UK couple, Charlie and Luke, chose to buck the escalating rent prices and expensive mortgages in favor of an unusual dream - to turn their double-decker bus into a home! We're taking a look at the DIY transformation.
Luke and Charlie
As is the norm for young couples these days, Luke Walker and Charlie MacVicar spent time traveling across the globe before they settled into adult life. But before they knew it, it was time to head home.
Before they returned to the United Kingdom, they managed to explore a jaw-dropping amount of new places. This included various countries in Asia and Europe and even a stint in Australia! These two aspiring backpackers wanted to see as much as they could before settling down.
Planning Their Future
It wasn’t long after landing in the UK that reality started to seep in. Now that they were back, it was time to return to work and start thinking more seriously about their future. Charlie found a new position as a logistics coordinator, and Luke took on a career in insurance.
But when it came to searching for a new home together, they were disheartened by what they found. Rent in their area was incredibly expensive, and the thought of pouring their entire paychecks into living costs was too much. They needed an alternative.
Another Way to Live
So they settled back into normal life, scraping together enough savings for future living plans, still unsure of what they were going to do. As it turned out, their solution was closer to home than they realized. Charlie’s father owned an empty plot in Essex, a county northeast of London, their home city.
Her father was open to the idea, but it wasn’t a perfect solution. After all, they still needed something to live in. They went through plan after plan: a traditional home, a tiny house, a converted shipping container, a motorhome. None of them seemed to fit. And then they came up with a brilliant, though unusual, idea.
They decided to buy a double-decker bus instead! So many people were joining the ‘skoolie’ movement, of converting school buses into tiny houses. Why not a double-decker? They were so near to London, a city synonymous with double-deckers, that there were many decommissioned buses for sale.
So they began the hunt for their new home, but it was more difficult than they anticipated. Many of the buses they came across were too old and too expensive to fix up. Not to mention, Luke measured in at 6ft tall… and many of the buses just weren’t a comfortable fit.
Go-Ahead London Volvo Plaxton
Just as they were thinking of giving up, they stumbled upon the ideal double-decker. It was a Go-Ahead London Volvo Plaxton bus, being sold for 2,500 GBP, or $3,500. It had everything they needed in a potential house-bus, so in 2017 Luke and Charlie took the plunge and bought it.
Unlike the buses they had seen before, the decommissioned Volvo Plaxton was in remarkable condition. All it really needed was a few minor alterations and a proper clean, and it would be ready to be renovated. And it was more than tall enough for Luke, coming in at 14.6 feet altogether.
Putting Plans Into Action?
Now that they had the body of their new home, they needed to start building. But first, the floorplan! But they hadn’t anticipated that finding the blueprints and floor plans for the double-decker conversion were going to be so difficult. There were tons of examples of skoolie conversions online, but double-deckers were rare.
Originally they had planned to sponge off of other people’s designs, but it wasn’t going to be an easy feat. There were a few similar projects they managed to find, but it became clear that to get what they wanted they’d have to start building plans largely from scratch.
Setting Up the First Floor
And after seemingly endless hours of sweating over and redrafting their floor plan, Luke and Charlie finally settled on a plan that felt right. A kitchen, bathroom, master bedroom - They had managed to include everything they needed in the blueprint of the bus.
The major issue had been figuring out what would go where. After all, unlike most tiny houses, they had two full floors to cover. They decided that their kitchen, dining area, bathroom, and living room should all be able to fit on the first floor.
Plans For Number Two
As for the second floor? Well, the only room left to build was the master bedroom, which meant half the bus would be dedicated to their sleeping area! But it was going to include a few more features as well, considering how much space they had.
So it began as a simple master bedroom, fitted with a bed. But they soon realized they had space for a giant closet too, big enough for all of their clothing and other personal items. And if that wasn’t enough already, they were able to fit a free-standing bathtub into their plans, at the other end of the floor!
Taking it All Out
Now that the couple had a floor plan established, it was time to get to work. That meant gutting as much of the interior of the bus as they could. Because they had bought the double-decker as is, they still had to remove every seat one by one, amongst other things.
Just removing the interior was going to be a big project, so Luke and Charlie rallied up a group of their close friends and family to help unscrew and disassemble every seat onboard. That’s right, they had to remove every seat screw-by-screw. And that was just the beginning!
New to DIY
It’s not unusual for people who convert buses to be very new to DIY construction, and building of any kind. And that was certainly the case with Charlie and Luke, who knew from the start that they needed a lot of support from their friends and family.
"We got really overwhelmed," Charlie said in an interview with Insider magazine. She in particular had very little experience with building. "It was my first time picking up a screwdriver," she admitted. Despite being a little out of their depth, the couple had no intention of giving up.
And Now the Floor
Before they could move on, Charlie, Luke, and their loved ones set about removing any leftover seat frames, as well as, the pesky row of seats at the back end of the bus. Next up was the floor, which needed to be ripped out entirely, despite being in relatively good condition.
To some, it may have seemed like a waste of good flooring. But in Luke and Charlie’s eyes, it was used linoleum that had sat under the shoes of thousands of people during its career in public transport. They may not have had millions to spend, but they knew they could splurge on new flooring.
The Building Starts
So far, so good. Everything had gone smoothly. It was a surprise to everyone, no less the eager but inexperienced couple. "The conversion went quite smoothly," Charlie beamed. “There weren't many challenges with the bus. We got very lucky with the condition we bought the bus in."
But not everything was easy; which they soon discovered as they began moving up into the second floor. "Building upstairs was more of a challenge as, on the top deck, the floor is slightly curved," Charlie explained. Due to this unusual curvature, the couple had to custom-build most of their furniture just to get it up to the master bedroom.
The further along the build got, the more expensive it became of course. Initially Luke and Charlie had sunk $3,500 into purchasing the bus, but what about their renovations? Once all was said and done, the handy couple had spent around 15,000GBP on the entire build, approximately $21,000.
You read that right - less than $25,000 for a custom-made two-story home! It would be hard to believe if we didn’t have Charlie and Luke as proof. And their DIY journey should be an inspiration for couples of all ages, who want to own their own home without breaking the bank.
Kitting Out the Kitchen
Now it was time for the fiddly bits - installing the appliances. The kitchen in particular was tricky, as they wanted to fit it out with everything they might have in a full-sized kitchen. They had to install the oven, refrigerator, sink, microwave, and washing machine, but they knew they couldn’t take any chances.
"The electric, plumbing, and carpentry were done by either family or professionals,” Charlie told Insider. “As much as we would like to take credit for the hard work, we certainly couldn't have done it without others." They made the logical decision to reach out for help, as installing electrical appliances is no joke.
Some Personal Touches
Speaking of the first floor, once the kitchen was fully installed (conveniently just behind the driver’s seat, as people enter the house-bus), it was time to bring in furniture. Their kitchen set was retro-inspired, which they felt fit their personalities perfectly.
One thing that may surprise you is that the Volvo Plaxton is still driveable - Luke and Charlie chose to keep it that way. Though they have a cozy place in Essex, thanks to Charlie’s father, they can’t promise they’ll stay forever. Keeping the bus driveable means it stays portable, making a possible future relocation easier.
A Space to Eat
Next up in the kitchen area, the couple needed to add necessities beyond just kitchen appliances. For one, they needed enough counter space to cook comfortably. And perhaps most importantly, they needed proper storage for everything. And lastly, they needed somewhere to actually eat.
So they fitted some kitchen cabinets and counter space. Next, they placed a table for three people, perfect for their mealtimes. They even hung a fruit basket above the counter for extra storage, though that was the final touch as according to Charlie, "the more stuff you build, it's going to make the bus feel smaller."
How to Use Space
Because space is so limited, even in a big bus conversion like theirs, Charlie and Luke had to be extra thoughtful about using it properly. For example, rather than using their counter space solely for cooking, they also kept extra jars and baskets to hold food and cooking utensils.
To make the kitchen space feel a little larger and more homely the couple opted for earth tones and a neutral palette that fit their surroundings. Perhaps their favorite feature was the marble-like countertops in a gorgeous eye-catching green. After all, it’s the little things that add up over time.
Despite the aforementioned bathtub on the second floor, Charlie and Luke actually built an entire restroom downstairs too! Most restrooms in tiny houses are built with a sliding door, but the couple chose a hinged door as it allowed them to fit more storage space inside.
Because privacy is paramount in any restroom or bathroom, they also built it closed-off. Since the house-bus is open-plan, the restroom is the only area that is walled-off from the rest of the living areas. In their eyes, it was a necessity even if it broke up the flow of the space.
And though it’s very small inside and is mostly used for the toilet, the hinged door came in very handy. There’s a ton of storage inside, which is a real perk for the couple. "Anything that we would normally have in a house, I don't feel like we're lacking in the bus," Charlie said. "We've made it work."
As we mentioned, the restroom space is only used for their toilet and extra storage. It isn’t called a ‘bathroom,’ because there is no bath. There isn’t even a shower! When it comes to their bathroom essentials, they chose a rather unconventional route.
So far it seems like they’ve fit a ton into just one level of their bus, but it doesn’t end there! Aside from the kitchen and restroom, they also built their lounge at the far end of the bus. Not only is it a super comfortable area to chill and relax, but it also doubles as a spare room for guests who come to stay.
But one issue they had was temperature. In the winters, the back of the bus can be freezing, so some form of heating was essential. Charlie and Luke found a small wood-fired stove that fit perfectly! And with that, they had the ideal living area. "To be honest, it feels like we've got a lot more space than some people we know."
Plenty of Room for Them
A lot of people have been turned off by tiny houses and bus conversions, as they felt there’s not enough space to live comfortably. Charlie and Luke couldn’t disagree more, telling Insider, "For [us], it felt like we've got more space moving into the bus than when we lived at home[…] It was upsizing, really."
Just look at the strangest feature of their house… the couple managed to fit a free-standing bathtub in their master bedroom! All because they had enough space on their double-decker to fit a huge closet, bed, and bathtub on one floor, with enough space to move around.
Custom Builds and Rows of Windows
When it came to renovating the second floor, things were a bit more complicated. As we covered earlier, the curvature of the ceiling and walls meant that furniture had to be custom-built to fit upstairs. “We had to custom build the bed, level the bath, and other furniture," Charlie insisted.
Thankfully, their furniture issues were leveraged by the staggering amount of windows that run across the walls of the bus. Charlie and Luke took a leap of faith and chose to keep every window intact, so they could enjoy full sunlight throughout the day.
Here is a shot that was taken from the bed that shows off the expansiveness of Charlie and Luke’s master bedroom. It’s photographic evidence that a double-decker conversion has all the space that one may need. They even have a television! And the white walls helped to make it feel even bigger.
One thing people often ask is, how does the couple use electricity in their home? As it turns out, their double-decker home is not off-grid. Instead, they have it connected to the local grid, and they also have a water source and access to gas. When it comes to utilities, they live the same as everyone else.
An Unconventional Bathtub
Undoubtedly, the most eye-catching highlight of this double-decker is the free-standing bathtub. Charlie couldn’t be happier with it, telling Insider that when she uses it, "You just forget that you're on a double-decker bus. And then you just have to sort of think, 'Wait a minute, I'm having a bath on a double-decker bus.'”
“It’s a weird thought,” she continued. But the view from the bathtub is lovely, and it took a lot of willpower to get to that point. With some help, Charlie and Luke actually had to airlift the claw-foot tub through the emergency window of the bus just to get it inside.
But the bed and bath aren’t the only features of that second floor. There’s also their enormous closet on the other side of the bed, which even has enough walking room for Charlie and Luke to try on their clothes. There’s a ton of storage, and both can easily fit their clothing inside.
They also kept some small baskets at the bottom of the closet as extra storage for more of their belongings. And when it comes to their accessories, such as makeup and grooming products? They keep it all on the window ledge beside the closet. Even with so much space upstairs, they still make an effort to use it wisely.
Take a Look Outside
There’s so much to see inside this house-bus that we haven’t even covered one of its other major features - the land outside! When you take a look at the plot of land that Charlie’s dad has leased to them, it’s not hard to understand why the couple is so content. There’s more space than they know what to do with.
Not to mention, the views are incredible. And Charlie and Luke are very aware of how lucky they are to live there. "At night, it's like a bonus, it's really dark, and no one's around, and it's really quiet and peaceful," Charlie said. They just had to figure out ways to use the space.
And a Backyard Too
Their first plan was a proper backyard, which they chose to place behind the double-decker. They’ve set up a couch for entertaining guests outside, and they’ve made good use of it. All in all, it’s clear that building this double-decker home was the right move. "It has been the best thing we've ever done," Charlie shared.
"Some days I do sit here, and I think, 'Oh, why am I living in this bus, this is so annoying,'" she continued. But despite the occasional annoyances, there are so many upsides to living in a house-bus. “But I think we're just so grateful for being able to do something quite creative when we're not creative people."
It’s Not All Roses
And it’s not just the couch that Luke and Charlie keep outside. When the weather allows, they also frequently watch television in the backyard where they can enjoy the balmy weather while watching their favorite shows. But there are still some downsides.
For example, the climate of the area can be an issue. Since their bus is not insulated they have to go to great lengths to be comfortable in volatile weather. According to Charlie, "In the winter, it can sometimes get really cold, and the other side is in the summer it can be like a greenhouse."
The Sunny Side
Despite some of the difficulties their environment can bring, it doesn’t take away from all of the positives. "It's been the best thing for us," Charlie said. "I love being able to look outside, and… have a more country, outdoor living sort of space."
But there’s much more to it than just looks and comfort. "The freedom of being able to travel back and forth without being tied down […] is the main bonus to living here," she explained. "We love to travel and wanted a hub that we could return home to and then leave again and have a lot of flexibility."
There’s More to Come
But how do they feel now that it’s all said and done? "It was definitely a shock to the system," is how Charlie has described their journey. But it’s safe to say that they far exceeded expectations, particularly with no prior building experience. They could hardly have done a better job!
And with a beautiful two-story house and zero rent to pay, they have no plans to move just yet. You can see more of their wonderful bus conversion at @doubledeckerhome on Instagram, as well as the goats that keep them company! Says Charlie, "When you live in a bus, you live a weird life, so you might as well have two goats.”