A Totally DIY, Teeny Tiny Prison Bus Is an Incredibly Cozy Home

published Sep 4, 2018
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Bedrooms
Square feet
165
Sq ft
165
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Name: Ben and Meag Poirier (and Moose, our dog—he’s a Staffordshire terrier mix rescue from Georgia. He’s 3 ½ years old. We adopted him when he was 3 ½ months old.)
Location: White Mountains of New Hampshire in the summer; Southwestern U.S. in the winter and everywhere else in between.
Size: 165 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year full time. 3 years since we began the bus conversion project, owned.

Ben and Meag aren’t the first (or likely last) couple to convert a bus into a tiny rolling home. You only need to take a digital scroll through hashtags like #buslife #busconversion and #buslifeadventure to find plenty of folks taking the plunge. But Ben and Meag’s particular story—and the open and honest way in which they share it—captivated me from the very start. When The New Homesmiths was in the casting phase, Ben and Meag were some of the first names on the list. In this episode, you’ll learn more about why they decided to live in a converted prison bus and delve even deeper into the couple’s day-to-day life.

Ben and Meag share their own story: “Our tiny rolling home is a self-converted 31-foot 1989 Chevy B6P retired prison bus. It was also used as a mobile command center by the Sheriff’s Department in Fairfax County, Virginia. It took us two years of working weekends in tolerable weather to complete the build.

We purchased the bus from an eccentric gentleman in Massachusetts. He found the bus at auction with the intention to convert it himself. However, he’s the kind of guy that has dozens of projects going on already: turning a VW bus into a convertible and restoring an old airplane to fly around, etc. Luckily for us, his wife said no to the bus conversion and he put it up for sale. He turned down a lot of potential buyers who wanted to strip the bus for parts. We came along and made our case for turning it into our house on wheels and off we went with it.

When we first saw our bus it had that, ‘Don’t come too close, I’ll bite you’ kind of vibe—original faded black paint job with areas chipping away to the dull red primer underneath. Thankfully, we had a vision and the bus had great bones. There were three locking prison cage doors segmenting the interior and bars on the windows. We even found a double buck 12-gauge shotgun shell stuffed into one of the walls. It was just as much of a head turner then as it is now, just not in the same way.”

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Ben and Meag Poirier converted this old prison bus into their home. (Image credit: Rachel Halsey Photography)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Craftsman with industrial accents. Pops of color, character, and vintage elements.

Inspiration: Ben used to manage a reclaimed lumber company and developed a passion for repurposed and antique materials. The floor, paneling, countertop, kitchen table, bathtub, bed frame, you name it, they all have history and a story.

Meag loves being surrounded by bright happy colors and carefully chosen items that make you feel something. That’s how we’ve curated the lived-in and well-loved cozy feel of our home.

Functionality is everything in a tiny space and that was a major consideration in our design. There’s a simple beauty to an item with a purpose. If it doesn’t have a function it came from a very special person or place in our lives.

Favorite Element: The wood stove and hearth are the focal point of the bus and bring a smile to everyone’s face at first sight, including our own. It’s a miniature wood stove, does it get any more endearing than that?! The creamy white enamel door is a perfect complement to our cabinets and woodwork. On cold nights or mornings it warms the space with heat and light. During the warmer months we dress it up with local flowers and our indoor plants.

What is your favorite room and why? Tough one! Our home is all one room and we really love every inch! Our living room facing the wood stove might be our favorite spot. We spend the early part of our mornings on our comfy couch drinking green smoothies and sipping coffee. I’m not kidding, this is our actual routine every single morning.

If you could magically change something about your home, what would it be? Magically speaking only, we would change any steel components (chassis, panels, engine parts, nuts and bolts) into titanium. That way we would never have to worry about depreciation due to rust! Non-magically speaking, we would change the layout of the outlets. Much of the bus came prewired with outlets from the on-board generator from its previous life as a mobile command center. We worked with what we had but some of the outlets are inconvenient to get to and use.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Biggest Challenge: The cold, for sure. We love firing up the wood stove but prolonged stretches of northeast winter weather and single digit temperatures are not as fun in 165 square feet. We are our happiest selves (our dog Moose included!) when it’s warm both outside and in. That’s why we travel during the winter.

What Friends Say: “Wow, it feels much bigger in here than I thought it would!”

Biggest Embarrassment: We are often asked, “Where’s your toilet?,” to which we reply, “In the nightstand by our bed, of course!” We don’t have full-length privacy walls for our bathroom, which to most people is completely weird and irrational. To us it’s normal. We’ve known each other for 15 years, we’ve seen it all. We want our open concept! Entertaining, however, can be a comical challenge. A quick step outside to allow some privacy for guests is a fine solution.

Proudest DIY: The bathtub/shower. It’s constructed from a single reclaimed southern yellow pine floor joist from the Quincy, Massachusetts, shipyard. Ben was involved in every step of its creation. First, he removed all the old metal from the joist. He cut it into two lengths and had it split into boards using a wood mizer. The boards were kiln dried, planed, ripped, and square edged. Ben put it together using pocket screws and waterproof adhesive epoxy. Cracks, nail holes, knots, and seams were filled and coated with the same epoxy. Next, he sealed the tub four times using a two part clear coat pour.

The solid brass, antique faucet fixture completes the look. When in use as a shower, we hang a curtain from magnetic hooks on the ceiling and a shower wand attaches to the faucet. Easy peasy.

Biggest Indulgence: Our off-grid solar, inverter, and battery bank setup. We spent over $3,000 on it but we’re thankful everyday that we have it. It gives us flexibility. We are able to spend extended periods of time boondocking in beautiful and remote areas of the country. Our lights, refrigerator, fans, device-charging station, and kitchen appliances all run off of solar. The only things we can’t run are the food processor and the electric oven (we don’t have air conditioning but that would also be a no-no). In those cases we just fire up the generator, which conveniently enough, also charges our battery bank!

Best Advice: If you’re looking to build your own tiny home, or regular home for that matter, believe in yourself. We had limited building experience before we began this project, but with a plan, the abundance of online resources, trial and error and sheer stubbornness, we turned an idea into a reality. Sure, it might not be perfect the first time, but you’ll always improve as the project continues. At the end of it all, the skills you acquire are invaluable.

Resources:

PAINT & COLORS
Exterior Bus Paint: Crossfire Urethane Single Stage Enamel — Teal 53021 — NAPA Auto
Exterior Bus Roof: Rustoleum Protective Enamel — Gloss White — Amazon
Interior Ceiling, Cages, Driving Area: Rustoleum Protective Enamel — Gloss White — Amazon
Cabinet Doors and Drawers, Under the Bed Drawers, Couch Front, Paneling: Valspar Aspire in eggshell — Ivory Mantilla by Clark and Kensington

ENTRYWAY
Floor is TrafficMASTER white travertine 12″ x 12″ peel and stick vinyl tile — Amazon
Laura Ashley Butter Chenille 20″ x 34″ Bath Mat — Amazon
Jump Seat 06 & 3 — point belt — Suburban Seats
Bohemian Blue and Orange Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper — Amazon
Windup Alarm Clock — Antique 1960s Westclox Baby Ben Style 7 that was a gift

LIVING ROOM
4kw Dwarf Wood Stove with Enamel Door Add-on — Tiny Wood Stove
4″ Flue RV/Bus Installation Kit Roof Exit Bundle Tiny Wood Stove
Reclaimed Factory Maple Flooring — Longleaf Lumber
Phillips st19 Dimmable Vintage LED Light Bulbs — Amazon
Vintage Tensor Gooseneck Desk Light — Yard sale
EnVogue Cool Dog Pillow — HomeGoods
Antique “Captain” Coat Hook — Arundel Outdoor Flea Market, Arundel, ME
’70s Uncle Sam’s 3-coin Register Bank — Heirloom
Reclaimed Blue Beadboard Wainscotting — Longleaf Lumber

DINING ROOM
Vintage Anchor Hocking Fire King Oven-proof Mugs (Blue) — Vintage Junky, Berlin, New Hampshire
Vintage Leviton Utility Lamp with Clamp Cage — Gift
Common Lensatic Folding Compass — Amazon
Flowers, Local Blooms — Fruition Flowers

KITCHEN
Big Berkey Stainless Steel Water Filter — Amazon
Northeast Mountain-inspired Illustrations — Sherpa Ant
Le Creuset Stoneware 28 oz. Utensil Crock in Cobalt — Amazon
4.4 cu/ft Magic Chef Mini Fridge in Stainless — Amazon
Reclaimed hickory to make the custom folding chairs — Longleaf Lumber

BEDROOM
Antique Trailmobile Sign — Gift
Assorted Throw Pillows — HomeGoods and TJ Maxx
Tuft & Needle Queen Mattress, Adaptive Foam — Amazon
Flowers, Local Blooms — Fruition Flowers
Driftwood Whale — Made by Meag’s dad, caught fresh off the coast of Maine!
Woolrich Allegheny Throw Blanket — Item No. 10263655

BATHROOM
Antique Brass Tub Faucet — Vintage Junky in Berlin, New Hampshire
Reclaimed Southern Yellow Pine to construct Bathtub — Longleaf Lumber
Composting Toilet — We have the Air Head but you can find a very similar model (Nature’s Head) on Amazon

Thanks, Ben and Meag!


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