DIY Camper Renovation

DIY Camper Reno
As a self-proclaimed “DIY Dummy”, my husband nearly fell on the ground when I told him I was going to practice my pathetic Pinterest-ing skills on the 2004 Forest River Cherokee fifth wheel camper we purchased from some good friends last September. It took 18x longer than I had ever imagined, but I did the DIY Camper Renovation.
DIY Camper Renovation

Why a DIY Camper Renovation?

I have been asked and also pondered, “Why would you reno a nice camper?” Yes, the camper was totally nice when we bought it, and once we got it home I second guessed my decision and didn’t quite start right away. Our friends took great care of the camper. The only thing I considered a must-do was removing the carpet flooring so I had a surface I could sanitize after this camper goes to pig shows so we don’t drag germs home. I guess all the rest just came as a result of “well, what if I did this?” and so on. Imagine the absolute glee on my husband’s face when I had a new idea, or when I told him I was going to repaint the whole unit, including the cabinets? The bad part about that was, when I sniffed any aroma of doubt about this project, it drove me further, faster until I wanted to hook up to it and drive it off a cliff. :)

DIY Camper Reno
I’ve poured so many hours into making this renovation happen. I worked inside this camper on all of the rainy days off during harvest last year until we buttoned it up from December-mid February. Then I hopped back inside to finish up this spring. I plan to break down the different phases for you in various posts I will make throughout the coming weeks and months, because it is impossible to fit everything into one!

I will tell you a few things:

I am not a DIY expert. I do not own all-the-tools. I do not have all-the-skills. I found the easy fixes on my own for the most part, bought supplies I could easily work with and broke the reno up into many parts so it could be flexible with my schedule with helping Dad, pigs, coaching and speaking travel

Things I’m not proud of:
I threw tools.
I said lots and lots of bad words.
I got lots of blisters, cuts and bruises.
I stomped around like a little pathetic baby, down the steps to the grass outside and flopped myself on the ground in frustration.

There were a few days I hated it because I couldn’t figure something out. I eventually figured it out, or Mike or Melissa (*see below) came along and bailed me out.

DIY Camper Reno

Looking Back on the DIY Camper Renovation

  • I learned how to use new and different (to me) power tools.
  • I got to spend a lot of fun days with my friend *Melissa who is a rock star FarmHer and super-handy at DIY.
  • I was able to find jobs for my kids to do, teaching them new skills and giving them a sense of ownership when this whole experience was over.
  • I got to decorate the space with lots of pig décor. Win.
  • We had our first family camping outing and made incredible memories.
  • Yes it was all worth it. Would I do it again? Sure thing.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the steps (I already have amnesia when it comes to this project so I’m sure I’ll think of more later) of this project and what you can expect to come back and see in the coming weeks and months. I’ll tackle how to remove everything, how to prepare different surfaces for painting, my favorite product finds and more!
DIY Camper Reno: Part 1

Start to Finish DIY Camper Renovation Timeline:

  1. Remove all tapestries, window cornices, blinds, shelves, hooks, wallpaper border, carpet, flooring etc. that’s no longer needed.
  2. Clean.
  3. Wipe down all surfaces that will be painted with TSP solution. Allow a day to dry.
  4. Tape painted surfaces as needed.
  5. Paint walls. You can’t remove actual wallpaper in campers, it is bonded to the thin plywood. (Pick a paint that is primer/paint in one, I also chose a semi-gloss so I could wash it between shows easily.) You may need multiple coats. I chose a Valspar Latex Paint/Primer combo paint in a warm white color. If you want to go WHITE and BRIGHT in your camper, just remember, the plastic surfaces have yellowed over time and you don’t want your walls to highlight that. Choose a warmer version of white. I used “Kid Gloves” Valspar Chalk Paint (a warm white color) on my cabinets and just had the techs at Lowe’s color match the wall paint for me.
  6. Remove cabinet doors, mark them to keep track of each one, prep and paint cabinets. Everything needs to be prepped here. I used the TSP solution and also sanded the doors down as well as the cabinet frame. There is little actual wood in campers, favoring particle board covered with veneer etc. Prepping surfaces is important.
    6b. Somewhere in here I repainted and re-upholstered the dinette.
  7. Paint cabinet doors. I used chalk paint for its thickness and the fact that I only needed two coats and I liked the rustic look after I burnished the edges (ran sandpaper over edges to expose former wood).
  8. If you use chalk paint, you have to either apply a wax product or a clear coat. I waxed the cabinets early in the process and it was a total pain. I had way too much surface area to do. In the end I found a Valspar clear coat paint in matte that they promoted as an alternative to the wax. I much preferred the look and consistency.
  9. Paint hardware. I painted all of the hardware a dark oiled bronze color. I simply sanded all handles and hardware, brushed excess sanded dust off and painted with Rustoleum Oiled Bronze spray paint. Easy peasy! (I did buy new handles for the cabinets early on, and only used them in the kitchen living area of the camper. In the bedroom bathroom area I left the original handles to save a few bucks, I will see if they withstand use without the spray paint chipping.)
  10. Put cabinets and drawers back together and replace them! This is so fun, and when the project felt like the end was near for me… boy was I wrong!
  11. Install flooring. I chose simple peel-and-stick vinyl planks that I could cut and score myself without using a table saw. I installed this when it was chilly out. Now that it is hotter, they are expanding, sometimes popping up because I didn’t leave quite enough room for that. Best part: I have a tube of Gorilla Glue locked and loaded in my caulk gun and I put a bit under each plank when they pop up, press down and they never pop up again!
  12. Trim. I did trim out the floor and used a miter saw for the first time, that was probably the most fun and empowering thing about this whole reno! The first cuts aren’t perfect, but it reminds me how much I learned.
    12b. Clean again.
  13. Replace all the furniture, straighten things up and apply Command Strips to anything you don’t want falling off the walls during transit, ie: clocks, photos, etc.
  14. Run the slide system in and out and see how much of your hard work gets messed up. (Yes this happens but don’t be surprised when something gets dinged up when you run the slide for the first time
  15. Go Camping!
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  • Reply Kelli May 29, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Oh Wow!! I have been pondering a similar project and trying to get up the courage to jump in!! You are my inspiration!!

  • Reply Katie Ball May 29, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    I want to go year apart tje camper now. Super cute

  • Reply Steven Netcott May 29, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Just a story: My father (86) sank his 56 foot Blue Water Intercoastal Cruiser at the Guttenburg Iowa marina. Every one said it was totaled. He gutted everything. The boat floats for another cruise in tip top shape. Iowa determination!!!!!!!!!

    • Reply Cristen September 19, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      That is a pretty cool story! Good deal, love the Iowa determination!

  • Reply Jane Carlson May 31, 2018 at 6:40 am

    At one point in time this is something I would have loved to tackle. However I am past that point so it was such fun to read your account of this project.

  • Reply Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids May 31, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Awesome! I love it!

  • Reply jack bindner June 2, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    IMHO,the first problem was IT WAS A FOREST RIVER PRODUCT….Having delivered these for quite a few years, we found they were the worst products on the market….But we commend you on your project and the outcome !!!

  • Reply RV Windows September 19, 2019 at 6:38 am

    Keep up the great work! Thank you so much for sharing a great posts.

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