home on wheels
Renovating a Travel Trailer
It takes talent and vision to tackle a major remodel of any kind—even one on wheels. Just ask Sarah Milne, designer and owner of Soar Creative in Calgary, Alberta, Canada who revamped a classic 1984 Shasta dual axle, eighteen-and-a-half-foot travel trailer with her husband and three young kids. “Although she was over thirty years old and a little rough around the edges, she was in great shape,” says Milne of the trailer they lovingly named Myrtle.
Still, Myrtle’s exterior—with sun-bleached paint and striping, some rust, bald tires, and layered sealant touch-ups around the edges and windows—left much to be desired. The inside was covered in wood paneling and floral velvet. If you’ve found yourself with a similar trailer treasure—dated, but with potential—heed Milne’s advice for bringing it back to life.
THE FIRST MOVE
Make sure you have enough space to accommodate an extensive renovation, like a garage to handle the constant mess that’s often strewn about. Because travel-trailer interiors can be cramped (the bathroom especially), you’ll need a place to keep most tools and materials. The Milne family worked on this project in their driveway, which meant they also had to be diligent about protecting homes from overspray and tracking the weather forecast.
As with any makeover, paint can have a major impact. “We had to prime and seal [the interior] with KILZ paint primer,” says Milne. “The walls and cabinets took at least three additional coats of interior satin paint.” Check for rust, and repair and rectify it before painting any part of your travel trailer. Then, make a list of can’t-do-without materials and sources. For this DIY endeavor, Milne relied on paint (paint, and more paint), stick-on backsplash tiles, linoleum for a bathtub surround, and secondhand finds.
When overhauling a travel trailer, you should be ready to work hard, stick to a budget, and be thrifty, says Milne. Bargains—like Myrtle’s $7 Kohler bathroom sink—can be found at secondhand shops such as Habitat for Humanity ReStores. Save money from the start by salvaging what you can from your trailer, like Milne did here with the kitchenette appliances.
Trailers are prone to water damage and plumbing issues. Before getting started (or purchasing), check for water damage on the roof, ceiling, and floors. Inspect axles and tires too, as these components can pose an unforeseen hit to your budget if you’re not careful.
IN THE KNOW
No matter how careful you are, you’re bound to make mistakes; and it’s good to learn from them. “We tried refinishing the old plastic bathtub and ended up having to replace it due to a crack/leak,” says Milne. “We regret not just replacing the entire thing from the get-go. It would have saved us time and headache.”
Dry weight, which impacts towability, should be another consideration. Though the Milne family did add new flooring and features, they removed some weight from the closet area, back storage box, and original bathroom fixtures.
While fresh paint can make the biggest difference inside and out, as it did with Myrtle, there are other simple updates you can make for a fresh look. Here, Milne recovered the seat cushions with a trendy modern fabric for a nice contrast against the white walls.
To make your trailer feel more like home, introduce items directly from your house such as cozy blankets, board games, books, coffee mugs, and some kitchen and bathroom essentials. Add baskets and bins to maximize cabinet space. Cover the fridge with chalkboard paint to create a canvas for fun messages. And, if you enjoy watching movies, install a small, flat-screen TV on a swivel arm.
ENJOY THE RIDE
Lastly, renovating a vintage trailer can be a great way for a family to spend time together before hitting the open road. The work gives everyone ownership in its roadworthiness. In addition to the Milne family’s adventures on the road with Myrtle, they spent many nights sleeping or mornings drinking coffee with her set up right in the driveway. “She turned heads,” says Milne.
Eventually it was time for Myrtle to find a home with a new family, and in turn, Milne invested in a 2014, thirty-one-foot Cougar named Thelma. Though she wasn’t in need of restoration, Milne sees some smaller trailer flips in their future. Written by Jeanine Matlow. Photography by (before) courtesy of Sarah Milne, (after) Heima Photography, www.heimaphotography.com.
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