Before and After: A 1982 Camping Trailer Looks Unrecognizable After a $500 — Yes, Really! — Refresh

published Apr 9, 2023
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Camper with dark wooden interior and plaid sofa before renovation.
Credit: Katie Kerr

If you’re looking to get major bang for your buck in a home project, the answer is often paint. It’s a high-impact, low-cost way to make spaces look brighter, bolder, or even simpler, depending on the look you’re after. 

In the case of this 1982 travel trailer, which was once a cave of dark brown surfaces, Katie Kerr (@reclaiminghomedecorating) helped her sister, Amber, modernize it into a green jewel box for just $500 — yes, really!

Credit: Katie Kerr

“Smaller spaces mean makeovers cost less,” Katie says. Her advice for working with a limited budget comes down to priorities. “Consider what will make the most impact and start from there,” she adds. “Paint makes a huge difference and doesn’t cost a lot of money.” 

Katie also recommends repurposing existing materials where you can. Amber’s travel trailer had a kitchen, booth seating, and a lofted sleeping area that was all very, very brown, but they couldn’t kick any of it out. Instead, they had to figure out how to work with it. 

Credit: Katie Kerr

“The wood paneling and fake wood kitchen cabinets had seen better days,” Katie says. “The floor was stained and ripped, the backsplash was cheap contact paper someone must have put up along the way, and the upholstery was 40-year-old fabric that had spent a lot of time with people camping.”

But Katie and Amber — plus Amber’s husband and their mom — loved the touches of real solid wood that were also in the mix. It was important to all of them that the trailer’s throwback charms stuck around, even when so much had to change. “The aluminum windows, all the vintage hardware, and the vintage sink and stove were amazing,” Katie adds.

Credit: Katie Kerr

Since Katie knew that “the biggest impact would be to paint any fake wood in the trailer,” she and her family started with two coats of a stain-blocking primer before covering the paneling in Behr’s Vine Leaf and the cabinets in Behr’s Melting Icicles. Katie says she combined a dark green with white because the team “wanted it to feel light but not boring.” 

Katie’s best painting advice? Preparation is key. Before Katie arrived on the DIY scene, Amber spent a lot of time wiping down all the surfaces. “It made starting the project much easier,” Katie says. “When you are painting fake wood paneling, a high-quality primer is really important. Everything was treated with primer.” 

Credit: Katie Kerr

Katie, Amber, and their mom also replaced the orange vinyl floors with faux wood flooring. “This made a huge impact and, because we didn’t have a big space, it didn’t cost a lot of money,” Katie says. In fact, their whole project was easy on the wallet because they mostly relied on leftover paint and secondhand finds. “We found material for the upholstery from a thrift store,” Katie says. “We tried to find sufficient flooring at a ReStore, but they didn’t have enough. So we did buy new flooring, but it is worth it to check there first.”

Reupholstering the cushions came with a pleasant surprise: When the crew removed the old patterns, they found that the foam was actually covered in plastic. “It was basically in brand-new condition,” Katie says. “We placed the foam in the sun, and covered it in baking soda for a day, and it was as good as new.” Amber sewed the new green coverings, and they put the cushions back in place.

Credit: Katie Kerr

The final and most finicky step of the project was adding a new peel-and-stick backsplash in the kitchen area. “I had never done a peel-and-stick backsplash before,” Katie says, but once she got the hang of how sticky the material was and how to install it with no bubbles, it looked great. “The change was shocking,” Katie says. “The kitchen felt brand-new and much cleaner with the new backsplash.” (She used a white subway tile from Amazon.)

One thing Katie loves about the kitchen is how many of the ‘80s details they were able to preserve. “The countertop, sink, faucet, hardware, appliances, and window are all original, and they add so much charm,” Katie says. “Before, the idea of cooking in this kitchen was gross. After the changes, I wanted a chance to cook in it.”

Aside from the kitchen, her favorite part is just how much Amber appreciates the completed makeover. “I love working with my sister on projects,” she says. “Our brains work the same way … It is the perfect little camping trailer for her. It feels fresh and clean but it is still so charming with many of the vintage details intact.”

Inspired? Submit your own project here.