The renovation I

So we bought the RV. It was 10 years old with only 27,000 miles on the clock but very ‘brown’ inside. Literally everything was brown, beige, taupe, cream or some other variant of the 1970’s caravan look.

Actually the outside is still brown as well but that will have to wait until another day. The carpet and lino was brown, every single cabinet door or drawer front (all 46 of them) were brown, the walls were brown, all the upholstery was brown and on it went.

For months we’d been checking out images and stories of RV renovations and had concluded that a mix of white, greys and black would be cool. In addition, some light blue accent pieces (as Vanessa calls them, I just agree!) would work.

I’d somehow guesstimated that 3 months full time would be sufficient to get everything done. In reality though days off, weekends away, birthdays, Christmas etc all got in the way and in the end it took us about 4-5 months. There were times we spend all day in the RV and others where we spent the whole day researching or out shopping for the RV so I guess in total my 3 months actual work estimate was about right.

Our first problem/mistake was where we stored the RV during this process. It was winter time and damn cold and we had no access to mains power. I’d watched so many YouTube videos of people renovating their RVs and they all seem to be in Florida in the summer ! Try doing it in England in December with no power !

Some days I was so cold and fed up I’d give up for a bit but Vanessa’s endless supply of coffee, food and encouragement would get me back to work.

It was only daylight from about 09.00 until 16.00 so the days were short and batteries on power tools and iPods/speakers would run out. I’d fire up the engine on the RV to provide some heat and charge up the leisure batteries but it was only a short term fix. If I ever did this kind of project again, no way would I do it without mains power. Lesson learned.

Anyway, first task was to remove all the cabinet doors for painting. Took me all day – this was mistake No.2. Unless once you’ve removed 46 doors you’ve got somewhere sensible to store them all, do this in stages. I put mine in the RV storage lockers but it was a clumsy process and some got scratched.

Next phase was the carpet removal. Horrible horrible job. When Winnebago install the carpets and vinyl they intend them to stay put for ever. Glue and 1,000’s of tacks have to be removed and there ain’t no magic trick to this, it’s just getting down on your knees and pulling & scraping. Carpet and vinyl is all laid before the cabinets & furniture are installed so you either cut really close to the edges or you also take out the furniture as well.

What became apparent to me after a few days was that RVs are built by people rather than robots welding them. What that means is what 1 man has screwed together, another man can take apart ! If you can find the screws or bolts you can take them out, no special skills required other than reasonable DIY competency and plenty of tools.

I took all the dinette chairs and table out and also the sofa bed but I left the kitchen cabinets in place. The captains chair came out with 1 bolt and the driver and passenger seats came out with 4 bolts each and a bit of fiddling with the manual slide control. The sofa called for Joe to squeeze underneath to help get all the bolts out…he’s not significantly smaller than me anymore but no point doing all the crap jobs yourself when you’ve got teenage sons ! The sofa wasn’t going back in anyway, it was yellowy brown fake leather and we soon discovered it would be more expensive to cover/reupholster it than simply buy a new sofa. We wouldn’t need the seatbelts for the sofa so simply bought and installed a regular house sofa which fitted perfectly and it’s far more comfortable than the original factory-fit sofabed.

The original sofabed is now in the shipping container we used to move back to the UK – one day I’ll see if anyone wants to buy an original Winnebago sofa on eBay !

The captains chair didn’t feature in the plans either so that was also dispensed with (into the shipping container). We needed the space behind the front passenger seat to build a multipurpose cupboard to house coats, shoes, wine bottles and our dog! More about that later. There had originally been some discussion about installing a washer/dryer into that space but that would have been a horrible mistake – water supply in Europe isn’t ‘city water’ like in the US and we’d have been draining our water tank. A few Euros in laundries once a week and so far we’re all good with the laundry process.

With the flooring and cabinet doors removed plus most of the big furniture and all the blinds out it started to look awful and on a cold day was quite miserable working on it.

Painting all the cabinets plus 46 doors was a total nightmare. We experimented with primers, undercoats, rollers, brushes, spraypaint and to be honest, I’m not sure we really mastered it. The doors were all painted satin white and took at least 5 coats to cover. We did all the fronts and edges and I kept promising to do the insides if I had enough time but it never happened! It was cold and each coat would take so long to dry properly that this process seemed to go on and on for ever.

The cabinets themselves were a bit easier as they were still in place and we painted most of them grey. Before anyone asks, the doors have to come off as the hinges will be in the way and you’ll end up getting paint on them. I tried to mask the hinges but it’s too fiddly and you can’t paint close enough to them.

All 46 of the door/drawer handles were replaced with more contemporary designs – tip – find new handles that can use the same bolt holes as the originals or you’ll end up trying to fill the old holes which will look terrible unless you’re a cabinet maker. We got some that ‘fitted’ with a little persuasion from a hammer remembering that US imperial measurements will be a fraction different from metric ones you buy in the UK. The old handles all went in the trash which seemed a waste, maybe someone out there wanted them but I really had no time to waste trying to sell small stuff on eBay.

Walls. The factory design brown walls are super durable but horrible. We considered wallpaper at one point but our friend rightly raised the issue of condensation and heat and whether one morning we’d wake up to find it all peeled off ! Hence we just painted them. This was easy enough with a roller but there are 100’s of edges, nooks and crannies and they take forever to paint. Vanessa was good at painting the walls and then leaving me all the fun of cutting in and painting up to the edge of carpets, ceilings, cabinets etc !!!!

As light relief from the drudgery of painting, I built the multi purpose and customised cabinet which would sit between the door and passenger seat. Timber frame and 9mm MDF sheets did most of the work. I relocated a light fitting and put in some extra insulation where the dog would sleep and covered the ‘wall’ with 2 sheets of MDF panelling. Expensive but looks much nicer than plain MDF.

Measuring the dog for his entrance hole and a jigsaw did the trick and this area was now looking OK.

3 thoughts on “The renovation I

  1. Wow Wow Wow Vanessa & Jon – what a lot of work has gone into this trip of a lifetime! Keep blogging I’m really enjoying reading about your adventures.


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