Before & After: Two Students Renovated a 1975 Van to Live, Travel, and Study In

Before & After: Two Students Renovated a 1975 Van to Live, Travel, and Study In

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Square feet
Sq ft

Name: Jenna Aldus and Colin Dierker
Location: Our home is where we park it for the next couple of months and for us that will be all around Vancouver Island. We are starting on the south side of the island and making our way up north making sure to not only visit but stay at all the breathtaking views of beaches, forests, and waterfalls. It’s truly an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.
Size: 70 square feet
Type of Home: 1975 Chevy Van 30
Years Lived In: We recently got the van this summer as a quarantine project to help keep us busy. Vancouver Island will be our first adventure in Nelly.
Rent or own: We are proud owners of our Chevy van!

House tour cover

Can't-Miss House Tours Straight to Your Inbox

Keep up with our latest house tours each weekday with our House Tour of the Day newsletter

My boyfriend and I are both university students and with all of our classes being online for the next little while because of the pandemic, we decided to buy a van and do university on the road. So, we bought Nelly the 1975 Chevyvan 30! The name Nelly has been passed down with the van since 1975 so we had to keep the tradition going. Nelly will be our new home for the next couple of months. It took us about 40 days to do the renovation and conversion to get her up and running, and ready to go. We couldn’t have done it without the help and support from our amazing friends and family! They even threw us a little going away party and made us a Nelly cake.

Credit: Jenna Aldus

When doing our van build, we wanted to keep as much of the original van and keep her set in the ’70s, focusing on embracing her groovy vibe. It truly is shocking how much fresh paint and a little TLC does. Most of our time went making sure that Nelly was mechanically sound and trustworthy enough to live in for the next couple of months. As for where we will be living, the motto “home is where you park it” is very popular in the Vanlife community and is what we are currently living by. These next couple of months we will be traveling around Vancouver Island where we will be surfing, hiking, beer/cider tasting, and of course studying our way all around the island. Living in a van is allowing us to have the world as our classroom and we are so excited that we get to experience a better appreciation for the world around us while pursuing our education, and of course traveling in style.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Two words that best describe our style are retro and repurposed. Since it is a 1975 van, we wanted to make it unique and therefore went for a ’70s vibe. Almost everything in our van is from our local thrift stores. We love being able to reuse and refurbish items as it is both easy on the budget and sustainable. Additionally, since we are in a tiny space, practicality and minimalism were two key factors when designing the van. We are only bringing the bare necessities so finding storage hacks was key to making our van livable.

Inspiration: The ’70s was our inspiration for our van. Bright colors and funky patterns were what we looked for at every thrift store. We tried to make it groovy enough for an Austin Powers film.

Favorite Element: The best part about our home is that it is mobile. We can live wherever we would like, whenever we would like. Ocean view, lake view, mountain view, you name it and that’s our backyard. We love having the ability to travel all around while still having a place to call home. 

Biggest Challenge: The downfall to living in a van is bathroom access. This setback is troublesome, but in this day and age, there’s an app for everything! We use an app that tells us where all accessible public washrooms are so there is no need to worry too much. As for showering, we purchased a solar shower bag to use when we’re not at campsites.

Proudest DIY: The best DIY of the van is definitely our 45 record wall. Being huge music fans, this was a great way to personalize our van and incorporate our taste of music into art. We were also able to complement our ’70s theme with this art project. These records are also removable so as we travel and find new 45s they can easily be replaced.

Biggest Indulgence: The most expensive features are what you don’t see in the pictures.  For us, making sure our vehicle was mechanically sound was the top priority. We discovered we had an overheating engine and transmission after a test drive to Osoyoos, BC, so that fix was number one on our list and also the most expensive to fix. We reduced the price by solving cleaning up the radiator ourselves but the rest of the work needed a mechanic. However, with Nelly being a 45-year-old vehicle it was expected that there would be problems.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Our home is on wheels, which allows us to be anywhere we want. We have one living space that functions as the bedroom, kitchen, and living room. The kitchen table actually folds down to become our bed. While it is tiny, we have learned that you really don’t need much to live and it has ultimately been a challenging yet rewarding experience learning to live as minimalists.

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why?

  • Our electric sink pump is by far one of our favorite products we have bought as it’s small, efficient, and rechargeable. It supplies us with water from our tank in seconds!
  • The solar shower bag was another one of our very practical buys. It makes showering in the outdoors bearable as the water is always warm from solar heat.
  • Plants are an absolute must in the van as they help keep the air clean. With Nelly being an old van, we needed ways to help freshen up the air and so far, plants have been a great solution.
  • As this is an adventure van, we needed some items to adventure with. We absolutely love the inflatable kayaks we bought as they are super easy to store and simple to put together. Our van is already weighed down by bikes so having kayaks that are inflatable not only saves us room, but also helps with fuel consumption.
  • Our hanging closet organizer has been a great way to maximize our small storage space. It even has drawers that prevent things from falling out when we drive.

Storage organization is key to having a successful van. Everything has a home and must be put away after use to keep the van tidy. As our home is always moving it is extremely important that everything is secured in place to prevent things from falling or shift as we drive. One question we kept asking ourselves when packing our van is “do we need this?” And if we even slightly hesitated with the answer that item did not get packed. 

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? It doesn’t have to be expensive to be great! Reusing and repurposing old items is cost effective, sustainable, and stylish. Our green cushion covers were actually repurposed from old curtains and the orange curtains were made from old fabric we found at our local thrift store. All of our decorative pieces such as pillows, blankets, and records are all thrift finds as well.




  • Cushion Covers – Thrift Store
  • Curtains – Thrift Store
  • Pillows – Thrift Store
  • Blanket – Thrift Store
  • Lighting – IKEA
  • Kayak – Amazon
  • Plant holder – IKEA
  • ’45 Records – Redrum Records
  • Hanging organizer – IKEA


Thanks Jenna and Colin!

Share Your Style: