How We Renovated the Aesthetics of Our Truck Camper
We’ve been traveling, working, and living out of our Rocky Mountain Four Wheel truck camper for the better part of a year now. After our inaugural voyage where we traveled from Chicago, to Key West, to the Arctic Circle, then back again, we decided it was time to take a break and make a few much-needed renovations.
What began as replacing the woodwork ended with us gutting our camper and replacing or redesigning basically every aspect of it (Note – We also had a 20+ year old Tacoma the camper had been siting on that we replaced with a 2012 Tacoma). Below is a run-down of the main aesthetics renovations we made. I’ve broken this post into a 4-part-series. This first post focuses on the renovations we made to improve aesthetics. The other portions will cover functionality renovations, sustainability updates, and our favorite things / must-have items.
If you want further details on any piece, just shoot us a comment!
Replacing Cabinet Woodwork and Sliding Doors
This all started with us wanting to replace the woodwork. Like our truck, our camper is 20+ years old. When we bought it, most of the woodwork was particle board covered in veneer. Since that really dated it, we painted the entire thing two different shades of gray before we began our journey. As you may expect, the paint chipped badly since it was covering veneer, plus the gray made the camper dark. To add to this, the cabinets had begun letting go and falling apart. It didn’t look nice or feel like ‘us,’ which is why we started looking for reclaimed barn wood to replace the existing woodwork.
We found exactly what we were looking for at Born of a Barn in Verona, Wisconsin. We used this wood to replace the large sliding cabinets, and the smaller bottom (also sliding) cabinets.
To build the top cabinets we:
- Removed the existing wood facade, which was relatively easy (the counters were trickier; see below).
- Cut the wood to the correct size. We left a hole in the center for the cabinets instead of cutting the hole out later.
- Used wood glue and clamps to hold the wood together, then added back strips on the wood with small screws to hold the wood once the clamps were removed.
- Cut holes for monitors, outlets, etc.
- Screwed the top cabinets back in place.
- Decided to replace the two sliding cupboards with one large door that opened from the top down. To build this, we cut and glued reclaimed wood to the correct size, however built it so it would protrude a bit as opposed to be flush. We used a router on the edges, then added a top gold hinge to latch it shut, and gold chains on eye hooks to stop it at a particular height as it opens. When opened, we use it as a table.
- Created a new front for the drawer, and used a router to finish it. We used the original drawer handle on the new one.
To build the bottom cabinets we (I’ll cover how we extended them to add storage space in Part 2):
- Removed the existing sliding cabinets.
- Cut the reclaimed wood to the correct size.
- Screwed bottom cabinets in.
- Added gold hinges for forward opening.
- Added old-fashioned globe knobs.
Replacing the Counters
The white counters were becoming a bit yellowed, outdated, and didn’t complement our new barn wood cabinets. So, we decided to replace them. Our initial plan was to wrap them in stainless steel, however that was a bit more expensive than we planned. Instead, we built counters with leftover floor boards from my parents’ house.
Here are the highlights of what we did, from an aesthetics perspective (I’ll cover how we extended the counters and added storage in Part 2):
- Detached the stovetop, sink, and faucet.
- Removed the large, main counter, which was attached with L brackets. This one was easier to remove than the small one.
- The small counter above the fridge was harder to remove. We ended up cutting it out to avoid taking out the fridge. So, we undid a few brackets on the inside, then sawed the rest off.
- Glued and clamped the countertop similarly to how we built the cabinets.
- Screwed the countertops into place.
- Lined the edges of the counters with aluminum strips. We used wood glue, but it didn’t (and still isn’t) holding. We now screwed the aluminum in, but it’s still letting go, so we may end up replacing this.
Replacing Couch Boards and Molding Strips
We replaced the couch boards with a piece of new wood that we stained to look reclaimed and match the floor. We did this to eliminate the ‘musty’ smell the camper started to have. We thought all new wood would help.
We used the leftover from the couch board to replace all molding strips. We realized this was necessary after we took them up to clean the floor. We found lots of water trapped under them, and that they were rotting. Since they were 20 years old and had been through a lot of environments and heavy usage, we figured it was time to replace them.
Replacing Bedding, Couch Covers & Adding Curtains
For the first year of our journey, we used the original camper mattresses covered by the upper piece of a leftover mattress pad we had in our Chicago apartment. Unfortunately, the pad was disintegrating, so it made a nasty, foamy mess everywhere. We simply laid it over top of the mattresses then wrapped them in leftover twin sheets from my parents’ house. Patrick’s mom sewed our original couch covers, and they were great. However, they didn’t match the new aesthetic, plus the felt material wasn’t holding up (lesson learned on buying felt fabric for the camper). Up until this point, we used the shiny insulation as window covers, which made the camper feel like a construction site (although it works extremely well in cold weather).
Since we were in ‘renovation mode,’ we decided to redo the soft surfaces along with the hard. Here’s what we did and used:
I’m all about sustainability (check out my company, RePrint), so I determined to replace all bedding with eco-friendly options. I bought Coyuchi jersey twin sheets, and medium-density Latex for Less mattress toppers. Both make a really big effort to minimize their manufacturing impact and to use more natural, non-toxic, eco-friendly materials. Although Coyuchi is a little pricey, Latex for Less is a really good deal. My mom and I cut and sewed the unfitted sheet to the correct size for one of the mattresses. Patrick and I then shoved the mattress toppers inside the mattress covers (this was a hell of an effort).
The bedding updates have made a huge difference. I went from waking up every few hours because whatever part of me that was touching the mattress had gone numb, to sleeping through the night without issue. Although we can’t close the camper without turning one mattress lengthwise and pulling it out over the couch, this minor inconvenience is well worth the added comfort.
I bought buffalo check sheets from Woolrich (I can’t find the actual site I purchased them from), which I then cut and sewed into covers for the top and bottom couch cushions. Although I don’t know much about Woolrich’s sustainability standards, they are 100% cotton sheets, so at least they aren’t made with synthetics (I understand that there are water usage concerns with cotton, which I’m not addressing here).
Curtains & Back Window Cover
We decided to cover our back windows semi-permanently since they only look into our closet in the cab. I bought a map-themed fabric, which I sewed into a few squares. The first square covers the shiny insulation that we velcroed to the back window. We will leave this up all the time since the window just looks into a closet. The other two squares now serve as sliding curtains for the large side windows. I used eye hooks and thick twine to create the curtain ‘rods,’ and attached the curtains to these. These allow us to cover the windows without blocking all light, and without using the insulation.
Painted Outside and Inside
We painted the inside and outside completely white (roof and all). We used Arctic White Rustoleum exterior paint for the outside.
Replaced Felt Around Inside Edges
We had a rusty / moldy looking edge around the camper where the bottom half connected to the canvas. We didn’t know what it was, but it looked nasty, so I decided to clean it. It was a much bigger effort than I expected. I used peroxide, which ate the black moldy stuff, and a metal scraper to manually scrape it off. The entire process took about 4 hours, but it would have been faster if I’d used peroxide from the start. After I finished, we called Four Wheel Camper. They said the stuff is old felt that protects the canvas from the metal. They said it gets gross like that after awhile, so many people scrape then replace it. After it dried, we used spray glue and replaced it with new mold-proof felt, which we bought from Ace Hardware.
Metal Behind-the-Couch Storage Baskets
We bought metal baskets that I’m using to store my shoes behind the couch. These not only look nice; they also hold the back of the couch out so it doesn’t sit flush against the window, thus opening up space for the curtains and for storage.
Air Plants for Camper
Patrick bought me air plants for Christmas to hang around the camper. He found little metal hanging hooks on Amazon, which I used metal string to attach them to. I added an extra twine curtain rod by the window, and hang them here. When we’re in transit, I loop them all onto a different piece of twine, then hang them from our rear mirror.