Like their modified van cousins and the adventurous notion of "van life", modern bus conversions for full-time living are now emerging as a thing. Of course, they've already been around for a while, but thanks to the Internet, stylish and affordable DIY bus conversions are now entering mainstream consciousness as yet another tiny-house-on-wheels alternative. Best of all, these modern bus dwellings aren't just for single individuals or couples; they can also suit families that are looking for a debt-free place to call home.
That's the case with the Sullivans, a family of five from Washington state that recently moved into a 40-foot-long bus they lovingly call "Big Bertha." Watch as father Brian, who works in aerospace manufacturing (mother and interior designer Starla is the mastermind behind the layout the house) gives us a tour of the interior:
Brian tells us that before moving into the solar-powered Big Bertha, they were living in a two-bedroom apartment 30 minutes north of Seattle, which was expensive to rent and maintain. The Sullivans were working a lot and yet still "felt trapped in negative cash flow"; they had one baby at the time and felt they couldn't spend quality time together as a family.
So when Brian got a job offer a few towns away, they had to think of a plan that wouldn't involve Brian commuting several hours a day. After watching a bus conversion video, they hatched the idea to transform a bus into an ultra-portable tiny house, as buses are much more mobile than your traditional gable-roofed tiny houses. It took the family about a year of weekends to finish the whole project.
Multifunctional spacesComing into the front, one finds the mudroom where shoes are stored. This space also doubles as a workspace if needed. A big solid door separates this space from the rest of the bus and helps to maintain a consistent, comfortable temperature in the main interior spaces.
Past the door, one sees that the central corridor has been kept for walking through, while seating and counters are placed off to either side.
The seating area has two benches that have storage hidden underneath. There are extensions that can be pulled out from both benches to form a frame for a full-sized bed for guests.
The kitchen is large and well-appointed as this family loves to make home-cooked meals. The large counters can be used for folding laundry or activities with the kids. The appliances, like the secondhand sub-zero refrigerator and the combo oven-microwave-toaster, are compact and efficient. Portable induction stovetops are stowed away underneath. The wire rack over the sink is dish storage and a drying rack combined (reminds us of those clever Scandinavian dish drying closets). All dry goods and perishables are stored in large drawers to eliminate visual clutter.
Next up is the bathroom space, which has a composting toilet (compost is used for non-edible plants), a horse-trough shower-bathtub that doubles as storage, and a high-efficiency washing machine. Curtains can close this space off to turn it into a 'drying room' for laundry, as there is no dryer. The family uses cloth diapers, so that is a lot of laundry, and as Brian jokingly tells us: "We have learned to hang laundry on pretty much every surface in the bus since we do not have a dryer; everything air-dries."
Beyond that is the kids' room. With three small but active toddler boys, safety is paramount, but so is respecting their sense of play, as seen in the bunks that have a little window and ladder, but also a baby gate to ensure no one falls out. A third bed to one side doubles as a "play-bunk", and toys are stored out of sight under this bed. All beds are full-length single beds (7 feet long) as the bus was built with longevity in mind, to accommodate the children as they grow.
The parents' room is all the way in the back. The bed is built over the bump that houses the bus' innards, but there's still space to add more drawers for clothes.
The interior is well-designed and full of great ideas for making a small space more multifunctional -- from storage hidden under the seating benches, to the folding tables, to the wire racks and shelves that can double as places to hang and dry clothes. Hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, durable, washable and recyclable carpet tiles were used as well as long-lasting vinyl plank flooring, while appliances were chosen for their efficiency and ability to do more than one job.
All told, the 1996 Blue Bird bus was purchased for USD $2,800 at a nearby dealership. Renovations (tools, materials, paint job, appliances) cost another $25,000. Big Bertha is registered as an RV so that the family can drive it without a special license. Brian tells us what was the most important thing they discovered during the year-long process to renovate the bus:
Freedom. Freedom with our money, our time and our location. [..] The most important thing in life is people, and spending the most time with our family and children was a huge priority. We were not about to sacrifice our family time to work multiple jobs, paying for a lifestyle we didn't want. [..] Less space, less stuff, less time cleaning, less stress. More time to enjoy life and our children.
The Sullivans say that in their experience, a small space is perfect for raising more independent children. The kids help out with everything, and yet, if they get bored, the kids have direct access to the outside. Living only 20 minutes away from Seattle on a small piece of rented land near a nature preserve, they also have access to all that the city offers, without the high rents. It's the best of both worlds and a great example of how families don't necessarily need the huge house and mountains of stuff to be truly happy. As Brian points out: "Just because we live in a bus does not mean we are trapped in a bus."
To see more inspirational bus conversions, check out Kimberley's book, The Modern House Bus.