RV Makeover Ideas to Scratch Your DIY Itch
Posted: June 01, 2022
Categories: Travel & Lifestyle
Cortni Armstrong, owner of The Flipping Nomad, knows a thing or two about RV renovation. After being discouraged by her search to find a rig that fit her fashion-forward, modern style, she took matters into her own hands and decided to flip her very first RV. After that, things got interesting! Read Cortni’s story and check out her advice on RV makeover ideas that are sure to impress.
RV Makeover Ideas to Scratch Your DIY Itch
by Cortni Armstrong of The Flipping Nomad
Hey, fellow Nomads! My name is Cortni, but you might recognize me as the face behind The Flipping Nomad Instagram account.
I’ve lived in an RV full-time for eight years. One year into my journey, I was on the quest for an RV that looked like a cute bachelorette pad made for a mid-twenties lady. After several months of searching, I finally threw my hands up and admitted that what I wanted didn’t exist. Everything was brown and dark with funky floral prints that looked like the fabric was purchased on clearance. Nothing looked as good as it felt to live tiny.
I took matters into my own hands and renovated an RV for myself. It came out really cute, and I was quite proud of that first renovation. As time went on, I kept coming back to my buying experience of not being able to find what I wanted. I wondered if other people didn’t like RV interiors either and contemplated if there was a business idea there.
How The Flipping Nomad Was Born
This was long before #rvrenovation was popular on Instagram. Nobody else was doing it at that time. I had a real head/heart struggle thinking there might be a business there but wondered why nobody else was doing it. I thought, “I can’t be the only weirdo who wants a pretty RV!” After pep-talking myself and building up a lot of faith, I purchased an RV with the intention of renovating and selling it.
After six hard weeks of work and frustration on the renovation, it was sold locally. I made a little bit of money, but not enough to justify the time. I didn’t let that stop me, though. Instead, I said, “Let me work toward perfecting this process on the next one.”
I posted about the two renovations on my personal Instagram account for my old college friends to see what I was up to, but as fate would have it, the account was public. People I didn’t know personally started to follow me. At first, that really freaked me out but after talking with a friend, he said, “Cortni, you’ve got something here. You need to lean into this.”
Fast forward to today. My team and I have renovated a few dozen RVs, the Instagram account has 72K+ followers and I have accidentally harnessed the power of social media to grow a full-fledged RV renovation business. A few years ago, we were even commissioned by Keystone RV Company to build their Ultimate Montana; a concept RV of sorts that features a freestanding clawfoot bathtub, two water vapor fireplaces and an 80-inch projector screen TV all packaged together in a modern, contemporary interior design style.
Later, we were commissioned by another industry-great to turn a normal RV into a podcast studio they now call the Scout Mobile. This company is called Lippert… you may have heard of them.
We currently have 1,800 people on our list to be notified when we have an RV makeover slot available. The demand is so great that we pivoted into teaching fellow RVers how to renovate their own RVs last year. I offer a Beginner’s Bootcamp class that serves as a crash course on RV basics and an RV Renovation course for aspiring DIY RV renovators.
Advice on Renovating RVs
If you’re looking for RV makeover ideas, here are some of the biggest pieces of advice I give to my students.
Budget double the amount of money and triple the amount of time that you think an RV makeover will take.
It’s really easy to look at RVs and think, “They’re small! This will go fast!” That is not the case at all. The first renovation I did seven years ago I thought I could do in two weeks. I moved into it six weeks later, unfinished. If I’m being honest, I lived in it with pieces unfinished for two years. I didn’t completely finish it until right before I sold it. Seriously, budget triple the amount of time you think your renovation will take.
Set your budget and work backwards.
If cost is a concern for you, I suggest setting your budget and working backwards from there. When people ask, “How much does an RV renovation cost?” I always answer that question with another question. “How much does a house renovation cost?” There are too many variables to say.
The cost for materials for a full renovation alone, not including labor, can span a whole gamut. It depends on how big the RV is, how much you are reusing versus replacing, how much you need to hire out and the quality of the finishes you pick. RV owners can save a ton of money by doing the work themselves. The labor rate at my shop is not cheap.
Think through your project and list out the expenses.
As you are working through your expenses, sit down and really think through what it is going to take to execute each task. For example, if you want to install a real tile backsplash, it would be easy to just write down the cost of the tile and move on. However, there are a lot of materials and tools required to install that tile. You need mortar, grout, caulk, tile trim (that stuff is expensive!), tile spacers, a sponge, a bucket for the water, wax pencils, a cover to keep the countertop safe, tape to keep the cover down and of course, a tile saw. As you can see, the cost of the tile is only one item in a whole list of items you need.
Dial back your expectations.
Another piece of advice I give students is to dial back their interior design expectations. I like that Instagram and other social media platforms have given a spotlight to this new RV renovation niche, but sometimes I feel like it can do it a disservice.
It’s really easy to swipe back and forth on the before and after photos and be inspired by how pretty the new space looks. The old area was so ugly and dark, but the new space is bright, cheery and looks like something out of a magazine. Somehow our brains chalk up the difference to interior design. That is true to a certain extent, but the interior design difference cannot be implemented without construction.
You can spend an hour picking out the perfect tile backsplash, but guess what? That tile is not going to install itself. You could easily need a full eight hours to get it installed. As you can see, the ratio of interior design work (picking out the tile) versus construction work (installing the tile) is about a 1:8 ratio.
Don’t even get me started on what it takes to pick cabinet colors versus actually painting the cabinets. That’s about a 1:100 ratio. If you’re looking at renovating an RV as a way to scratch your interior design itch, you are going to be gravely disappointed.
Don’t underestimate simple RV makeover ideas and upgrades.
If construction isn’t your thing but you still want to refresh your RV, here are my favorite simple upfits:
- Throw pillows on the furniture.
- Make use of rugs.
- Decorate with greenery.
- Swap out your hardware.
- Replace the window treatments.
- Paint the walls. (This is riding on the edge of too simple, but it makes a big difference.)
Tour of Renovated Bunkhouse by The Flipping Nomad: 2016 Montana High Country 340BH
If you’re interested in more RV renovation tips and inspiration, follow us on Instagram @theflippingnomad or visit our website at www.theflippingnomad.com