Being able to live in a 365 square foot 5th wheel camper full time as a married couple and enjoy it takes a rare breed, or so I’ve been told. Living in an RV presents the challenges of getting accustomed to small rooms, limited storage, very little privacy, planning on things moving when you relocate and most of all and cleaning constantly. RV’s are not made to be lived in FULL TIME and other than this past year, J.O has been in our 2006 Forest River Cardinal full time since 2007 and we’ve been living in it together full time since 2009. Needless to say, our little home on wheels has been loved and lived in full time for over 6 years. Even though we have tried to make it our own with various decorating skills, we wanted to take it to the next level. Read about our other DIT camper upgrades HERE. When we decided that we would be heading back to California for work, we both decided on a whim that our very lived in 5th wheel needed a much-needed facelift.
When J.O and I sat down and spoke about what all we wanted to get done, the number one priority was our floors. The nasty carpet that was throughout the camper was gross, I mean icky. I had been renting a Rug Dr. every other month, but it hadn’t been able to keep up. Along with new floors, we also decided that our project would include:
- Remove all carpet and replace with laminate and trim
- Refinish all cabinets and woodwork
- Replace all window treatments
- Reupholster weird carpet areas on walls that have to stay.
- Paint all walls
- Replace all furniture: sofa bed, recliner, dinning room table and chairs
- Create a backsplash in kitchen
- Reorganize and downsize all belongings
J.O and I had spoken about what kind of theme we wanted to go with and had both decided in order to make that area appear to be larger, we would go with a light and airy color scheme. We both love the beach and after having lived in Hawaii and on the coasts of California, we had a lot of beach memorabilia; therefore, we planned on a light and airy beach theme. We looked through a few magazines and found a paint color we loved (Blue Bonnet by Benjamin Moore) and agreed on white cabinets, woodwork and lighter maple floors. The vision had been set! Oh, and did I mention that with our projected departure date we would have roughly 5 weeks to complete all this? Uft-dah! Luckily, I was super excited, motivated and ready to get started ASAP! I made up a timeline sheet for myself and got on it.
I started by getting going on the demo; taking down all of our cabinet doors and drawer faces, labeling them and removing all the hardware. I was shocked to discover that we have 49 cabinet doors and drawer faces! All of these were brought to my parent’s spacious basement for refinishing. J.O then helped me remove all the furniture from the camper and we were able to donate some of it and the other items that were extremely “loved” were brought to the dump. Finally, I ripped down all those ugly window treatments and started to pull up the existing carpet. Ripping up the carpet gave me a reminder why we never had it installed in our Wisconsin home: it’s disgusting. Besides the fact that my skin broke out in hives from all the chemicals and fiberglass that was in it, the amount of dirt and dust that lay dormant under it was disturbing. Gross. Ripping the carpet up for the most part was pretty simple; nothing was glued down or stapled down to contact strips so I simply used a razor and my hands. There were areas that I had to use a utility knife and cut out because cabinets were built on top of the carpet and they could not be removed. After everything was removed I started to tape the areas that needed to be protected for when I refinished the woodwork in the camper and areas for when I painted the walls.
Our cousins, Brian and Rebecca, gave us the recommendation to refinish our cabinets with the Rustoleum Cabinet Transformation kits. They had done it to their bathroom cabinets and were very pleased with the results. Plus, they said it would be easy: no sanding or stripping required! I was sold on the idea after I say theirs, did a little research and realized that we would be able tot refinish everything for $120! My cousin, Jessica, suggested for us not to do a stark white, as it would show off every grease and dirt mark and instead do one shade darker. We decided to go with the Linen Finish as opposed to the White. I’m very happy with that decision. J I knew that it was going to be a time consuming project: factoring in many layers, drying time and refinishing both sides of the 49 doors. To make the process go faster, I was able to set up a bunch of tables in my parent’s basement and lay each cabinet door out. I also elevated them on VHS tapes, this way I was able to paint the sides of the doors without ruining the tables. By laying everything out, I was able to create an assembly line for painting. I then split my time up so that I would do one task for the doors in the morning before heading out to the camper to work on the woodwork there and then another task/layer on the doors at night before going to bed. The entire process only consists of three steps (a deglazing, applying the color or bonding coat and then applying the protective coat) and other than the drying time, it went pretty fast, it was just tedious. The only change we did from the original instructions was that we applied three coats of the color/bonding coat as opposed to the recommended two. We also did not do the optional glazing coat. The cabinets and woodwork took roughly two and a half weeks to fully complete, but I chose not to reinstall any of the cabinets or do the final protective coat on the woodwork in the camper until all the wall painting was finished. This way, I could do touch-ups on the woodwork if needed and not mess up the protective coat.
Painting the camper walls was next. After patching all the nail holes and taping off the woodwork that I had just refinished, I applied two coats of Kilnz primer and three coats of Behr paint. At first I was nervous on our color choice. It was appearing in certain light to be whiter than a light blue. Luckily, after the second coat, the blue tint came out more and my nerves settled. The one mistake I made was taping off the veneer woodwork I had just refinished because when I removed the painters’ tape, the color came off with it, making me have to do more touchups than I had planned on.
We on a whim we decided to create a headboard like piece for our bed and bought some wainscoting and trim. Using a few finishing nails, we had a completely new look in our bedroom! Plus, it added more depth to the room itself.
At this time I was able to reinstall all the hardware on the cabinets and then reinstall them in the camper. J.O also got started on our flooring. We knew that this part would also take some time, with all the nooks and crannies that had to be cut and constant testing with the slides to make sure that nothing was going to be scratched or stuck. He would work on them at night after work and even was able to recruit some help from one of our great friends, Norman. The floors and trim were worked on until the last week. J.O did such a fantastic job, going that extra mile to ensure that everything looked fantastic. He trimmed out everything to make it look finished and lovely. Our main slide was something that we had to take into consideration when installing the floors, as there is a transition area that lifts and slides into place. When there was carpet, there was simply an extra long flap that covered this transition bar, but with a floating laminate floor, that would not be an option. After much research and thought, J.O ended up installing an extra piece of laminate where the slides meet and then a transition strip that elevates itself. It works beautifully! No scratching or catching whatsoever. We just make sure that the floor is clean from any debris before moving in or out the slides. I was truly impressed and proud. Have I said how much I love my lineman? 😉
Our window treatments were all made with tender-loving care in 9 hours by my incredibly talented mom and sister. We had bought 6 large panes of window drapes from Ikea and after I took the necessary measurements they were able to sew and create custom drapes from us. I bought all of our rods and finials at Ikea and had J.O cut a few rods to length for me. We ended up using screw hooks to hold the rods up on each side of the windows as the rod holders that were included stuck out too far. I’m still deciding if I want to go the extra step and make thermal/black out drapes to add in or not. As for now, these are working perfectly! I also have two feet long segments of white cording to use as tiebacks to keep the drapes open when wanted.
By this time, I was ready for a brake from the mundane tasks of painting. It was time to think about the furniture! I decided to buy the majority of our items from Ikea. Not only was there a warehouse within 30 minutes from my parent’s home, but also they had many items in a birch finish, thus adding to our beachy theme. The main reason though was that Ikea is a European company, so all of their furniture is smaller, making it perfect for a camper. I did some scoping online before my mom and I ventured over there. Our first (yes, first) trip there, we were in the store for 4 hours! I was overloaded with ideas, but thanks to my innovative and artistic mother (the woman is amazing when it comes to decorating), my mind was put at ease. She helped me figure out colors for pillows and rugs.
Finally, before we were able to move all the furniture in start decorating, I reupholstered the weird carpet covered areas surrounding the door and one side of a cabinet with the same fabric we used for the drapes.
We decided to replace the big sleeper sofa with a twin size bed that with pillows would be transformed into a daybed. This would allow us to have more room, less weight in the camper and more storage (under the bed). Plus, in the future a trundle bed could be added under the bed in place of storage for additional sleeping. All the bed dressing is from Ikea, except for the personalized pillow cases which came from Pottery Barn, a gift from my mom for our anniversary!
J.O and I also had decided to get rid of the stock dining room table and chairs that we never used. They just took up space and were too tight for us to sit at comfortably. Plus, we usually eat outside whenever possible. Our cousin, Brian, is a fantastic woodworker and he was gracious enough to build us a custom foldaway table that will be stored under the daybed when we don’t use it and attached to the wall (where the blue kitchen cart is) when we want to use it. It is simply attached with 2 sets of tongue and groove picture frame holders. Two are permanently attached to the wall and the other two are on the table’s side. They latch into each other when we want to put the table up and we can easily take the table down and store under the bed. Mom and I found birch crates that not only act as storage for some dry pantry goods, but with added seat cushions they will be our chairs for when we use the table.
Other furniture that we found to help with storage included a kitchen cart, magnetic spice containers, a magnetic strip to hold our knifes (and they stay up when traveling!) storage boxes for under the daybed, storage boxes for tools, documents and medicine, drawer organizers, refrigerator organizers, a cutting board that fits perfectly over our stovetop to give us more counter space, a small bookshelf that fits along the head of the daybed and another crate stool that J.O uses for a side table at his new recliner that we found on overstock.com. Long dog also got a new bed and food dish. My one problem I ‘m having now is that I have things too organized and am having a little trouble remembering where I put things!
Unfortunately, our backslash for the kitchen is still on backorder, but when it ships to my parent’s house, they will forward it onto us in California. We special ordered a backsplash that is actually made out of a gel silicone to look like glass. It’s a peel and stick application that looks to be easy to install and can be removed with the heat from a hairdryer. It is from a company in Canada called SmartTile. I’m super excited to get it!
*Our backsplash finally came in and I just installed it! It looks amazing! Click HERE to read more about how we installed it and why we love the product so much!
There were also 4 cut out areas in one section of the cabinets that originally had pieces of carpet inlayed into them (weird…). I decided to remove those pieces and in place install customized window-like pieces. I cut out pieces of Plexiglas to fit the openings and using all the sea glass J.O and I had found over the past few years while on beach walks, I made mosaic like windows that I then inlayed into the holes. I am simply holding each window up with Duck tape on the hidden backside, as someday I know I’ll want to take them with us. I then installed self-stick, battery operated puck lights behind each glass piece. At night, they are illuminated and pretty damn cool if I say so myself!
In the final days before getting ready for the departure back to California in our renovated home on wheels, we reorganized every cabinet, our closets, the under belly, weeded out appliances and items we found ourselves never using, J.O installed new wheels and tires on the 5th wheel, had the brakes done, then installed a Thule roof rack system on our truck (which freed up a ton of room in the underbelly) and did a lot of packing, running around making returns and exchanges and stops at Goodwill and our storage unit. You can read more about how we downsize by clicking HERE.
The best part was showing off our home on wheels to all of our friends and family at our going away party. Many had never been in our camper home before, so it was fun to show them. We also had everyone that came in to see it sign our chalkboard, a fun guestbook for us to look at while on the road to our next adventure. Find out how to create your own magnetic chalkboard by clicking HERE.
It feels so amazing to have a new, clean and more functional living space. We both love it and are so happy with the outcome. I know that none of it would have come together as smoothly as it did without the help of so many loved ones.