her husband, son, and dog, but there was one hiccup: “I had dreamed about living in a tiny home for years, but the cost of buying or making one was always a barrier,” she explains. Swing did have some experience with updating RVs, though: Her old job, where she sold organic stuffed animals, had her traveling across the country to craft shows in one nicknamed “Folly,” which she painted mustard yellow. “I bought it on a whim from an old hippie who made it himself,” she says. “I loved that little darling so much it hurt. There’s such a minimal divide between you and the outdoors when you live in a small space, and that’s just the way I like it.” It took some convincing, but her husband got on board with the idea of moving into another camper.

Their new home in Charlotte, however, required more in-depth renovations. It was covered in vinyl sheeting and dated dark wood, with purple floral valances on every window. Using YouTube tutorials, she entirely revamped the camper, complete with a custom wood table—and she did it all while eight months pregnant. “The result was my favorite home I’ve lived in to date,” she says. 

Elizabeth Swing green RVPin It
Photography by Barrier Photography

Swing decided to turn her passion into a business in 2019, launching Quest Camper Renovations to help others make the move to living small. In just her first year, she’s transformed three more vehicles. Now, with more people interested in this lifestyle than ever (according to RVshare, rentals are up over 1,600 percent since mid-April, and have more than tripled since this time last year), her expertise is especially handy. Here’s what to know before embarking on your own RV remodel: 

Let Your Lifestyle Guide the Decor

Rather than start with a mood board, Swing designs based on practicality. “I try to imagine who will be using it—will this be a traveling trailer or someone’s permanent home? How do they want to feel while in the camper?” she says. Then, the individual choices come easier. For example, if it’s an RV that’s going to be on the road a lot, skip the open shelving—your beloved stoneware plate collection won’t mix well with hills. 

blue kitchen in rvPin It
Photography by Barrier Photography
neutral colored bedroom in RVPin It
Photography by Barrier Photography

Change the Floor Plan, but Expect Substitutions

“It’s not necessarily harder to change the layout of campers, but there are definitely limitations to what you can do,” explains Swing. For one, furniture and cabinets are usually specifically built to hide functional things like wiring, wheel wells, and plumbing. Go ahead and switch up the blueprint—just be aware that if you tear out a cabinet that’s hiding the water storage, you’ll likely need to build something else to conceal it. 

Budget for Surprises 

The most unexpected costs associated with this kind of remodel? Air conditioning repairs and water damage. “The renovator can’t know how extensive the damage is until they start to rip things out,” cautions Swing. While there’s no real average price for RV renovations (according to the expert, they can run anywhere from $3,000 to $50,000), you can avoid headaches like this by thoroughly checking that all appliances work before you purchase anything. Then, she recommends putting most of the money into long-lasting foundational updates, like flooring and tiling, instead of decorative touches, like furniture. 

sofa with green blanket in rv living roomPin It
Photography by Barrier Photography
mini black fireplace in RVPin It
Photography by Barrier Photography

Factor in the Day-to-Day

It’s easy to get caught up in the final look of a space, but it’s equally important to consider where you’re going to put things that, in a larger house, you would naturally have room for. Swing goes through a checklist of things like trash and recycling, laundry, and muddy rain boots, making sure she carves out enough square footage to accommodate them. 

Sneak in Multifunctionality Wherever Possible

“Every inch has a purpose, and I love figuring out what it is,” says Swing. Get creative: Hang up shelves or racks on either side of the bed, add cup hooks under cabinets, and build flip-up countertop extensions so you have ample room to meal prep. “It’s like a puzzle I get to play with,” she adds. Living small comes with its challenges, but if you plan ahead, staying organized doesn’t have to be one of them. 

Introducing Domino’s new podcast, Design Time, where we explore spaces with meaning. Each week, join editor-in-chief Jessica Romm Perez along with talented creatives and designers from our community to explore how to create a home that tells your story. Listen now and subscribe for new episodes on Thursdays.

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