We acquired it at the cusp of a global pandemic, blissfully unaware of what loomed ahead of us. “Our Coronavirus Escape Pod,” we jokingly said, as we towed our new (to us) 22 ft. Salem Cruise Lite home from General RV. We had no idea how real things were about to get.
And the following week, everything was shut down. Virtually every business we knew and loved was closed, and we were placed on a Stay-at-home order. Bid a big ol’ farewell to all the vacations we had planned with that camper later this year. So then we figured, we weren’t going to be traveling in it… why not renovate it? Here's a little sneak peek!
What follows is our journey, where we purchased our materials, how we went about each step, and things we wished we knew.
>> As for purchasing from a dealer, we were happy with the experience. Not only does this mean you’re getting a unit that has been deep cleaned and inspected from top to bottom, it also means they’ll take the time to walk you through all that comes with operating it. We also got a stellar deal, so don’t let someone tell you that haggling only works on Facebook Marketplace. Full disclosure though, not sure how all this currently works, as we purchased pre-pandemic (just barely).
Here she is (was):
And honestly, she was ready go the minute we left the lot. But the designer and decorator in me just couldn’t live with the fact that everything yelled “Circa 1983.” And so the process began (Summary at the bottom if you don’t want to read each step).
After getting it home, the first thing we did was store it in a facility that was essentially a field with some paved paths in and out. And once we brought back to our driveway for another deep cleaning, we found mice... baby mice. UGH. I’m an animal lover, so yep, I sure did drive them all the way down to a vet that was 30 minutes away so they would survive. Then cue this article, but the short of it is that you’re going to want to crawl under your camper and look for holes. I filled all of them with GreatStuff (shout out to my old Dow days!), and it seems to have done the trick.
On to the most painstaking step, removing hardware and cabinet doors, taping, priming, and painting. If we ever do this again, I’m still so scarred that I’m pretty sure we’ll be contracting this out next time. But, I begrudgingly did what my research said to do and washed all the walls and cabinets (and doors) with a vinegar/water mixture, sandpapered them, and then primed every. SINGLE. SURFACE. with Zinsser Bonding Primer. I recruited Nate's help for this step and the next, as my sanity waned.
Fun fact: Primer does not just effortlessly come off of you in the shower like paint does. If you get it on your skin or hair, it will be there for literal weeks. Wear gloves, long sleeves, pants and shoes, and honestly, I wouldn’t judge you if you threw on a shower cap.
Also, it wouldn’t hurt to mark which doors and screws and knobs went where because, from experience, they are not all the same.
This step also included ripping off every single piece of upholstered “molding” around the benches, beds, and door. So satisfying.
Paint, we used Valspar Interior Simplicity, Eggshell, Color: Extra White for the ceiling and walls. If you’re making the walls lighter, you’ll want to do the ceiling, too. Valspar Cabinet & Furniture, Satin, in color “Snowbound” for the cabinets. Expect at least four coats for each if you’re doing a lighter color. There’s no way around it, and I am very, very sorry in advance. One gallon of each was enough for us, but we may have been a little stingy with our coats in some places.
We used brushes for all the trim spots and to get the hard to reach places, then a mini-roller for the cabinets and a large roller for the walls and ceiling.
We gave everything a good four days to dry.
3.) Re-attach doors and hardware
As easy as it sounds, especially if you know where each one goes with which hardware.
4.) Wood Floors
We had some leftover Pergo bamboo laminate from a previous project so this saved us some cash. Discontinued, but we went ahead anyway. I thought we had enough, alas we did not, and the improv-made-design-choice of our funky dining floor was born (at least it matches the bathroom 🤷♀️).
I don’t really have any good tips for this step, except that if you’re buying materials, always get more than you think you’ll want.
A jigsaw was all we needed because we didn’t have much wood to cut and the thin blade helped us with the super specific parts around the cabinets and other fixtures.
We started by using a contour gauge to get around these tricky corners but it really just became “Let’s just wing it and we’ll put up some trim when we’re done.” Nate helped me with this step, too, until he taught me how to use the Jigsaw and it was WAY easier than I thought. Woodworking may become my new hobby!
5.) “Tile” Floors
I’m FloorPops’ new biggest fan; I love this stuff. I bought the “Comet” pattern from JoAnn Fabrics with a 40% off coupon and used the combo of an Xacto knife and scissors to get it where it needed to be.
For the bathroom, I removed the toilet so I could get a closer, more accurate fit for all the tiles.
Y’all, I searched and SEARCHED to find something that was relatively inexpensive and still had the flair I wanted. There were so many perfect ones on Spoonflower, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend more than $200 on two tiny walls of removable wallpaper.
I was thrilled to find MKwalldesign’s shop on Etsy. So many beautiful designs and so affordable. Plus, if you need, you can have custom lengths printed! Another shop that had a bunch of my faves was THEWALLSCAPECOMPANY.
This was a pretty simple step, but it helped to have two people—one to hold the top and smooth down the sides and one to guide it as you go down the wall. It also helps to have a sharp Xacto and a “smoother” (I used the one from my Cricut).
7.) Bathroom Wall
These Tic Tac Tiles Peel & Stick 3D Subway Tiles are legit, and just about every camper-reno I’ve seen has used them because they're light, easy to apply, and they look amazing. Highly recommend!
I then finished the bottom with this super cheap but cool Weathered Wood Contact Paper from Amazon because the tile was a smidge expensive. I stapled-gunned up a piece of 1” wood trim for delineation and there you have it!
Life at home with a one-year old and two fluffy dogs told me that fabric cushions stood no chance against our escapades in the camper. Plus, the current fabric was slightly stained and um, grotesque... So, I decided to reupholster them myself, with Marine Vinyl in color “Tan” from JoAnn.
Hand to the sky, I had never touched a sewing machine before this reno. But if you have access to one and someone to guide you in the beginning—or YouTube—then you can figure it out!
This article was my holy grail; she explains it better than I’ll be able to. To close them up, since the marine vinyl was incredibly tough (hence durable), I hand-sewed the open corners like a present, then, at the reco. of my super crafty big sis @JozVam, used a ladder stitch to close them entirely.
Shout out also to my mom who helped me do this while we watched Princess Bride 😂. I’ll be honest, the bottoms and backs don’t look super great or professional but no one will ever see them.
Pro tip, as you’re cutting out each piece for the cushions, do NOT cut your extra from the side as you cut each cushion’s rectangle. You’ll be able to use these long, skinny pieces to re-upholster the padded moldings that go along your seatbacks.
9.) Staple-Gun Seatback pieces
Like I said, we’ve got a one-year-old. I loved the look of simple stained wood pieces to go on the tops and sides of our benches, but it wasn’t feasible in such a high-traffic area. So I simply stretched out my leftover vinyl from the step above and wrapped the old seatbacks like a present with a staple gun.
Since I couldn’t just put a screw through it to reattach it, I actually used these Interlocking Furniture Connectors. They’ve got a pretty secure hold and you can’t see them underneath unless you get down at eye-level and really look.
I was not ready to spend (at minimum) $30 a shade for a camper, and I didn’t have the freedom to hunt out a deal, so I made them instead. I used 2 yards of duck canvas fabric from Hobby Lobby, and super-rudimentary-but-decent-looking strips of leftover vinyl that I just tie to keep them open. One day, I’d like to get a snap fastener and add snaps.
All I did was measure a little wider and longer than my window, cut the fabric, and sew! Add extra length on all sides because:
- Top and Bottom: I needed space for my dowel pockets
¾” dowel for the top, folded fabric over 1” and sewed
¼” dowel for the bottom (purely for weight and ease in rolling up), folded over ¾” and sewed.
- Sides: You do this super fancy trick my mom taught me where you fold over a quarter inch all the way down the side, iron it, then fold over another quarter inch to sew for a nice, complete look instead of a raw edge.
11.) Wood Pieces under bunks
The 80’s called and wanted their upholstered boards back, so I happily obliged. Cue my new woodworking skills 😜. I cut and sanded some 1”x6”s, then stained them with Minwax’s Puritan Pine. To get them up without screw-holes, I used a ½” Countersink Drill Bit and some ½" wood hole plugs which I wood-glued on top of the screws once they were in.
It was a similar process for the wood piece over the door, which I painted white.
12.) Countertops and Table
Okay, contact-papering a counter with a sink is no joke. Honestly, the most concentration-intensive part of this whole project. I chose DC Fix Contact Paper in Sonoma Oak Light Wood. Long story short, I ended up having to do the main counter in two pieces because it was impossible to get it perfectly fit with no bubbles or folds. In two pieces, it was possible, and with the pattern I used, it’s hard to tell unless you’re looking for it.
The table was a little easier because it was one solid piece. I used DC-Fix Marble: Grey. It just barely didn’t cover my sides so I followed up with a few little strips along the edges but you can’t tell.
I like the DC-Fix brand because it’s the widest I’ve found at 27” inches.
I noticed there were a few areas on my countertop and tables that were chipped back from regular wear and tear. I did not want to treat this space with exquisite care—I mean, it’s a camper, right?—and I also wanted to be able to sell it, whenever that day comes, without feeling bad about the state of the contact paper.
Cue this Varathane High-Traffic Crystal Clear Matte Finish. I like it because it dries fast, it has a minimal odor, and it’s matte, so you won’t get a shiny, fake-looking finish. Shout-out to my best and the owner of Café One 3 & Bay City’s Bier Garten (shameless plug but you won’t regret a visit 😁) for telling me about this stuff!
I did five coats on my countertops, table, and then hit the floor tiles and the wood contact paper in the bathroom just for good measure.
I will warn you, let this dry for a couple weeks before letting any liquid sit on it—we have a water ring on our countertop that I’ll have to sand and reapply because I didn’t wait long enough.
I used clear caulk around the kitchen sink, the burners, the bathtub-floor connection, and along the shower-side of my tile and wood wall in the bathroom. I didn’t want to worry about water getting underneath the materials I’d applied and getting moldy or peeling back the design.
Like I mentioned earlier, there were some pretty sad-looking gaps around our kitchen cabinets with the laminate floor we put in. Their curved design didn’t help our cause. I bought this bendy PVC Screen Trim from Lowes, measured it, then heated the part I needed to curve with a blow dryer before staple-gunning it in place.
It still didn’t butt up perfectly to the wood, so I filled the spaces with more white Dap wood-filler. I am thrilled with how it turned out.
We ran trim along the bed and dining benches, too, for a completed look.
FINALLY!!!! This stage was the moment I waited for. But the time we reached it, stores had opened again and I went on a slight rampage (lol).
Line Art Mountain Mural:
I designed this myself based on a few other photos I liked, then cut it from 651 Oracal Permanent Vinyl with my Circuit, in sections. Because the lines are so thin, it was an absolute nightmare to apply, and I’m not counting on the integrity regarding “sticking forever.” But I love how it looks right now!
Light above the bed:
Again, I looked all over for a cheap, well-made one and this met my needs! I love it because the switch is right under the light versus on the cord. It comes with clear install directions, and I just ran an extension to the outlet under our table.
Swing Arm Lamp: Amazon
This was an unexpected score at TJ Maxx. The extra drawer space is fantastic!
The previous owner had already put up a board with hooks in the bathroom, but they were brass and I didn’t vibe with them. I found these farmhouse-looking ones on Amazon and replaced them. The pack comes with 10 so I made two more coat hooks also stained with Minwax’s Puritan Pine for by the door which we actually use a lot!
Amazon! Make sure you get a rug pad. The doormat is from Bed Bath & Beyond and smaller than normal so it fits perfectly.
Geo Rug: Amazon
Doormat: Bed Bath & Beyond
Shower curtain and Towels:
I had to laugh with these. I found them at Walmart for a screamin’ deal last winter, didn’t have anywhere to put them, but hung on to them anyway. As I began looking at camper renos a few months later, just about every one I saw had this set hanging in their bathroom. They looked good, so I joined the crew.
No link for the towels because I can’t find them anymore!
Blankets & Pillows:
Target and Amazon, folks; they’re all you need. I know it seems superfluous to have these in a camper, but the table actually folds down into a bed and I wanted it to be a comfy space for lounging should the occasion arise.
As for the other random odds and ends, I got a big basket from Michael’s to put in our upper bunk for dirty clothes, the little Eucalyptus holder is from At Home, and the silicone mugs hanging in the kitchen are from Amazon. I love them because we can leave them there during travel without worry of breakage, and they’re dishwasher and microwave safe.
The clock is from JoAnns and a wiser choice than I realized, because the microwave clock will need to be reset every time you cut the power. The clock is a non-stop way to know the time without needing attention. Succulent picture in the bathroom & plant near the door are from Michaels, too!
I couldn’t find a mirror I liked for a good price so I just made ours (don’t mind me peepin’ for the pic lol).
And there you have it. No lie, actual blood, sweat, and tears went into this project, but it’s such a gratifying space to spend time in. Our current health climate means hotels are out of the question for us awhile, but we still love to travel. Our camper gives us a serene and modern home-away-from-home where we feel cozy and safe.
Electric drill w/bit set including ½” Countersink Drill Bit
A grandparent to watch the baby. Lol.
3.) Reattach Doors & Hardware
4.) Wood & “Tile” Floors
6.) Bathroom Accent Wall
7.) Sew Cushions & Make Seatback Pieces
8.) Sew Curtains
9.) Put Up Wood Under Bunks & Over Door
10.) Contact-Paper Counters & Table
11.) Polyurathane & Caulk
12.) Put up Trim
DAP Wood filler; Chestnut & White
Walls & Ceilings: Valspar Interior Simplicity, Eggshell, Color: Extra White
Cabinets: Valspar Cabinet & Furniture, Satin, in color “Snowbound”
FloorPop Tiles in "Comet"
Peel & Stick Wallpaper
Duck Canvas Fabric for Curtains
Minwax’s Puritan Pine Wood Stain
Swing Arm Lamp
Geo Rug: Amazon
Doormat: Bed Bath & Beyond
Project 62 Southwest Geo Throw Pillow: Target
Some before-and-afters, because who doesn’t love those:
And finally, a gallery of the updates for a quick scroll:
Thanks for stopping by!