We all know the “classic” RV aesthetic: wood paneling, dark accents, dated window valances, and a color scheme in various shades of brown. If you’re craving a brighter, more modern look, basic renovation projects like new flooring, furniture, and a fresh coat of paint can go a long way.
For many RV owners, renovations are an ongoing process. I should know: My boyfriend and I have designed and redesigned the interior of our 23-foot Class B campervan for the last few years, and I’ve learned plenty about what to do—and what not to do—when building the RV interior of your dreams.
Remodeling an RV interior isn’t always easy, but it will be worth your while. Not only can you save money by remodeling an older camper yourself, but you can also customize the interior to fit your style and needs. Remodeling an RV is even easier if you already have some basic construction, repair, and crafting skills. But even if you’ve never picked up a paintbrush, screwdriver, or hot glue gun, turning an older RV or travel trailer into the tiny home of your dreams is doable.
If you’re buying an older RV with plans to spruce it up, the starting point will determine how extensive your remodel needs to be. Check for water damage by looking for cracks or ripples in the ceiling, roof, and wallpaper. Inspect the frame and look for breaks or rust, make sure the windows are all intact and that they open and close correctly. You should also test the electrical switches and lights. Most importantly, look (or have your mechanic check) for engine problems. If all of the above seems to be in order, then your update will be mostly cosmetic. Basic projects like adding a fresh coat of paint and updating cushions, curtains, and appliances will go a long, long way.
The cost will depend on how extensive the remodel of your RV interior needs to be. If all you need is a bit of paint and some new curtains—or even new flooring, pipes, and hoses—it can be a relatively inexpensive project. If, on the other hand, you need to replace windows and appliances, the total can start to climb. The good news is, there are budget-friendly ways to do almost any kind of repair or refurbishment yourself.
One item in particular that you’ll want to watch out for, as it can lead to more expensive repairs, is water damage. Even if it appears to only be a tiny leak, water damage can spread and cause major problems later. Before you commit to a used RV purchase, make sure you know what you’re getting into. To check for water damage, look for ripples in the wallpaper or cracks in the ceiling and roof. If you do find evidence of water damage, it’s not the end of the world: Pinpoint the source, and it’ll be much easier to fix the problem for good.
When it comes to giving an RV interior new life, there’s probably no better tool than paint. It can make your space look cleaner and brighter, and adds a modern touch to outdated decor. But painting the inside of an RV isn’t as simple as grabbing a can and getting to work.
Painting isn’t difficult, as long as you avoid rookie mistakes. Buy high-quality paint that’s specific to the surface you’re painting. Invest in quality, brand-name brushes and rollers—like Purdy or Wooster—for easy application. Keep in mind that temperature and moisture can impact the way your paint dries, so plan to do your project when there’s less humidity and moisture, or use fans and dehumidifiers
Painting over wallpaper in an RV is typically a lot easier than trying to remove it. Remove any borders that are stuck to the top of the wallpaper by spraying a mix of water and fabric softener on the area, or by using a heat gun to loosen the adhesive.
No matter what surface you’re painting, it’s important to prep it beforehand. In the case of wallpaper, clean off any grime with an all-purpose cleaner or diluted vinegar and let it dry. Then, lightly sand the walls so the paint has something to grip, and either start with a coat of primer or choose a paint with a primer mixed in.
You can absolutely use wallpaper in your RV; in fact, most RVs come with a specialized vinyl wallpaper bonded to the interior walls. Because it’s not really meant to be easily removed, the easiest way to update it is to put new wallpaper over it. If you are planning on updating it again in the future, consider using peel-and-stick wallpaper. While the adhesive is strong enough to stay put, it’s also designed to be easily removed.
It can be fairly quick to paint RV cabinets with a nice roller and a brush or two, but it’s surprisingly easy to mess up. Most RV cabinets are made of laminate, which means they need to be sanded and primed before painting or the paint won’t dry correctly. Worse, if you use latex paint with no base coat, the color will eventually bubble, crack, and peel right off. You can avoid these mishaps by taking the time to clean, sand, and prime with a high-quality primer (try Kilz or Zinsser) that’s designed to make surfaces paint-friendly.
The best type of RV furniture for you and your family are pieces that fit your needs and lifestyle comfortably. With RV furniture shopping, there are a few things to keep in mind.
If you’re planning to replace the cockpit seats, don’t forget that ergonomics matter. Yes, it’s nice to have aesthetically pleasing chairs but keep in mind you’ll be sitting in them for long hours on the road.
RV furniture should work with your space, budget, and decor, but make sure that the pieces you select can also perform double-duty, like functioning as storage space or an extra spot to sleep.
It’s acceptable to use regular household furniture in your RV as long as the dimensions are right and you can safely secure it so it won’t move or shift in transit. As with anything additional that you put in your RV, you need to watch the weight, so keep this in mind when you’re selecting furniture. Lightweight IKEA furniture is oftentimes an ideal choice for rigs.
That said, removing standard RV furniture and replacing it with regular household pieces isn’t always simple. RVs are designed to house systems and carry cargo in every available space. When you move the original couch, you may find it’s hiding something like a water tank or connecting pipes. The new furniture will have to be able to do the same job.
Remodeling starts from the ground up, and a new floor can make a huge difference when it comes to updating your RV interior. As long as your subfloor is intact and doesn’t have any issues with rot or mildew, installing a new floor can be a fairly simple process. Start by removing the old vinyl or carpet floor covering. Make sure you remove any nails or staples and scrape off any old adhesive to ensure the new floor installation goes smoothly.
Depending on the age of your RV, you may find some slightly rotten or “soft” spots in the plywood subfloor. This is a bit more time consuming to remedy, but it’s still a straightforward fix. Identify the extent of the damage and cut out the rotted section. Spray the area with a mold killer and then use a sealant before replacing the floor section with new plywood.
There are a few options for new RV flooring, including hardwood, tile, linoleum, carpet, and even cork. Most renovators choose vinyl, thanks to its affordability, water resistance, and ease of installation. Vinyl flooring comes in several formats: You can buy planks—either peel-and-stick or tongue-and-groove boards that snap together—or peel-and-stick tiles. Vinyl is also available as a sheet. No matter which type you prefer, there’s a wide variety of patterns and colors to choose from. Planks can look like a hardwood floor, while square pieces can look like porcelain or ceramic tile.
If you decide to go with tongue-and-groove vinyl flooring, remember that your RV will move and flex when it’s on the road. In a stationary building, you’d glue or nail each individual plank into place. But in an RV, it’s better to secure the planks along the edges and let the rest of the floor “float,” so you don’t end up with separations.
The cost of your replacement floor will depend on the type of material and how much square footage you need to cover. At the top end of the scale is tile and hardwood, which could cost around $1,000 or more for material and installation.
Some of the more budget-friendly options are carpet and linoleum, but the cheapest and simplest way to go for DIYers is vinyl. Carpeting for your RV may cost between $400 and $800, while linoleum will cost between $200 and $600. The highest-end vinyl options are likely to top out at around $300.
When you pull up the old flooring, you’ll notice a plastic strip (it’s usually black) on the floor along the edges of your slide. That’s a moisture barrier; make sure you leave it secured to the floor and walls.
Whether your slide is raised or flush, your flooring will need a transition strip where the slide moves in and out. Make sure your transition strip or trim piece will slide smoothly over the rest of the floor without snagging the carpet or tearing the vinyl underneath.
If you’re remodeling your RV, chances are your mattress is older and uncomfortable. If you don’t plan to replace it, you can make it more comfortable by increasing the padding on top. There are a number of foam mattress topper options, like memory foam, feather, or egg crate.
Household mattresses are completely different from those specially designed for life on the road. An RV mattress is sized to fit the space, and it’s typically much lighter than the one in your home. While you technically can put a regular mattress in your RV, assuming that it fits, it’s not a good idea because of the added weight.
Recently, more campers have been turning to memory foam when it comes to revamping their RV bedding. Memory foam mattresses tend to be lighter than their traditional counterparts, and have an easier time adapting to fit a unique space. It’s also possible to cut a memory foam mattress to size using an electric knife.
Even though an RV mattress might go by the same names as household ones—twin, queen, etc.—RV mattresses are different sizes. Most of the time, they’re slightly smaller. For instance, an RV twin is 28 by 75 inches, while its standard mattress counterpart is 38 by 75 inches. An RV queen (or “short queen”) is 60 by 75 inches, while a standard queen is 60 by 80 inches. An RV king is 72 by 75 inches, while the standard version is 76 by80 inches. The one exception to the slightly-smaller rule is double or full-sized mattresses. Both standard and RV-specific versions are roughly 53 by 75 inches.
RV sheets are specially designed to fit RV-specific mattresses. Companies like SGI and Rajlinen make soft, high-quality, RV bed-sized sheet sets. You can also use sheets sized for household mattresses in your RV—just tuck the extra fabric under the mattress.
You can’t go wrong with cotton sheets—they’re easy to wash and typically soft and comfortable. For those muggy summer nights, try a sheet set made from bamboo or eucalyptus, which helps keep you cooler and sweat less throughout the night.
As with most things RV- and camping-related, the best thing you can do is keep it simple. Choose bedding that’s easy to wash and store, and that makes it quick and simple to make the beds in the morning.
Keep in mind that unless you have a washer and dryer in your rig, it may take a bit of extra effort to do laundry, so pick sheets that are lightweight and dry quickly.
You can, and should, hang frames and other items on your RV walls. After all, your tiny home on wheels should be a happy, comfortable space that reflects your personality. However, when choosing art for your RV walls, there are a few things to keep in mind, including the weight. For example, you may want to avoid oil paintings on canvas or items in heavy wooden or glass frames. Instead, choose lightweight items and frames made from plastic with no breakable glass.
RV walls are responsible for the rig’s structural integrity and rigidity, plus they need to be lightweight to reduce the force needed to haul the RV down the highway. This means that RV walls are extremely thin, and it’s easy to puncture them with screws, which puts you at risk for leaks, rust, and water damage. Even if you only screw through the inner wall and not the outer metal, you could hit electrical wires or pipes. So, avoid drilling and anything else that might puncture the RV walls.
Use mounting systems that don’t require you to make holes in your RV walls. Command Brand makes strips, hooks, and clips in dozens of sizes and shapes. They stick well to RV walls as long as you buy ones that are rated for the weight you want them to hold. They’re also relatively easy to remove.
Another option for mounting decorative items to your RV walls is with Sticky Tack or mounting compound. The putty-like clay is useful for hanging lightweight paper and fabric items— it comes off easily and doesn’t leave any residue behind on your walls.
Because most RVs are constructed out of metal, you can also use magnets to attach things to the walls. Just make sure your magnet is strong enough to hold things in place while the RV is in motion.
You have options when it comes to updating an old, ugly RV refrigerator, but the simplest fix is a coat of paint. Start by cleaning the fridge with warm, soapy water and scrubbing off any greasy or sticky residue. Then, lightly sand to create a roughed-up surface for the paint to stick to. Use painter’s tape to make sure you only get paint in the areas you intend to, and protect your floor with a drop cloth.
The key to painting a refrigerator is a good coat of primer. Use a primer that’s meant for the surface you’re painting and for the type of paint you’re using. Allow time for the primer to fully dry before you start your first coat of color.
You can also use removable wallpaper, contact paper, or even washi tape to update and highlight the appliance. Or, if you want to keep your fridge more subtle, paint or cover it in the same color as the kitchen cabinets.
With the right primer, you can use chalk paint on a refrigerator, and it can turn the space into a creative spot for chalk ark, a place to leave notes for family members, or a running grocery list. If you want the chalkboard effect without having to paint, you can also use chalkboard contact paper.
Many RV refrigerators come stock with wooden panels that match the kitchen cabinets. To avoid removing the panels, you can simply paint them just like you would the cabinets.
If you do want to remove the panels, examine the fridge to see what the simplest removal process will be. Look for plastic clips around the edges of the panel. You may need a screwdriver in order to un-clip them, but then all you have to do is just slide the panel off. If space constraints mean you have to remove the whole refrigerator or freezer door to get the panel off, just look for the pins in the door’s hinges. You will likely need pliers and a wrench to get them out, but once you pull the pins, the doors will come right off (just make sure you don’t lose the pins, so you can reinstall the door).
There’s no shortage of inspiration out there for RV makeovers: On Instagram, follow accounts like @WendyWiseSpaces and @RVFixerUpper, which both belong to interior designers who specialize in RV renovations. You can also follow the remodel journeys of RVers like Mountain Modern Life, The Endless Adventure, Tyler and Todd, Bree the Builder, and All Things With Purpose.
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