Our tiny home on wheels is a 2006 Keystone Cougar that we affectionately call Rowdy. With four wild and free kids ages seven and under, and a Mini Schnauzer who is full of energy, naming our home was the easiest part of the renovation. Rowdy Rallis. It fits.
The renovation of our 190 square foot home took several months. Our timeline for hitting the road was flexible, so while we tried to work on our camper as often as possible between our two corporate jobs and raising a family, it was nice to have the freedom to skip town for a weekend without feeling guilty for leaving Rowdy in storage.
We did take a few trips with Rowdy, half-done and with little to desire, in an effort to learn about our camper. We wanted to spend time living in it, even if just for a weekend at a time, so that we could figure out what was working and what wasn’t. And test our camper, we did! Several of us ended up with food poisoning during a week at Disneyland where Jason and I were sleeping on an air mattress that wouldn’t stay inflated!
Food poisoning aside, it was a great way to study our home before committing to specific builds or designs, and the feedback we got from the children was invaluable. They contributed to the layout of their bunk room, which has been the biggest change in our home.
Now that you know how we approached our remodel, let’s dive into the tour!
When you step into our camper, you are welcomed into our main living area. We’ve always wanted a home with two levels, so we call this our downstairs. What was originally brown, tan and green is now white, black and wood all over.
The white desk is where Jason and I work, write, create, and pay the bills. Yep…those still exist. It is the only space in our camper that is somewhat off limits to the children. They aren’t disallowed, but they know to ask before setting up camp in our spots. It’s the little things like one small protected surface that make living in a tiny home with kids totally enjoyable. No glitter glue on mom and dad’s laptops, thanks.
Instead of purchasing a longer camper with multiple slides and more square footage, we opted to maximize this smaller space so that we could do more boondocking than RV Park dwelling. The bigger your camper is, the harder it can be to find places to stay in the wilderness. We also opted for an older camper because it was budget friendly, our first time EVER towing or living in a fifth wheel, and it has very few bells and whistles which means that there’s less that can break…in theory. So far, so good!
While we think that those are great reasons to keep things small and reasonable, there was a catch; only one bedroom. It took a lot of math and trial and error to figure out how to create comfortable, personal sleeping spaces for each person in our family. We knew that the sofa, table and chairs in the slide-out were not going to meet our needs so we imagined a space that would provide storage, seating, and a cozy spot to sleep.
We built our U-shaped sectional to be mobile on the end pieces. The middle section is secured to the slide, and the two ends are on casters that we pull together to create our “master” bed. It is a tad longer than a full size bed, and a tad more narrow. We slept in a queen for the first few years of our marriage, then moved to a full, so having a little less space at night is no big deal.
Our sectional opens in four places to expose ample storage. In two of the sections, we have our his and hers closets. In the other two, we keep bedding and the school supplies that we don’t reach for every day.
When we are in day mode, we usually have the table set up for school and dining. Because we have limited space and a lot of people, we didn’t want to install a fixed table that would limit some of our flexibility. As a simple solve, we built two sets of sawhorse legs and placed a slab of wood on top. The table top is not affixed to the legs for easy mobility. When we want to play on the floor, pull the bed together for family movie nights, or need space to hang out, we simply move the legs and table top outside. It’s a super easy, uncomplicated approach and although I sometimes long for a substantial, beautifully designed table, I much prefer the practicality of what we’ve created.
Next to the stairs and pocket door is our media cabinet. Though we rarely watch our television, it is nice to have for the times when we have hookups and don’t need to monitor our utility usage so closely. We would like to someday install a screen and projector for movie nights, but are getting by just fine without for now. Above our television is a closed cabinet, covered by a painted bulletin board, where we keep our unsightly tech gadgets…wires, modems and chargers, oh my!
In a bold move (well, bold for a tiny home where storage is king), we removed the doors from our upper cabinets above the media center. It’s amazing what one small place to display special keepsakes and pictures can do for a space. We like having one of our favorite pictures of the children on display, along with a painting of Bodega Bay that I created with our oldest son. Plants and books are must-have items in our home and though we work very hard to keep those possessions to a minimum, we admit to having a bit of a problem. There’s just something about printed words and green leaves that make our hearts smile big.
The children’s library is one of our favorite additions to Rowdy. Located in the kitchen, just next to our slide, their beautiful books are not only within reach for our evening snuggles but they also add a fun pop of color to our home. After all, kiddos do live here and we love to celebrate their presence!
In searching for our tiny home, we were very intentional about finding a layout with the kitchen in the back. Most of the travel trailers and fifth wheels that we toured had the kitchen in the middle, along a wall. Though that layout does seem to allow for more functional space, we were willing to sacrifice a few feet for safety.
Having our kitchen in the back of our camper was important to us because we remodeled the only bedroom into the bunk room for the kids. After reading about kitchen fires, we agreed that having the children pass through a burning kitchen to exit the camper didn’t sound like a great idea. So with the kitchen on one end of our home, and the bunk room on the other end with the door between them, it is a perfect layout for our family. Of course we never plan to have a fire, and might someday have a different camper with a different kitchen location, but for this home and this time in our lives, the peace of mind is wonderful.
You can see that we painted the kitchen cabinets white and black (with help from family, thank goodness!) and added wood paneling. Though the semi-salmon counter was not pretty to look at, it was in great shape so instead of removing it, we went to town with Rustolleum paint. We also replaced the faucet and updated the backsplash.
In our modest 1,600 square foot ranch home, we were fortunate to have a large kitchen. It was shockingly big for the size of the home, and we never fully appreciated it. That wasn’t because of the size, but because of our lifestyle. We were so busy, always on the go with work and activities, that cooking beautiful meals just wasn’t a priority. We ate simple. We didn’t have fun with food. We didn’t cook to explore new flavors or to try new recipes. So imagine our surprise when we moved into Rowdy and found ourselves creating thoughtful, colorful meals packed full of flavor!
Tiny living has surprised us in a lot of ways, and using our kitchen to the extent that we do is one of the sweetest discoveries so far. Jason has continued his weight loss journey (he lost 70 pounds in the year before we hit the road!) and we are having so much fun exploring healthy, yummy recipes that we wouldn’t have ever considered just a handful of months ago. We now understand what people mean when they say that the kitchen is the heart of the home…even if your home is 190 square feet and your kitchen is a quarter of the size of most walk-in closets!
The windows were a major selling point for us. We love how much natural light we get! Having a view from almost every spot in the camper is a real treat!
Upstairs is home to our bathroom and the children’s bunk room. When we tore out the queen bed, closets and carpet, we realized that the floor was uneven. On each side of the room, under the windows, there are metal 2×4’s that are structurally important. This created quite a design dilemma. Before building the bunks, we had to first build up the floor using a ton of wood stilts and plywood. In the end, that unexpected change helped the overall design. It forced us to reconsider the layout of their room (we originally were going to build a set of bunks on each side with a small aisle between them) in a way that has maximized their living space.
We’ve been asked about space for our children when they grow, and this is something that we considered when building their bunks. Each bed is much longer than each child and – nerd alert – we took into consideration our own height as teens. Our two biological boys have the top bunks with the lengths fitted to genetics. The lower two beds belong to our adopted babes and we made educated estimates on those lengths based on the heights of their first parents. You were warned…we went FULL BLOWN NERD on this.
If we stay in our camper for another 10 years, the children might need to curl their legs up a bit but they’d still be reasonably comfortable. Though we don’t have any plans of moving out soon, we also don’t worry about accommodating high school students in this space.
Beneath the emergency exit window, there is a fold-down desk. This comes in handy when our kiddos need alone time to create, think, read, or have laptop time. It’s also a great place to fold laundry!
Next to the emergency exit window and beneath one of the bunks, we built a deep closet that is home to the children’s toys. The door has a latch so that we don’t have a Santa’s workshop explosion when we drive. We love this closet so much! The kids love to organize it, donate what they no longer play with, and keep their toys stored nicely away. We haven’t stepped on any legos in six months!
Beneath the bunks, there is a ton of storage space for board games and quick access to extra bedding. This space was a happy bonus to raising the floor under the bunks. We have debated adding cabinet doors, or a curtain to hide the clutter, but our children have their hands in this storage space so often that adding anything to it would become a frustration. It’s the one area in our home that we side-eye, but the sliding pocket door that closes this space off from the downstairs sure helps.
At the end of the bunks, we hang the children’s jackets, hats and backpacks. Though we homeschool, each child has a bag to pack with snacks and activities each time we head into town. Keeping these things off the floor is a sanity saver! This spot is also where we keep a metal bucket of kid shoes, our laundry bags, and the kid’s closet. Each kiddo has two canvas bins full of clothing.
Next to the kid’s closet is our toilet room. There’s nothing glamorous about a throne in a 2×3 space, but we tried our best to add some personality to the room. We removed the door because it swung out too far, blocking anybody from entering or exiting. The sheer curtain lets in light and provides just enough privacy for the occupant.
The upstairs is also home to our shower and bathroom vanity. We replaced the counter, sink and faucet. We also painted the cabinet white but otherwise, this space hasn’t required any major changes. We would like to eventually remove our shower and tile one in, but we’ll save those details for another day.
There you have it! That’s our tiny home!
We moved in March of 2018 and have enjoyed five states at the time of publishing this post. Our little home on wheels is our safe place, our happy place, and it delivers us to the very best places that the United States has to offer! We love living here, and everywhere, and can’t wait to see what’s out our windows next.
If you’d like product details, check back tomorrow for that post!
If you’d like to see inside the cabinets, closets and pantry, check out our video tour.