Before and After: A 220-Square-Foot School Bus Was Turned into a Cozy Home on Wheels for Just $7K
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I bought a 36’ 1995 Thomas International school bus on Facebook Marketplace in February 2020. I paid $3K for it and used the remaining $7K of my $10K budget to create a tiny house on wheels using the skills I learned/am currently learning in school. What I love the most is how this renovation taught me to live more sustainably. I never realized how much water and power I used daily, but now that I have a limited supply of each, it has taught me how to be more mindful of my habits. It has also affected what things I buy, improved how happy I can be with fewer things, and exposed how freeing life can be through choosing contentment. I love the freedom my home on wheels gives me to travel on breaks, affordably live wherever I work during internships, and not be tied to a lease.
I am a graduate student in my third year at the University of Tennessee in a dual master’s program studying Architecture and Landscape Architecture. I completed my undergrad in Interior Design from Harding University and I am currently a graduate assistant for the Tennessee RiverLine.
I pass time in the bus by doing homework, hanging out with my Goldendoodle Ivy, and having friends over in the ultimate bachelor pad. The experience of converting the bus was instrumental in maintaining a great relationship with my five younger brothers (ages 10-22) who were always eager to help on projects I was learning along the way. The project has opened the door for me to inspire millions of like-minded people who strive for a more simple, sustainable life (through TikToks and Instagram Reels that have gone viral) and motivates me to effect change in the world through good design and sustainable practices. This is what drives me to continue living this lifestyle.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Country Farmhouse/Old World
Inspiration: My inspiration came from studying sailboat interiors, which have similar dimensions, are designed to accommodate regular movement, and often use natural materials to make the craft feel traditional and homey.
Favorite Element: My favorite part of my home is the clerestory skylight down the middle. This opening was inspired by sailboat skylights, which are instrumental in creating an atmosphere that is inviting and iconic. The 7’ long clerestory skylight allows light to stream into the kitchen and study area and offers a break in the ceiling pattern.
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge of converting a school bus into my home was my $10k budget. As a college student, I refused to take out loans to do this project, so the money I reserved for this adventure dictated almost every decision. I overcame the challenge by upcycling most of the furniture I previously owned, using gently used items from Facebook Marketplace and thrift stores to furnish my appliances and materials, and brainstorming alternative ways to create a homey space out of everyday materials.
Proudest DIY: My proudest DIY is the copper pipe light fixture above my queen bed. This feature has gotten much praise across social media, but it isn’t what you’d expect! It was actually made out of PVC pipes that I spray painted with copper paint and drilled holes at the intersections to drop outdoor string lights through. It was made during one of my group projects at school, and it now serves as one of the most celebrated fixtures in the bus!
Biggest Indulgence: The A/C unit was the most expensive piece of the build. While it absorbed a large part of my budget, it is 100% worth it to keep my dog Ivy and I cool during the summer months in Tennessee.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Something unique about my home is that the rooftop deck/garden is an old utility mowing trailer! I took the axle off and bolted the frame to the roof of the bus. The tiny garden up top was an experiment of how I could productively use some of the sunlight and rainwater runoff. This strip garden hosted carrots, wildflowers, peppers and a few herbs last season.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? My favorite item I have bought for my home is the semi-truck bed butcher block that I bought on Facebook Marketplace to use as my kitchen counters. After planning, sanding, staining, and sealing it, the counters offer a vibrant natural texture to the front of the bus and set the tone for the rest of the home.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: One of my favorite small space maximizing tips is to mount mason jar lids on the bottom of shelves and screw the jar into them to have under-shelf storage. I took this a step further and dropped lights into every other jar to provide ample light across my bar, and the jars which encase the lights are used as my drinking cups since they are always clean and empty for the light to shine through. This keeps them from breaking during travel and serves multiple functions.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Don’t resort to buying new items first. The best and most inspiring solutions for decorating and organization come from thinking outside of the box (or big-box store in this case). For me, Facebook Marketplace expanded my opportunities to recycle items, meet people, and prevent items from going to a landfill simply because I refused to shop online for most of my items. When decorating for its own sake comes before being a good steward of resources that already exist and a chance to practice creativity to improve yourself and the spaces you occupy, it makes the hobby much less meaningful.
PAINT & COLORS
- Sofa — Recycled cushions from my old apartment couch
- Cushion covers — Amazon
- 24” bar stools — Facebook Marketplace
- Convection oven — Oster oven from Facebook Marketplace
- Kitchen sink — Facebook Marketplace
- Ceramic Wall Tile — Lowes
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.
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