Couple Turns Small Van Into Dreamy Motor Home
| LAST UPDATE 05/11/2022
Courtnie and Nate were tired of paying expensive rent and wanted more freedom to travel. So they bought a 60-square-foot van and turned it into a beautiful home. Take a look at their van life adventures.
A Workplace Romance
When Courtnie and Nate began working valet jobs in Huntington Beach, California, neither imagined they would meet their soulmate. But that's precisely what happened, and the pair started dating in 2015.
"What attracted me the most to him was his work ethic," Court shared. "I always felt a sense of calm when he was around even before we were together, because I knew he had things under control." It wasn't long before Nate and Courtnie were practically inseparable.
As the young lovers got to know one another better, they felt like they were a match made in heaven. In some ways, Court and Nate were totally different. Yet, these differences complemented each other and brought them closer together. It was a classic tale of opposites attracting.
"I do believe we were made for each other," Courtnie admitted. "Nate's calm, easy-going, and level-headed nature perfectly balances my stubborn, fiery, and uptight personality." But for all of their differences, the couple's life values and dreams seemed to align.
The lovebirds had different personalities, but they were passionate about a lot of the same things. Nate and Court liked their valet jobs because it allowed them time and money to do what they loved most: enjoy nature and travel. One day, they got an idea that would make working and traveling easier.
They decided that they wanted to change things up. "Nate and I would spend all of our time daydreaming about getting a van and turning it into a home so that we could have more freedom," Courtnie explained. "Freedom from expensive rent, freedom from living paycheck to paycheck, freedom to explore more."
They Had No Money
The adventurous couple had big dreams but not much in the bank. For a while, they debated whether it was the right move for them and brainstormed how they could even make it happen. Court and Nate felt confident in their abilities to adapt and live in a van, but could they do it financially?
Eventually, the pair decided there was only one way to find out. "We had zero money saved up, but one day we decided to just go for it!" Court said. She and Nate took a loan out to purchase the van, a Ram Promaster 2500 High Roof, and sold "just about everything in our apartment." But they still needed more money.
Leaving Their Apartment
A big chunk of Nate and Courtnie's paychecks went to their southern California rental. To make their dreams a reality, the couple had no choice but to move out. "The only way we would have been able to afford to build our van the way we wanted to was if we didn't have rent to pay each month," Court said.
They now had no apartment and a van that was far from their dream home, but they were invested in the project and decided to live in the vehicle throughout the whole construction process. "We stuffed our clothes and other essentials into bags, bins, and boxes and loaded them into our empty cargo van," Courtnie shared on Instagram.
"Living in a 60 Square Foot Construction Zone"
Transforming the van took nearly a year, and Courtnie and Nate lived in the vehicle from start to finish. "We spent the following 8 months living in a 60 square foot construction zone," Court said. So how did the couple both live and build in one tiny space?
"Each day, we'd move all of our stuff onto the sidewalk (including our mattress at times) so that we could build things on the inside," Courtnie explained. Adding to the already challenging experience, the determined duo did the entire renovation themselves!
A Complete DIY
Nate and Courtnie knew that renovating the van would be a challenging task. But it was the only way the pair could make the vehicle exactly how they wanted within their budget. After selling many of their possessions, leaving their apartment, and taking out a loan, they ran out of means to cut costs.
So the love birds got their hands dirty with probably their biggest DIY yet. "We had no idea what we were doing when we started," said Court. "Nate would spend hours and hours researching and learning how to complete each step of the build during the day, then we'd both rush off to work valet at night."
Insulating the Van
Court and Nate would eventually travel in all different kinds of climates and needed to insulate the van. So they installed polyiso foam board for floor insulation and covered it with a plywood subfloor. The walls were also lined with polyiso and sheep's wool on top.
The construction partners had to install windows, as the van they chose didn't have any past the driver's seat. Nate and Courtnie put windows in the sliding and rear doors and added a small sliding window above where the bed would eventually go. Then the woodworking began.
With the insulation all done, the carpentry started. The pair used wood to cover the insulation on the walls and ceiling. Nate also used the material to build the kitchen cabinets, drawers, countertops, and frames for future appliances. He built additional cupboards for storage above the bed area.
"For all of our cabinet joinery, I used butt joints with pockets holes to glue and screw the pieces together," explained Nate. "There are better ways to do this, but being a beginner, I felt this was the best method to use to make simple, strong joints for our cabinets."
A Celebratory Road Trip
For months on end, Court and Nate lived in their van among a mess of construction."We worked full time while living in our empty cargo van... It was a long and somewhat uncomfortable process," Courtnie shared. But as the image in their heads came to life, the couple felt everything was worth it.
Once the van was finished, the pair took a celebratory two-week road trip along California's coast. They traveled from Orange County to Oregon in their beautifully renovated home. But after that trip, Courtnie and Nate felt that something was missing.
The duo was blissful after their first travels in the new home. And they chose to make another one of their dreams come true: Nate and Court adopted a beautiful Doberman-Labrador mix. "Our sweet little boy. We waited so so long for you," Courtnie captioned her first shot of the pup.
Getting a dog was actually one of the reasons the love birds wanted to live in a van, as none of their previous rental apartments allowed pets, and they couldn't afford to buy a place themselves. But Tonkins was expected to grow quite a bit; Could the vehicle fit all three members of this family?
Three's Not a Crowd
When Courtnie announced Tonkins' arrival on social media, some followers voiced concern over a dog - who would eventually be quite large - living in their small van. But the couple did not doubt their decision and believed that the on-the-go lifestyle was perfect for the growing puppy.
"Although some people don't think we should have a dog because of our living situation, I know in my heart that he needed ME," Court wrote. "I'm ALL in, I'm dedicated and I can't wait to see what the future holds for this good boy." One thing was for sure: the canine would be living in a pretty cool van.
The Finished Product
After eight months of shuffling their belongings from one side of the van to the other, the transformation was finally complete. Stepping into the tiny home may feel like an alternate reality, as it's hard to believe this beautiful home is inside a 60-square-foot vehicle.
Once finished, Nate and Courtnie had a pretty decked out kitchen, a bathroom, bedroom, living room, and office. It sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Let's see how the innovative home-owners managed to fit their whole lives into an automobile. And they did so with style!
Right behind the driver's seat is the kitchen area, which takes up about half of the van. Much of the home's storage is in this space, provided by Nate's custom-built cupboards. The house's water heater sits on the cabinet floor below the kitchen sink.
A Propex heater is also inside one of the cabinets, and the lower middle section was designed to fit a 14-inch kitchen sink. "We went with shaker style doors and drawers for all of our cabinets," Nate shared. "This consists of a frame, usually made with 1x3 stock, surrounding a door panel."
A Closer Look
Along with a small sink and a nice amount of pantry space is a stovetop. Nate and Courtnie chose a stainless steel two-burner propane cooktop that perfectly fits on the right side of the counter. Even with the appliance, there was room for three deep drawers underneath.
The kitchen is gorgeous and usually stays that way, as their on-the-go lifestyle forces the couple to always clean up after themselves. Unless Court and Nate want food flying everywhere when they drive off, no dish can be left unwashed, and no countertop can remain uncleaned.
A Fridge/Toilet Combo
On the other side of the kitchen, by the van's sliding door, is the rest of the kitchen and the bathroom. Here, the home-owners designed a base cabinet that holds their electric refrigerator/freezer made for RVs and a slide-out toilet. When you gotta go, you gotta go!
"Our composting toilet was a purchase I was hesitant about at first, but now can't imagine living without," Courtnie said. According to the Amazon listing, the toilet needs emptying every 4-6 weeks if two people are using it full-time. But Nate and Court use public restrooms or the outdoors whenever they can.
The kitchen is certainly beautiful, but sometimes, it pales in comparison to the views. Courtnie and Nate love being by the beach, and they're usually parked along the Southern California coast. The venturesome pair enjoys other kinds of terrain and climate, too.
When the loving partners are not stationed by the water, they might be in higher altitudes in the mountains. Nate and Court like to hike, and of course, Tonkins does too! The duo has also spent winter time in snowy areas. Don't worry; the van is heated!
Right behind the kitchen is the bedroom. Fortunately, the couple did plenty of downsizing before moving. "I had a big collection of plants, ceramics, and other decorative items before we moved into the van, but I decided to sell everything to make a little extra money to put towards our build," Courtnie recalled.
The bedroom looks cozy, but Courtnie made sure it feels welcoming without being too cramped or overwhelming. She shared, "We invested in a nice linen sheet set, [and] added as many plants as we could to brighten up our space." But what about the office area?
The little van is like a magic trick, as the bedroom can quickly transform into an office. The bed folds down and turns into two long benches with a comfortably-sized table in the middle. For the most part, Courtnie and Nate fold up the bed every day.
"After I meditate in the morning we try to make it a point to take our bed down," Court wrote. "This really opens up our space and makes it easier for the three of us to move comfortably throughout the van." And since she quit her job, having an office space became important.
Court Quit Her Job
After 10 years working at the valet job where she met Nate, Courtnie quit. "It was a job that served me very well for a long time. It allowed me the freedom to travel and be flexible with my time," she explained on Instagram. But Court knew a change was needed.
"I've always been one to follow my gut instinct and let my intuition guide the way, and during quarantine, I had a lot of time to think and reflect," she continued. "It became very clear to me that it was time to move on." Courtnie decided to focus on her yoga practice and the couple's social media presence.
Now that she is fully self-employed, Courtnie spends a lot more time in the van. But when neither she nor Nate are working, they convert the office/dining table into a small living room. Another clever trick that makes the second half of the van a total triple threat!
"Recently we started sliding our table in between the doors and benches when we aren't using it to make "lounge mode," Court told her followers. "The table rests perfectly against the wall so we can still open the back doors without it falling out. It's awesome!"
With only 60 square feet to work with, how did the hands-on couple decide on house decor? After selling most of their belongings to pay for the van conversion, Courtnie and Nate had a fresh slate to work with. "I was so excited to 'decorate' the van when we finished our build," Court said.
"But I knew I had to keep it super minimal and only add a few accents here and there," she continued. They collected items "slowly and intentionally throughout our travels" and used simple hacks like velcro to keep things in place. But with a view like this, their van probably would've looked breath-taking with or without decor.
The Entertainment Center
If Nate and Courtnie ever get tired of looking out to gorgeous scenery, they can whip out their at-home entertainment center. The duo invested in a high-quality Nebula Capsule projector that's "the size of a soda can," doesn't require cords, and has a clear picture.
"During our build, Nate kept bringing up the idea of putting a TV in here," Court shared. "I wasn't super into installing something that would take up so much precious wall space, so we settled on a projector!" They eventually plan on getting a projector screen, too.
The Outdoor Shower
We've seen the kitchen, the multi-purpose bedroom, and part of the restroom. But where's the shower? Right outside the van's back doors. The water heater, fresh water holding tank, gray water holding tank, and water pump allow for an outside bath set up.
Court and Nate placed hooks on the van's doors to hold up the shower head and curtain. According to Courtnie, the water pressure is excellent, and everything in the vehicle stays completely dry! But whenever possible, the pair prefers to shower in their gym or yoga studios.
Most of the time, Courtnie and Nate park their van in free spots throughout the country. These areas don't always have access to electricity, and the couple wanted their van to be fully-functional no matter where they traveled. Solar panels and rechargeable batteries were the perfect solution.
"Our electrical system is powerful enough to sustain us without the need to be conservative with our usage," Court said. "It allows us to power our Vitamix, keep our refrigerator running, charge our phones/laptops/camera batteries, and keep the lights on as needed."
Some followers may wonder whether Nate and Courtnie ever get tired of each other as they live in the tiny van 24/7. According to them, the abundance of time together hasn't been a problem. In fact, the van life may have even brought them closer together.
The happy couple got engaged in June 2020! "From the moment Nate and I got together 5 years ago I knew we would never be apart," Courtnie wrote in her post announcing the engagement. "If he had asked me to marry him a week into us dating I would have said yes then too."
So an increase in quality time hasn't been an issue for the two love birds. But what about their furry companion? Surely, it can get pretty crowded. "We spend the majority of the day playing outside, but when he's tired he stands in front of the van door and tries to jump in," Court wrote when Tonkins was still a small puppy.
The proud dog-owner admitted that things were a bit rough at first. When Tonkins arrived, he was quite a rowdy pup. But Nate and Courtnie were diligent in training him and have already started to see the fruits of their labor. Court said she loves to see the look in Tonkins' eyes when they arrive at a new place.
Nate's New Gig
Moving into the van marked a new chapter in both of their lives. A few months after Court left the valet job, Nate followed. He decided to use his van-flipping skills to help other people with the same dream of travels and freedom. It wasn't long before he had his first client.
"Today we are driving up to Northern California where Nate will be helping a lovely couple build out their dream home on wheels," Court announced in August 2020. "I'm so proud of him and couldn't be happier to see him do something that he loves." Nate's gotten a few more van gigs since then and continues building his business.
A Christmas Transformation
In between Nate's projects converting vehicles into mobile homes, the wanderlust couple has continued traveling around the U.S. During the holiday season, the pair took off to the snowy mountains. They then made it back to a warmer climate for Christmas.
The weather may have been hot, but that didn't stop Nate and Courtnie from decorating their van. The mobile home got a Christmas makeover with garlands hanging on the walls and colorful string lights on the back door. The house was decked out in the holiday spirit.
Courtnie and Nate love their on-the-go van life so far. "It's been a long hard road, but the whole experience of transforming our cargo van into our own cozy mobile home has been so satisfying and rewarding," the couple wrote on their business website.
The grueling eight months of living in a tiny construction zone were well worth it. Nate and Court are fulfilling their dreams of traveling freely, and thanks to their new business ventures, the partners no longer need to live paycheck-to-paycheck. We love to see it!