A lot of you have requested more pictures of the interior of our home-on-wheels– here you go!
Our van restoration took about six months from start to finish, and we did 99% of the work ourselves. (We hired an electrician for an hour to help us remove our old fuse block safely.) Sometimes, people ask if we had experience doing something of this scale before and the answer is no! We learned everything we needed to know while working, heavily consulting online resources including other people’s van build out blogs, reddit (especially r/vandwellers), and YouTube.
Van Restoration: The big picture
We love the classic exterior of our Clark Cortez (more details about the history of the Cortez), but the interior felt too dark. To brighten things up inside, we added wood paneling throughout, and chose light colors for our bedding, fabrics, and curtains. The original beds were tiny (smaller than twin-sized!) which wasn’t sustainable long-term for us as a couple, so we added a queen-sized memory foam bed. We also added recessed LED lighting, which is 100% powered by our glorious sun. Click here to learn more about our solar setup.
We kept the sink, but substantially reduced the size of the kitchen to fit our bed and additional storage. As you’ll see, we have *lots* of room to store our things: plenty of overhead storage, a book shelf, storage area in the back, and under-bed storage. We go on lots of adventures, and wanted space to store all of our camping and climbing gear out of sight (for the most part!). We also loved the idea of having magnetic doors for our storage. We bought thin gauge steel with tiny perforations (which allows circulation!) from IMS in Burbank, California. It’s magnetic so we can hang photos or our friends or bucket lists of our upcoming adventures.
To help with air circulation, we upgraded our fan to a Maxxair one. We utilized an already-existing vent so we didn’t have to cut any additional holes in the roof for our fan. We added a throw cover to the original bench seat, which works well as our kitchen table seating. It also still converts into a bed so we have an extra bed in the front for guests!
Our bed is located smack dab in between the kitchen and bathroom. If you live in a small space like a tiny home space maximization is extremely important! As you can see, we have storage almost everywhere, including hooks to hang items. All of our things need to have dedicated places or else our home can become messy very quickly! When we sleep, we usually face the book shelf, like the perspective in the below photo, but we can also change directions if needed, depending on where we park, and we definitely have needed to!
We loved the idea of a bookshelf to keep knickknacks and our books easily accessible. We measured and custom-built the shelves sized to fit most of our books, like our climbing and mountaineering guide books (although we do have some larger books that we keep elsewhere). The felt bags are from IKEA and are great to store smaller items (exact item here). The shelf also has one feature required when your home also moves: we included the wooden railings so that when we drive nothing ends up flying across the RV! We also added a light and switch right above the bookshelf to make sure we could see everything we needed at night.
Next to our bookshelf is an additional hidden storage area. We included a USB charger inside so that you can hide the wires inside but still charge devices. This area also serves as a bedside table where we can keep our cell phones, speaker etc.
Over the bookshelf, we also have an open storage area. We currently store our climbing helmets, candles, and a tiny succulent in an adorable owl planter that our friend gifted us before we hit the road.
Our Cortez came with a much larger bathroom, including a second sink. We decided we could better use the space that the sink took up, but we wanted to keep the toilet! Priorities! Much like over the bed, we added a large overhead storage to the bathroom where we store all of our toiletries– shower items, lotions, sunscreen and all that jazz.
Not everything in a van restoration needs to be hand built! We bought a few storage solutions from IKEA which work really well in the bathroom: the grey crochet hanging storage peeking out behind the curtain, and the white “medicine box” mirror, which stores thing like band aids. Since we removed the door, we knew we wanted to add something to give the bathroom privacy. We found this striped shower curtain on sale at Bed Bath and Beyond (current sale items), and used hardware from IKEA (this and this) to hang it so that it can go around the whole bathroom (3/4 of a box) when closed.
We painted the bathroom a neutral grey color (before it was a crazy gold/creme 60s feeling disaster ;-)), and while we don’t have a ton of space to display art, we thought this spot could use a little. We brought a bit of nature inside with one of Matt’s photo from the Columbia River Gorge.
The Dining Area
We knew we wanted a little “dining” space where we could hang out, share meals and work. Since we’re already limited on the amount of floor space because we opted for a non-convertible bed, we decided to keep our table convertible. We can keep it closed up when we need more space to move around, and fold it out when we want to use it. We use the table while sitting at the bench or the bed.
We love our large windows, but the curtains needed a facelift. We chose a simple grey linen, and a more durable white lining fabric that would block out a bit more sun. Matt sewed them all from scratch! They’re not fully black-out curtains, but we like to get up early anyway so they’re perfect for us.
When we’re ready to use it, the table folds out, and our fridge can slide right underneath. We made the table out of reclaimed 80-year-old Douglas fir that we purchased from The Reclaimer (in LA). We loved the look of the fir but had a lot of wood going on already. We decided to stain it a dark grey to match the kitchen area and curtains.
We debated for a while over whether we’d splurge for a fridge or stick with a quality cooler. In the end, we opted for this12V DC/AC ARB 50 QT fridge/freezer. We were able to buy this model from REI, which allowed us to use our dividends and a 20% off coupon, so we got a very good deal. It has an ultra-efficient Danfoss compressor, which draws very low amperage and keeps all of our produce and fresh items cold 24/7. We’ve very happy with it this far! We can also fit it under the table when it’s folded out.
The kitchen area took the longest to complete out of our whole van restoration. We knew it would be a focal area of our tiny home and wanted it to look perfect. We made it sleek and functional. Using the same steel and pine for the drawers and cabinets, we added brushed steel drawer pulls. We also installed catches on all of the drawers and doors!
We chose a dark charcoal effect countertop from IKEA that we cut to size. It’s durable and modern, and works really well with the steel and wood, adding some depth to the kitchen.
We kept the double basin sink that came with the Cortez but added a on-faucet water filter so that we always have drinking water available.
We also have a propane on-demand hot water heater so we have hot water! This is probably our biggest luxury item in the RV. We debated over whether to keep it or not for a long time. Ultimately, we’re glad we did, because now we use the kitchen sink sprayer to shower on the road at least half of the time.
We considered installing a permanent range in the kitchen, but went with this removable, propane powered, heavy duty camping stove from Camp Chef. It stays in the kitchen 90% of the time, but we can also remove it and use it outside. In the future, we may upgrade to an induction stovetop to further minimize our propane usage.
Although we still have a few small tweaks to make, we love how our van restoration came out. It’s still pretty mind-blowing that we were able to do all of this without professional help. If you ever see us on the road, we’d love to give you a tour of our home in person. We’re always happy to meet other #vanlife fans, or van-dwellers. Just don’t expect it to always be as clean as it is here!