Lauren and Van Jones dreamt of converting an old school bus into the perfect home for their family of 4. And, with time and hard work, the couple brought their vision to life! Detailed here is their stunning skoolie transformation.
Meet the Jones
Meet Lauren, Van, and Piper Jones, a family of 3 with another on the way. They decided to take on the massive DIY project of turning a school bus into a home. When it came to projects like this, the family already had experience under their belts, which helped them determine where to start.
Van, Lauren, and Piper previously renovated and lived in an RV. They then sold their mobile home and spent some time living abroad. When medical issues throughout Lauren's second pregnancy caused them to return to the states, they turned a troublesome circumstance into a chance to make one of their shared dreams come true.
An Alabama Skoolie
This difficult time for the Jones family forced them to leave their adventures abroad and return to Alabama. There suddenly seemed to be no better time to bring their skoolie dreams to life! Year after year, Lauren had sent her husband pictures of renovated school buses and fantasized about one day having their own.
Wishing to make his wife's dreams come true, the family took the plunge on a 1999 Thomas Passenger Bus. It had been previously used as an after-school bus in Jasper, Alabama. Their future home was 40 feet long and about 280 square feet. This meant that Lauren and Van had to plan each area carefully to fit their growing family.
Stripping the Seats
The Jones family first had to pair down their belongings, as a houseful of items would not fit aboard. Also, the inside of the bus had to be gutted to create the foundation of their new home. It might've been in reasonably good condition, but Lauren imagined a different aesthetic for the new interior.
"We were surprised to discover it didn't take nearly as long as we thought to take the seats out," Lauren eagerly shared. But the determined couple still had a while to go before the bus was a clean slate to work with. Luckily, the Jones' had a great parking spot to work on their transformation come rain or shine.
A Clean Slate
Throughout the bus-to-home conversion, the 1999 Thomas sat parked inside a small warehouse owned by the couple's friends. This location allowed Van to work day or night, with any weather condition. It also helped to finish up the conversion faster, which, with a newborn on the way, was likely a priority!
After the seats were removed, the bus-owners rid of the luggage holders located above, where the seats once were. They stripped the walls to the bus's bare metal and began removing the original ceiling. The DIYers had big plans for a significant upgrade to their motorhome's roof.
Raising the Roof
The couple's vision was to remove the Thomas bus's original ceiling to make space for some enchanting additions. They carved holes for exhaust fans to keep the house cool and added large skylights throughout the vehicle. Plenty of natural sunlight would illuminate this small home in no time.
Arguably their most exciting roof project involved the bathroom. "Our bus was actually already a little bit taller than a normal school bus, but we raised the roof where the shower is to get some extra height for Van," Lauren explained. And that's not all; the DIYers had more special plans for their unique shower.
As it turned out, the Jones' had unique plans for every aspect of their future motorhome. They made sure everything they needed was included and spent months brainstorming different floorplans. Lauren utilized her art skills to make detailed sketches of varying areas of the bus, planning both the basics and the decorations.
After drafting up and analyzing an abundance of blueprint options, they finally settled on the one seen here. Behind the driver's seat would be the living room area, followed by the kitchen. The second half of the bus would include the bathroom, the family's closet, and 3, yes 3, beds.
Framing the Bus
Once the hardworking couple removed the seating, floors, and walls from its original foundation, it came time to frame the old bus. The thin plywood that surrounded the vehicle provided a base for the motorhome's insulation and new walls. But, framing is more challenging than it looks when the bus has curved ceilings!
Mr. Jones had to carefully measure and cut every slab to fit the curved lines properly. Luckily, the joyous arrival of their second daughter, Heidi, was the motivation the excited father needed to complete the task at hand. The shot above captured Van's impressive framing job and their new baby girl.
Van framed each wall and used the plywood to mark the house's separate areas. The division between the first and second half of the bus is pictured here. The dad of 2 installed about half an inch of Expanded Polystyrene insulation (EPS) on the floor, out of foam beads.
"[It's] kind of like the same styrofoam that is in like your little styrofoam coffee cup that you throw away," Van explained. Next, he placed plywood "A hair bigger than a half-inch," on top of the insulation to complete the subfloor. The final layer of flooring would be installed later on.
Installing the Insulation
The future motorhome needed to withstand all kinds of weather and temperatures in Alabama and be prepared for any trips the family might take in the future. So, to prepare for their adventurous life ahead and reduce heat loss and gain, the DIYers thought to insulate the walls and ceiling, as well.
Similar to the floor's construction, Van added a half-inch of foam insulation to the walls. He used spray foam insulation on the ceiling and covered any missing corners on the framing that the rigid Polystyrene insulation didn't reach. Unfortunately, the spray covered bits of the plywood, causing Van to backtrack and unbury it.
An Upgraded Ceiling
With the framing and insulation completed, the renovators began building atop their new home's foundation. The photo below shows months of progress, with the framework of their future kitchen set in place and a nearly-complete wall dividing the kitchen from the bathroom and bedroom.
The beautifully renovated ceiling was a drastic change from the old original metal that once was there. The couple chose 3/4 inch Tongue and Groove Pine from Lowe's Home Improvement for the new look and contemplated whether to stain the wood or not. In the end, they left it its attractive natural color.
A Large Kitchen
Before the kitchen was finished, it was hard for the couple and their social media fans to believe this cooking area was attached to an old vehicle. "Your kitchen is bigger than mine, and I don't live in a bus," a follower jokingly commented. The skoolie kitchen was actually larger than many found in city apartments!
The kitchen counter was crafted from wood and aided in the design of the storage units. "Can't wait to see this beautiful space come to life with the tile backsplash and fronts on the cabinets," Lauren exclaimed. The couple chose to splurge on the cupboard doors and had them professionally made.
The Farmhouse Sink
When Van first installed his custom-made counter, the structure completely covered the kitchen sink. When he managed to cut an opening for the appliance, the farmhouse sink looked astonishingly gorgeous. "We couldn't resist!!!" Lauren said of the purchase. Excitement grew as the home came together piece by piece.
The large sink took up a significant amount of counter space, a con for tiny living. But, since the family of 4 gave up the ease of having a dishwasher in their future home, the big sink's functionality and expected use made up for its size. It also soon proved to be a good bathing station for baby Heidi!
Back of the Bus
The back half of the bus, which contained the shower, toilet, and bedroom, also came along nicely. On the left is a sneak peek of the marvelous shower, which Lauren's doting mother helped tile. On the right is a glimpse of the newly crafted wall in the bathroom.
Later on, the Jones family placed a sliding pocket door between the 2 areas to separate this space from the living room and kitchen. Given the curved roof, this was another challenge, but they felt it was worth it. Behind the washrooms is the bedroom where all 4 family members would sleep.
A Custom Headboard
Taking a closer look into the bedroom, one might notice that Lauren and Van didn't have space for an actual headboard. Instead, they improvised and built one directly into the wall behind the bed! The couple painted the light-colored wood in grey tones to mark out the design. Later, they added 3-dimensional details.
Above the couple's bed is one of the magical skylights the Jones' carved into the ceiling. But what about when the sun goes down, and there's no natural light? Not to worry: Van had it all covered! He used a power tool to grind holes into the ceiling panels and connected recess lighting across the length of the home.
Building Bunk Beds
Young Piper and Heidi's future bunk beds were thoughtfully positioned between the washrooms and their parents' bed. As it was planned, Piper, the elder daughter, would sleep on the bottom bunk. The top bunk, where Heidi would sleep, was later customized into a baby-friendly crib.
The proud parents planned for a washer/dryer combo to fit beside the bunk beds. The family's closet (yes, all 4 of them shared 1 wardrobe) was built across from the girls' beds. Each member would have their own drawer, with room for hanging clothes on top. This required a large purge party of all closets in their Alabama home.
The "Heavenly" Floors
Lauren and Van had a split-unit air conditioner installed above the driver's seat to keep them cool in the hotter seasons. Thinking ahead, the family ensured they would be comfortable in the wintertime too. Before putting in the final flooring, Mr. Jones laid down heated flooring mats and polymer enriched floor patches.
"These floors are heavenly," Lauren excitedly shared of the new addition. "You can set the thermostat to a certain temperature for different times of the day, and if you're on your way home and you want your floors heated when you get home, you can turn them on from your phone!"
A Mini Wood Stove
The special heated floor could keep the Jones' feet warm and toasty during cold winter days. But what about circulating heat inside the bus? Well, the couple invested in a tiny wood stove. Below is a picture of its installation before Van attached the flue pipe that reaches out from the ceiling to let out the smoke.
Lauren and Van decided on the Dwarf 4kw from Tiny Wood Stove, a company that makes "Small stoves for tiny spaces." "We can't wait to put it to use somewhere in the mountains," said the couple. "What could be a better solution to heat a tiny home than a tiny wood stove?"
Installing Solar Power
The air conditioning, heated flooring, and future appliances they'd need to power would undoubtedly require a significant amount of energy. To accommodate, the Jones' installed 6 solar panels on the bus's roof. The power source attached with PV wire ran from the panels to the batteries at the back of the bus.
The photo above shows an aerial view of the vehicle. Seen here are the solar panels, hatches covering the exhaust fans, and the shower's skylight where the roof was raised. Believe it or not, there was still room for a roof deck! But, Lauren and Van planned to tackle that project at a later date.
Cabinets & Custom Art
Inside, the unfinished home had already transformed into something completely different from its original interior. The kitchen cabinet doors arrived, although not in their final color. But a coat of paint could quickly fix that. When on the move, the couple used drawer magnets to keep the cupboards closed and secure.
The couple decided on luxury vinyl for the final layer of flooring. The sliding pocket door that divided the front and back of the bus was installed, then DIY-master Lauren gave it a custom mural facelift. The mother of 2 said she used "Nothing special," just acrylic paint, but we think the final result is outstanding!
An Exterior Makeover
The custom artwork didn't end inside the bus either! The family wanted to bring the Tetons of the Rocky Mountains with them everywhere they went. So, they had it painted onto the side of their home! The original paint was replaced with a few fresh coats of white and a warm shade of blue that covered the lower section of the bus.
The vehicle's exterior was also home to extra storage compartments and the valve shut-offs for the skoolie's water tank drain. The tanks themselves were located inside the bus, along with a gas-run tankless water heater. So, after many months of hard work, what does the final product look like? Let's take a look!
The Breathtaking Interior
The final results of the Jones's bus-to-home transformation were utterly jaw-dropping. With Lauren's eye for design and Van's carpentry skills, the couple hand-made a beautiful home together. They somehow managed to fit a dwelling for 4 inside the vehicle's 280 square feet, finally bringing their dream to life!
So, what's left of the original bus, you might be wondering? Well, the windows are basically the only items that remain from the vehicle's original form. For days when a tad more vitamin D is needed, the curtains get pulled back, and the skylight does its job. The cherry on top? The ceiling has built-in speakers, thanks to Van!
A Fully-Equipped Kitchen
For the finished design, the couple painted the kitchen cabinets a pale shade of green. And, the rustic tone matches Lauren's nature-inspired artwork on the pocket door. But aside from looking beautiful, the kitchen of this home-on-wheels is also fully equipped with everything the family might need.
Beside the sliding door is a 3-burner gas stovetop with an oven underneath. This unit sits atop a beautiful wooden counter. The apartment-sized refrigerator is across from the stove, with a narrow pull-out pantry next to it. The kitchen also has pull-out drawers for trash, recycling, and even a spice rack!
Living Room Essentials
At the front of the motorhome is the living area, equipped with 2 couches. The longer sofa sits behind the driver's seat. Across from it is a shorter sectional that leaves room at one end for the girls' play area on the floor. Under the lengthier sofa lays a large drawer that pulls out for games and miscellaneous storage.
DIYer Lauren cut up a mattress to hand-make their lovely couch cushions. She even sewed all of the covers and pillows herself! If that weren't impressive enough, the couple also installed bolted-in seatbelts that feed through the crease of the couch. When they're on the move, that's where Piper and Heidi's car seats are secured!
Throughout the design process, Lauren debated between a circular or a rectangular mirror above the bathroom sink. She settled on this copper-framed rectangular piece that enhances the tiny bathroom's feel. The small white sink and copper faucet nicely complement the mirror.
The couple initially put ordinary wallboard on the washroom walls. But Lauren and Van couldn't resist this gorgeous Anthropologie wallpaper. They covered the sink and toilet room with the nature-themed pattern. On the left side of the photo above is a glimpse of the emergency exit. This is where the toilet is located.
A Composting Toilet
The couple strategically built their toilet next to the bus's emergency door. No, not for bathroom-time views, but the practicality. Lauren and Van invested in a composting toilet. Emptying its contents is significantly more comfortable to do when they're already close to an exit. But don't worry, it doesn't get stinky!
The Jones' shared that their Airhead Composting Toilet is so well-ventilated that odor is not a problem in their small home. What a relief! Interestingly, the appliance is equipped with a 12-volt fan that continuously blows air from the inside of the bus out. The toilet bowl itself also has little holes for ventilating.
A Magical Shower
The motorhome's shower measures 30 by 30 inches and features an incredible "marine hatch." The raised roof paired with the clear ceiling gives the impression that one is showering outside under the towering trees of Alabama. The floor has stone tiling and a 40 mil shower pan beneath. But that's not the only special touch!
Lauren's mother placed the tiling on the shower walls, and these adorable white vinyl letter stickers too! These unique movable tiles were a must-have for the Jones family. They have even made a habit of changing the words every month or so, writing various happy messages and greetings.
The Parents' Space
At the back of the bus is Lauren and Van's king-sized bed. "Two long-legged girls in a big ole bed," Lauren wrote on social media alongside the adorable photo below. Also seen in the picture is the completed headboard that showcases geometric lines. And its color matches the home's kitchen too!
We couldn't tell at first glance, but the family utilizes this room for storing some of their household must-haves. Where? Under the bed! Van built a storage unit to keep electricity units, a freshwater tank, and other pumps and plumbing features. They also have a running-water system where they park their home in Alabama.
A Nook For Novels
"I'm in love with how they turned out," Lauren said about her daughters' adorable bunk beds, and it's not hard to see why! Van built the unit while Lauren sewed the patterned curtains that provide Piper with some privacy. On the ceiling, a reading light is attached, as the little girl adores books.
As for the girls' custom-made mattresses, the Jones' were in luck. "We have the mattress hookup and got some custom ones made because my dad is a mattress retailer," Lauren explained. But the artistic mother said cutting down a queen mattress, as she did for the couch cushions at the front of the home, was also an option.
A Customized Crib
Above Piper's little bed and the reading nook is baby Heidi's custom-made crib. Van, a proud father, cleverly designed the structure to keep the bunk's second story completely baby-proof for their youngest addition to the family. Crib rails and pillows around the walls cushion the space just like a standard crib.
Lining the wall of both the girls' beds is an animated wallpaper full of various cartoon dogs. The chevron pattern on Heidi's bedsheets, the polka dots on Piper's pillow, and the checkered curtains all come together seamlessly in their arrangement of earthy tones.
The Butter Bus
This school bus transformation is undoubtedly impressive. It might surprise some that while the family occasionally travels on the weekends, they mostly stay stationary in Alabama. Lauren admitted that she wants to reside in a skoolie, not for the travel, but because she loves the lifestyle.
"We definitely can't wait to have a good size home to welcome people into, but we are so happy with tiny space living for now," Lauren explained. "Maybe after the bus, we will build a more permanent place." In the meantime, they'll enjoy the "Butter Bus," as Piper adorably named it.