This Couple Transformed a Run-Down Bus Into a Skoolie Dream
| LAST UPDATE 02/20/2023
For Ethan and Kim, the plan was simple: to have their dream home, all while traveling the country. And that desire led them on a skoolie adventure. Here's a look at their Pinterest-worthy home renovation.
Meet Ethan & Kim
Ethan, aged 29, and Kim, aged 28, were a millennial couple. Parents to two giant pooches (Great Dane/English Mastiffs, to be exact) named Blue and Milo, they wanted to maximize their time outside as a family of four.
Feeling tied down by conventional apartment living, the pair set their sights on the open road. "We want to experience life in as many places as possible before deciding where we want to eventually settle down," they shared. So, with a little research, they came to learn that skoolie life was the life for them.
Taking the Plunge
Like most people, Ethan and Kim didn't exactly have a yellow school bus lying around, so after deciding they wanted to embark on the skoolie journey, they had an important purchase to make. And after some shopping around, they hauled out $2,500 and bought a '97 International Bus off Craigslist.
Ethan and Kim tied the knot shortly after buying their future home on the go and quickly got to work on construction. "We are working on converting it into our dream home on wheels so we can live on it full time and travel the country," the newlyweds shared of their plans.
A Fresh Canvas
But they were a long way from the final Pinterest-worthy home of their dreams. It would eventually take Ethan and Kim a total of two years to complete the transformation. However, they got started as most skoolie renovators do: removing the bus's interior.
After all, it's hard to imagine a fully-functioning motor home being squeezed into the bus in the condition that Ethan and Kim brought it home. They dreamt of a living room, bathroom, kitchenette, and more where there were currently rows and rows of seats. So, it was time to get to work.
It's All Got to Go
In the end, Ethan and Kim ripped out over 20 school bus seats from their 1997 future skoolie. It was no easy feat and required a great deal of elbow grease from the DIY couple. But the final product would definitely be worth it - that's what they kept telling themselves. After the seats, they tackled other unnecessary fittings.
And that meant getting rid of the bus's outdated flooring. "Once the flooring was gone, we went around and removed every nail and screw we could find and sprayed all of the rust spots with rust converter," the couple explained of their process. It was dirty work, but necessary in order to get to the fun stage: construction.
More to Strip
But Ethan and Kim couldn't get ahead of themselves. Even with the seating and the weathered floor long gone, there was more stripping to be done on the bus. Next, they set their eyes on what would become their least favorite task of the whole project: breaking down the walls and ceiling.
"In order to remove the panels to get to the insulation, we had to remove what felt like an endless amount of screws and rivets," the couple lamented. And the rust-coated hardware wasn't exactly a breeze to work with. Ethan and Kim resorted to using an angle grinder to get the job done.
Covering the Base
After what felt like far too long, Kim and Ethan could finally stand proudly and say that the stripping of the bus was behind them. Now, they could set their sights on crafting the skoolie of their dreams. But before they got started on the flooring, they had to attend to the many holes that covered it.
To patch up the remnants of all those bolts, Kim and Ethan made "a million tiny squares" from flex seal tape to get the job done. They then followed up with a Skoolie favorite: a coat of Rust-Oleum on the floor. That wasn't their only task at the time - they also took out the bus's windows, too.
A Solution for Ethan
Designing a skoolie is all about the balance between aesthetic and practicality. And when it came to Ethan, there was one element that just had to change: the height of the bus. Taller than most, Weiss struggled to stand in the skoolie comfortably. The solution? Raising the roof by 20 inches.
As a bonus, it would allow for more storage, too! But this was no small DIY project, so Kim and Ethan got the help of their respective dads to jack the roof off the frame and raise it to its new level. It would be just another one of those tasks that would make a world of a difference in the long run.
Having raised the roof by 20 inches, Kim and Ethan's skoolie took on a whole new level of custom. And that extended to the extra paneling that now needed to be added. Luckily, the installation went by smoothly, and they could get started on adding windows.
"We chose to use RV windows rather than the original bus windows not only because we think they are more aesthetically pleasing, but because they are more efficient," the couple explained of their unique choice. And this custom feature didn't come with extra cost since they managed to snag them second-hand.
All Eyes on the Interior
By this point, Ethan and Kim had checked some major to-dos off their list. From stripping the bus's rusty interior to raising the bus's roof, they were well on their way to focusing on the interior of their future home. But before any furniture or appliances could go in, they needed to get to the flooring.
As shown in the photo, the skoolie couple decided to add some extra weathering protection by adding 2-inch insulation pads to the floor. Then, to top it off, they covered it with a water-resistant barrier to keep mold and mildew at bay. What needed to come next?
Framing Their Home
The subfloor, a necessary element of any weather-ready skoolie, was now complete. Having gotten the bus's base to a good stage, Kim and Ethan got to work on the bus's siding and ceiling. And they decided to follow a similar approach to how they tackled the flooring.
Wanting to make all their skoolie dreams come true, Kim and Ethan also opted for some more natural light. So, they sliced up the roof to account for not one but two extra skylights! Sure, it added some work, but it would pay off when they got to enjoy the sky-blue view.
Asking for Help
When it came to building their skoolie, the two certainly weren't afraid to roll their sleeves up and get to work. But they also knew their limitations. And one example of outsourcing a project was the wall insulation. The couple phoned around to find someone who could spray their bus with the foam.
Eventually, they landed on a professional who was up for the job. "We ended up with about three inches of closed-cell insulation on the walls and two on the ceiling, making our R-value somewhere between 15-20," the couple beamed. Packed and weather-tight, it was time for construction.
Mapping It All Out
Having wrapped up all the nitty-gritty business of getting the bus to a construction-ready state, Kim and Ethan switched gears and embraced all things interior design. This was the part that the couple was truly excited for. "Layout is something that we thought would be a breeze," they reflected.
"Every time we had talked about it, there were no issues," they admitted. However, in reality, there were a few kinks to work out. However, after a little reconfiguration, Kim and Ethan settled on a floorplan that included spacious seating: two sofas!
All the Way at the Back
The sofas lined a narrow pathway that led to the bus's back. There, like in most skoolies, the couple opted to frame their bed. The bus's rear also included a storage area for food, a bathroom, and even some trunk space by the skoolie's original emergency exit. It was astonishing what could fit in with the right planning.
Of course, smart skoolie design meant maximizing storage space. And in the spirit of that, Kim and Ethan opted for a risen bed, like many other skoolie DIY-ers. But it wasn't for clothes or camping gear, but rather more sleeping space. That's right, Kim and Ethan were sharing their sleeping quarters with their giant pooches.
Back to the Ceiling
Having framed and mapped out the bus's interior, it was time to get back to some of those "in-progress" tasks, including the skoolie's ceiling and siding. Like in the case of most DIY home makeovers, Kim and Ethan juggled many projects at once, and the build was like one big line of dominos.
They continued their ceiling by putting up some plywood and making room for some lighting fixtures. Kim and Ethan had a clear vision but were committed to not breaking the bank. Luckily, they found some "super cheap and bright" lights online that got the job done. Then, they painted the ceiling black.
All Part of the Plan
A black ceiling? Not to worry, the couple wasn't planning on turning their skoolie into a rave bus. They just wanted a black backdrop for the wood paneling that would later cover the black plywood. That way, the black would peek through the minuscule gaps between the slats and make for a textured finish.
"We chose to go with a dark stain simply because we love the look of it," Kim and Ethan explained of their ceiling choice. "And thanks to our 20-inch roof raise, we have plenty of height and weren't worried about a dark ceiling making it look/feel claustrophobic." They were well on their way...
While Kim and Ethan saw their deck-inspired ceiling shape up, they also got started on the very exciting task of blocking out rooms by erecting some walls. It was a step-by-step method to ensure the ceiling panels and wall slats would fit together seamlessly.
Overall, the couple's number one priority with the ceiling was to make sure it would stand the test of time. So, to add some extra security and reinforcement, they employed liquid nails to secure the slats to the plywood. That, plus regular screws, got the job done.
Trial and Error
Kim and Ethan were putting in long hours in their skoolie build. But, at the end of each day, being able to see the progress they'd made fueled them for the day ahead. From a rusty bus interior lined with seats to the semi-complete bedroom shown in the picture below, there was no shortage of accomplishments to be proud of.
But it wasn't always smooth sailing when it came to the DIY build. Like most skoolie couples, there was some trial and error that went into the final product. And for Ethan and Kim, that meant switching some design elements on the fly. They were sure to alter the base insulation carefully at every turn.
Adding Their Unique Touch
While structural work chugged along, Kim tapped into her inner craft queen and focused her attention on a more aesthetic project for her and Ethan's future home: a bedroom. As with most skoolie owners, their bed was a custom dimension, which wrote out traditional headboards. But Kim was up for the challenge.
Kim sketched out this mountainesque design on cardboard before fashioning the necessary pieces from wood scraps lying around. From ombre painting to torching wood for texture, she pulled out all the stops. "Pinterest dream come true!" she gushed at the final product.
The Perfect Closet
And the headboard was just the start of Kim and Ethan's customization. The DIY couple had the added bonus of Ethan's dad, who, as a carpenter, was able to design them a multi-functional closet that stored their clothes and cooking supplies. It was the perfect solution for the space between the kitchen and bed.
By the time of its completion, the closet had multiple compartments suited for everything from socks to dress shirts. Then, the lefthand side of the closet shown in the photo above was dedicated to all things kitchen. It even had room for a mini-fridge.
Kitchen Under Construction
With some major installations completed and off the to-do list, Kim and Ethan finally saw their bus shaping into a home before their very eyes. Here, the semi-completed kitchen is shown in all its glory. The overhead storage shelves were in - but there were still some appliances to slot in, hence the exposed wiring.
And remember those RV windows? Ethan's father added his own little twist on them as well. "A jig was made to match the corners of the window, then several pieces of wood were pieced together, glued, and clamped until dry," the duo shared. This way, the jambs could sit inside the frame comfortably.
A New Paint Job
It's the moment that most skoolie DIY-ers dream of: shifting their focus to the bus exterior. Why, exactly? Well, it's typically a good sign that the end is near! And so it's fair to say that Kim and Ethan were equally enthused to get working on revamping their mobile home's outer style.
And like most of the couple's choices, the unique grey-ish blue color was no accident. It was picked to complement their Jeep that would be trailing the bus at all times. Another uncommon feature? Their front door, which actually came from a house. From top to bottom, Ethan and Kim added their special touch to their home.
Powering Their Home
Some of the exterior's greatest features weren't just pleasing to the eye - they also checked Kim and Ethan's boxes when it came to keeping their skoolie as efficient as possible. That meant adding half a dozen Renogy solar panels, which totaled nearly 2000 watts. It was a huge power source to help their home run.
But the panels weren't the only thing on the skoolie roof. Like many skoolie designs, Kim and Ethan also fashioned a patio for their bus, complete with string lights and a wooden deck. That way, when the weather way nice, the pair could enjoy some time in the outdoors.
A Look Inside
Kim and Ethan mastered the open-concept feel for their skoolie. From a kitchen, closet, bathroom, bedroom, and living room, the design-savvy couple was able to squeeze in all their must-haves - all without compromising on function or style. Plus, they got optimal seating as well.
And while the kitchen at one point featured a woodsy-themed wallpaper, it eventually had to go due to its constant peeling. But the couple wasn't fussed - in fact, Kim assured that she preferred the clean white look of the kitchen, as it helped the space feel bigger.
Plus, there was more than enough going on in the kitchen to give it a homey, lived-in feel. From the mini plants to the warm wood stain, the couple fashioned themselves a functional and beautiful kitchen featuring some smart skoolie hacks. For example, their knives were secured on a magnet strip.
And while some skoolie folks stick to camp-style cooking, Ethan and Kim were cooking with gas - literally! They had a three-burner stove, in addition to a flexible faucet and fridge. It was all the perks of living in an apartment - all while enjoying the wide-open road.
Kim and Ethan also got the benefit of having their kitchen crafted by a family friend who also worked as a carpenter. And the finished product was certainly pleasing to the eyes. They also featured an element that is all the rave at the moment: a resin-filled countertop. It added some depth to the cooking area.
Plus, the dark strip complimented the tiling that framed the kitchen window. While it may look luxurious, Ethan scored these six-sided tiles on Facebook Marketplace, and Kim rolled up her sleeves and got crafty once again. Plus, with some extra-hold grout, they were guaranteed to hold up to the highway life.
Back when Kim and Ethan were in the early planning stages of their skoolie, they were adamant about fitting in not one but two sofas. And, sure, it makes for a great hangout space, but there was another reason. When pushed together, the sofas made a whole extra bed!
Also shown in the picture is the couple's arguably most important appliance: an air conditioner. With plans to travel all over the United States, Kim and Ethan wanted to make sure they were able to keep their cool (literally) even in the hottest of Southern destinations.
Not Just Pleasing to the Eye
At first glance of Kim and Ethan's Pinterest-y home, it's hard to imagine that anything was a priority other than aesthetics and great design. But as it turned out, nearly every aspect of the furniture had a second purpose: storage. After all, it was all about maximizing the function of their mini home.
So, what were the sofas hiding? Well, under the convertible bed, there was ample room for all of Kim and Ethan's less bulky appliances. The AC unit and solar panels were strapped onto the bus, but other on-demand items like a projector and screen were stored away when not in use.
From the kitchen to the bedroom, it's clear that Kim and Ethan had a specific color scheme and ran with it. But, because it was done so tastefully, it tied the whole bus together without shrinking its interior feel. From the kettle to the headboard, the rusty oranges compliment the dark wood.
And while all the sunlight is an added bonus thanks to the RV windows, the couple also fashioned black-out inserts for their windows. "Not only do they give us privacy, they allow us to sleep in, and they help regulate the temperature of the bus," they explained.
Bathrooms are arguably one of the trickiest elements of any skoolie build. But with Ethan and Kim's smart design, they ended up with a functional and luxurious shower area. The bathroom can be found just down the hall from the kitchen, which adds convenience since there's no bathroom sink.
From the detailed tiling to the eco-friendly showerhead, it's clear a lot of thought went into this little corner of the buss. The Nebia showerhead shown above makes "less water feel like so much more," according to the brand. It was the perfect fit for the environmentally conscious couple.
Home Sweet Home
It took a couple of years and some help from friends and family, but Kim and Ethan finally have the home of their dreams! And from the bedroom to the driver's seat, there's not a corner of the skoolie that doesn't show their extreme dedication to the project.
And based on the picture, it seems that this furry family of four couldn't be having a better time traveling the country aboard their home on wheels. For those interested in keeping up with Ethan, Kim, Blue, and Milo, their adventure chronicles can be found on Instagram at @justanotherskoolie!