When Dr. Seuss wrote his poem Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, we’re certain that he didn’t have this couple’s unique mobile home in mind. Check out how Robbie and Priscilla's unique DIY converted school bus.
The Creative Couple
Like many people their age, Robbie and Priscilla are avid lovers of travel and love to explore the world. But each new adventure was tinged with a bitter sweetness because of what they were forced to leave behind.
“We hated leaving our pets at home and missed them when we were away,” explained the Florida-based pair. While the problem is not uncommon for those who travel, Priscilla and Robbie were not content with the situation. “We needed a way to continue to travel and have them with us.”
Seeking a Solution
It takes a certain kind of person to see an opportunity where there is a problem, and luckily, Robbie and Priscilla are those kinds of people. When the pair decided to goon a major road trip throughout the United States and Canada, they began brainstorming how their entire family could come along.
The solution came in the form of a mobile home that would be comfortable enough for them and their pets. But instead of just buying a conventional RV, the couple decided to get creative and design their own. “We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into…”
The Magic School Bus
While mobile homes are convenient for travelling, they pale in comparison to their stationary counterparts as they are often short on space. In order to counter this, the prospective travellers had to find a vehicle that was large enough to accommodate them and their animals, without causing claustrophobia.
Enter a 210 square foot school bus from 1998. “We drove from Orlando to Miami to pick it [the bus] up,” the couple shared. Keeping true to form, the bus had a bright yellow exterior and featured leather seats inside. There was no Miss Frizzle in sight though.
Take Your Seats, Please
The initial step for the adaptation was removing the seats from the bus’s interior to make space for the furniture they wished to put inside. Like most school buses from that era, the chairs were made of leather and attached with metal railings to the floor to keep them in place.
While the couple managed to remove the seats with some effort, the railing proved far trickier. “Robbie used an angle grinder to cut a slit about every 6 inches while I used a hammer to bang them out once they were cut,” Priscilla explained. “This method was only used for the ones that we were not able to unbolt.”
Where There’s a Wall, There’s a Way
According to Priscilla, the seating rails were such a relentless task that the couple decided to come back to it at a later stage so as not to become disheartened. “We had such trouble with those that we took a break from it.” What did they move on to instead? The walls, of course.
As expected, the interior of the vehicle was made from tons of metal, all of which had to be cut. “We lost count of the number of trailers full of scrap metal that we removed from our empty bus,” the couple claimed. When pushed for an answer, they said, “It would probably be somewhere around 20!”
A “Hole” Lot of Trouble
After stripping the walls and returning to the stubborn railings which finally gave way, Robbie and Priscilla attempted to tackle the floor of the 210 square foot structure. The previous tasks had been exhausting, but what they found below the surface proved to be its own hol(e)y challenge.
Despite the relatively good condition which the bus was in, thousands of holes were present in the floor. “You can imagine how tedious it was to fill every single one of them,” the pair recalled. “We used construction adhesive to fill and masking tape over it.”
Thankfully for the ambitious duo, their bus had been treated well in its previous life. Having spent the entirety of its service in Miami, the bus was subjected to warm and humid summers and short winters that are not that cold. The mild oxidation meant that rust was hardly an issue.
For the areas that had been tarnished, however, the DIY team used a rust converter and applied a coat of black spray paint that is specifically designed to prevent rust from forming. Insulation was then laid down before wood was used to frame the floor.
When One Window Closes…
Priscilla and Robbie were partial to the idea of plywood flooring which was then installed and left a crisp finish in the interior of their new home. One area which also needed to be covered, though, was the bus’s steps. “As you can imagine, the stairs were not fun at all…” Priscilla quipped.
Next were the windows which were giving the couple issues with leaking. They removed them entirely and cleaned them before reinstalling the panes. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t enough. “Turns out, after all that work they continued to leak. We had to get brand new windows which meant removing these AGAIN and installing the new ones.”
Countless hours — across night and day — were spent on the renovation, with Priscilla confessing that their neighbours likely thought of them as insane. “It didn’t matter how late it was, if we weren’t sleeping or working, we were working to convert the bus.”
Part of the process included installing proper insulation in the walls to keep the interior of the bus warm in winter and cool in summer. It involved Robbie donning a suit which made him look as though he was going to visit a high-risk COVID ward. According to Priscilla, he was miserable.
The Frame Game
With the bus’s interior structure now floored and insulated, it was time for Robbie and Priscilla to begin transforming it from a bus that had had its seats removed, to a house that just happened to have wheels. Using a floor plan, the DIY duo began marking out the different living areas.
Wood was needed for the framing, but just like everything else, the process was not as easy as hoped. Quality material that had a certain straightness was required, but as Priscilla soon realised, “Only one piece [of wood] out of ten was usable for framing.”
Many homes have a signature feature and the Robbie and Priscilla didn’t see why there’s should be any different just because it was originally a school bus! And so, they planned to install two skylights in the ceiling so they could gaze at the stars while letting in a little extra light.
In the end, only the skylight in the front of the bus was built, but it was happily surrounded by cedar wood panels. The colour matched the boards intended for the flooring, and the scent was reportedly heavenly. Light fixtures were installed, with the couple’s vision for their home finally coming to light.
A Place to Rest Your Weary Head
According to the blueprint, the homeowners’ bedroom would be situated in the rear of the vehicle and they had built a small window in the wall through which they could look out. Although not as big as a typical bedroom, the space was cosy and perfect for the two of them.
The finished area would include a set of drawers, a dual washing machine and dryer, as well as a secret step on which the pair could climb to reach their mattress. An extra storage closet was also installed. All in all, it made the perfect little nook for them to continue dreaming (asleep or awake).
Build it with Bricks
Why on Earth would the travellers want to install a brick wall in their mobile home? It’s a fair question. But the ever-creative duo had a plan up their sleeves to make their home look as beautiful and unique as possible. And yes, it featured a brick wall situated at the back of the bus.
The bricks would feature as a backdrop for their wood fireplace, but it was not only a decorative move on the couple’s part. The individual half-inch brick veneers that they used would also protect the wall from heat and prevent fires. Pretty with a purpose.
Clearing Out the Closet
Another fair question for the couple to contemplate was how many items of clothing they would need for their epic road trip which was expected to last around two years. Some states in the US are definitely closer than others, but there are only so many clothes that can be fit in such a tight space.
It served as an opportunity for Priscilla and Robbie to evaluate what they really wear. “We had to really go through our closet at home and pick only our favourite pieces,” Priscilla said. Whatever was left behind could’ve stayed in their permanently-fixed home, but they decided to donate items that they no longer needed or used.
Bathroom or Bust
Few things can compare to a hot shower, and Robbie and Priscilla were not going to compromise on that luxury even though their interior space was limited. The pair created an exquisite, fully-functioning bathroom in their mobile home that included a shower.
Although the space for the bathroom was only 2-feet 4-inches wide, the clever couple made it work and managed to install not only a 2.5 x 3-foot shower, but also a sink and a toilet that used water from tanks under their bed. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, just look at that decorative flooring!
It’s the Little Things
As Priscilla so perfectly put it, in small spaces, every detail counts. In some cases, the additional detail may seem insignificant or even unnecessary, but even the little things are part of a grand plan and Robbie and Priscilla had definitely thought everything through on their mission to create the perfect home.
The duo chose to install a small door to their even smaller bathroom. When not closed, it allows an open feel between the bathroom and the bedroom which is beside it. Yet, it still enables the bathroom user to have some privacy thanks to its built-in blinds.
Solar Power for the Win
Access to electricity while on the road can be a tricky business. In some cases, mobile home rely on the vehicle’s gas supply which can get expensive, while others park their homes and plug them in to outdoor electricity sources. Neither is ideal if you plan to spend hours exploring.
Priscilla and Robbie had a better idea — solar power! Six solar panels with a wattage of 360 were installed, enabling the couple to go off the grid. “We are more conscious of usage on cloudy days, of course,” Priscilla admits. “[But] we can go days without any sun and still be fully functional, including the fridge.”
An Electrical Alcove
For the plugs and electrical equipment that the couple did have on board the skoolie, they chose to keep them concealed so as to not spoil the aesthetic of the bus’s clean and modern interior. In order to do this, they installed a closet which fitted perfectly into the rest of the home.
“What you see going from left to right is the inverter panel, solar charge controller, AC thermostat, water tank monitor, and hot water heater controller,” explained the couple. The converted bus also has a fully-functioning air-conditioner to keep them cool when the weather gets warm.
A Fresh Exterior
School buses are known for their bright yellow exterior. The occurrence is so common that “school bus yellow” is actually a colour that can be found in the paint shop. Although used to transport children in its past life, the bus was now an adventure home and the owners wanted the exterior to reflect that too.
White was chosen for the former school bus’s exterior as it absorbs the least amount of heat. Special UV-resistant paint was used which reduced the temperature within the skoolie by 40 degrees! Despite claiming to be weather-resistant, the paint began collecting dirt, meaning the pair had to paint the exterior a further 4 times!
With so much work having gone in to converting the bus and making it as homely as possible, enough had been done by this point that the couple could enjoy some of their hard work. Yes, the skoolie was finally inhabitable! Although not complete, it was move-in ready.
The purpose of the mobile home was for Robbie and Priscilla to travel with their pets — a dog and a cat. Unfortunately, their canine had passed away during the year and a half that the renovation took. The couple’s cat, Mr. Beebles, wasn’t crazy about the new space at first but quickly learned to love it.
A Space to Live In
Considering there are no dividers within the bus, it is a stretch to label this as a living “room”. Yet, the space which is at the front of the skoolie is certainly comfortable enough to relax in. The main feature is a homemade couch bench that doubles as a storage facility.
“Under the couch we keep winter stuff like jackets, coats, boots, scarfs, etc,” Priscilla shared. “We rotate the things in our closet seasonally. It helps us to keep things organised.” She and Robbie have also made a point to add plant life and personal items like the ukelele which they received as a gift from her grandma.
A Kitchen to Come Home to
In many homes, the kitchen becomes the epicentre, with people tending to congregate in the space. Priscilla and Robbie put a lot of effort into giving their kitchen the same feel, with the lady of the home saying it was the area that she enjoyed designing the most (though her partner didn’t share her enthusiasm!).
Priscilla had always wanted a farmhouse sink and Robbie complied. “He did a great job cutting out the hole on the cabinets. Gray quartz countertops, small white subway tiles, white shaker cabinets, and stainless knobs to compliment the marine propane heater over the stove. It turned out just the way I’d envisioned it.”
A Pantry to Make Any Foodie Proud
With a good kitchen must come a good stock of ingredients use. The adventure buddies did not have the utmost space in which to hoard all their cooking elements, but they made do by installing a slide-out pantry to hold the essentials. Spices and sauces all have their place.
Priscilla even admits that she likes it better than the pantry in her other home! “I love that everything is nicely displayed without things getting pushed to the back. At home I often find myself cleaning out our pantry with expired food because its all the way in the back and I never see it,” she said.
Work on the Road
If there is anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s that working remotely is the new norm. Robbie and Priscilla have followed suit and established a mini office in their mobile home to enable them to do work wherever in the world they happen to be (as long as there is internet!).
Opposite their kitchen unit, the DIY duo have placed a wooden desk (to match the aesthetic of the rest of the home, naturally) on which a laptop can sit perfectly. The bottom allows space for storage and a luxurious chair has been added for maximum comfort.
Somewhere Cosy by the Fire
Remember that brick wall? This is the reason that the resourceful pair built it! The wall serves as the backdrop for their charming wood-burning fireplace which comes from England and is quaintly named the Hobbit. The fireplace also has a little fan which distributes the warm air to the rest of the bus.
“This is our favourite piece on the bus,” Priscilla shares, calling the fire place “our best buddy during those cold winter nights.” In addition to the wood-burning feature, the couple also installed a propane heater for when needed. Just add blankets and hot cocoa!
Enough storage in such a small space was always going to be a dilemma that the couple had to deal with. Finding place for all their clothes and keeping the mobile home clutter-free meant installing a closet just off the bedroom area. The doors were painted white with sleek black handles.
The closet possesses two rods, as Priscilla explained. Her clothes are stored in the bottom half, while Robbie’s are above. “Next to the drawers under the bed on the left there is an additional small area with a rod for hanging coats, jackets or closet overflow.”
Bedroom and Beyond
Despite the fairly narrow space within the skoolie, the couple managed to fit a double bed which, as you can see, is favoured by Mr. Beebles as well. “The way cats find a perfect size space for them to fit in,” Priscilla joked. “This happens to be his favourite area in the bus.”
Alongside the bed are also little outlets so that Priscilla and Robbie and charge their devices while cuddling up in bed. Not only that, but it also has space for a water bottle, and a spot for the day’s jewellery! “Basically like a miniature built-in night stand,” as Priscilla says.
Up in Front
Don’t forget that the purpose of converting an old school bus into a mobile home was so the travellers could actually go out and see the world. With a plan to venture across the United States and Canada, a fair bit of driving would be done, meaning it had to be comfortable too.
The “captain’s chair” in the skoolie is the original one which came with the bus, but Priscilla and Robbie did have it reupholstered. Naturally, their cat likes to take pride of place! The couple also added a sign reminding them to “never stop exploring”.
Not All Things Go According to Plan
Originally, Robbie and Priscilla had intended to have two skylights in their converted bus so as to let in as much natural light as possible. While the skylight in the front of the skoolie was installed, the couple had to forgo the one over their bed so as to have enough roof space for all six of their solar panels.
“Even with as much planning as we put into our build, there were still things that we had to redo or undo altogether,” Priscilla confessed. “Those things were both a waste of time and money but very much part of the learning process.” And, evidently, it was all worth it in the end.
Just Keep Going
Converting a 210-square foot school bus into a a charming and modern home on wheels is clearly not a task for the faint of heart. All in all, it took the ambitious renovators 563 days to complete, with more than one unexpected challenge rearing its head.
Priscilla has advice for anyone who is considering taking on the project. “Those of you who are in the middle of a conversion and feel overwhelmed, just remember that persistency will get you to the end. Take a break from it if you need to — we took many — but get back at it when you're ready and keep on going!”