Couple Transforms School Bus Into Dreamy Home
| LAST UPDATE 06/01/2021
Tierra and Caleb wanted to live a more sustainable lifestyle - both for the benefit of their wallets and the earth. So the couple turned an old school bus into a gorgeous home. Here's a look at the stunning transformation.
Caleb & Tierra
Meet Caleb Brackney and Tierra, a young couple who took on a big DIY: turning a former school bus into a beautiful home. But how did the lovebirds find themselves converting a motorhome and joining the skoolie community?
Well, Caleb's love for design went way back. "I studied interior design for my undergrad," he explained. "I'm doing architecture and landscape architecture for my master's work." Brackney had a passion for manipulating any space into a beautiful and comfortable home.
Paying Rent? Thank U, Next
The truth is, Caleb and Tierra could've moved into a regular apartment or house and turned that into a gorgeous home. But Brackney dreamt of transforming a school bus into a place to live. Why? The design student wanted to live a sustainable life - both financially and environmentally.
"I despise the thought of paying rent, seven or eight hundred dollars a month," Caleb admitted. Having researched the skoolie community, Brackney realized that there was a way to have a home without paying monthly rent or an expensive mortgage. Now he just had to find the right bus.
A Facebook Marketplace Find
While Caleb and Tierra planned on eventually living together on the bus and would both be a part of the conversion, Brackney would be moving in first. The design student wanted to live on the bus in Knoxville, Tennesse, his home state, and where he studied architecture.
Meanwhile, Tierra had to finish flight school two hours away in Murfreesboro. The duo wanted to be stationary in Tennessee and use their motorhome to travel during the weekends and breaks from studying. After lots of searching, they found the ideal bus on Facebook Marketplace.
A 1995 Thomas International
"Looking forward to this challenge which will hopefully be my greatest adventure yet!" Caleb announced after making the life-changing purchase. "I bought this 1995 Thomas International bus on Facebook Marketplace from Rome, Georgia." Like many skoolie livers, he named the home.
Honoring the bus's roots and using a clever pun, Brackney named the future skoolie "the Roamer." The yellow giant was obviously big for a vehicle, but as a home, it measured around the size of an average city studio. Roamer measured 36 feet long in total and 29 on the inside.
Welcome to the Crib
So the young designer had 29 feet in length to work with. But at the moment, there wasn't room for much since the bus was in all of its original glory. Caleb and Tierra would have to tear everything apart before putting their home together, as with most skoolie conversions.
The couple would have to first remove all of the school bus's original seating - bolt by bolt and chair by chair. From there, they would move on to ripping out all of the original flooring, plus the existing walls and ceiling, which were covered in heavy metal sheets.
So the hands-on pair got started. Tierra and Caleb took out all of the bus's original seats, immediately opening up the space. Now it was easier for the couple to envision their future home. It wouldn't be long before it was move-in ready. So what exactly did they have in mind for the skoolie?
When finished, the motorhome would include a fully functional kitchen, a study/dining room area, a living room, and a bedroom. Plus, a room with a toilet and shower in the back. While some skoolie owners choose to close off the bedroom from the rest of the home, Caleb designed a completely open floorplan.
A Thoughtful Floorplan
The design and architecture lover put a lot of thought into the skoolie's design. "The way you move through space affects every aspect of your life. It affects the way you sleep, it affects the way you can work and be productive, it affects your relationships with people," Caleb said.
He continued, "So taking into consideration all aspects of a project and all aspects of the way you live life really affects that. If you can take control of the way you live, the way you use your space, then you really can do anything." Just because it was a small motorhome didn't mean its design wasn't important.
Bye, Bye Flooring & Walls
Once the seats were ripped out, the DIYers continued gutting the rest of the vehicle. Slowly but surely, Caleb and Tierra (with the help of power tools) took off the school bus's original rubber flooring to reveal the old and rusty metal lying underneath.
But the floor wasn't the end of it. In fact, that might've been the easiest part! Removing the metal sheets from the wall was manageable, but the curved ceiling proved more challenging. But after plenty of sweat and hard work, it was finally time to start building.
Fixing the Rust
With the school bus finally cleaned of its old flooring, walls, and ceiling, the real fun began. Caleb and Tierra got to work on laying a strong foundation for their future motorhome. First thing's first: they fixed the rust on the vehicle's metal floor.
The bus was over 2 decades old and had been exposed to cold Georgia winters and hot southern summers. It was hardly surprising that underneath the layer of rubber, the DIYers encountered a manageable level of rust. A couple of layers of good ol' Rust-Oleum, and the problem was fixed.
A 1-Cent Hack
With the Rust-Oleum applied, Caleb and Tierra felt confident that their subfloor would be protected. But the old metal was still filled with tons of little holes from where the leather seats used to be bolted in. Luckily, the DIYers found a simple skoolie hack to fix the problem.
They used pennies to cover the holes! "200 pennies to fill 200 holes. Best $2 ever spent," Caleb wrote. The skoolie-owners planned on adding the final layers of flooring later on, once some of their furniture frames were good to go. It wasn't long before the home was taking shape.
Insulating the Walls
With the walls, ceiling, and floor completely bare now, Caleb and Tierra began insulating their future motorhome. While spray foam is widely recognized as the most effective form of insulation for skoolies, it can also be a pricey and very messy option. So the couple went with foam boards and insulation mats.
Tierra and Caleb were both students and wanted to complete the conversion on a tight budget: $10,000, $3,000 of which was already gone after they bought the bus. "So that left $7,000 to do all of the interior renovations," Brackney noted. The DIYers saved money everywhere possible.
Framing the Home
As they worked on the insulation, the couple also got started on framing the home. Caleb and Tierra chose to custom-make their own furniture rather than buy something premade to make the future motorhome as comfortable and spacious as possible. The shot below shows the living room sofa skeleton.
Caleb designed an L-shaped couch that could also turn into a guest bed when the boards are slid out, like in the image above. But it wasn't quite done yet. "I'm gonna wait to build the legs until the finish floor is in because I'm not sure what height to make them until I make the floor," Brackney clarified of the pullout.
Caution: Kitchen In Progress
With the living room in progress in the middle of the skoolie, the kitchen was well underway at the front. And the gorgeous countertop pictured below was actually repurposed from something else, helping keep Caleb and Tierra on budget and sustainable.
"These were actually semi-truck beds," Caleb said. "So I got all of these countertops for like forty dollars, and so I planed them down and stained them, and it was really cool to be able to see that raw, semi-truck bed and now to see how it's my kitchen countertop. It really seemed the most economical way and durable."
Making Money Moves
With the framing done, it was time to complete the furniture. The DIYers used white wood to board up the living room couch and left the bottom row open for storage baskets and hidden outlets. The little hallway leading into the bedroom area remained blocked by a wheel well, but they made the best of it.
"For the wheel well I just put some insulation and the carpet over it, and so it makes a nice seamless transition," Caleb explained. "People don't even realize it's the wheel well until they're walking over it. And since it's carpeted, it's a nice place if someone wants to sit and watch TV also if everything else is full."
A Mini Roof Raise
As the conversion progressed, the DIYers installed the ceiling insulation and put the final layer of ceiling/wall. But not before raising the roof over the future dining and kitchen area. "I'm like 6'1", and so headspace was a big issue for me," Caleb explained.
"So I cut out this hole in the ceiling and reinforced it with metal tubing and two by fours and then built the way up," he added. Brackney used plywood with insulation and a layer of tin for the raised ceiling. Caleb also added plexiglass to the sides of the raise to let in more natural light.
After installing the repurposed truckbeds turned countertops, Caleb and Tierra put up the overhead kitchen cabinets. The design student wanted the cupboard doors to have a different pattern than the rest of the storage unit to add a layer of complexity and texture.
"My favorite thing about skoolies is how unique and personalized they can be for their owner," Brackney said. "I'm getting so excited to move in within the next 5 weeks, and even after spending the past 5 months converting the bus, I'm still learning something new every day on this journey!" The end was near...
The gorgeous cabinets weren't the only eye-catching detail on the bus. Each part of the bus was carefully thought out, from the geometric backsplash to the gorgeous new ceiling. And Caleb and Tierra continually found ways to cut down on cost without sacrificing style.
"The ceiling is actually just siding," Brackney said. "You know, instead of having a wood ceiling which is really heavy and would hold moisture, these are just pieces of siding from Lowe's that come in like a 12-foot strip. And so they're super light, they're cheap and easy to bend and move."
The Rooftop Deck
While most of the couple's time was spent converting the vehicle's interior, the bus's outside also got some loving. The DIYers built a little rooftop deck. Keeping with their sustainability goals, they constructed it from repurposed material: an old utility trailer.
"The rooftop deck is a repurposed utility trailer, so I didn't have to buy any steel for that," Caleb explained. "The trailer was super easy! Just bolted it through the 2 rails along the roof and laid 1x6's along it! The skylight was the tricky part."
A Fresh Look
Once the conversion was finished, the old school bus looked completely transformed. Caleb and Tierra used Valspar Duramax Exterior Paint for the new look. "So with painting the bus, I did not want to have to spray it. One, I didn't want to have to buy a sprayer," Brackney said.
"Also, I didn't want to worry about the paint getting everywhere. And so I rolled and brushed all of it," he continued. "It's just like a tan-colored paint for the top, and it only took one gallon for the whole thing. And then one gallon of flat black Rustoleum paint for the bottom."
The Finished Interior
Once inside the converted bus, the kitchen is the first thing passengers encounter. Behind the driver's seat is one part of the cooking space, with a microwave, some storage, a convection oven, and a cooktop stored in the long cabinet next to the oven.
"For most of my cooking, I use an instant pot and air fryer, which really is one of my favorite parts of this kitchen because I can just throw it up here," Caleb shared. "I don't have to worry about cleaning a lot of pots; I don't have to worry about the power."
The Dining Table
Next to the first part of the kitchen is the dining/work table. Underneath is a slideout drawer containing Caleb's keyboard. "I play several different instruments, and so in order for it to feel like home, I needed instruments in here," he explained. So, the design student found a way to make it fit.
Brackney added, "I have this keyboard that slides out to where I can just sit here if I'm doing homework or just like to de-stress I can play." Next to the bar is a pellet stove to keep the bus warm in the winter, with a hole cut on the wall for the chimney. In the summer, they turn on the Dometic 15,000 BTU air conditioning unit.
The Other Side of the Kitchen
Across from the dining table is the rest of the kitchen. "Being a design student, I've always learned that you want to layout spaces to where it really reflects the lifestyle you live," Caleb said. "I wanted the kitchen to be upfront because when I bring groceries, I wanted just to be able to walk in, throw stuff in the fridge."
The couple's refrigerator is a mini-fridge located underneath the coffee machine pictured above. But the skoolie has room for a full-sized appliance if they ever need to upsize. Under the sink is an instant hot water heater for easy and immediate use.
Next to the kitchen and before the living room is the couple's closet, which measures seven feet in length. Caleb used a CNC router, which is a computer-controlled cutting machine, to make the closet doors. "So they, you know, kind of look unique and match both this pattern [above] and then also the pattern of the walls."
At the bottom of the closet is more storage room for shoes and other things. Plus, that's where the skoolie's water pump, inverter, fuses, and breaker boxes are. The motorhome's battery voltage reading is also there, so the couple can tell when those are getting low.
A Mobile Hammock
Aside from having plenty of seating in the living room, which we will take a look at next, the skoolie-owners also have a removable hammock. "With loving being outside, I love hammocking. And so I made sure to put hooks. There's a hook here and a hook up front that I can hang my hammock from," Caleb said.
"That way, if someone wants to stay over, they can just sleep in a hammock. Or if I'm doing homework or reading, I can sit in it. It's pretty cool," he continued. The skoolie has a spacious feel to it even with the hammock hung up, thanks to the white walls and the open floor plan.
The Living Room
The finished living room boasts a gorgeous and comfortable L-shaped sofa. "These couch cushions are from my old couch. I just got cushion covers for them, and really I think one of the most fun parts of this journey has been figuring out ways to do this economically," Brackney shared.
"Because part of this sustainable lifestyle is leaving as little impact as I can on the Earth but also on my wallet," he added. "So I wanted to be able to model a lifestyle where you could take things that you already have and then use those to build something else."
Bringing the Outdoors In
Across from the living room and following the dining table is an unexpected side door on the bus. It's a great way to bring the great outdoors into the skoolie. Caleb and Tierra get to enjoy some fresh air and plenty of gorgeous sunlight. Plus, it makes the motorhome feel larger.
"I wanted to keep the existing side door right here just because that lets in a lot of light," Brackney explained. "It lets an airflow, and it's, you know, fun for my dog just to sit here, and she looks out all the time." The earth tones around the skoolie make for a smooth outdoor to indoor transition.
Right behind the L-shaped couch is the bed. "For the layout of the bus, the study space, and living space, I wanted to kind of be together. And then you know I have a queen-size bed in here, but how could I use that other than just for sleeping?" Caleb explained his thought process for the floor plan.
"And so right now, I can use it for seating. So if people are over, they can sit up against the headboard," he said. "It really just makes the space feel bigger because I'm not hiding it away in the back." And the bed's headboard includes a special surprise: some of the little squares open to reveal extra storage space!
Netflix & Chill
Caleb and Tierra installed a television for entertainment in the skoolie. "The TV is on a swivel to where if I'm in the kitchen, I can watch it or on this side," Brackney said. "Right now, I'm running everything off an inverter. And so I've run everything while I'm driving."
Caleb continued, "The battery bank is enough to use it for a little bit... But when I'm plugged in, everything works fine." As for the gorgeous light fixture above the bed? That's made out of repurposed PVC pipe that the couple spray painted with copper paint before drilling holes and dropping in outdoor string lights.
At the back of the bus is the bathroom, which is the only space closed off from the rest of the home. Above the toilet is a little cabinet that stores toilet paper and other necessities. The RV toilet has a sewer hose that makes dumping the contents outside easy through the back door.
To the left of the toilet is the shower. "I have a separate gray water tank for the kitchen sink, which is 40 gallons, and then I have a separate gray water tank for the shower which is 40 gallons, and then I have a 25-gallon black water tank for the toilet," Caleb said. The skoolie also has a 50-gallon freshwater tank under the bed.
Outdoor Movie Nights
While the bus's interior certainly holds most of the goods, Tierra and Caleb take advantage of everything the bus has to offer. Which, thanks to exterior electricity plugs, includes movie nights in nature. The couple has a handy projector that they use to display movies onto the motorhome.
"As we go along the bus, I have outdoor outlets on either side, and so these are pretty cool," Caleb explained. "They can pop out so I can plug something in and then keep it closed so water doesn't get in there while they're being used." It's safe to say these skoolie owners are living the good life.