This Family of Four’s 187-Square-Foot DIY Converted Skoolie Includes a Rock-Climbing Wall
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Name: Spike and Elizabeth Stone and kids, Pepper and Violet-Parsley
Location: Right now we are traveling around the USA. (We started in Northeast — went up through upstate NY/VT then down the coast to Florida for a few weeks then across to the west coast. Because we are totally off-grid and mobile we can stay in some beautiful and remote places.)
Size: 187 square feet of indoor living space + 16 square feet of back deck
Type of Home: It’s a 2011 International 48 passenger school bus converted into a rolling tiny home
Years lived in: 1 year, owned
Spike and Liz Stone knew they were ready for a lifestyle change, but they weren’t exactly sure when would be best to make it happen. When the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect, they saw their opportunity. “All of my work went online, and school stopped,” Liz remembers. “The longer it went on I realized, this is probably going to stay online, and I can work from wherever.” They began to research their options from their Rhode Island home, and finally settled on the idea of converting a school bus into a fully functional mobile home for their family of four. “It wasn’t because of COVID,” Spike says, “but it gave us the opportunity to be like ‘yeah we can do it right now.’”
After sifting through listings for several weeks, the couple found their perfect bus via Facebook Marketplace, and, after purchasing, drove it from its previous home in upstate New York, back down to Rhode Island to refurbish and retrofit. They got to work ridding the bus of rust and stripping it down in order to make space for their redesign.
In designing the space, they knew there were a few non-negotiables that had to be included: a queen-sized bed, bunks for the kids, a large sink, and ample table space that would double as a dining room and work space for Liz as she transitioned into remote work. “We sacrificed, in a sense, the living room for a bigger eating and working space,” Liz explains.
Designing a mobile living space presented some challenges, but the Stone family was ready to overcome them with creative solutions. “Everything is storage. Just… everything,” Spike tells me frankly. This includes hollow benches in the kitchen and under-bed storage. Wood became central to the bus’ design, not only for aesthetics, but also because it’s lightweight. “We had to be conscious of weight,” Liz adds, “because the more weight you add, the worse the gas mileage.” Not everything was designed solely with function in mind: Pepper and Violet helped to install the rock climbing grips that take the place of a ladder allowing them to access their bunks.
By August, the bus was finished and ready to roll, and the Stones moved in full time. They left their families (including this author, Spike’s younger, and much less adventurous brother) in Rhode Island, and hit the open road. Living in a small space can be tough, but, as Spike tells me, “We like being outside as much as possible.” The family hikes together nearly every day, and besides, Spike adds, “two young children are kind of always on top of you anyways.”
Now, the Stones are heading towards California, with plans to drive up the coast, but no matter where they are, Liz, Spike, Pepper, and Violet are sure to keep their eyes on the horizon.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Because of how small of a space we had to work with our style had to be utilitarian more than anything else. Everything had to achieve its purpose first and look pretty second and to top it off, we had to be able to actually build it ourselves, too. The kids each got to design their bunk bed space — pick out sheets and blankets, wallpaper, and whatever pictures they wanted to hang up. We also tried to keep everything light to keep the walls from completely closing in on us. We picked a color scheme — navy, gray, white, and wood — and tried to stick with that besides the kids’ “bedroom.” We are both suckers for patterns but with the small space, we tried to use more solid colors so the space didn’t feel too cluttered. And we really wanted the bus to have a beach house feel but still retain the fact that it is indeed a school bus.
Inspiration: We wanted our home to have clean lines, and feel bright and airy like a beach cottage.
Favorite Element: Our favorite element of the bus is the windows. We intentionally kept as many windows on the bus as we could. We love the amount of light that comes in especially when it’s a cold morning and the light pours in and warms the bus up. Because we travel on the bus, and are able to park in some incredible places, the windshield becomes a spectacular panoramic window.
Biggest Challenge: Just about everything about building the bus was more difficult than a traditional house! To start we were on a meager budget and very fast timeline. We also had to do a lot of demo work and deal with rust to get the bus to as close to a clean slate as we could. Everything also has to be secure for traveling. There is also the engine and mechanical systems to deal with…
We had ideas in our head about what we wanted it to look like but trying to translate it to reality with the materials and skills we had available was challenging. Trying to design, build, and troubleshoot an off-grid house all at the same time was overwhelming at times.
Decision fatigue was also a struggle towards the end of the build. Every little thing needs to be figured out. The benches for example — how tall, how deep, how wide, what pitch for the back, what material, how to secure it to the floor, where do the seatbelts go, how to support it, how to secure it, how to access the storage… etc.
Proudest DIY: The whole bus was a huge DIY project that we started before really knowing what we were getting into. We literally drove every single screw in the bus. We really pushed and completed the whole bus in two months so there wasn’t very much time during the build to step back and marvel at the progress. It really wasn’t until we had completely moved on to the bus and had left on the maiden voyage and found a remote vineyard in upstate New York to park for a few days, and all of the systems we designed and made actually worked that we were completely off grid and completely comfortable and cozy in our moving castle.
Biggest Indulgence: I think the whole project itself was a bit of an indulgence — it’s something we had been talking about for a long time and trying to figure out how to manage, and we finally just did it. Buying a school bus with cash and driving it home was a surreal experience. Our budget for the entire build was relatively small, so we didn’t have too many large indulgences, and many of the expensive items were very much necessary — like the composting toilet. I think one of the items we splurged a little bit on was the kitchen sink. We shopped around and got the biggest, deepest sink we would find so that the kids could get into it and use it as a bathtub.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I think apart from the obvious — that our home is a school bus — we have some unique design features. A lot of our design centers around being accessible to the kids. Instead of a ladder to get to the top bunk, we installed a rock climbing wall. We made a small bench for the kids to sit on in the shower. The back of the bench seats in the kitchen/living room flips up to make extra counter space. We also made a slide-out table so the stairs can be used as a workstation. Oh, and there are a couple of giant jellyfish painted on the sides.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? The vinyl tiles from Quadrostyle are really easy to slap on and add a lot. We really like the cedar tongue and groove boards we used for the ceiling. The bus always smells great. I really like our solar setup, too. It’s infinitely cool to us that we can power our whole house with the sun from anywhere.
What’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? When living in such a small space with two young children, try to make sure everything is waterproof and easily cleanable. Don’t try to overdo it decorating. Keep it simple and stick to mostly solids with highlights of patterns to keep it from looking too cluttered.
PAINT & COLORS
Sherwin-Williams — “Oxford White”
- Vinyl tile on entry stairs — Quadrostyle
- Entry cabinet — Lowe’s Diamond Now
- Wallpaper — Lowes
- Nature’s Head toilet
Thanks Spike and Elizabeth!
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.
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