Lauren Nelson van transformation
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

11-Year-Old Buys an Old Van, Transforms It Into Ultimate Space

Stories

| LAST UPDATE 06/26/2022

By Kayla Black

11-year-old Lauren Nelson's biggest dream was to have her own space where she could hang out with friends. Thanks to her hard work and dedication, she managed to turn her dream into a reality...

The Mastermind Behind It All

Lauren Nelson is definitely not the average 11-year-old... When her peers were spending their free time hanging out at the park and watching television, she was busy scheming away on her dream project.

Lauren Nelson van transformationLauren Nelson van transformation
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

And when school let out for the year, the ambitious tween finally had the free time she needed to see her vision turn into reality. It wasn't easy, but it certainly inspired those around her to go after their dreams - no matter how far-fetched they may seem...

The Vision

The big dreamer had an idea brewing in her mind that combined a passion for projects and making some cash. Lauren's plan was to flip a cheap buy in order to turn a profit. And with the blind confidence of an 11-year-old, she dove head-first into the project.

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

With the use of her savings, Nelson got her hands on a second-hand van and transformed it into the ultimate hang-out space for her and her friends. And along the way, Lauren gained quite the following online as she shared the journey's before and after pictures.

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Where It All Began

Another aspect of Lauren's story that made it even more remarkable was the unique time it all took place. Because, like most of the world, the 11-year-old suddenly found herself cooped up inside back in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic swept around the world.

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

With nothing but time on her hands, the Attica, New York, native turned to books to entertain her during the trying time when she was stuck at home. And Lauren found a particular love for outdoor adventure books, especially My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

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Kindred Spirits

It wasn't just the gripping plot that caught Nelson's attention. She found herself able to relate to the story's main character. The book's protagonist found a way to fend for himself while growing up alone in the Catskill Mountain region of New York.

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Instagram via @averyofgreengables

Inspired by his independence and sense of adventure, Lauren's mind started racing as to how she could adopt that kind of thrill into her own life. It didn't take long for her to start dreaming of constructing forts in her yard to relive Jean George's story.

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Her Own Space

Vision turned to reality, and soon, Lauren had her very own outdoor fort in the 50-acre yard of her family home in New York. But she didn't stop there: She wanted to build a treehouse, too. "I kind of just wanted my own space," the ambitious 11-year-old shared with Insider.

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Instagram via @treehousejenda

But when it came to the number crunching, the treehouse wasn't as feasible as she'd hoped. While she was disappointed by not being able to bring her treetop cabin to life, the passion to create was still there. And it would prove to be only the beginning for Lauren...

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A New Plan

Nelson didn't have much time to lick her wounds about what could've been with the treehouse. A brilliant new idea was looming right in front of her, and it came about in an unexpected conversation with her parents. She wanted a miniature Volkswagen Bus for her American Girl dolls.

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YouTube via WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY

Lauren's mom, Aimee, remembered it clear as day. "She showed us a $650 little VW bus that they sell. My husband was like, 'That's ridiculous - you could buy your own camper for that price.'" And just like that, a new lightbulb lit up in Lauren's imaginative mind.

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Let the Planning Begin

While it wasn't what she'd initially imagined spending money on, Lauren quickly switched gears in agreeance with her father. Why settle for a toy van when $650 could get the real deal and provide her with the getaway space she was after? Nelson's mind was racing a mile a minute.

old camper van renovationold camper van renovation
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

While the $650 price tag may be daunting for the average tween, Lauren had, fortunately, put quite a bit of money aside from birthdays and holiday presents. It was time to check her money-filled envelopes and see if she had the cash to see her dream turn into reality. Her fingers were crossed...

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Gathering the Cash

Lauren had three different packets of bills to count in order to get a clear picture of how much she was working with. That was because the 11-year-old and her family operated under the Dave Ramsey saving strategy, which recommended splitting money into "save, spend, and give" categories.

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Instagram via @stufflikelyss

Lauren got to counting and eventually gathered that she had roughly $400 between the save and spend envelopes she had tucked away. Sure, it was about $250 short of the initial goal amount, but it wasn't a deal-breaker for Lauren's new project. It seemed as though everything was working out!

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A New Door Opens

Lauren was optimistic that $400 would be able to get her a van, all that she needed was to get looking. But as luck had it, she didn't have to look very far. Her neighbors had one parked right beside the Nelson home. But before she could put in an offer, they moved out of town.

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YouTube via WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY

However, they neglected to take the camper with them! That meant that the new homeowners would be adopting the van as well. Nelson was optimistic that the new neighbors wouldn't be interested in it at all. "I doubt they're going to want the camper. They're probably going to sell it," she told her mom.

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The Stars Were Aligned

As if a sign from above, the Nelsons' new neighbors were quick to fasten a "For Sale" poster to the van's window. However, Lauren didn't have a clue that her suspicion had been right! Aimee was hiding the fact from her daughter by distracting her each time they passed the van.

Lauren Nelson van renovationLauren Nelson van renovation
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

"I wasn't against her having it. I just didn't want her to be disappointed if she didn't get it," Lauren's mom explained to Girl Camper during an interview. But the 11-year-old's excitement about the van was unsatiable, and eventually, she learned the exciting truth. "She squealed all the way home," Aimee remembered.

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1988 Sunline Sunray Camper

This was the first monumental step in Lauren's exciting project. And as soon as she got up close to the 1988 Sunline Sunray camper, she was completely sold. To Nelson, its rusty and worn-down interior didn't phase her one bit, telling her parents, "I'm going to live in this forever!"

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

But did she have the cash to back her dreams? The fate of her van dream was in the hands of her new neighbors, who were asking for $500 for the abandoned van. But Lauren hit back with some feisty negotiating skills. "It wasn't very hard. He said, '$500,' and I said, '$400,' because that was the money I had. And he said, 'Sold.'"

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Rolling Up Her Sleeves

With the sale over and done with, it was time for Lauren to roll up her sleeves and get her clean on. After a long period of disuse, Nelson's new camper was in serious need of a total scrub-down. From expired products to mice feces, there was no shortage of work to do.

inspiring home rmakeover enovationinspiring home rmakeover enovation
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

Lauren was also met by some residents of the van: a family of mice. "I thought the mice were adorable," the 11-year-old innocently told Insider. "I was very sad that we possibly brought home a camper without their parents, as they were not doing very well when we found them."

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Seeing Results

But mice aside, the clean-up of Lauren's van slowly started to reveal some progress. And that had a lot to do with the help that she got from her mother, Aimee, and the kind new neighbors. Together, they were able to re-home the mice and disinfect the whole van.

Lauren Nelson van transformationLauren Nelson van transformation
WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY

With the tiring tidy-up over and done with, Lauren was free to focus her attention on the next phase. "I got to design it, and I got to pick whatever I wanted for it," she excitedly shared. "She builds the furniture for her dolls and will make her own couches out of cardboard," Aimee gushed. "We always just let her run with it."

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All About the Style

Lauren dedicated nearly every free moment she had to scrolling endlessly on apps like Pinterest in order to zone in on the vibe she wanted for her van. But eventually, she came to a final decision: a boho theme. The 11-year-old opted for a coastal bohemian aesthetic filled with greenery and soft colors.

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

With the vision hammered out, the next step was for Lauren to get some money for the remodel. And that's where mom stepped in to save the day. With summer camp called off due to the pandemic, the supportive mom redirected the funds to her daughter's passion project.

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Vision Coming to Life

So, Lauren had an extra $400 to work with for the styling portion of her project. The 11-year-old thought long and hard about how to spend the funds, taking roughly two months to slowly acquire all the necessary pieces to the style puzzle. After all, this was her one shot!

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

Eventually, she landed on flooring, paint, backsplash, and cushion covers from her local Home Depot. And soon, the space really started to take shape. Her mother, Aimee, couldn't have been prouder about her daughter's vision and responsibility. "She was very frugal, she didn't buy much," Aimee told Insider.

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Special Touches

This was the part of the project where Lauren felt she was shining the most. Soon, the heavy lifting was done, and the visionary 11-year-old got to focus on special touches like throw pillows, greenery and framed pictures of her loved ones. Plus, she saved money by reusing textiles from home.

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Facebook via Aimee Nelson

Before her very eyes, Lauren saw her dream space come together. And soon, she found herself spending any free time she had there. "I feel more grown-up now," she told Insider. "We do not have a large house, so the camper gives me a small space of my own to draw, read, and create." Talk about a pandemic miracle project!

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The Kitchen

At first glance, it's hard to remember that this sophisticated space was intended for an 11-year-old and not an adult couple on the road! It was complete with a fridge, sink, and oven. However, the van didn't have a power source - so Lauren got to thinking again.

DIY design home kitchenDIY design home kitchen
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

She solved the issue with some solar panels! "I love the kitchen the most," Lauren gushed to the Post. "It's so beautiful, light, and airy. I can just sit in it and feel relaxed. Once we get the solar panels up, we can actually get them up and running. That's what I'm saving up for next. I love cooking, especially lasagna."

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"Camp Hygge"

And like all van and skoolie remodels, Lauren gave her home-away-from-home a special moniker: Camp Hygge. It translated to "cozy" in Scandinavian to match the vibe that she'd aimed for with the remodel. But as much as Nelson loved her van, she hadn't forgotten her initial goal of turning a profit.

Lauren Nelson Camp HyggeLauren Nelson Camp Hygge
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

But that didn't mean she was willing to part with this special hang-out spot! Instead, she conjured up the unique plan of charging $25 per person for a tea part experience. Aimee shared her daughter's vision with Insider, saying, "She has a lot of plans. She even has a business plan written up."

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11-Year-Old Mogul

The plan was for Lauren to share her love of the van with other girls her age. "She would like to host up to four girls and make it into an American Girl doll playhouse where they can come with their dolls," Aimee explained. "She will braid the dolls' hair... while the moms sit on the back deck and relax."

Lauren Nelson van rentalLauren Nelson van rental
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

But that wasn't the only side hustle Lauren had up her sleeve. She was also working as a babysitter in the neighborhood to make more cash on the side. Armed with her Red Cross certificate, she let younger kids come and play in the van while she welcomed them with lemonade and snacks.

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Planning Her Next Steps

But doll parties and babysitting gigs weren't the end of the road for Lauren. Her next phase was to welcome "tiny home nation" enthusiasts to rent the van. "I will be renting out the camper! You can come hike trails and pet the animals. Text my mom if you want to! It's $20 a night!" she advertised on her mom's social media.

viral home rental vanviral home rental van
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

And Nelson already had her eyes on the next project. "My big plans are to sell this camper to someone who really loves it and get an RV to renovate," she told the Post. "I might try a bit more modern style with it, though." There was no stopping Lauren and her creative mind...

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Taking It Out for a Spin

But Lauren wasn't about to sell her hard work without taking it out for a drive around the block first. After all, she had done an impressive job, and was sure everyone on the street would love Camp Hygge. The Nelson family hadn't taken the van out yet, and Lauren couldn't wait to see how it would go.

DIY budget van renovationDIY budget van renovation
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

But it looked like it would be a while before Lauren got to see it happen. "For this year, it is only a playhouse. But it is road-ready, so we shall see!" Aimee explained. And she was right about that - the van was fully equipped with everything required for the road, from a working kitchen to closets full of toys for the road.

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Summer Plans

Lauren's work on the van was impressive, but that doesn't mean the family didn't face a few challenges along the way. "I was diagnosed with cancer last summer, so I was going through radiation and to doctor's appointments," Aimee confessed. "We were really thinking this was going to be our summer since we didn't get one last year."

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Facebook via Aimee Nelson

Aimee's original plans for the summer had sadly been pretty dull; after all, the pandemic still had her family - as well as thousands of others across the country and the world - under total lockdown. But thanks to Lauren's creative mind and hard work, things were finally looking up...

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Making Memories

Lauren's adventurous spirit and skillful work managed to turn the family's summer around, making it one unforgettable adventure. Soon enough, Camp Hygge was finally ready, and as soon as people saw Lauren's talent on social media, she instantly became a hit!

inspiring van life adventureinspiring van life adventure
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

"This camper gave us all something to do and really made a great summer," Lauren's mother proudly told the Post. We can definitely see why the 11-year-old's story went viral online and why tons people admired her work. She had become an inspiration to so many.

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She Can Always Count on Mom

Aimee helped her daughter out a lot, especially during the start of the project. Even though Lauren made her own decisions regarding plans for the van, her mother always pitched her ideas to the young entrepreneur and helped Lauren take hers to the next level.

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

Aimee was so proud of her daughter's accomplishments. "This was always something she wanted. It was a lot of fun to work with her on the space and to follow her lead. She had great ideas and a vision right from the beginning, and we were just there to help her achieve her dream," she shared.

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Inspiring Others

People online were inspired by Lauren's dedication to her vision. It was a rare thing to see someone so young succeed in turning a difficult project into something so extraordinary. Lauren knew other kids probably had big visions for projects of their own and only needed a bit of encouragement to turn them into reality...

viral van renovation tipsviral van renovation tips
Facebook via Aimee Nelson

So she decided she wanted to help others pursue their passions as she did her own. "I really hope that kids want to do this and follow their dreams. They should start saving their money and have fun doing it." After all, not only did the transformation not cost Lauren too much, but she actually ended up making a profit!

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Plans for the Future

Camp Hygge ended up changing Lauren's life in ways she'd never imagined possible. Not only did she enjoy spending time in it (and the extra cash it brought her!), but it also led to a huge career opportunity for the young girl! Believe it or not, a modeling agency had reached out to her...

young model inspiring storyyoung model inspiring story
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

The agency signed Lauren after seeing the van transformation online. Her vision had started out as a personal project she wanted to work on and quickly became a whole future she could build for herself! Not only did she end up keeping the van, but she also gave it a makeover, which she shared on Instagram.

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Updating Her Fans

The social media account may be run by her parents, but her followers look forwards to hearing updates from Lauren herself on how Camp Hygge is doing. "Last summer, a couple of months before I turned 11, I bought a camper for $400," she wrote in the caption of one photo.

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

"It was a mess - see before pics on my first ever IG post! This summer, the outside was painted, my dad helped my sister build a deck - I stained it - and I planted flowers and made a garden," she shared. Lauren just seemed to be getting better and better at this with every new renovation she gave her van...

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She Went Viral

And it shows in the comments sections of the photos she updates her followers with. Inspired by her work, they leave several comments showing their support for Lauren's accomplishments - not only the ones involving her van but in her modeling career as well.

Lauren Nelson viral modelLauren Nelson viral model
Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

The talented young girl and Camp Hygge were also the subjects of several articles published online - some of which were even translated to different languages! Her mother, Aimee, made sure to share them, spreading her daughter's impact and inspiration to people from all over the world.

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A Whirlwind of a Journey

Soon enough, the social media accounts of Lauren's family members began to gain recognition. One user, named Julie Mancuso, wrote to Lauren's mother, "Aimee - this is so surreal, and it could not be happening to a sweeter child - and family." We can't disagree with her there!

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Instagram via @lauren.grace.official

Another social media user, named Tracie Baker Cooley, expressed how she could almost feel young Lauren's happiness shine through her screen. "Since the moment I met you and your family, I knew how incredibly special you all are!! You are truly blessed!" 

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Adventure Awaits...

As if all her success and happiness weren't enough to make her fans admire Lauren, the fact that she remained humble and down-to-earth through it all made them like her even more. Susan MacPherson Woodruff commented, "This just blows my mind! I love the way she is handling it too. Lauren is such a sweet girl."

van life ideas cheapvan life ideas cheap
YouTube via WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY

"Just wow. The internet can be an amazingly good thing," Jan Nelson shared about the girl's fame and success. Amen to that! Now that we've seen just what young Lauren is capable of, we can't wait to find out what challenges she'll take on next! As one user named Holly Costantino-Sharpe put it, "So exciting!"

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