How a DIY Van Makeover Fulfilled One Couple's Travel Dreams

See how one couple transformed a bare-bones vehicle into a fully equipped tiny home in just two months.

In recent months, many of us have had to get creative to keep ourselves occupied while sheltering in place. Some attempted baking bread for the first time; others spent nights scrolling through Netflix. But Los Angeles natives Deanna and James Dunn's quarantine project was a bit more ambitious. The couple utilized the past two months to renovate a basic sprinter van into a fully equipped tiny home on wheels, and the results are incredible.

van with door open
Deanna Dunn

Documenting the process through tutorial videos on Instagram and TikTok, they transformed the vehicle with space-saving DIYs and unexpected accents to create a cozy mobile home they can use for travel. "My husband and I don't own a house at the moment, but we both love interior design and renovation," says Deanna, who grew up renovating homes with her father. "While we're renting, we're so limited in what we can change because we can't do anything permanent."

Less expensive and more mobile than a tiny home, a sprinter van provided an alternative not bound by the parking restrictions common to other camping vehicles, Deanna explains. It's also more discreet than a conventional camper, which helps the couple feel more secure when they park it to sleep.

dining table
Deanna Dunn

Inside, the van features a combined living and sleeping area, a kitchen, and a bathroom, with clever storage tucked into the spaces between each area. And this isn't the standard-issue, no-frills interior you might expect from most camping vehicles. Underneath a DIY wood slat ceiling, rich green base cabinetry contrasts with white upper cabinets dressed up with textural cane inserts. Arched niches provide extra storage on warm gray walls, which feature a plaster-like texture Deanna applied by hand. Hexagon-shaped tiles with a striking geometric pattern line the full-size walk-in shower. "We definitely wanted to take some risks with the design," Deanna says. "With the van, we could feel free to go a little crazy."

corn hole
Deanna Dunn

Serving as a living room, dining space, and bedroom, the back of the van features a swivel-base table and storage benches topped with memory foam cushions, which are covered in an easy-clean, faux-leather fabric. Deanna hung the back cushions from hooks on the wall, making them simple to remove when they need to access storage inside the benches. When the van's back doors are open, a wide drawer pulls out from under the flooring to store cooking essentials and DIY cornhole boards.

bed with projector
Deanna Dunn

At night, the table swivels across the seating area to form the base of the bed, and cushions slide together to form a queen-size mattress. A hidden projector screen, which is actually a remote-controlled window blind, rolls down through a hole cut into an upper cabinet for movie nights.

Electricity for the van comes from two rechargeable batteries, one powered by solar panels on the roof and another that charges while the van's engine is running. A 21-gallon water tank, tucked beneath the van to save space inside, supplies both hot and cold water for the tap and shower. Thermal blackout curtains pull across the front of the van and windows to keep it cool and provide privacy.

bathroom next to kitchen
Deanna Dunn

The self-contained, moveable toilet, which doesn't require water or pipes, is stored in the shower to clear the traffic flow in the main area. "Because we only use the shower a few minutes a day, it's totally worth it to keep the toilet inside the shower," Deanna says. "We can take the toilet out for showering or shut the shower door to have some privacy."

Although it took just a couple months of hands-on work, the DIY van makeover didn't come without challenges. The first issue the Dunns had to consider was that the vehicle would be in motion, which necessitated balancing any added weight across all sides and using lightweight, non-breakable materials where possible. Between tiles in the shower, for example, Deanna applied flexible silicone sealant instead of traditional grout to prevent breakage from inevitable bumps in the road.

The interior shape of the vehicle also proved tricky. "The walls and ceiling of the van are all curved, so we were never dealing with a completely level surface or square-off angles," Deanna says. To allow room for error, she and James cut templates out of thin boards or foamboard first so they could adjust as needed before making the final cuts for walls and built-in elements.

With their quarantine project finished, Deanna and James are hitting the road for a cross-country trip—and bringing all the cozy comforts of tiny-home living along with them.

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