The Couple Who Turned A School Bus Into Their Dream Home
| LAST UPDATE 10/17/2021
When The Drez's grew tired of traditional life in Chicago, they bought a school bus and worked hard to turn it into their dream tiny home. From a metal shell to a cozy bedroom, a large living room, and a full kitchen, check out the transformation here!
Meet Francesca and Nicholas
When Francesca and Nicholas met, it was an instant connection that soon blossomed into marriage. In June 2016, the pair became Mr. and Mrs. Drez in an intimate ceremony in Cancun, Mexico. Thus they embarked on the journey of life together.
Once returning to the states, the couple settled down in the Chicago area of Illinois. They moved into a 1,400 square-foot home, but it soon turned out to be too much space for the couple to handle. The townhouse lifestyle didn't seem to fit their adventurous urges.
Too Much Space
After 2 years of trying to make their house feel like a home, they realized that most of their belongings were still sitting in cardboard boxes. Francesca and Nicholas realized they owned much more stuff than necessary for their lifestyle. They couldn't seem to fill the 1,400 square-foot home with just the 2 of them.
"The kitchen and 1 bedroom were all we used," Francesca explained. After they watched a documentary about a couple living on a converted school bus, their adventurous senses tingled. They felt inspired by the drifter lifestyle. Living in a tiny home could be a bit complicated because this family actually had 5 members.
The young couple shared their home with 3 adorable pups: Sullivan, Magoo, and Murphy. So, if they were to embark on this tiny house journey, there had to be enough space for all 5 of them. With the downsizing mentality already in motion, Nicholas and Francesca knew what they needed to do to make this transition work.
Nicholas recalled, "It started with a documentary we watched about a couple that was traveling around the United States. Late one night, on the couch, we kind of looked at each other and said, 'Hey, could we do that?' and after sitting on it for a day or two, we were all in." But, before they could up and move, they needed a bus.
Their New Home
Just 1 month after watching the documentary that inspired this massive lifestyle shift, the 27-year-olds managed to find a ride. The bus was just 7 years younger than the couple and had 168,000 miles on it, but they were determined to make it work. Next stop, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Once they arrived at the North Carolina-based auction, they were overjoyed to find that the Blue Bird bus had much less rust than those from the coastal area. (It's truly the little things that matter in the world of tiny homes). Once they fixed up the tires, alternator, oil filter, and fluids, they were ready to hit the road.
Raising The Roof
First things first, some work had to be done. The new homeowners spent $5,000 on their bus and allocated $55,000 for the conversion. According to Nick, the total cost was "Much cheaper than a house, an RV, or an RV mortgage." With a 38 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 22-square foot interior project ahead of them, they got to work.
After they gutted the windows, the roof was raised by 20 inches. Extending the ceiling's height wasn't mandatory, but with 5 residents, it helped make the space feel more comfortable. The couple was determined to make their bus-to-home transformation as pleasant as possible. So, projects like this were a welcomed change.
A Fresh Coat of Paint
With an eye for all things design, Francesca wanted the bus to be equally as beautiful on the outside as on the inside. So, after the roof was raised, they painted the exterior white and added some tinted windows for privacy. With its new look, the bus was unrecognizable!
Luckily, the exterior was equipped with storage space, a big plus. "Instead of storing all the solar and the batteries and everything else on the interior of the bus, it's all out here, which left us a lot more room on the inside," explained Nicholas. Things were starting to come together, but the couple needed a little help.
The Handy Helpers
The couple managed to strip away the old seats, ceiling, and floor. But, seeing the naked interior of the vehicle for the first time was an intimidating experience. Francesca and Nicholas thought of all of the work yet to be done and turned to some friends for help. Thankfully, they knew just the people to ask.
The overwhelmed homeowners found Luke and Rachel Davis, another couple who turned a vehicle into a home. In fact, they actually ran their own business from their mobile home called Skoolie.com. Their website provides customized bus conversion services, which Francesca and Nicholas happily took full advantage of.
As they brainstormed blueprints for their new home, Francesca and Nicholas used tape to outline their designs on the floor. "We did a million different designs," Francesca said. Throughout the time-consuming process, the couple constantly evaluated, "What are our necessities." Soon, they decided on a plan they both loved.
The final design included a living area, a spacious kitchen, a unique split bathroom, and a private bedroom in the back. With the bus's interior stripped away, the big construction project began. Custom-built furniture and frames slowly came into place, and the couple could finally see their dream becoming a reality.
A Fruitful Downsize
The bus soon became a bright and comfortable space. Francesca and Nicholas sold their townhome and moved into their new tiny home. According to Nicholas, the major down-size decreased their monthly living expenses to about $800 per month, including food and fuel. Finally, the pair felt like the $55,000 conversion was worth it.
After they ditched their old digs, they left Chicago in their new home. The adventurers moved to Colorado, where they spent the first year, "Learning about the bus," recalled Nicholas. "Mainly traveling around Denver, Colorado area because I still had a full-time job in an office downtown."
The Home's Centerpiece
Nicholas explained that because they loved to cook so much, they wanted the kitchen to be "The centerpiece of the bus." Thanks to all of the time spent toying around with designs, they created a spacious kitchen for themselves. The motor home had enough space for a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, and that's not all.
They were able to include standard-size cabinets and drawers, a propane-fueled oven, and 4 burners. "Going with the fridge underneath gave a lot more cabinet space," Nicholas explained. The original design was going to include a traditional fridge. But, they wanted an apartment-sized countertop, so a compromise was made.
"Our Dream Home"
Knowing this was a cost-effective shift in living, the couple was able to splurge on a few items that would make their on-the-road lifestyle more comfortable. For example, they invested in a gorgeous butler kitchen sink with plenty of space for dirty dishes. Although this was a pricey purchase, the couple felt it was worth it.
"By going smaller, we were able to actually make our dream home," Francesca said. "That's another cool thing about downsizing and going tiny. We've never really settled into our homes, we've never really been able to show ourselves in our homes... and get everything we wanted," until now!
As one could imagine, a lot of thought went into the kitchen design. They knew they would be spending ample time cooking, so, "When we were doing our layout, we knew we needed a very long kitchen," explained Francesca. They wanted "Lots of counter space...And we wanted a spacious one...this is kind of just our dream kitchen."
The pair came up with an invention of their own to extend the kitchen to be even bigger when the counters weren't enough: They placed wooden chopping boards over the sink and burner stove. And just like that, a few more feet were added to the counter space! Next stop, the spacious living room area, just a head's turn away.
Living Room Essentials
The living room sits a bit closer to the front of the bus. On the right, a custom 10-foot couch was installed. Across from it on the left, they placed a smaller bench to maximize seating space. Once the sofas were in place, the bus became their new favorite hangout spot.
The beauty is truly in the detail in this cozy tiny home. White shiplap was placed over the original metal walls, which warmed up the space. And, recessed LED lighting and wooden ceiling panels were made from the Blue Ridge Mountains. In sum, the special custom features made for a breathtaking living area.
The Beautiful Decor
The bus's transformation was a team effort, but Francesca focused much of her time on the decor to ensure that they would be as comfortable as possible. Mrs. Drez is a content creator with an eye for design and aesthetics. To contrast the dark grey couch, she chose light-colored throw pillows with subtle patterns.
The waterproof vinyl flooring had a dark color, which complemented the lighter tones of the walls and ceiling. Francesca hung rustic pieces on the walls, including a small decorative ladder and weaved art. Although she was happy with her first go at the design, she has updated it many times since.
In such a small space, functionality is arguably just as important as aesthetics, possibly even more. This is precisely why Francesca and Nicholas wanted a couch that could double as a guest bed when they had visitors. So, they built the 10-foot bench with the capabilities of pulling out to create a perfect sleeping area fit for 2.
If you thought that was all, think again! On top of doubling as a bed, the couch triples as a storage unit. Beneath the cushions are sizeable storage bins where Francesca and Nicholas tuck away their 80-gallon freshwater tank, games, out-of-season clothing, and other items.
Their Cozy Nights In
The tiny home provides this family of 5 with plenty of space. When Francesca and Nicholas get tired of staring at the gorgeous views outside of their many windows, they can close their curtains and turn on their television for a cozy night in. The TV sits atop a custom-built shelf above the driver's seat.
Even though the 10-foot couch provides more than enough space for the couple and their pooches, they added little bean bags and extra pillows for comfort and visitors, too! The pups get the best of all worlds, as they enjoy full access to lounging on the floor, their choice of couches, and sometimes even the dashboard.
So, what does this power couple do for work to be able to live on the road? Well, from the moment they moved in, the bus became Francesca's home and office. Mrs. Drez worked remotely as a Communications Manager before she quit her job and became a self-employed owner of a content creation business.
"During that time, Nick worked full time in an office downtown in Denver, Colorado," Francesca shared. "We lived at an RV park, and he commuted to the city every day." The space was a perfect one-person-office, but it became more difficult when Nicholas changed jobs and began to work from home too.
Working From Home
Nearly a year after moving into their dream bus, Nicholas got a new job working remotely as a Sales Manager for a software company. As life working from home shifted for the couple, Francesca explained that "We always have to make sure we are parked in a good cell service Monday-Friday for his job."
With Nicholas now working from home, other changes had to be made as well. At first, the couple used wooden crates for dining, but they were soon replaced with a wooden wall-mounted foldable table. The new arrangement doubled as a desk for Nicholas during the workweek, and luckily, took up little space.
Room for the Furry Friends
The tiny home fits 2 young professionals working from home and three stay-at-home dogs. "If you were wondering if we designed the layout around the dogs, the answer is yes," the couple shared on Facebook. "The more open floor space, the better!" What lucky pooches!
As the couple has shared their adventures, some people have voiced concern over the 3 dogs living in such a small amount of space. Others argue that the dogs are happy and loved in the space they have at their disposal. According to Francesca and Nicholas, their pets love the tiny home and are just as happy as they are there.
The Split Bathroom
The front of the house is so beautiful. It's hard to believe that this was once a 20-year-old school bus! And, the transformation doesn't end there. Past the living room and kitchen space is the split bathroom. The sink and bathroom storage is visible on the left side, while the spacious tile shower resides on the right side.
"The shower is probably my second favorite part [of the house], right behind the wood-burning stove," said Nicholas. Some followers of the Happy Homebodies social media accounts have said this section of the house is nicer than many restrooms found in city apartments! Let's take a closer look at the unique bathroom.
The Sink and Toilet
A peek inside the left side of the bathroom shows a full sink and vanity. Atop the sink and above the toilet are 2 mirrors that, as Francesca described, "Make the room even bigger." The 2 shelves built into the vanity and the baskets on the wall make up the bathroom's storage space for towels and toiletries.
Across from the sink sits the compostable toilet. "It's kind of tiny, but it works for us," Francesca said. "We've never done the black water, and we didn't really want to do a black water tank, so we just thought, 'Everyone's doing the composting toilet. Let's try this out.'" Now, on to the right side of the bathroom.
Across the hall is the shower, equipped with a pricey but worthwhile eco-friendly showerhead that Nicholas sourced from Nebia. The tiling on the floor and walls was placed during the winter months, which made the process more difficult, as tiling typically sticks better in warmer weather. Nevertheless, it looks great!
"We had a struggle with it, but we're so happy with how it turned out," Francesca said. "We love the stonework; it goes with the front of the bus, and it kind of just flows with our entire theme in this house." The stones on the shower floor have a double purpose, as they were also used on the stairs at the home's entrance.
At the very back of the bus is a 7-foot bright bedroom. The bed is tucked behind a rustic brown barn door, which provides the couple with plenty of privacy when they have guests stay with them. But, while the separated space provides a perfect solution for needed alone time, Francesca and Nicholas don't actually use it much.
The happy couple said they spend most of their time at the front of the bus lounging or creating new dishes. They love cooking in the kitchen and working in the living room. But, Nick added that "When we do need free time, it is nice to have your own room or room to put the dogs in." It sounds like they've got it all figured out!
They Wanted Freedom
Of the many bonuses to living in a home on wheels, 1, of course, is mobility. And that's exactly what Nicholas and Francesca had in mind when they chose to majorly downsize and sell their Chicago townhome. The couple had grown massively tired of mortgage payments and utility bills, but also of their stationary lifestyle.
Nicholas further explained, "We liked the freedom to explore and go adventuring, and I think we were kind of just feeling like we were in a rut... with the job and life, and this was kind of a way out to go and try a couple of new things." The Drez's wanted to make their travel dreams come true, so that's exactly what they did.
Goodbye 9-5, Hello Open Road
Once Nicholas landed his remote working position and left the 9-5 office life, he and Francesca started traveling on the weekends. The family of 5 has traveled all across the United States and even road-tripped from Florida to Oregon. RV resorts and gorgeous hillsides throughout the country provided perfect pit spots.
"When we first met, it was all career-oriented. I mean, 60 plus hours a week, saving money for what?" Nicholas recalled. "I think we had the adventure in us the whole time. We would love to go for hikes, walking the dogs... But if we could make that the social point in the center of the lifestyle, I think we were both in for that."
The Wood Stove
Their adventures often take them "off-the-grid," to places with limited or no access to electricity. So, aside from a plethora of cozy blankets, how do they stay warm during the winter? Their wood-burning stove, of course! The stove is located in the main area and provides heat no matter where they're traveling.
The stove is a small but mighty tool. "Not only does it bring cozy vibes and allow us to cuddle by the fire, but it also really warms the place up, probably better than a heater could," the couple shared. For other off-the-grid power sources, the couple resourcefully turned to nature's helping hand.
Powering the Home
While most of the home's systems can run on gas and electricity, the 5 solar collectors on the roof create enough watts to power the bus for up to 4 days! Each solar panel is 100-watts, which, according to Nicholas, "Is more than enough" for them. Leave it to this power couple to be as resourceful as can be! (No pun intended)!
"The only energy sucker is the refrigerator, and it's not even that much," Nicholas added. The house also has a portable generator tucked away in storage to power the air conditioning in the summer. As long as their 80-gallon water tank is filled up, the Drez's can travel as far and wide from civilization as they please!
Additional Special Touches
At the front of the bus is, of course, the driver's seat. While the Drez's often use this feature of the home for their weekend travels, they wanted the dashboard to look nice when it's not in use too. Nicholas explained, "We try to hide it when it's just the homey feel so that it doesn't actually look like the bus again."
However, that's not the only reason for the cute dashboard decor. Francesca said, "We were just driving, and our dogs kept going up there. They would sit up there, look out the window, and I was like, 'Well, they need something comfy to sit on, and so I just did a DIY cushion, threw it up there, and draped the blanket on top."
A Magical Thanksgiving
Their mobile home might be small, but it's mighty capable of allowing the Drez family to celebrate any and all occasions. Unable to join the rest of their family this year, the loving couple were able to create their own special Thanksgiving celebration together and had an intimate feast for 2 in their makeshift dining room.
"We made the best of our little Thanksgiving this year," the adventurous couple shared on Instagram. "We cooked up some of our favorite sides, put on our matching Christmas pajamas, and had a cozy night in." With fairy lights hanging off the bus's windows and pups close by under the table, their celebration looked magical.
So, what does the couple think of tiny home living? So far, they say that they have no regrets. Living on-the-go provides the freedom and adventure they yearned for. "Most people work their whole lives saving up this big nest egg of money with hopes of... traveling when it's finally time for retirement," Nicholas said.
"We've seen our grandparents get to that point where they have the money and have the time but no longer have that energy," he continued. "We may not have the money right now, but we definitely have... the energy, and we have the time. The money will come and go, so we'll find it as we go." Way to go, Drez family!
Outdoor Movie Night
One of the best parts of skoolie life is definitely getting to take advantage of the great outdoors. But that doesn't have to be limited to hiking and exploring - it can also mean just chilling outside with a killer set-up like the one the Drez clan got!
Thanks to a projector that Francesca and Nicholas bought on Amazon, the couple (and their furry friends) have enjoyed plenty of movie nights inside or outside the house. All they have to do is get set up in an RV park, pull out some outdoor seating, and project onto the bus's white side.
Bringing the Outdoors In
But the skoolie-dwellers love bringing the outdoors in, too. That's hardly surprising for a couple who enjoys life on the road. So how did they get a touch of nature inside their tiny motorhome? For Francesa and Nicholas, it's all about plants, plants, and more plants.
"My favorite and easiest to keep alive while traveling full time seem to be snake plants, aloe vera plants, ivy plants, yucca plants, cactus, and ponytail palms," Francesa shared after much trial-and-error with different kinds. "Right now I'm obsessed with hanging the ivy all over our windows."
The New Set-Up
And the new plant-based decor isn't the only thing that the Drez's have added since moving into their skoolie. While they previously had a pop-up coffee/dining table and a small fold-up table, the DIYers realized that wasn't enough workspace for both of them.
"It's crazy when building your bus the things you think you will and won't need," Francesca noted. "I for some reason didn't think a dedicated workspace was all that necessary. I figured I'd work at the couch or the bed or the drivers seat. But it quickly got old!"
Do They Have Enough Room?
So if Francesca and Nicholas didn't have enough space for just the two of them to work, how is it working out with their three furry children? Do the dogs have enough space on the bus? "I remember when we first moved into the bus being worried the dogs might not like it," Mrs. Drez recalled.
But that worry is long gone. According to Francesca, the pups love the bus. "The world has become their backyard and their home is quite literally one constant "Car Ride" (which is their favorite thing in the world). I'd say these dogs have it made," she said.
Celebrating Two Years on the Bus
It went so well for all five of the Drez members that two years flew by in the blink of an eye! In 2021, the family celebrated their 2-year busiversary. "I can't believe how far we've come," Francesca said. "We were so new to everything and we knew so little compared to what we know now."
It wasn't always a smooth ride, but the couple continued to have no regrets over their decision. "Everyone's story is different and there is no right way to do it," they reflected. "Things aren't always easy but you CAN and WILL get through it and be even stronger for it."
New Travel Buddies
After two years on the bus, Francesca and Nicholas have seen plenty of beautiful views and visited lots of national parks. But maybe the best part of it all? The people that the couple has met and become close friends with. In fact, they've even gained travel buddies!
"It's almost been two months since we met and started traveling with Will, Kristin, Roam and Rush," Francesca shared in the summer of 2021. "We have loved every second of it! It's so cool how the people you meet on [Instagram] can become real life friends, and in some cases, like family." But then things took a turn...
Trouble in Paradise
Francesca and Nicholas had been on the road for quite some time when skoolie life started to take a physical toll. While the couple made plenty of upgrades and changes to the skoolie, they didn't think to change the driver's seat. That ended up being a big mistake as Mr. Drez got injured.
"Starting to think we might need to upgrade our drivers chair," the couple shared on Instagram. "This one is just not cutting it and we are starting to think sitting in it for hours and hours over the last year could be part of the reason Nick is having neck pain." And then things got worse.
They Had to Stop Traveling
After over two years of skoolie-living and nearly a year of travel, Francesca and Nicholas had to call it quits because of Nick's neck pain. "After going back and forth on it for the last 2 weeks, we decided we are going to end our East Coast tour early and head home to Illinois," they said.
Francesca added, "[Nick] has a pinched nerve in his neck that is causing a lot of pain and could become serious if he doesn't rest and let it work its way out. We are constantly on the move so we thought it would be best to give him some down time." There was just one problem...
Living by the Highway
Nicholas and Francesca had trouble figuring out where they could set up their tiny home-on-wheels while staying put in Illinois, their home state. "We are struggling to find somewhere to park the bus and stay in the suburbs of Chicago, which is where we are from," they shared.
Ultimately, the Drez family found a spot... on the side of the highway. "We have to admit, we don't hate it," the couple said of the location. "Some people might get bothered by the constant noise... but not us. We have spent hours out here just watching cars and trucks go by."
Back on the Road
After about a month of rest in Illinois, the Drez crew felt ready to hit the road again, but things would be different this time. "We are taking things easy this year, only traveling an hour or so a day," Francesca said. "No more 1000+ mile travel weekends!"
As for that pesky driver's seat that might've caused Nick's neck pains? For now, it's still there. "We weren't able to find one that fit our bus in time plus the ones we did find had insane shipping," they explained. "We decided to hit the road and search for a chair along the way."