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 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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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!)
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
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.
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.
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
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.
It folds up to just 5″ wide and stows away in the space removed for the jackknife sofa behind the driver’s seat.
We love the table, and it comes out regularly.
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
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.
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