Your Guide to an Ingenius Old Camper Remodel

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Owning an old RV or camper comes with plenty of nostalgia, but it can also mean a hideous interior. From old outdated wood paneling and traditional wallpaper to discolored laminate flooring and vibrant upholstery, nothing screams retro like a vintage travel trailer. Many people have a soft spot for these antiquated rigs and enjoy their living space to the fullest. If you’re like most of us though, every minute spent within the camper is spent envisioning a new design for it. 

Luckily, renovating old campers is completely achievable and can even be fun for those that like DIY. While a lot of work, nothing is more rewarding than watching an RV renovation come to life. With that in mind, not everyone is cut out for the job. It’s a lengthy process and requires knowledge, patience, and being okay with imperfection.

Wondering if an old camper remodel is right for you? This article will give you everything you need to know, as well as some unique design tips to bring it all together!

Is it Worth it to Restore an Old Camper?

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The answer to this question is completely dependent on the person, and it’s very worthwhile to ask. Be honest with yourself. Are you a handy person that’s willing to dedicate many days of your life to an old camper renovation? Are you prepared to spend a decent amount of money on all of the materials, and are okay with making mistakes?

If you’re resilient, crafty, and have the time and energy to take it on, old camper remodels can be quite rewarding. You’ll get to see your vision come to life, and be able to design the exact type of living space you’re after. If you tend to give up on projects early or are easily deterred, you may want to consider another route.

Pros of an Old Camper Remodel

When most people decide to take on a large project, they’re overwhelmed with the positive possibilities involved with it. There’s no shortage here! Some of the top advantages of renovating your camper include:

  • Saving Money – Most vintage campers are extremely affordable when compared to their modern counterparts. You can easily find decades-old travel trailers in decent shape for just a few thousand dollars. Of course, this doesn’t always apply to all brands, as Airstreams seem to increase in value with age. But, if you’re on a limited budget you can pick up an old camper for relatively cheap and turn it into something beautiful. Be wary of water damage, however, as age can often lend itself to issues.
  • Complete Design Control –  Let’s be real. No one loves the interior found in most travel trailers. It’s boring at best and makes your RV feel completely impersonal at worst. When you choose to renovate your camper, you can design it however you see fit. Every element will have a touch of your personality.
  • Increased Resale Value – If it ever comes time to sell your camper, you’ll likely be able to sell it for much higher than what you bought it for after you renovate it. If you’re thrifty enough, you might even be able to turn a profit. Now, there is one caveat to all this. Not everyone is going to dig your specific design, and finding someone who’s willing to purchase something that’s been so individualized can be difficult.

Cons of Old Camper Remodels

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Old camper remodels are not without their pitfalls. While taking on this type of work may seem like all sunshine and rainbows, there are a few things to look out for as well:

  • Time-Consuming – As simple as a renovation may seem, it’s going to require a lot of work. More than you’re likely expecting. From all of the stripping to the building, and even the painting itself – the hours will add up. Don’t let this deter you from a gorgeous end result! It is something to keep in mind, however.
  • Material Cost –  While an old camper can be purchased pretty cheaply, all of the materials involved in the project will easily add up. Lumber is at an all-time high, and paint isn’t cheap either!
  • It Won’t Be Perfect – No matter what you do, there are going to be elements of your renovation that didn’t go exactly as planned, but that’s okay! Think of them as learning moments.

How Skilled Do I Have to Be?

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People considering camper remodels or a new camper van design may doubt their skillset. Don’t hold yourself back! Compared to a traditional home or apartment, remodeling an RV is much simpler. Everything is on a smaller scale! Everybody can paint and add tasteful design elements that will easily spruce up the space.

If you plan on doing any significant structural alterations like adding cabinets, altering windows, or installing new walls, you will have to have some level of technical knowledge to be successful. The requirement for this truly isn’t high, and any skills you don’t already possess can be easily learned with a quick Youtube video. 

How Much Will it Cost?

Cost is a huge concern many renovators have in their builds. It’s tough to put an exact general number on this because there are so many variations in remodels. We can, however, give it a rough breakdown by a few factors.

Peel and stick laminate flooring is one of the go-to pieces that many RVers choose to focus on. This will run you around $3 per square foot, so you can expect anywhere from $100-200 depending on the size of your RV. Paint is another staple, with a gallon costing around $30. Most gallons cover around 400 square feet, but you’ll need to apply multiple coats. Plan to spend around $100 on paint alone. This does not include auxiliary purchases like brushes, rollers, and trays. 

Upholstery and furniture decor can easily tack on a few extra hundred dollars to your bill. If you plan on adding any structural components that involve wood, add a couple hundred more. Overall, for a small-scale vintage camper remodel that includes flooring, new paint, new upholstery, and some minor structural additions – remodeling can cost around $1500. For obvious reasons, the more all out you go the higher this number will be!

Purchasing Tools

If you don’t own any significant remodeling tools like saws, hammers, drill guns, and other devices, tools will be an extra cost. If you don’t own the tools already, ask some friends and family if they’d let you borrow them.

Alternatively, many main hardware stores also provide tool rentals at a nominal cost. This can be a fantastic way to save money if you don’t have any intention of using the tools after the project is complete.

Your Time Investment

This is one of the final factors when considering the cost of renovating an RV camper. Because a remodel is such a significant time investment, you may want to put a dollar value on the energy you put into it. This is especially the case if you plan on taking time off from work to complete the renovation. As the old adage goes, time = money. For many people though, the experience of renovating your own camper is tough to quantify into dollar amounts and this is the way it should be.

However, if you would otherwise contract someone to do the renovation for you, doing it yourself can easily save thousands of dollars!

6 Tips to Remodel a Vintage Camper the Right Way

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If you’re considering taking on an extensive old camper remodel, you want to do it right! Don’t tempt yourself with cutting corners or doing anything other than your best work. Once it’s all complete, you’ll thank yourself for the effort you put into it. Here are 6 tips you can use when taking on your renovation.

Make a Plan!

Thinking ahead and planning out your entire renovation ahead of time is the way to go. Take stock of everything you’d like changed and where everything will be placed. It can be a massive help to draw the concept out on some paper so that you can more easily visualize it. 

Planning ahead of time will also tie in with number 4. If you know all of the tools and materials you’ll need for the job before you begin, you won’t be taking on any inconvenient surprises.

List All the Damages That Will Need To Be Fixed

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This is a huge area of concern when you purchase an older camper and plan to remodel it. Many times older camper’s have a host of issues that need to be addressed. 

If you’re purchasing something that’s many decades old, it’s likely that it has sat for an extended period of time at some point, even if it was used regularly. Leaks may be commonplace due to worn seals, and if water is left ignored it can easily mean rot. Before you tackle any sort of vintage renovation, repairing the damage that’s present is crucial. There’s no point living in a nice, cozy camper that reeks of mold infiltration.

Water damage is not the only wear to look out for. Do a careful inspection of all the electrical work and appliances found throughout. Oftentimes these components aren’t easily accessible when the rig is fully functional, so renovation is the perfect opportunity to correct any issues. By taking down a list of all the issues beforehand, you can knock them out one at a time before starting your remodel.

Determine a Budget – and Stick to It!

It’s easy when starting a new project to get ahead of oneself and forget about the costs. Once the ball gets rolling, you’ll likely be inspired by a thousand new different ideas of what you can do with your old camper remodel. Unless cost isn’t an issue, this can get quite expensive!

By setting a strict budget ahead of time, you can avoid additional renovation costs that you don’t really need. Additionally, setting a budget will help you structure a rough idea of how much the remodel will cost, that way you’re not taken aback by any surprise expenditures. Of course, there are always unexpected costs that arise during any DIY project, but the best way to accommodate these is to incorporate them into the budget. A good rule of thumb is to allow room for up to 20% in extra costs.

Purchase Materials Ahead of Time

Making a list of every single remodeling item you’ll need ahead of time can save you money, headaches, and energy. While you will inevitably run into a variety of things you never would have thought of, most materials can be identified before. 

By doing this, you’ll avoid unnecessary last-minute runs to the hardware store. This can become quite frustrating every time you forget a single small item. You’ll also save money by avoiding buying things simply because you think you might end up needing them.

Be Sure to Get the Correct Paint

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Adding paint to your old camper is the perfect way to enhance its visual appearance. Keep in mind however that the materials found throughout your rig are quite different than your home. Most furniture found in the RV is not actual wood and is instead of a blend of composite materials. Traditional paint may not stick easily to this.

Chalk paint is a popular method. This paint is extremely gritty and adheres to almost any surface – especially RV wood paneling! For the walls, you can likely get away with typical home interior paint. As with all painting jobs, sufficient priming is an absolute key to the overall quality and longevity of the painting job. Painting is not the place to slack, so do a proper job!

Measure Twice, Cut Once

If you’re planning on doing any sort of carpentry work in your remodel, always follow the golden rule. There’s nothing worse than measuring wrong, making your cuts, and being left with an end result that simply doesn’t fit.

Have Patience and Leave Room for Mistakes

Above all else, have patience with yourself whenever you take on old camper remodels. The process can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding to watch your own masterpiece come together, but it also requires a lot of work. You’ll likely run into snags throughout the process, but that’s all part of the fun! Don’t let minor inconveniences hold you back.

If you’re a first-time DIYer, you’re probably going to make mistakes so be okay with imperfection. At the end of the day, it will simply add a little more personality to your project and will remind you of the process!

9 Inspirational RV Renovation Ideas for Your Old Camper

Lay Down Wood Plank Laminate Flooring

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One of the most unsightly parts of old campers is undoubtedly the fake tile laminate flooring that comes stock. Replace it with new flooring! There is a variety of cheap, easy-to-apply options available at most home materials stores that’ll do wonders at modernizing your camper. 

Most homeowners are familiar with the typical laminate flooring planks that fit together like puzzle pieces. While these are quite durable and resemble the quality of real wood, they’re also quite heavy. Peel and stick laminate is the perfect alternative for RVs. This stuff is lightweight and comes in a variety of color options that are sure to fit the theme you’re going for. When installing this new flooring, it’s highly recommended to remove the old flooring and add a couple of coats of self-stick primer. This liquid can be rolled on and dramatically extends the life of the bond that the flooring makes with the subfloor.

Add Authentic Butcher Block Countertops

The basic countertops in an RV camper are typically low quality. They’re often made of particle board and are extremely susceptible to wear over time. If your camper is already quite lightweight and you can afford to stack on some extra pounds, consider replacing the old wood countertops with thick butcher block material. Not only will this look stylish, but you can also use it directly as a cutting board with all of your food prep.

Alternatively, you can also add simple plywood sheets instead of particle board. With this option, you’ll be receiving a much more rigid and sturdy countertop, and you also have the option to paint it as you see fit. 

Or..Choose Peel and Stick Contact Paper

Like the laminate flooring, there are peel and stick options for an easy countertop install as well. This contact paper comes in large rolls and can be perfectly cut to fit the dimensions of your counter, as well as accounting for any fixtures in the way like sinks. 

A benefit of this choice is that you have hundreds of options to choose from online in regards to design. A drawback, however, is that the material is not durable and can become easily scraped off by appliances and large objects.

Optionally, you can also spruce up the kitchen and dining area with spray on granite countertop. This product applies a rugged texturized look to the existing paint and contributes to a much more modern look. Be sure to add numerous quantities of a protective clear coat, as this spray coating is not exceptionally durable.

Add a Backsplash to Your Kitchen and Bathroom

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Most RV bathrooms and kitchen walls have the same boring wallpaper found throughout the majority of the camper. With so much beige wallpaper, this can get quite boring! A creative way to reinvigorate your camper is by adding a backsplash to the sink areas. 

Backsplashes need not be expensive authentic tile either! You can easily pick up some peel and stick tiles from Home Depot or Lowes and adhere them to the wall. In addition to adding a new look to your RV bathroom and kitchen, backsplashes also serve a very functional purpose. They’ll prevent any cooking mess from getting on your newly painted walls, as well as prevent excess water from damaging your bathroom.

Revamp Kitchen Cabinets With New Hardware

It can be quite time-consuming to completely remove the old cabinets found in an RV, and many times there is no reason to. Manufacturers place cabinets in certain areas around the camper that maximize storage space, so it often makes the most sense just to leave them there. 

Luckily, there are a variety of ways to make outdated countertops look modern. One way of doing this is adding new hardware. Cabinet door handles and latches are standardly sized so you’ll have no problem finding a design that fits the decor of the rest of the camper. 

Reupholster Old Furniture Fabric

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The existing cushions and fabric found throughout your RV can be easily revamped for a fresh look. Vintage campers often have outdated floral patterns and vibrant colors that hardly go well with modern interiors. There are a variety of ways that you can reupholster fabric, and many methods don’t require advanced sewing skills.

For a no-sew approach, you can purchase liquid stitch and create a tight-fitting fabric covering around the existing furniture. Measure your new fabric accordingly, leaving extra room to fold over and create seams. Apply a generous amount of liquid stitch to these locations, and you’re good to go! Surprisingly, this product is extremely durable and can hold up for years.

Alternatively, you can also create elastic cushion covers with basic sewing techniques. While this fit will not be as tight, it’s a simple way to modernize the furniture. It can also be removed and washed as well!

Upgrade All of Your Light Fixtures

Old campers are riddled with inefficient incandescent light bulbs that cast harsh yellow hues on everything. Installing led lights throughout is an absolute must! You can experiment with the types of light available and even add different tones in different rooms. You’ll also benefit from a drastic reduction in energy consumption from led lights, which is crucial if you rely on solar energy.

Construct a Wooden Accent Wall in Your Bedroom

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A Pinterest and Instagram-worthy camper remodel always involves a rustic accent wall above the bed. This idea can be completed with any type of wooden planks, but shiplap is a common choice. You can also use thin plywood or reclaimed wood. Finish the wall off with a stunning stain, and your RV bedroom will look unbelievable. 

Stick to a Simple Paint Job

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Painting is the most important part of any remodel and should always be done first. Stick to simple painting themes for the most success, as you can really underestimate how much time the painting process truly takes!

White paint is a solid option for the walls of your camper, but many people even paint their cabinets this as well. No matter what color palette you choose, always properly sand wooden surfaces, and apply multiple layers of primer and clear coat.

The Old Camper Remodel Possibilities are Endless

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Remodeling an old RV is one of those most rewarding DIY projects a person can undertake, especially if they plan on living in it full-time! The feeling of success and being able to enjoy a home that was individually designed by you alone is tough to find elsewhere. Of course, with this process comes many challenges but with the proper preparation and mindset, it’s easily achievable.

With this remodeling guide and these design ideas, you’ll be well on your way to a renovation masterpiece!

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About Peter Wade

Peter Wade is a co-ordinator and writer at www.RVTalk.net. His hobbies are coffee, RV camping and photography. He now enjoys exploring the U.S. by RV with his two dogs. After obtaining a MA degree in Public Relations and Journalism, he had 8 years of experience working for the R&D Department of Outdoorsy. Peter provides a unique look and insightful knowledge about the RV lifestyle, and fills his blog with everything from RV camping guides to reviews about necessary RV accessories. If you are an RV enthusiast and want to get the most-updated trends of the RV industry, Peter’s articles are the must-visit contents.

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