Van and Lauren had a lifelong dream of converting a motorhome into the ideal family home. The couple put in an endless amount of work to turn an old school bus into their beautiful skoolie. Here's their story.
The Jones Family
The Jones family - Van, Lauren, and daughter Piper - decided to begin the journey of a lifetime as they DIY'd a bus into their dream home. With another baby on the way, the family couldn't wait to build their new home.
The family already had experience with RVs, as they previously lived in a renovated motor home. After selling their remodeled home, they spent time abroad and returned to the U.S. when Lauren began experiencing medical issues during her second pregnancy. Upon their return, they decided it was time for their next project.
Finding the Right Bus
Having experience renovating motorhomes already, the family was ready for their newest project. The family moved back to Alabama due to Lauren's medical issues and took advantage of their dream to live in a skoolie. Lauren always dreamt of renovating a school bus and would regularly send Van pictures of her soon-to-be reality.
Sure enough, the Jones family purchased an old after-school bus from Jasper, Alabama: a 1999 Thomas Passenger Bus as their new home. The motor vehicle was 40 feet long and 280 (ish) square feet, leaving the couple with a very strict design plan to follow.
Let the Renovations Begin!
But the family would never be able to build their home and fit everything without getting rid of all the original seating - so that's where they began. The Jones family started renovating their future home by gutting the interior to get a feel for what exactly they were working with.
"We were surprised to discover it didn't take nearly as long as we thought to take the seats out," Lauren recalled. After completing step one of home renovations, the family of three - soon to be four - still had a long way to go. But luckily they had an accessible parking spot they could work in, day or night.
Clearing Out the Inside
The family found the perfect parking spot: a warehouse owned by their friends. What good friends to have in this situation! With the 1999 Thomas parked indoors, regardless of the time, it allowed Van to work on the skoolie rain or shine and finish the project faster.
Now that the van was parked and the seats were out, the couple was ready to continue renovating. The bus-owners detached the luggage holders above the seats that circled the perimeter of the bus. They stripped down the bus's walls to bare metal. Then, they got to work on the ceiling.
Tackling the Roof
The family had big dreams for their motorhome, and the next step was to tackle the roof. Re-doing the roof was a big part of the re-design, so they placed exhaust fans in the ceiling to keep the cool temperature throughout the bus. The family also added skylights to keep that natural sunlight flowing through at all times.
When re-doing the roof, the family had to think about the height of the shower as well. "Our bus was actually already a little bit taller than a normal school bus, but we raised the roof where the shower is to get some extra height for Van," Lauren said. Van must be a tall guy!
The Detailed Floor Plan
With converting an old school bus into a livable home on wheels, the family had to plan every detail of the transformation. From the various potential floorplans to the interior décor, Lauren spent months using her artistic skill to create detailed sketches of their soon-to-be home.
The family debated over a few floorplan options that could work but eventually settled on the sketch above. Lauren and Van decided the first half of the bus would include the living room area and the kitchen. Behind the living room and the kitchen would be the family's beds, closets, and bathroom.
New Baby on Board
Now that the bus was gutted from its original seating, floors, and walls, the next step was to start framing. Framing a bus from metal to wood was more demanding than one may think, especially with the curved ceilings, but the family was ready. The couple built an insulated home prepared for rain or shine by using thin plywood.
Van meticulously cut each panel of wood to perfectly frame the 1999 Thomas bus's walls and ceilings, and he did it. The above image displays the busses new interior once the framing finished, shortly after they welcomed their new baby girl, Heidi. How exciting!
Creating the Subfloors
After the framing was finished, the new dad of two moved onto his next challenge. He began marking the different rooms in the house using plywood. On the bus floor, Van installed Expanded Polystyrene insulation (EPS), which is made using foam beads for the subfloor.
"[It']s kind of like the styrofoam that is in like your little styrofoam coffee cup that you throw away," describing the EPS material. He then carefully placed the plywood "a hair bigger than a half-inch" on the insulation to finish the subflooring. Eventually, the last layer of flooring would be installed and ready to go.
Insulating the Walls
The family home-on-wheels needed to get ready for all kinds of weather, including Alabama's high and low temperatures and climate. The family also needed to consider any trips they might take and what would be the best way to reduce the heat loss and heat gain. In response, the dynamic duo insulted the ceiling and the walls.
Almost similar to the floor insulation, Van used half an inch of foam to insulate the walls. He used spray foam insulation on the ceiling and the walls. The strong spray helped target any parts of the wall's framing that the Polystyrene didn't reach; however, the mist got on some of the plywood, causing Van to unbury it.
Replacing the Ceiling
Now that two major projects were done: framing and insulation, the DIYers got started with building a new foundation. The photo below shows the progress on the home so far. The skeleton of the kitchen was almost done, with the wall separating the kitchen from the bathroom/bedroom completed.
The Jones' choose ¾ inch Tongue and Groove Pine from Lowe's Home Improvement to update their beautiful new ceiling. The new roof was a significant upgrade from the original metal ceiling for sure The next step was to decide if they should leave it as is or stain the wood to change its natural color.
Designing Their Dream Kitchen
"Your kitchen is bigger than mine, and I don't live in a bus," a follower playfully commented on the family's page. The photo below shows the soon-to-be kitchen in the process, and it is hard to believe that this cooking area was on an old school bus!
The couple decided to have the cupboard doors professionally made, while Van designed the kitchen counter and storage units out of wood. "Can't wait to see this beautiful space come to life with the tile backsplash and fronts on the cabinets," Lauren shared to her followers.
The Family’s Farmhouse Sink
As Van installed the custom-made countertop, the prominent structure covered the space for a kitchen sink, which they were definitely going to need! The family cut open a part for the famous farmhouse sink, saying, "We couldn't resist!!!" and wow, did it look gorgeous!
The intricate sink took up a large amount of the kitchens' counter space, but because the family wouldn't have a dishwasher, the sink's size and functionality were worth it. The family's farmhouse sink also proved to be a two-in-one bath for baby Heidi!
Getting the Second Half Together
As the first half of the bus was coming together nicely, the second half too was coming together amazingly. The image below shows a little preview of the beautiful blue tile on the shower, which Lauren's mom helped design, and the newly built wall in the toilet/sink room.
A challenge presented itself when the Jones family wanted to build a sliding door to separate the back area from the living room and kitchen, creating a door with a curved roof. However, they did it. Next was to make their cozy bedroom dreams come to life...
A Unique Headboard
The couple didn't have space in their new bedroom for an actual headboard, so they got creative and made one out of the wall just behind their bed. Lauren and Van painted the wood to mark out the design, knowing that they would add three-dimensional detailing later on.
Above the couple's bed was one of the skylights originally cut into the bus's ceiling at the beginning of the home conversation process. Van drilled holes into the ceiling panels and installed recess lighting across their new home to provide light for when the sun went down. Smart thinking ahead!
Now that Van and Lauren's bedroom was almost complete, it was time to build the girls' bunkbeds. Heidi and Piper's future beds were between their parent's room and the bathroom. Piper would sleep on the bottom bunk, and Heidi would sleep on the top bunk, which was built to resemble more of a crib for the newborn.
The family's idea was to build their closet across from the girls' beds next to the washer and dryer. The wardrobe would fit the entire family of four's clothes, with each person having their own drawer and space to hang clothes above. Now that's commitment!
The "Heavenly" Floors
The family needed to consider the hot summer days and cold winter nights, so they installed a split unit air conditioner above the driver's seat for some good old A.C. Van installed polymer enriched floor patches and heating flooring mats before the final flooring to ensure they would be warm enough during the winter too.
"You can set the thermostat to a certain temperature for different times of the day, and if you're on your way home and you want your floors heated when you get home, you can turn them on from your phone!" Lauren further explained, "These floors are heavenly." They sure sound it!
Installing the Stove
Despite the heavenly heated bus flooring, the Jones family decided to get a tiny wood stove that would surely keep them warm during the cold. The photo below shows Van's initial installation of the wooden stove, and he eventually added the flue pipe to reach the ceiling allowing the smoke to leave.
"We can't wait to put it to use somewhere in the mountains," the couple excitingly shared. Lauren and Van bought the Dwarf 4kw from Tiny Wood Stove, specializing in "small stoves for tiny places." Very creative. "What could be a better solution to heat a tiny home than a tiny wood stove?"
Adding Solar Panels
The Jones installed six solar panels on the roof, making sure the bus had enough power for the family four. Powering the heated flooring, air conditioning, and many more appliances, the solar panels had a photovoltaic wire or PV wire that would run from the panels to the back of the bus.
The image above displays an aerial view of the bus and the busy workspace. So far, the two open hatches covering the exhaust fans, the solar panels, and the skylight used to raise the shower were all installed. The couple was even able to include a roof deck later on!
Adding Flare to the Sliding Door
The original Thomas Passenger Bus was now unrecognizable. The bus's interior looked completely different as the kitchen cabinets began to arrive, and eventually, the family would give them a different color. When driving, the family used drawer magnets to keep the cupboards shut. Genius!
The Jones Clan landed on luxury vinyl for the final layers on the floor. Lauren decided to use acrylic paint to design the sliding pocket door after installing it. The new mother of two said it was, "Nothing special!" But take a look at the gorgeous new door!
A Fabulous New Bus
The exterior of the bus was also getting its time to shine! After Lauren painted the beautiful sliding door, it was time to tackle the exterior. The original colors were painted over by fresh coats of white and a shade of blue. Next was the intricate mountain landscape painted on the side.
The mountains on the skoolie represented the Tetons of the Rocky Mountains, so they could take them with them wherever they went. The exterior also included the valve shut-offs, which allowed them to access the home's water tank drain. The gas-run tankless water heater was held inside the bus.
280 Square Feet of Magic
The bus-to-home conversation was in full swing, and the interior was breathtaking. With Lauren's taste for design, coupled with Van's incredible carpentry and woodworking skills, the couple was set to have the home of their dreams. Unbelievably, the couple could fit their dream home into the 280 square foot vehicle.
Although the skeleton had changed, the bus's original windows remained. The glass windows allowed for natural sunlight and the beautiful skylight for those days when a little extra vitamin D was needed. Van even installed speakers in the ceiling to get the tunes going!
The Kitchen’s Final Touches
Now that the kitchen was almost done, all that was left was to give a fresh coat of paint to the customized cabinets. The couple decided on a shade of green, which paired nicely with Lauren's cool-toned artwork on the sliding pocket door. The cabinets were now finished, and it was time to start cooking!
When designing the kitchen, the Jones family had to consider the most productive way to lay out all the appliances. They installed a three-burner gas cooktop with an oven underneath and a refrigerator. The kitchen also included a pull-out pantry, spice rack, and two pull-out drawers for trash and recycling.
Designing the Living Room
The front of the motorhome included the living area, which had two couches. Behind the driver's seat sits the larger couch, which contained drawers that pulled out for ample storage space. The short couch left enough room at the end for the girl's toys and play area.
Lauren hand-made the couch cushions out of an old mattress with her unique eye for detail and designed the cushion covers and pillows herself. They installed seatbelts in the bus's frame through the crease of the couch where Piper and Heidi's car seats were kept for when the family was traveling.
The Bathroom: Part One
When designing the bathroom, Lauren went back and forth between choosing the perfect mirror. Deciding between a rectangular or circular mirror for above the sink, she opted for a rectangular one to make the bathroom feel much larger. The golden fixtures, white sink, and mirror all tied together nicely!
The couple landed on this aesthetically pleasing nature-inspired wallpaper to complement the mirror and rest of the bathroom appliances. The bathroom initially had standard wallboard on the wall, but this elevated the final look. The above photo shows the emergency exit, where the toilet sat.
The Bathroom: Part Two
Deciding where to put the toilet was a strategic move on Lauren and Van's behalf. Best used for the motorhome, the couple purchased a composting toilet. Putting it next to the emergency exit allowed the couple an easier time when emptying its contents!
Wondering if the toilet left an odor? It didn't, according to the Jones family. The Airhead Composting Toilet had small holes for ventilating, a 12-volt fan that continuously blew air from inside the bus to outside the bus, and was super-efficient for the tiny home.
A Dream Shower
When building the shower, Van raised the roof to give the shower a couple more inches. The see-through ceiling combined with the pitched top opened the 30 by 30 inches of shower up slightly more, allowing them to feel like they were showering outside under the trees!
The shower floor had stone tiling, and Lauren's mom helped with the shower walls. The white letters on the wall were tiny movable vinyl stickers that the family changed every month with new sayings. This bright idea made it to the Jones' list of their favorite skoolie ideas.
The Master Bed
"Two long-legged girls in a big ole bed," Lauren wrote, accompanying the picture of Piper and Heidi seen below: the finished headboard included geometric lines with rustic gold night lights to complete the cozy room. Van and Lauren made sure to have a king-sized bed for a good night's sleep!
The family indeed had thought of everything with the extra built-in storage under their bed. Their storage unit included a freshwater tank, high and low-voltage electricity units, pumps, and plumbing tools. For when the skoolie was parked, they would have a useable running-water system.
Piper’s Reading Nook
As the family added on the final touches, it was only necessary a little reading nook was added. "I'm in love with how they turned out," Lauren gushed in response to the girls' bunkbeds. Lauren sewed the checkered patterned curtains and added a little reading light as the girls loved reading books.
When finding the right size mattresses for the bunk beds, the family was in luck. "We have the mattress hookup and got some custom ones made because my dad is a mattress retailer," Lauren explained. Her alternative idea was to convert a queen-sized mattress into two beds for her daughters, like the cushions for the living room.
The Perfect Bunkbeds
Heidi's customized crib sat above Piper's special reading nook and tiny bed. The modified crib included both pillows around the walls and railing, just like a regular crib. The second story of the bunk bed was baby proof-ed to ensure Heidi's safety!
Both Piper and Heidi's beds were lined with adorable wallpaper that was sure to put a smile on the girls' faces. The bunk beds were a huge success between the cartoon dog wallpaper, polka dot pillows, checker-print curtains, and zig-zag pattern bed sheets.
Their Dream Home
The school bus turned home was everything the Jones family dreamed of - and more! Though the family remained in Alabama most of the time, they often traveled to new places on the weekends. Lauren said she enjoyed the lifestyle of living in a motorhome, not necessarily for the travel but because she wanted to live in a skoolie!
Piper officially named their new home the "Butter Bus:" "We definitely can't wait to have a good size home to welcome people into, but we are so happy with tiny space living for now," she said, "Maybe after the bus, we will build a more permanent place." In the meantime, the Jones family will enjoy all the moments of the Butter Bus.