Happy Camper

Yes, it's true... we are living in a camper in my aunt's backyard. But let me explain why! I have a problem- I'm a sucker for a big-headed dog. When I walk through the animal shelter and see row after row of pit bull mixes it breaks my heart and makes me want to take them all home and cuddle them. I've always wanted my own cow, and a big headed pit bull is about the next best thing. When we were ready to add a dog to our family after the passing of our boxer-pit mix, there was no question that we would be getting another pittie of some variety. The shelters are full of them and they have a very hard time with adoptions because of their horrible reputation. When I walked the aisles of pit bulls four years ago, one face had me at hello.

T-Bone the day we brought him home from the shelter at 5 months old. Somebody had to love him.

T-Bone the day we brought him home from the shelter at 5 months old. Somebody had to love him.

Pit Bull advocacy is one of my passions, but that's not what this post is about. One of the many challenges of owning one of these "vicious" dogs is that most apartment complexes and many HOA's don't allow "aggressive breeds." It's called "BSL" or "Breed Specific Legislation" and usually covers Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, Rotweillers, Dobermans, and Mastiffs. We found ONE short term rental in our town that would allow pit bulls and the rent for a 2 bedroom apartment there for a short term lease was $2400/month. No way, no how was this going to fly. So you see, moving into a camper for six months isn't nearly as crazy as getting rid of my beloved dog.

I originally went on the neighborhood NextDoor site and asked about renting a camper. I found one lady who was interested, but after thinking longer about it, I thought four of us, plus a big slobbery dog might actually trash her trailer, and that would be bad. I started looking on Craigslist and other sites at buying a trailer, instead. It's shocking how much these babies cost! I decided if we spent only $5-6k on one, that would only be a few months rent at the apartment complex and we could make our money back by selling it afterward. Plus, I had just had four closings in one week and I was feeling flush. But what would a trailer at this price point be like? Are they insulated somehow? What about electricity? What do you do with the poop? SO MANY QUESTIONS. 

As I was driving down the dirt road in Sanford to see the used travel trailer, I realized that maybe I should have brought a friend along. I shared my location with my husband and prayed for the best. The first one I saw was better than I expected- it was hideous, but it was pretty clean and didn't smell bad, which was frankly, my number one priority. The second one was nicer looking and in better shape, but smelled like we might all need lung transplants after living in the thing for an extended time. The third one I saw left me feeling like I needed a shower. I convinced my husband to go back out to Sanford with me to check out Trailer #1 and see what he thought. We bought it that day for $5800. Home sweet home!

Before Pictures

My wheels were turning by the time we got back home... how much would it cost to reupholster the furniture? Can you paint over wallpaper? What are these walls made of anyway? How many coats of paint will these ugly fake wood cabinets take to cover? How will I convince Bryan to let me do this? You see, it's not that I need fancy, but I do need pretty. The thought of living in the above environment for the cold gray months of winter was entirely depressing to me. If I had four close walls to look at, I needed it to be cute and fun. Luckily, Bryan is used to my hare-brained ideas and fell for the repeated statements about "resale value" and let me get to work.

I had recently met Marc, with AFC Upholstery in Raleigh, when I popped in there after my plumbing fixtures appointment at Fergusons. I have a storage unit full of furniture that I want reupholstered and he sells great fabric for only $8/yard and has the best pricing on upholstery services in the area (trust me, I've checked everywhere). He makes beautiful transformations on actual furniture, but I knew he also does car interiors and marine upholstery, so I reached out to him about the camper. We agreed on a price, I picked a funky fabric that I thought would be really fun and brought him my cushions, cornice boards and fold out loveseat to get started. 

Meanwhile, I found a couple of camper renovations on Pinterest to figure out how to paint this thing. One woman mentioned painting over the wallpaper, so that gave me the permission I needed to just slap some paint up! Little did I know... I bought the cheapest gallon of primer I could find, a gallon of pure white paint plus primer in satin finish for the walls, and a quart of high gloss paint for the cabinets in tiffany blue. My girlfriend Becca came over on day two and helped me get a lot of the priming done. I should have realized then how hard this was going to be! There are basically no flat walls- it's all window cutouts, outlets, indicators, etc. and tons of cabinets- all very time consuming and not very enjoyable painting. I ended up having to buy another quart of turquoise and used every last drop of both gallons as well. The cabinets took one coat of primer and three of paint, the walls took two of primer and two to three of paint. I was in here painting for two weeks solid- my girlfriend Shannon came to see me unexpectedly during this time and I put her to work with a paint brush, too. (Thanks, Shan.) It was well worth the hard work though! After a very busy few months in real estate, I was happy to have my business slow down just in time to get this work completed.

I took off all of the cornice boards and had my upholsterer Marc recover the basic boxes, leaving the additional triangles off of them. I knew it would be easy to put tension rods for curtains in and I wouldn't need to replace the banged up mini-blinds. I have an online fabric shopping obsession and had found a few cute possibilities to go with the orange and turquoise color scheme. I asked Facebook for help picking the fabric and it was an overwhelming majority in favor of "Woodland Animals" by Carousel Designs which is actually a nursery themed fabric, but perfect for a camper.


It was about this time that I had the realization that some of my very good friends think I'm crazy. I was painting away trying to bust it out the last bit when I got the following text:


It literally never occurred to me before this moment that this seems weird to people, but when you say it like that, I guess it does sound a little crazy! I found this to be just hilarious.

I do not sew. I gave it a good go about a decade ago, but I don't do well with machinery or technical stuff. The bobbin was the end of me. Luckily, my girlfriend Rebecca is a fast and talented seamstress and just so happened to return from her summer in Australia the week before I needed curtains. We spent an entire day (literally 10am to past midnight) catching up while she sewed an entire camper's worth of curtains for me. It was a great visit and I can't thank her enough for all of her hard work. Best friends are the best.


So with that, here is the finished project! I would love to have replaced the floors, but that will have to be phase two. What I found is that with a camper, if they needed five staples, they used five HUNDRED. I knew that without Bryan's help (he's busy working on our actual house, so the camper was all my doing) there was no way that me and my frozen shoulder would be capable of pulling up all that carpet. Some day we will replace the floors with whatever laminate the local Habitat Restore happens to have in stock. For now, I'll just look at all the prettiness above floor level...

The After Pictures

So in order to make this work, I realize that hooks are my friend. I ordered self adhesive hooks for every possible wall space in the camper. It would be easy to say, "just use one coat per person," but folks, we live in North Carolina where the weather can be semi-frozen precipitation one day and 70 degrees and sunny the next. We pretty much ALL need four coats a piece. Then there are the ball caps... my husband is almost never without one, and he has dozens that he rotates through. I have hung robes for going back and forth to the main house, necklaces, backpacks, towels, and you name it.

I have also discovered that campers have storage galore. I am keeping my clothes under one of the dinette seats. Charlie's are under his bunk. Bryan's are still inside for now, and the top bunk is housing bags of dirty clothes and whatever other random things I stick up there. Did I mention that my teenage son refuses to stay in the camper and has chosen to stay in the house in the extra bed with his 86 year old great-aunt as his housemate? That's okay, son... more room for us!

I have to say, I actually really love this space. It makes me happy. It feels like we are really camping. There is a fun feeling climbing into bed at night and waking up to the early bird sounds. Remind me that I felt this way in a few months when, no doubt this lifestyle will be getting old! I always say that the only people who are enamored with the tiny house movement have never actually lived in small houses. Shockingly, even some of our neighbors and friends have come over for fires in front of the camper. Turns out the baby monitors reach our yard! Sorry to the folks who live behind us for the 2 a.m. ruckus- I promise we usually retire by midnight. Seems like everyone wants to hang out by the camper, and it brings out the wild side!

As far as total costs go, even though I dropped some coin on this reno, I think we are still going to make out at the end. The plan for now is to sell it when we are finished, though we have had many people ask if we will rent it out at the end. Had we not bought a fifth wheel trailer that requires a special truck bed-mounted hitch, that may have been a great idea. Other thoughts are an accessory apartment or Air B&B, but I don't much like the idea of strangers in our backyard. Whatever the case, it's serving as a nice place to live for the five months or so until our house is finished. This is self imposed homelessness and at the end we will have an incredible home, so we are very fortunate. And we get to keep our dog.

The Breakdown:

2004 Keystone Springdale Fifth Wheel Trailer                  $5800

Trailer hitch                                                                           $300

Run 30 amp electric box                                                     $500

Reupholstery of all furniture, etc.                                       $1200

Paint and supplies                                                               $100

New mattress                                                                       $200

Fabric                                                                                    $87

Curtain Rods                                                                        $30

Hooks, etc.                                                                           $70

Total investment                                                                 $8287

*Projected cost of 2 bedroom apartment for six month lease $14,400

As always, thanks for reading and sharing along on this crazy adventure!

xo Susie (and T-Bone)