I grew up camping in Wisconsin. Coming from a family of eight, it was one of the few vacations my parents could afford; it seemed like paradise–waking to first light. Roasting marshmallows with crisp edges and slippery middles. Lined up side-by-side in sleeping bags next to my siblings, the best slumber party ever invented.
We were country kids. Camping was a natural fit. We loved the forest, the fire, the swimming, the sticks.
Fast forward to now. The more I camped as an adult, the more I knew I wanted to get a camper. Wisconsin nights can be cold and damp; the ground slopes; my back aches.
Ready to glamp
Part 1: Before
We were willing to spend more sweat equity than cash, which led us to buy a 1999 Coleman Fleetwood pop up camper with a bump out dinette. We got a great deal, but there were issues. Some mildew. Holes in the screens. Canvas that was no longer waterproof. We considered these minor and fixable.
- Be sure to read this checklist if you’re in the market for a used camper.
As a side note, I didn’t realize at the time how much I would love the bump out dinette until our last rainy camping trip when I discovered I can fit my whole yoga mat on the floor. It’s so roomy! Love, love love! And yet it all folds up into a twelve foot box which is how our camper earned the name Optimus Prime, courtesy of my eight year old nephew who said our camper reminded him of a transformer.
The name stuck.
Part 2: The Inspiration for After.
Here’s the photo I used to plan my color palette and atmosphere.
Isn’t it dreamy and cozy?
Notice the wood drawers, similar to the inside of Optimis Prime. I really wanted to avoid painting the cabinets and redoing the floor. We didn’t have time for a renovation of that magnitude this year, so perhaps this pop up camper remodel needs a yearly update? I’m still really happy with the result after completing mainly cosmetic updates.
Part 3: Cleanup.
The mildew issue turned out to be a lot more work once we got started. We used bleach and dish soap according to this Sunbrella guide and thankfully now we have sparkling clean canvas and the odor is completely gone.
- Be sure to rinse your canvas with plain water after using the recommended cleaner and dry thoroughly.
Part 4: Curtains and Cushions.
The 1999 curtains were completely disgusting and ugly. My saint of a mother-in-law helped me sew new curtains for the whole camper. It took us two days.
For the windows, I purchased white blackout curtains from Target, which were really hard to sew, but make a huge difference on those bright sunny mornings. I love how the plain white curtains makes my camper look light and airy in the inside–not like the brown color palettes campers are sold in today.
Saving the tabs: We sewed onto the original fabric to reuse the tabs. In hindsight I think hot glue might have done the trick attaching the tabs to the new fabric. But don’t quote me on that. 🙂
After sewing the track tabs to the new fabric, we cut away the old fabric and threw it far far away.
For the bed ends, I used a brown and white curtain I had sitting in storage and simply sewed the new onto the mesh.
I bought teal duck cloth, removed the old cushion covers and used a heavy duty stapler to attach the new fabric. This was easy to do! I highly recommend this method if you aren’t handy with the sewing machine.
Part 5: Functional Design
Since we camp so frequently in the summer, I wanted to make the transition from work life to camper life as easy as possible. I found these adorable drawers at Target which we use as a suitcase before every trip. We pack our clean clothes into the drawers, transfer them into the car and then into the camper after we’re set up. No ugly, messy suitcases!
We use the same method for our food bin, which goes from being packed in our kitchen at home to the car to the camper. It’s so easy and instantly organized! I love these systems. The basket on top is for dirty laundry–again, super easy to transfer to the car when it’s time to head home.
Part 6: Creative Touches & Design
I shopped my own home as much as possible for bedding, pillows and pretties. And oh it’s so pretty!
One way we plan to use our camper is for creative retreats.
Since both Shea and I are creatives, we wanted to spend a few weekend getaways making art. I spent time writing while he played the cigar box guitar or mandolin, and working on his drawings.
We disconnected from technology and read books. (You’ll see my book Arrows, as well as a few from my talented friends in the photos here.) We really loved using our camper for this purpose!
Since we want this to be a creative space, we commissioned our artist friend Heather Peterman to paint an owl lamp I found at Walmart. Isn’t he gorgeous?
Last but not least, as pretty as Optimus Prime turned out to be, we use our camper to do what matters most–spend time together.
Here’s a photo from a recent breakfast on a rainy morning with my sister. A Middle Eastern feast!
Thanks so much for stopping by.