“By golly, these darn new-fangled RVs are making our Freya’s Chariot look bad.” If you find yourself saying this about your Classic Era (1971-1989) or Neo-Classic Era (1990-2007) travel trailer, there are some great ways you can upgrade your old RV to outshine those young whipper-snappers with a little RV remodel. While the manufacturers and vendors deal with the shortage of RV parts, we’ll show you some affordable ways to take advantage of in-stock items and outside industry materials to find solutions. You’ll also learn about the many creative ideas artisans around the country offer that you may not have thought of yet.
Legacy Era RVs
First of all, like any artist or interior designer, let’s start with the canvas your working with: that’s your RV. If you have a 1960s Shasta AirFlyte, older Airstream, a Coleman Pop-up, or original Winnebago Brave, these iconic RVs draw their own attention. Giving them a good once-over with exterior cleaning products will draw a crowd.
In this discussion, we’re talking about those motorhomes and travel trailers that are the forebears of today’s RVs. In many ways, your coach has features the Modern Era (2008-Present) doesn’t. Examples would be a 1991 Jayco Eagle travel trailer, a 1994 Cobra Sandpiper fifth wheel, or a 2000 Damon Escaper Ultra Sport Class A motorhome. Each one of these RVs has a story to tell. While you may not know its individual past, the Cobra and Damon are significant. Did you know that Forest River began in 1996 by using the assets of Cobra? On September 2, 2003, Thor Industries completed its buyout of Damon. The new daughter company became one of the root brands solidifying Thor Motor Coach.
When you have a legacy RV remodel, you’re rolling with a piece of RV history. Not only are you representing the past, but you’re also reusing a built coach, which may already have some significant upgrades in it and has some life left. The average lifespan of an RV is 20 years, but with the proper TLC, your home on wheels can last so much longer. Over 70% of all Airstreams are still on the road today.
Why We Chose a Legacy Motorhome
Brian and Marianne Newman have lived the full-time RV life in their 2001 Fleetwood Pace Arrow since 2018. Brian is a second-generation RVer, and Marianne caught the RV bug from him. When the Newman’s toured the many motorcoaches to find their new home on wheels, they purposely chose a Neo-Classic Era over a Modern Era RV. The vital components like the chassis, engine, transmission, frame and other essentials were still in great shape. The RV had less than 50,000 miles on it, and the few repairs it needed were manageable. The empty-nesters decided they could use their money to upgrade the features they wanted instead of investing in a high price.
Their RV remodel plans include changing the living room furniture, new countertops, and upgrading to a 50-amp electric service to ultimately convert propane features to electric. One of the latest projects they completed was turning the old front TV cabinet into a memorial cabinet to have a space for their four-legged pack members that have crossed the rainbow bridge.
Don’t Be Afraid To “Ruin” the Value With an RV Remodel
One of the most significant advantages you have compared to the Modern Era RVs is that your coach has already gone through the depreciation value curve. New RV buyers will lose up to 30% of the value in the first year and continue downward 20%-30% each year after that. The average new RV purchaser will keep their coach for around 8 years. After that, they’ll sell it to upgrade, transition to a different RV category, or leave the lifestyle. If a new model year owner considers upgrading a feature, they have to think about how it will impact the resale value later. As a legacy RV owner, don’t be afraid to have fun upgrading and adding your personal touches to it. If you do plan on upgrading later on, from a dealer’s perspective, this may be the last ride for “Sweet Bessy,” so dress her up to the nines.
Whether your RV remodel upgrades work or not, you’re learning. The most successful RVers are those that know how to work on their units themselves. You can perform over 90% of the maintenance and repairs yourself. The conventional RV building methods (wood frames and corrugated aluminum) used many of the same tools you have in your hardware bay during the Classic and Neo-Classic Era. Go ahead and attach that locomotive cowcatcher to the front of your Class A motorhome (Marianne won’t let Brian add it to their Pace Arrow). Add creative exterior decals, create RV workspaces by hand, or do something simple like updating the couch cushions. Make your legacy RV yours.
RV Remodel: Outdoor Decor
Setting Up an Inviting Outdoor Space
The best way to say “Howdy Neighbor” is to start with an inviting front porch. You could pick up a simple doormat to place it under your entry steps, but go for the gusto! There are plenty of RV outdoor rugs to choose from, whether you go to a big-box store, camping store, or online. If you don’t like what you see, make your own.
In the 1980s, this author’s RV outdoor rug was the faux grass used on miniature golf courses. It rolled up well and withstood the weather (although it was heavy). The best rugs allow water to flow through and maintain their integrity well. Bamboo outdoor carpets are durable, waterproof, and can handle the weight of outdoor furniture. You can find personalized RV doormats on Etsy to place under your entry steps to compliment whatever outdoor rug you use.
Accommodate Your Potential Guests
For your RV outdoor furniture, quality and quantity is everything. You don’t have to break the bank, but you want tables, chairs, and other pieces that look inviting but won’t fall apart after a couple of uses. Always have two empty chairs set up and available. Angle them a little toward the road. You’re telling people who walk by to take a moment to say hello. A closed-circle configuration says this is a “member’s-only” club.
When you really look at those built-in RV LED awning lights, what do they say? The LED lights light up the outdoor space, and there are color variations, but where’s the unique personality? Using RV hanging awning lights, or “twinkly lights” in the RV jargon, can be a stylistic solution to solve your outside lighting concerns for your RV remodel. You can go “old school” with pink flamingoes or gnomes to match your lawn versions. There is the various color-themed version to match the season, your RV, or your style. If you want to dress up for the evening, there are even crystal RV awning lights.
Camper Smarts Tip on Outdoor Furnishings: Most of us that live the RV lifestyle live by the friendly and trusting spirit of the RV Community. Some are still learning, so if there is something outside near and dear to your heart (or wallet), make sure you secure it before turning in for the night. As a good neighbor, make sure you keep an eye out for your neighbors too. RVers always look out for each other.
Everything and the Kitchen Sink
Your travel trailer’s outdoor kitchen consists of a side rail to hang your favorite barbecue or other propane cooking device. Adding one or two folding tables will give you enough counter space for additional RV cooking devices. If you can sacrifice a door-side exterior bay, you can build a sliding drawer with a built-in grill and sink connected to your RV’s LP and plumbing. Learn more about these and other DIY projects that are easier than you think for your RV remodel at Do-It-Yourself RV.
RV Remodel: Interior
A Welcoming First Impression
When you bring your guests inside, you want it to be just as inviting. Check out some of the excellent RV remodel interior design accessories we recommend to help you finish your look. You’ll be amazed at what $10-$20 can do.
Give a Facelift to the Floor
More than likely, if your motorhome or travel trailer has a manufacturer date before 2007, you have carpet. If you want to keep it, renting a steam cleaner with a hose attachment can bring it back to that original color. You can also add some area rugs for problem spots. It covers the permanent stain and adds a dimension to your overall interior design. If it’s time to rip out the carpet, they’re doing great things with laminates today. Peel and stick wood planks are designed to look like wood but have vinyl durability. It comes pre-glued, so after you line things up, just peel off the adhesive paper and stick it down. You can use a carpenter knife to cut the slats to size. The same is true for the thousands of tile patterns. RV manufacturers use tongue and groove flooring seen in brick and stick homes. You can do this too, but it’s more involved with your time, money, and effort. The finished RV remodel flooring project has a distinctive look and can be worth the effort.
Getting New Furniture Without Buying New Pieces
The Classic Era was known for the farmhouse floral decor fabrics. The Neo-Classic had more modern styled floral, striped, and leather furniture. If you’re not ready to rip out and replace your furniture, there’s a lot you can still do with the cushions and covers. Custom RV cushion covers can change your dinette, sofa, and other seating. There are artisans around the country that let you choose the fabric you want and put them together. If the foam need replacement, a quick run to a hardware or craft store will solve that. You may have a memory foam mattress that has a firm bottom layer that’s still good enough for repurposing.
Elkhart, Indiana, the RV Capital of the World, is home to over 80% of the RV Industry. The region is home to a large Amish community that dates back well before the first recreational vehicle company hung its shingle. If you have the opportunity to visit a town center, their highly-prized handmade Amish quilts are worthy of any art museum wall.
Displaying one on your sofa not only upgrades your interior design, but the quilts can also keep you warm on cold nights. The stitching patterns and techniques are family traditions that date back many generations. You may even have the opportunity to meet the artisan too. Remember to respect their religious traditions about photography and video. No piece of furniture is complete without a decorative pillow. Whether it’s a solid color, complimentary pattern, or personalized decorative pillow that acts as your “welcome aboard” signpost, pillows can be the cozy cap to finish your interior design creation. Personalized prints come with any welcoming message or phrasing you want (including the subtle innuendos and double meanings similar to the movies of the 1930s).
Gaining “Silver and Gold” During an RV Remodel
Suppose you and your family were on that TV game show where families guess the top answer of people surveyed. The host asks the question, “What’s the biggest concern in RV kitchens?” How would you answer it? The number one “golden” answer is storage and the second “silver” is counter space. Classic and Neo-Classic Era motorhomes and travel trailers did pretty well with the counters, but storage was always a problem. Three-way refrigerators and 2-in-1 range ovens were dependent on propane. There are ways to drop the tank in an age of energy independence, so you’re free from LP. An RV remodel almost always involves the kitchen in some way.
If you want to install a solar panel system, check out our discussions on the topic. We always recommend consulting a professional and performing your research. It’s complicated, and you can get hurt if you make a mistake. The benefits of a solar system can be worth it with some RV lifestyle adjustments. For some simple kitchen solutions, getting a custom flush mount or butcher block sink covers to give you the meal prep space you need. If your RV doesn’t come with it, there are stove covers and flip-up counter additions you can install too. There are many portable kitchen islands for a significant amount of counter space for brick and stick homes that fit well in mid-size travel trailers or larger.
If you cut off your propane, you can change your stove to a flush electric range or conduction version. Many microwaves now have convection capabilities. Use the open oven space to add an apartment-sized dishwasher or cookware storage. When you changed the dinette cushions, you can also refinish the table or add a freestanding one. RV accessory companies may have a table that fits your dinette, so you can still use it for additional sleeping space. To finish it right, table runners add the right amount of color and protection to the table.
Don’t forget to use a tabletop computer mount for the ergonomic benefits for those who use the dinette as an RV office space. We also recommend sitting where you can’t see the TV or the best scenery outside the windows. It’s great to take a break, but a 10-minute breather shouldn’t turn into 10-hours. For RV storage solutions, you’ll find a plethora of gadgets and gizmos to organize your cabinets, closets, drawers, and shelves. Those that use small campers like teardrops and pop-ups find that tent gear works well. Larger RVs can find cookware that stacks together, foam organizers, or repurposing cloth shoe trees.
RV Remodel: Making the Bedroom a Luxury Suite
In the RV world, mattresses don’t stick to the 4 standard sizes you see in residential homes. You’ll find short queens, extra-large twins, and other variations. A good portion of bed companies cater to RV mattress sizes, so you can find the perfect one that fits best. If you choose memory foam, RVs aren’t as airtight as houses. Humidity and heat wear down their elasticity quicker. Choose a thick mattress, so you don’t feel the plywood base, and use a moisture-control barrier layer underneath it to lengthen the life.
To update your cabinetry’s look during an RV remodel, try a new set of hardware. RV handles and hinges are a lot less expensive than replacing doors or cabinets. When you go to the hardware store, take one of the handles and knobs with you to match up bolt hole lengths and have actual comparisons. When window day and nightshade wiring breaks, it’s frustrating trying to open the window. There are RV shade repair kits to restring them. You can also upgrade to the new zebra shades or try some great no-sew DIY shades and RV window covers.
From the Water Closet to the Powder Room
Dry bathrooms in RVs give you a lot of opportunities to update and upgrade. Smaller travel trailers still use plastic composite commodes, but porcelain RV toilets are always better if you can do it. Secured shelving, functional art, and new accent wallpaper can knock years off your coach’s look and enhance storage.
When you redo the bathroom sink, go porcelain or stainless steel. Add an LED light fixture and faux tile backsplash to manage your RV’s weight (natural tile can quickly eat up a significant portion of your cargo carrying capacity). Marianne’s looking forward to the shower redesign because she’s had her eye on that teak bench for years.
Chores Are a Bore, Make It Fun!
Why do people spend many hours of their leisure time in the garage fixing up old cars, making crafts, or working on various other hobbies? Because they enjoy the work, the accomplishment of a challenge, and seeing the results of what they did. Another definition for this: fun. Brian refers to his RV as a 35-foot hot rod. While it’ll get 0-60 mph by tomorrow, any maintenance, repair, or upgrade he completes on it feels like an accomplishment. Most of the time the work isn’t difficult. The hardest part is learning what to do and taking that step into the unknown.
Marianne’s experience is a little different. With her limited mobility due to her disability, having a smaller household space makes it easier to perform daily tasks to participate in the care of the motorhome. The RV hacks and other RV DIY solutions she learned about made full-time living better through the various social media and RV Life online forums within the RVing community. The point is, many of these projects are cheap and can be fun if you make it that way. The reward is seeing your unique vision coming together. You may have a whole laundry list of projects, but don’t overburden yourself by starting them all at once. Start small, complete it, and move to the next one when you’re ready. Create a plan (adjust for the unexpected), and stick to it.
While camping stores, online stores, and YouTube are great resources, don’t totally rely on the 21st century. You’ll find great RV remodel ideas online from our sister website Do-It-Yourself-RV, like 10 DIY Projects That Will Improve Your RV. Talk to your campfire friends at the campground too. Many veteran RVers have the skills to walk you through parts of the repair or maintenance process you’re having a hard time figuring out. They may even have the tool you need and let you borrow it instead of running out and altering your vacation budget.
As you travel, check out the antique or craft shows you pass by. In these uncertain times, the local businesses struggled to survive the economic shockwaves of the Global Pandemic. If you need a decorative or functional item, these local artisans and craftspeople may have a high-quality piece that feels more special than the item online. If your RV needs repair work beyond what you can do, many mobile RV repair technicians are highly qualified and come to you. They’ll work within your budget and timing. They’ll help you realize your vision for your RV because, more than likely, there’s an RV waiting at home for them.
About the Authors
After the first 50 miles in a rented Class A motorhome, Marianne caught the RV Bug Brian had as a legacy RVer. A few years later, the Newmans joined the full-time RV lifestyle in 2017. Together with their two working-class fur-babies, they explore the RV World together. Like John Madden, Brian hasn’t “worked” in years because he gets to write about his passion. You can read his feature articles on Camper Smarts and other RV Life Network Affiliates. Mari enjoys working alongside her husband occasionally but focuses on other ventures in social media.