Home Life on the Road Bus Projects

How We Added 5 Feet to Our RV – Without Adding Slides

In our continuing catch-up of last summer’s bus renovations, today I wanted to share about something that took us by surprise.

Now to start, we didn’t secretly stretch our RV by 5′ during the renovations. But we did end up with 5 addition feet of usable living space. And that my friends, is HUGE.

We’re often asked just how it is we can possibly full time without slides (hah, try full timing in a 16′ teardrop!). It all comes down to layout.

An RV that is designed with slides takes advantage of the space when opened up. But when the slides are in, they generally leave a very compact and often unlivable space.

An RV designed without slides can actually feel pretty darn roomy. It’s not like designers use the same layout as a 4-slide RV and just happen to leave the slides out. They are intelligently designed to make maximum use of the space. It can take even more design effort to strike a balance of form and functionality.

Our living room prior to the renovations.

Our living room prior to the renovations.

Our bus is almost 35′ long and a narrow 96″ wide (modern RVs and buses tend to be the full current highway maximum of 102″). And we have no slides.

We wanted it that way, well actually – we wanted it about 5-8′ shorter. But we had to compromise when we decided we wanted a bus conversion, 35′ is about as small as you’re likely to find in a highway bus. And we had to go 1960s vintage at that.

Visitors regularly come into our bus and marvel at how spacious it feels.. for not having slides.

We’ve always loved the layout of our bus, but we honestly hardly ever used the very front section.

The gaucho couch wasn’t the most comfortable for lounging around, so it mainly became where we tossed stuff and where the cat napped. Occasionally we’d sit and watch a movie on the 27″ computer screen across the hallway.

We never really saw that as a problem, and just joked that we could do without the front 5′ of the bus. So thus, we had a 30′ RV in a 35′ form factor.

That was until this summer when Lippert Components contacted us at just the right time as we were inbound to Elkhart and offered us furniture from the Thomas Payne Collection they represent.

We honestly weren’t too keen on the idea at first – what sort of modifications would it require to install? If we didn’t use our couch now, why would we want to go through the hassle of modifications?

We stopped in one of their facilities to see one in person, and they came out to the bus to look at our current setup. Turns out, a jackknife couch without the leg kit could basically be a drop in replacement with relatively few modifications. And they had a fabric color that would look pretty good with our decor.

For free and easy, it certainly couldn’t be worse then our current couch. We were game to give it a try.

Once we sat in our un-installed new couch for the first time in our living room, we knew we had under-estimated what the new sofa could add to our lives. And we started thinking more about this previously forgotten about space.

The new interior with a living room we love.

The new interior with a living room we love.

So now nearly 6 months later, we can honestly say for the first time since owning our bus – we have something we can call a ‘living room’ that we regularly enjoy.

Here are the minor modifications that have made this possible:

Thomas Payne Jackknife Sofa

The gaucho needed to be shortened to fit the new couch.

The platform and cabinet needed to be shortened to fit the new couch.

We selected the 68″ Jackknife from the Lexington Collection. We wanted to stick with fabric to reduce the visibility of claw marks (Kiki has left several on our new ‘fake’ leather Flexsteel chairs – grrr…. $*%^ cats). We selected the Bobcat Doe fabric, cuz you know, we’re owned by a cat.

Our previous gaucho style pull out couch/single bed was built on top of a storage cabinet where we keep spare dry groceries and our gaming collection. We didn’t want to lose the storage area.

While at Master Tech RV this summer, we had their woodworker make some modifications to the cabinet to accommodate the jackknife sofa. Our existing base was several inches longer than the new couch.

The jackknife sofa in bed mode - ready for snuggling and movies!

The jackknife sofa in bed mode – ready for snuggling and movies!

Having now shortened the platform may actually allow us to eventually add a new pedestal to the front driver’s seat to spin it around. We ran out of time this summer to experiment, but we look forward to one day having the extra seating option.

Originally, we thought we might take the slide mechanism completely out of the setup and just attach the new couch directly to the top of the cabinet. However, we discovered that the jackknife needed to be a couple inches away from the wall to properly deploy into a bed – which would mean while in couch mode it would stick further into the aisle way than we’d like.

We ended up attaching the sofa to the sliding platform (see.. we DO have slides!). This gives us the best of both worlds. In couch mode, we get the maximum aisle way as it hugs the wall. And when we want to convert it to a bed, we just slide it out and in a single easy motion the couch converts to a bed. It’s like magic!

Kitchen slide out counter needed to be modified to fit around the couch.

Kitchen slide out counter needed to be modified to fit around the couch.

The only other issue we had was the dimensions given to us from the brochure indicated that the back of the couch would fit underneath our counter slide-out (hmm.. see.. more slides!) that had been constructed to pull out right over our previous gaucho back cushion.

However, in reality the back was a few inches taller than anticipated. Which is actually quite nice and has increased the comfort of the sitting area. To retain our desired kitchen space, we needed to have the counter slide modified to go around the front of the couch.

We can now technically sleep two guests as the bed is a more of a full size bed. But it’s not a solid cushion, so likely not ideal for more than a night or two. (Which is perfect, because really don’t want guests much longer than that). We do however regularly utilize the bed mode for snuggling up for movie nights.

Overall, the couch is comfortable and seems to be holding up very well. We have no signs of wear and tear after 6 months of regular usage (the bed mode pic above was taken today – still looking awesome!)

In couch mode

In couch mode

The couch back is firm but plush, and Kiki loves napping on top while getting a great view out the window.

The seat area is wide enough for us humans to nap on comfortably while in couch mode. We do wish the foam was a touch thicker and firmer – but overall, for RV furniture, we’re pretty impressed. The sofa retails for $660 (but seen on Amazon for under $600) and weighs in at 100 lbs. It feels pretty sturdy and solid for the price point and mobile-conscious weight.

As this wasn’t on our project list – we didn’t look at other couch options that we might have selected on our own. But we can say, we’re impressed and can’t see any reason not to consider the Thomas Payne Collection if you’re in the market for replacing RV furniture.

Disclaimer: We did receive the the jackknife sofa from Lippert Components at no cost, but received no compensation from them for the installation & modifications costs (which we paid for on our own), or for sharing our thoughts on it. We always strive to keep it real here.

Projector & Movie Screen

The projecter mount (and new lights)

The projecter mount (and new lights)

We had MCD pull down shades installed in the front portion of the bus (which we’re continuing to absolutely LOVE!). Master Tech also had the idea to use the MCD hardware to make a pull down projector screen across from the couch.

We already had projector screen that we purchased for our outdoor movie setup, so they were able to cut out a piece.

We then found a clip on tripod mount to attach our projector to the valence above the couch.

This created a glorious retractable 48″ viewing screen that we regularly use, even while boondocking. We have binge watched more TV shows and movies than we care to admit.

Since this is something we both love, we’ll consider that a plus for now. But if you don’t hear from us for a few weeks, do send help. We might need an intervention.


Repurposed book shelves, and movie projector screen.

Repurposed book shelves, and movie projector screen.

In the space infront of the first passenger side window, we had experimented with a fold out table design when we installed our custom dual desks – hoping it would be useful for crafts, gaming or even a dining table. But this didn’t turn out as hoped. We had removed the table some time ago.

We were able to re-utilize drawers we took out from under our bed when we expanded the fresh water tanks as bookshelves. The wood color matches the rest of the interior, and they’ve been a perfect size.

We also now have some bonus surface space – which is great for our new flameless LED candles, and some flowers. (I’ve always LOVED fresh flowers, and am thrilled to be able to integrate them into my home again regularly.)

Kiki’s desk (aka ‘scratching post with a nap nook’) now sits in front of the driver’s seat while we’re parked – which has completely opened up the living room space.

Folding Coffee Table

The new living room with coffee table is great for happy hour!

The new living room with coffee table is great for happy hour!

Since the fold out table failed experiment, we’ve been wanting some sort of coffee table for setting drinks and movie snacks on.

Master Tech had a small foldout table, locally made, on their showroom floor that perfectly fit the bill.

Folded and stowed away.

Folded and stowed away.

It folds up to just 5″ wide and stows away in the space removed for the jackknife sofa behind the driver’s seat.

(Master Tech doesn’t list the tables on their site. But renovation neighbor Bradd and Hall, where we had our captains chairs installed in 2014, sells a very similar design online.)

We love the table, and it comes out regularly.

New Lighting

New lights with LED bulbs.

New lights with LED bulbs.

We loved the new light fixture installed above our desk so much, that we recently bought two more at Lowes (under $20 each!) to replace our bulky lampshades. The fixtures are modern feeling and take up far less space.

We swapped out the included bulbs for LED dimmable GU10 bulbs, and the fixtures are aim-able – so they do double duty as lighting for our live video casts. And they can also be pointed at the ceiling for indirect lighting, or used as reading lights.

The more streamlined fixtures have subtly opened up the living room space too.

The Moral of the Story

Enjoying the view from our living room!

Enjoying the view from our living room!

The point in sharing all of this is not just to say we’re loving the new space.

But to emphasize that sometimes small modifications can have HUGE impacts.

When you’re looking at RVs, or your own living space – don’t be afraid to think about what you can do to make improvements. If you’re not utilizing a space, what can you change?

And don’t be afraid to re-evaluate every so often instead of getting complacent like we did with our living room. Light fixtures, converting dinettes to tables or desks, or even replacing furniture can totally transform a living space.

In an RV, every inch counts.

Even us veteran RVers can still be surprised be this.

We expected to drive away from Elkhart with a shiny looking bus with some nifty new features (which we’ll continue to document in more details). We never expected to also gain 5 extra feet of usable space that we appreciate every single day.

Without a doubt, this has been the biggest positive surprise of our summer renovations.

More Bus Renovation Posts:

Summer 2015 Bus Renovations Tour & Project List

Bus Renovations: A Cat’s Purrrfect RV Litter Box

Is It Worthwhile to Renovate an Old RV? Why Not Just Buy New?

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44 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Hi there, do you 2 ever come thru Cleveland, would love to see the size of your bus and how it’s laid out, my girlfriend and myself are liquidating everything to buy a converted bus and do pretty much what you 2 are doing, it has to be a 35ft one though because we already custom ordered and had built a tri-axle custom trailer to pull behind us and we can’t go over the max length laws around the country…..
    Thanks in advance for your response and if you land in Cleveland we have a big paved yard for you to park in……..Paul

  2. That stay you has back sometime ago at Santee S.C. is close to my heart. In face look up the history of the making of the Santee it will amaze you. About 10 mile from there in Summerton SC is where Brown v. Broad of Education was started and my family (grandfather) was one of the original signer of the petition to get Honorable Thurgood Marshal on the case. That area has a lot of history in it from The Swamp Fire (Francis Marion) of the Revolutionary War (look it up) to the Civil Rights Days which is when I was active in it.
    Go back sometime and start at the University of S.C. and you will see a lot of interesting information and history.
    And get back to me if you do and I’ll tell you my story. if you have a few hours.

  3. Absolutely a fab job; I wanted a bus as I drove long distance for 40 plus yrs but the woman in my life would not even remotely consider it!
    So when we decided to do the ‘snowbird thing’ we compromised and bought a 13yr old Safari diesel pusher that had a brand new interior upgrade.
    Now 10 1/2 years on we have been gradually tweaking the living space as we live in 5mo
    of the year an added a slide where the jackknife sleep couch was and filled the slide with a comfy leather love seat/Lino tiles on floor/new furnace/auto awning/free standing table and 2 chairs for her and $5500 Banks power upgrade on our little 190hp cummins that now puts out 265hp and 400lbs of torque for the driver.

  4. I have a question. Perhaps I’ve missed it in previous postings, but how is the passenger chair situated? In the photos of the “How We Added 5 Feet to Our RV – Without Adding Slides” article I see what appears to be the passenger’s chair turned around and moved back into the bus, away from the winshield. What type of mechanism do you have to allow that arrangement? We have a 2011 Jayco Greyhawk 31FK class C and would love to have that capability. Thanks and I do love reading your blog.

    • The passenger seat is permanently attached there… our front door is in the very front of the bus, in front of the seat (it was an old passenger bus after all). We just have it on a swivel pedestal to turn around when stationary.

  5. Great article and ideas. Fantastic use of space….not to mention I got a real sense of the excitement over your changes. Nothing like the renewed sense of excitement from re-decorating. Well done.

  6. It is true that sometimes the little things makes such a big difference. We boondock a lot and the light over the dinette was 110 and left us eating in the dark even when turning on the closest ceiling 12v lights. Hubby and my brother in law ran a 12v line and changed the lightt to a 12 volt light. That mod has made a world of difference. That was the only 110 light in the RV….crazy

  7. I met you guys at the RTR last year and enjoyed so much listening to the 2 of you talk about your life on the road. I’m excited that now I can follow along thru your blog.

  8. Nice! Any additional space is definitely helpful. But it’s even more awesome knowing how it was done. Your RV looks even more cozy!

  9. Great article…love the new space and we found it very comfortable to visit in….we have been full timing forever 12 years and we are always looking at improving the experience by finding new ways to do things…

  10. Having seen many of these mods in person I can attest to the fact that they’re all pretty darn awesome. I was especially impressed with the new couch and coffee table. What a change!


  11. Thanks for the article. I believed I was reading a well designed magazine! Great information presented in an excellent format. You up your game with each video and post.

  12. A comfortable couch is like getting a new friend! Love that folding coffee table, and the fact that it fits perfectly where you have it – it was supposed to be yours 🙂

  13. Love the renovations! I am a big flameless candle fan myself! I was using some that took smaller (AA) size batteries and then came across these. They take 2 size D batteries but with the timer last for a VERY long time. Also they have this little flame thing on the top that looks so realistic! They definately are a bit more pricey but well worth the cost I felt… I kept burning through the smaller batteries with other candles too fast. It became expensive. I saw your candles on your site and thought I would pass along the tip. I would link straight to amazon but the link made a huge mess in this comment section so this search on amazon should get you right there: “Flameless Candles with Timer and Remote Control – Best Artificial Realistic Moving Flame, 3.5″ X 7″ Battery Operated Wax Large Electric Led Pillar Candles That Look Real, for Home, Scented, Colors: Blue, Red, Green, Ivory White (Ivory White)” they are sold by Azure Throne. Happy Travels!

    • Thanks for the tip.. that might help others in their decision.

      For us, we specifically wanted AA batteries, as we try to optimize all of our batteries for the same size. We already have several AA rechargeables, and a charging station, on board. It was either that or USB charging for us.

  14. Hi, love your new look and space use. The fold up coffee table is awesome. I love the blue accent color. Wish I got a better look at your bed cover way back. Ha. Not trying to be too personal . . . We’re looking for a new bedcover in blue. Thanks for great info. Deb

  15. Your post is spot on. Just last month, we took out a virtually unused booth dinette in our 35K Bounder and replaced it with a corner desk/credenza from Shop4Seats.com. It completely opened up the floorplan…especially when the slides are in. It’s like we now own a completely new RV, one that is open and much less claustrophobic at the entryway. I hope you enjoy your new space as much as we’re enjoying ours.

  16. I am so impressed with all that you have done and are doing. In your vintage coach, and in your lifestyle. Ever since your bus renovation I have been waiting to see all the before and after pictures. I have learned a lot from you two and look forward to learning more. When you do come to Florida, I would love the honor to get to meet you and see your Zypher in person. I have questions that might seem stupid to some. But you two have so much to give in education on RV living. Thank you for all you share.

    • Our pleasure.. and glad the efforts are appreciated. We’ll have more posts coming up about the individual projects we tackled. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up in Florida later this year.

  17. Isn’t it funny how, sometimes, it’s the LITTLE changes that have the biggest impact? So glad you’re enjoying your newly-larger living space! Looks awesome… and works great! 😉

  18. The light fixture is very cool. Attaching it to the unused space that is the valence is genius. Thanks for the call out on the furniture maker. We have begun the very difficult task of replacing our couch. It’s developing a dent on one side. Nice reno all the way around.

    • The light fixtures have definitely added a touch of class, and so much better than the lampshades that were in the same spot. Good luck in your search for the right couch!

  19. Quite a list of wonderful changes that you did. You have done an amazing job on taking advantage of your space and making it all useable and sometimes dual purpose. Love it…. Happy Camping

  20. Same here, our 1995 Country Coach has no slides and people often remark about how roomy it feels. We too have removed original furniture and the handy cowboy has remodeled other furniture. Your bus looks wonderful!

    • It is amazing how a well designed RV without slides can feel so spacious. Slides are great and all, and really do add a lot of space. But we love the simplicity of not having them.

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