I always tell people that pop up campers are addictive. Once you’ve been bitten by the bug, you get a little obsessed with finding one. I remember searching Craigslist for well over a year before I found our Santa Fe. It takes some time to find the right camper, and I highly recommend doing your homework before you buy a used PUP. We’ve got a great article here on finding just the right one for your family.
But what happens when you think you’ve done all your research, only to get your baby home, and find the seller wasn’t exactly truthful on the condition of your camper? I’ve heard quite a few stories about readers who thought they were getting a great little pop up, only to find severe damage when they started their remodels. Do you throw in the towel? Cut your losses and find a new camper? In certain circumstances, it is definitely more economical to walk away, but sometimes–with a little hard work–you can make that new-to-you PUP as good as, well… new. That’s exactly what Lisa and her husband did. Here she is to tell us all about it.
Lisa’s Pop Up Camper Makeover
We are a scouting family and have tent camped since our oldest son was a tiger scout in first grade. Our boys are now 16 and 13, and we love the outdoors. It is our happy place, for sure. We were never in a place – we thought – to afford a camper of any kind. That was, until I stumbled upon The Pop Up Princess. After being inspired by so many reader stories, I began watching Craiglist for something that we could afford. We knew that a pop up was definitely the right first step to take.
After looking at a few pop ups, we developed some specific “wants” for our new camper. We wanted a dining slide out and we preferred not to have to climb over seating to get into bed. We also wanted something that was in decent condition, so we could instantly use it and make cosmetic updates over time. Well, we ended up with two out of the three of those wants. 😉
We found the camper and emailed to see it as soon as possible. It was a 2001 Coleman Niagara with dining slide out and two king size beds. We knew we had to have it. In fact, we were so excited we made reservations for the closest state park before we even purchased it. Boy, were we novices! It never occurred to us that it would be too heavy for my Honda Pilot to tow. It literally pushed us all the way home, but it was the perfect excuse for my husband to get a truck. Our affordable venture was becoming less affordable. Lesson learned… know your tow capacity before you buy your camper.
After we got ourselves a new tow vehicle, we scheduled the next few weekends to make cosmetic updates to the camper. We planned to do new floors, new paint on the walls and cabinets, new curtains and accessories. The countertops had already been replaced with nice wood ones, and the seats had been recovered with a vinyl material that I knew would hold up great with the boys. I am not a seamstress so knowing I didn’t have to worry about the seat cushions was a huge plus. In fact, I picked the entire color scheme to work with those seat coverings.
That was where the good news ended. When we pulled up the old linoleum, we discovered wood rot along with some mold in several places. You could push on the wood and your entire finger would go through the subfloor. Upon further examination, we discovered we had rotted wood on the back sides of the cabinets and some rotted walls behind where the cabinets had stood. It was a mess. There had been some major water leakage over time that had been ignored. We were so heartbroken. We knew this was about to become one of our largest challenges yet. Second lesson learned… thoroughly inspect your PUP before purchase, and make sure you slide up under the camper and check the underside for water damage.
We donned our masks and gutted the entire camper down to the frame and began the rebuilding process. We had quite a bit of work to do, but we learned as we went along. We used plywood where we could, as it is a bit more water resistant than particle board, and we wanted to avoid having this issue again. After we replaced the rotted sections of the subfloor, we worked on the interior walls.
Then we rebuilt the cabinets. My husband used the existing cabinets as templates to build new ones out of ¾ inch plywood. We kept the original drawers, so we had to remove all the paint and sand those down. That was the most time consuming part. Once they were finished, we painted everything white. I splurged on spray paint, because I didn’t want to deal with brush strokes, although I did buy the cheapest economy white spray paint that Lowe’s offered. We reused all the hardware, but gave it a fresh coat of black spray paint.To provide some contrast from the white cabinets, we painted the walls a light grey. I wanted everything to feel light and airy. The flooring is Stainmaster Washed Oak from Lowes. The original refrigerator didn’t work, so we replaced it with a black dorm fridge and added a cute, personalized decal to the front.The largest expense was the canvas, but it was also the best thing we did. We purchased it from Bear Creek Canvas, and I cannot speak highly enough about them. That canvas is worth every. single. penny. 😀Miraculously, even though we had to replace nearly everything else in the camper, we were able to keep the cushion covers and the countertops. They look amazing in the remodeled camper. I purchased coordinating curtains from Ikea and cut them down to size. I used iron-on hem tape to hem them and hung them on tension rods throughout the camper. We opted to leave the valances off, and I love the look. We also hung a chandelier–purchased at Ikea as well–above the table.I followed a lot of Larissa’s suggestions when it came to the sleeping areas. The camper came with the interlocking anti-fatigue mats on the bunkends, but no mattresses. We purchased 4-inch memory foam mattresses from Walmart and put an egg crate on top of them for added comfort. We trimmed the memory foam and the egg crate to size with an electric carving knife. It was so easy. The bedding also came from Ikea. I like to mix and match my sheets with a different color on the bottom sheet than the top sheet, and that’s easy to do at Ikea, and they have great comforters and duvet covers. Our beds are really comfortable, too! I added a pop of color by layering yellow blankets (Kirkland’s) and pillows (Target) on the bed… and they were all on clearance. Score!
The door to the camper was pretty beat up, so I covered it in cute printed Contact paper. The shelving comes from The Container Store and folds completely flat. It was a splurge but has paid for itself in convenience ten times over. All in all, it took us from July until October to complete the entire project. It was a bit more than we signed on for, but I am in love with how it turned out and so grateful for all the reader remodels on the blog that inspired us along the way. We can’t wait to take it out more this year! 🙂
I am so impressed with Lisa’s makeover. Isn’t that amazing? It just goes to show that if you are handy and don’t mind a little hard work, you can repair just about any problem your little PUP might have. It looks amazing, Lisa! Thank you so much for inspiring us! Now go enjoy all that hard work.