I’m calling it a makeover – not a renovation – because we didn’t move any walls or change the structure of our home in any way. I feel like that’s required in order to qualify a change as a “renovation”. What we did was a makeover – new furniture, paint, and window treatments. All superficial stuff…not getting down to the bones of our beloved Stumbo. But the resulting change in the atmosphere of our tiny living space was arguably revolutionary.
When we purchased Stumbo in April 2016 for our launch in August of that year, we really didn’t have the time or the money to make any interior alterations. The style of the 2002 5th wheel in all-original condition left something to be desired, but we were so focused on all the details of launching that it really didn’t warrant our attention. Plus, we thought we might only be able to squeak out 12 months on the road, so keeping everything in original condition to facilitate an easy sell at the end of our trip seemed like a good idea. But as we’ve settled into “Year 2” with at least another 12 months to go (if not more), we started dreaming about what could make Stumbo more comforatable for all of us.
Brad’s top priority was getting rid of the bench dinette seats. They drove him crazy with their daily invitation for the girls to lay down at dinner time, cuddle with us during lunch, or wrestle with each other during breakfast. The seats were too deep for them to lean back on the back rest, so they would scoot up to their food to eat, and then end up reclining into awkward postures in between bites that lended themselves to wallowing around during every meal. Also the seats were so uncomfortable for Brad that he couldn’t work at the table for more than about an hour without physical pain.
So we ripped those out (with only slight damage to the wall where they were attached) and replaced with 4 simple IKEA chairs.
I have no regrets about this change. Yes, we gave up the storage under the dinette seats which held sleeping bags, backpacks, and heavy food items like bags of flour and sugar and a large canister of gatorade powder. And yes, the white plastic chairs quickly reveal dirty footprints from little girls climbing up to get items from the cupboards above. But the increased maneuverability of meal time seating (girls can scoot up to table), the added comfort (the cheap chairs are actually AMAZINGLY comfortable), plus all the newly-exposed, clean carpet makes this update totally worth it for us.
Another high priority for us was switching out the couch. It wasn’t just because the circa 1994 red/green floral pattern upholstery that covered every fabric surface clashed with everything we prefer about interior decorating, but because the couch was one of the least comfortable pieces of furniture to ever furnish. The cushions were hard, the fabric rough, the seating space wasn’t deep enough for sitting, and the too-small arm rests were so non-restful it almost seemed like they were on the offense against a human finding a comfortable place to sit. The only benefits of this couch were the fact that it had a hide-a-bed for company, and the back of the cushions created a narrow shelf against the wall, just wide enough to rest a coffee cup. (Or almost anything else that someone picked up & thought, “Where should I put this down?”) Since the couch was so uncomfortable, it was used more as a “catch-all” for random items (groceries, books, laundry, basically whatever was in our hands when we walked into Stumbo) rather than for sitting.
We replaced it with another IKEA purchase, and again…no regrets. Maybe only that we didn’t make the change sooner! The chaise lounge with throw pillows from Target makes a much more comfortable place to sit, lounge, or even sleep. Moving the pillows around can transform it from a lounging/reading spot for 1 into a comfy spot for all 4 of us to cuddle up and watch a movie. It’s actually a restful place that invites one to get comfy instead of laughing in the face of failed attempts.
Added bonus: saying that I own something called a “chaise lounge” makes me feel super fancy. And Brad & I shopped for throw pillows together for the first time in our marriage. Watch us adulting!
On our large shelving unit, we added some patterned contact paper to break up the monotonous gray color. Brad added some greenery, and we replaced our school white boards that had grown very worn out by constant use.
In the kitchen area several things got a new look. The fridge became black (with a tiny can of frustrating paint that took about 4 coats before the strokes disappeared), and the worn/rusted oven door became blacker thanks to a coat of high heat spray paint. I also sprayed the grill of the stove top, hopeful to stop the deterioration of the bars that get the most use. It looked like new for about 3 days…more on that later.
I traded out the quilts on our bed for a new down comforter.We couldn’t find a cover for it that we liked, so I made one from a set of cheap gray sheets and a piece of fabric that we found on sale.
I was able to sew the duvet cover and new curtains thanks to Brad’s mom and her church friends’ sewing machine.
We also hung some battery operated “fairy lights” under our bedroom cabinet (aka, the thing we bump our heads on all the time). The color-changing, remote-controlled lights are both fun and practical, since they offer perfect lighting for reading or watching movies whether we have electric hookups or not.
It’s nearly impossible to get a decent picture of the girls’ bunks because the room is tiny and most of their bunkbeds are behind a wall. But in addition to the new paint color, they also got an updated curtain, their own sets of remote-controlled twinkle lights, new storage bins, and they each redecorated their walls.
I have no after picture because there wasn’t even a hot second when both bunks were completed and tidy.
Believe it or not, even our tiny bathroom feels lighter and larger with the updated color.
And finally…if you know me well it doesn’t take much explaining. Give me a paintbrush and a set of head phones and I’m all set for days. And it’s a good thing, because it definitely took days. For about 10 days in a row I spent anywhere from 4-10 hours painting. I knew it would take a lot of elbow grease since the largest space I was painting was a cabinet door. It was ALL detail work, and I greatly underestimated just how many hours it would take to apply a coat of primer + 2 coats of paint. We spray painted all of the hardware,door knobs, fixtures, hinges, and even SCREWS!
I learned the hard way that the most practical time for a trailer make over is not when you’re living in it. We would never have undertaken this project if we weren’t camped outside Grandma & Grandpa’s house. Brad & the girls spent most days (and some nights) in their house to avoid the wet paint and various other hazards.
We could never have gotten this project done if we weren’t sitting in one place for 3 months, and we couldn’t have afforded it if we were also paying for campgrounds. So this was the perfect chance to make it happen, and we are so glad we did.
The Things That Didn’t Work Out as Planned
The downside of having everything painted is that it’s a much less forgiving surface. Each time our rig is parked in a new place, the cupboards and doors close just slightly differently. The space we see this issue most often is the girls bedroom door. Depending on how/where we park, the door occasionally won’t even shut. The constant attempts to slam it shut are quickly destroying the new paint job.
Similarly, heavy food items often bounce into the back of the pantry door when we are driving. With the slide in, the pantry door opens into the back slide wall, where it bounces back & forth and rubs the wall until we arrive at our next destination. You can see the resulting wear in the picture below. It would be an easy job to paint it again, but I’m not confident that we can keep the door from bouncing open, so it might be a battle I can’t win.
I was hesitant to paint the edge of our dining table, but since it was the only remaining wood grain left I decided to give it a try. As suspected, the paint began to wear off in high-use areas (ahem…where Sunny sits & picks at it) Instead of fighting this uphill battle, I’ve just joined in the picking to eventually return this table border back to the original wood grain.
I was also disappointed with the high heat spray paint. The oven door still looks great, but the bars of my stove top are already wearing the same way they did before…perhaps worse.
Lastly, the patterned contact paper…I don’t regret using it, but in some places heat or humidity make it peel. The large square of it in our bathroom gets more wrinkly every time someone showers.
Even with the few things that didn’t work out perfectly, I would say overall the update was a success. When we walk in our home we feel so much more at home now. It feels relaxing, and comfortable, and restful. With the busyness of all the wood grain replaced with the solid gray, the whole space just feels more still and calm.
We sold our dinette set and couch to a woman on Craigslist who was staying in Quartsite (the RV’ing mecca of the world where tens of thousands of RV’s descend on a tiny town in the desert each winter). She fixes up vintage campers, and she offered me double what I was asking for the pieces because she wasn’t the first buyer to contact me. I spent awhile chatting with her about her vintage camper business and what the value of RV’s was like in the Yuma/Quartzite area.
She had one main piece of advice, “The thing that everyone does wrong is they get these old campers and they paint everything. They cover up all that old beautiful wood and it just destroys the value of the trailer. It’s just a shame to see people destroying the beautiful, old campers with paint.”
Oh well….still worth it.