Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
Chic, modernized fifth wheel becomes family’s home away from home on the Northumberland Strait
“I’m not a camper,” is the first thing Amanda Langley says when we sit down to talk about her revamped RV, which rests in a quiet sand dune overlooking the Northumberland Strait.
The view through the windows is breathtaking, and inside is pretty amazing too. Unlike the typical, brown, beige and dated RVs you’ve seen in the past, this space is bright, modern and fresh. It has white walls and a cheery beachy décor. Sitting at her small kitchen table doesn’t feel like camping.
“This is what you can do with some sweat equity and vision,” she laughs. “These RVs can be completely transformed. We wanted it to feel like a cottage, and the end product is that when people come in, they don’t think they’re in an RV.”
Amanda, her husband, Adam, and their children, Elle, 14, and Gray, 12, had been using a shared family camper and boathouse on Sinclair’s Island, N.S., since the kids were small. But with the children getting older, the family felt they needed a space of their own.
After seeing some revamped RVs on Instagram, Amanda decided she wanted to create her own “cottage on wheels.” They started by searching for the just-right base trailer.
“We knew we wanted something older so we could put our stamp on it,” says Amanda. “It wouldn’t feel right if you had a brand-new camper and started painting and changing everything.”
They contacted Pictou County’s Stone’s RV dealership and began their search.
“We went there a few times to look at the different layouts,” says Amanda. “I needed to walk into the space and visualize it. I needed to know if I could make it functional and pretty.”
The fifth wheel offered the ideal layout, with its high ceilings and the bunk room and bedroom at opposite ends. The model they finally decided on had just one previous owner, who took good care of it. Amanda says when she told the staff at Stone’s what they were planning, they were surprised but interested.
“I’ve never seen anyone do a renovation to that extent,” says Jonathan Stone, owner of Stone’s RV. “They did a beautiful job. It completely modernized the trailer and made it look like one of the new RVs.”
Although the Langleys planned to start work on their new reno project early last spring, they got off to a rocky start. Due to a pandemic lockdown, they couldn’t leave the city and ended up organizing the septic, power hook-up and delivery of the RV over Facetime.
“It was hilarious watching and giving directions through a screen,” says Amanda, “because we had a very specific idea of what we wanted. The most important thing was the view, so it had to be positioned just right.”
With their late season start, Amanda spent much of last summer painting. The process, she says, began with an electric sander, to scuff the walls, then a coat of high-quality primer, followed by many coats of paint.
“It was labour intensive,” she says. “I felt like I was painting for weeks. That’s why people don’t often take on projects like this. It has to be something you really want to do.”
In addition to the painting, they made other small changes but kept the RV’s original structure and weight in mind. Although they had no plans to travel with the camper, they didn’t want it compromised if someone wanted to tow it in the future.
For example, Amanda was tempted to rip up the carpet, but because the RV has so many slides, she worried it would cause problems, so she shampooed it instead. In the kitchen she wanted a real backsplash behind the sink and used a small penny tile. Next, they changed what was typically used as a small laundry room into a walk-in pantry. They switched out the camper lights for residential ones and added a real kitchen faucet. They also updated all the hardware in the kitchen to brass, painted the fridge mint green, removed the cupboards and ripped out the U-shaped built-in sofa.
“It’s so much airier now, and the real star of the show is the view,” Amanda says. “Nothing is distracting from it now.”
Through the windows, you can see the ocean mere metres away, along with the fishing boats along the nearby wharf. Off in the distance, the P.E.I. ferry crosses the Northumberland Strait. But Amanda says the sunsets are the best part.
Easy and affordable ideas for renovating an RV
- Remove the wallpaper border(s)
- Replace the furniture
- Add a backsplash in the kitchen
- Remove all curtain valances
- Replace the lighting
Tips for renovating an RV
If you are going to paint any surfaces, be prepared for a lot of wall prep. Everything must be sanded first or nothing will adhere, then you have to wipe it down with TSP, apply a good quality primer (don’t skip this step!) and then paint. Use lots and lots of coats, especially if you are going with white.
Removing the manufacturer’s exterior decals is time consuming but worth it. A heat gun, a plastic scraper and an alcohol-based cleaner (for decal residue) will be your friends for this project.
The Langleys are not planning to tow their RV anywhere (it’s hooked up to a septic and power at their beach lot), but they didn’t want to do anything that would affect its resale value for those who might want to tow it in the future. They removed the built-in banquette, two sofas, quite a few cupboards and some cabinetry doors. In the end, the RV ended up lighter than when they started.
Some renovators recommend using peel and stick tile only, as it doesn’t add any additional weight or break during towing. Others are absolutely against peel and stick and say to use real tile (small format to limit tow weight and breakage) because it stands up better to fluctuating temperatures (hello Nova Scotia winters!). The Langleys used real tile and mortar and so far, so good.
You can buy a standard light fixture from your local hardware or lighting store and install it in your RV, if you make sure your lightbulb matches the voltage of the existing fixture.
You can install any faucet in an RV, as long as you have the appropriate adapter. Note, the pipes in a residential house are not the same size as an RV.