Better Organization = Better Living
We remodeled every house we lived in, and even the rental homes we don’t live in. After a couple years living full time in our Palazzo we knew it was time to make changes.
Bedroom Closet Remodel (2018)
We started by removing the glass doors and the walls of the old closet as well as the two built in dressers. This was a lot of weight as the material was press-board, solid wood and mirrored glass that you might find in stick-build home construction. Then, we insulated with Reflectix using spray glue, installed hooks, rods and plastic storage units from Ikea and the Container Store. Renovation in an RV is tricky because all the storage was ripped out and our belongings ended up all over as we worked. Below are the first couple steps of construction.
This remodel helped us find additional gaps to the great outdoors and since this bedroom remodeling we are better able to maintain indoor temperatures and keep critters out!
Rebuilding the Walls using 1×1″ pine and eventually covered with lauan/veneer plywood. All the electrical needed to be rerun as did the hot and cold water lines. Andrew discovered a ton of extra wire (they didn’t cut anything to length when building the Palazzo. So there was probably 30-50′ of extra wires hanging in the walls). The original bulit in dressers were where the space heater and air filter are in this picture (right side). We actually have the same amount of storage space in the new setup. Luckily, our girls are very tolerant of construction noise and mess.
2019/2020 Update soon to follow with pics. We found that the lauan was not preventing Andrew from freezing on his side of the bed no matter the drafts being blocked. We ordered shiplap from Home Depot and installed that in place of the lauan. This is a bit heavier (bummer for gas efficiency) but it makes a difference in temperature control and we plan to add more to the desk wall in the bedroom later this year.
The closet is behind four shower curtains hung on Ikea curtain wires. We also changed the direction of the bed in the slide. This saved space so we installed an Ikea drop-leaf table so Lara had an office/sewing space. (That’s Gigi sleeping in her bed)
This is a frame Andrew made me when we were 20 years old. I re-purposed it to hold what little jewelry I’ve kept.
The plastic units on the left are from Container Store as are the clear plastic boxes. The boxed hold books, sewing materials and sewing machine, as well as other items we don’t need access to everyday. My cloths are rolled and folded into the open plastic containers and Andrew’s are in the cloth bins on top of the boxes. On the back wall are an assortment of items from hiking and kayaking materials, travel bags, etc.
All our hanging cloths fit on three of these rods from Ikea. To the right of the rods (behind the curtain) is the stacked laundry basket from Costco. Behind the 1×1″ pine on the floor is the hot and cold water lines that come from under the floor. Everything is all sealed up so we shouldn’t have more unwanted critter visitors.
Bed Remodel (2018)
We decided the queen bed could fit completely into the slide if we didn’t need access to both sides of the bed. So rather than the foot of the bed sticking into the room, we could turn it so only one side of the bed was accessible. Andrew cut about 4″ off the end of the original metal and wood frame and then built a dovetail frame all the way around to hold the Ikea matress rail slats. These sit on the original platform and inside the new frame. It was all finished off with more lauan. We again found many indoor to outdoor gaps from the original construction so holes and gaps were filled as we worked. Also, the electrical boxes needed to be moved so we could easily have access to the storage under the bed from the side. Additional storage space for our sleeping bags, a vacuum, etc. is below the bed behind the curtain Lara made. This is held in place with adhesive Velcro. (see first photo of closet remodel above.
This was the original bed (it’s a little hard to see) with the head (where the pillows are) at the wall and this way we had access to both sides of the bed when the slide was out. When the slide was in we had to climb across to get to the closet and could not access the dressers at all. There were “built in” tiny counter tops on either side under the small windows that again weighed a lot and had zero storage. We removed these when we changed the layout of the bed. (That is Mica; she crossed the rainbow in 2018)
Now the head of the bed (where the pillows are) is near the closet and when the slide is in we have about 1′ of space to walk into the bedroom and get to the closet where all our cloths are! This also makes it possible for us to sleep even if we don’t put the slide out (think Walmart or other parking lot sleeping). When we removed the “counter” things that were to the right and left of the original bed we made space for a queen mattress to fit in this direction. The original MDF molding was replaced with the lighter and brighter pine. (That’s our sweet, old Kona!)
Living and Dining Room (2018)
Remove Sleeper Sofa and Insert Recliners!
We took out the original sofa because it was uncomfortable and we do not have overnight guests! Our solution was to move the seating area to the old “dining and television space” on the opposite smaller slide. We bought our recliners from RecPro because they offered them as sectionals. This allowed us to buy two center seats (no arms) which fit perfectly next to the Container Store storage.
Wine, Spirits, Tools, Rags, Pens, etc.
We removed the television stand when we took out the dining space (we don’t watch traditional TV anyway), and inserted Elfa drawers from The Container Store and the recliner. Now we have comfortable seating and lots of storage.
Hats, Purses and Broom
The wall space near the door is not very large but I figured was partially hidden by the coat rack and an opportunity to hang items we want as we walk out of the door. I used command strip hooks to hang the handle-less broom, a basket to hold diesel pumping gloves and the fire extinguisher.
The new pine molding that finishes each of the slides is a perfect spot for over the door hooks meant for towels and such. We hang our hats there. They are out of the way and yet convenient when trying to get out the door with the dogs. I also mounted a lightweight basket near the door to hold my purse, gloves and scarves.
Trash and Recycling (2018)
We use a TROFAST Storage Unit from IKEA for trash/recycling and to hold tall oil and vinegar bottles. This also doubles as a bit more counter space. I used a small piece of mainstays and placed a plastic cutting board on top. Honestly, this little extra counter space makes all the difference in the kitchen. The whole unit is pretty light and we move it out of the way to pull in the slides when we pack-up. It also is bottom heavy (vinegar in the bottom drawer) so it has never fallen over while we drive!
2019/2020 update pics to follow soon! This kitchen is gone and we are thrilled with our new kitchen and workspace from IKEA. Butcher block countertop sits on Sektion base cabinets at a perfect height for us 6′ people. Andrew rerouted the heater ducts and installed awesome LED strip lights from Amazon both above and below. We decided to only have base cabinets and to mostly use drawers. I’ll share more about that below.
Refrigerator and separate chest freezer!
I highly recommend doing this. The refrigerator is now perfectly sized for the amount of food we actually need and is not a huge eye sore. The two appliances use the same amount of electricity or less (we cannot measure apples to apples because Andrew hooked up the chest freezer directly to the batteries to save from switching to AC current). We went with a red Danby, but really any smaller fridge would work. We secured it in place with furniture metal pipe fittings from Lowe’s and a 1×4. This fridge is going nowhere and looks super clean and opens up the space. We also are able to secure it closed with a rope ratchet. Inexpensive and very easy to use.
The chest freezer is Iceco and has two sections which is actually overkill when on the grid but when we are living on National forest land it is very important and helps us store homemade dogfood and veggies for us to eat healthy for weeks. We planned the cabinets around the new refrigerator and freezer and the employees at IKEA couldn’t have been more helpful to get us the right parts to make this whole thing work.
The poor slide construction and our repairs to Install Cabinets
The large kitchen slide in our Palazzo is not well constructed. It was actually sagging just over an inch in the center and the gap was allowing air and critters in. We removed absolutely everything from the slide to clean original construction dust and screws and whatnot out when we removed the cabinets and refrigerator. This is when we also discovered that the depth of the slide is also wonky. The area where the sleeper sofa was originally is cut in a diagonal with about 2″ difference. Then there is a little cut in for a few feet to just back out where the refrigerator sits. The reason for all these strange and not measured cuts seem to make no sense, were not correctable without use of welding to cut and reinstall the beams and so it forced us to be creative when installing the new cabinets.
To make use of the extra deep space near the front of the slide we left a 7″ -5″ gap between the cabinets and the exterior wall. This is also where we decided to house the chest freezer to allow access to this new storage area. Here we keep oversized sleeping bags, tents, and other hiking and kayak gear. We mostly access the stuff by reaching over the counter but can move the piece of lauan at the back of the freezer to really get in there if we drop something.
This forward set of cabinets means the other cabinets at the center of the slide are set back a few inches. To accommodate this weirdness we decided butcher block countertops would be the easiest for us to install ourselves.
The other issue we solved with creativity was the slouching slide. Andrew found that the furniture metal pipe fittings used to keep the refrigerator in place would also make the slide itself more secure and rigid. He cut two pieces to fit from the floor of the slide to the ceiling and screwed them into place. No more sagging! I also think not having overhead cabinets will help the structure of the slide as well. That was a lot of weight hanging from the wall and ceiling without support.
How to keep these drawers closed!? Magnets and little hooks. Andrew chiseled into the cabinets and installed magnets. These worked when the drawers were not too heavy but some of the drawers continued to fling open when hitting curves or bumps. So, we rearrange a bit and used hooks to keep the heaviest drawers closed. Both solutions kept the front of the cabinets with a clean look but added th safety and security we wanted.
Sink and cooktop
Our kitchen sink came from IKEA and I selected it because it would fit perfectly into a 15″ wide base cabinet which fit my plans for better storage. The propane cooktop is from Italy and has only two burners but is so well constructed that is makes zero noise when driving, is very light weight and a breeze to keep clean. A super upgrade from the original. I am fine with only two burners as I make most everything in one pan anyway or use my Instapot but others may want two of these. We also bought a single induction burner but I honestly have not enjoyed using it and it obviously only works when we have shore power.
Motorcycle Gear Storage
The need for storage is never ending! Especially when Andrew needs extra helmets, boots, jackets and pants for every situation. To accommodate this I planned the largest cabinet in the kitchen to house all the helmets and gear. It also houses the propane heater for the front of the RV. The rest of his gear hangs above the bag on the slide where the undercarriage wires, water etc enter the living space. To not waste an inch I designed this to be a narrow closet for his off-road boots and regular motorcycle jacket. It also provides a sound buffer for the washer and dryer.
My grandmother’s late husband, Ray, made me an awesome little wooden chest years ago. It is the perfect size for our Palazzo, mostly because it fit through the door, created a nice spot to house our Soda stream and Instant-Pot. I attached rolling casters to the bottom so it moves easily because we use it as a coffee table. The chest is now where the original sofa was on the large slide.
(This piece now lives at my mom’s house. 2019 post kitchen renovation)
Adult Toy Box (2018)
Andrew made his own toy box which is a simple wooden construction the length of the wall between the edge of the slide and the kitchen cabinet. He wanted a space to store his electronics and to run the heater duct-work. The duct-work used to run through the bottom of the sleeper sofa and when it was removed we needed a place for the ducts. After constructing the box with the ducts in mind he cut two holes for the registers. Andrew used pine because it is light weight and inexpensive and I stained it blue to add some color. (This is gone, 2019 renovation)
Andrew had a standing desk when he worked in an office in Virginia and I found this one at Ikea! The idea is, when we are in the desert, he can take it outside and work there. He does use it inside, too. (Removed as of 2019 Renovation)
I was tired of trying to fit coats into the very small and narrow cabinet next to the door. I was also tired of coats and sweaters piling up on chairs so I bought two wall hangers. One is at the door for the coats, the other in the hallway for airing out cloths or drying on laundry day. I also found a wallet/mail holder and coat hanger in one.
Artwork and Nick Knacks
I use tak under bowls which hold fresh fruit and vegetables, under photos, a jewelry box, etc. Tak is awesome and I highly recommend this for all sorts of uses in an RV.
I kept most of my artwork from our stick built home and re-framed them so that the frames have small or no mats at all. I hung them with the wall mounts that have clips that swing-over the mount on the back of the artwork to prevent things from falling as we drive. I then used the tak on the corners. The artwork stays put!
Oh shoes! We both like shoes so we needed space for them where we could get to them pretty easily. We use the open area under the cabinets next to the door and in the hall. The space in the hall we discovered when we were having difficulties with mice. Andrew decided to leave it open, using recovered molding to make it look nice. Anyway, that was not enough space so inside the closet in the hall I use a shoe holder that would normally be hung over the back of a door and it holds all the rest. What I like about this is we don’t have to see the shoes laying around.
Cabinets 101 (2018)
We use Velcro cable ties similar to these to keep many of the cabinets closed when we drive. We also use two zip ties hooked together to slide over the handles in the bathroom. Both items work well; so get what is handy! (Don’t need these with the new kitchen cabinets but still in use in the bathroom and hall)
Ya know the bathroom sink in an airplane? That was the size of the sink in our bathroom. There was no way that was going to work so we went to Ikea and found a sink combo and because many things in Ikea are made for small spaces it was narrow and fit in the space leaving additional room for a trashcan. Perfect upgrade!
Reasons we Decided to Switch:
Um, driving around with a black tank with sewage sloshing around is just plain gross! There was a straight drop from the toilet to the tank and even when the gasket at the bottom of the toilet was sealed it was smelly and yucky. To keep smells out there must be water sitting in the toilet and that can be a trick when driving on some of the roads we take. The toilet was also wasting our fresh water when we were trying to live without hookups.
Anyway, we decided to swap out the original toilet with a composting toilet before moving in full-time. Andrew had to do a bit of work to seal the hole in the floor where the toilet stuff dropped into the black tank. He also bought a twist-on waste valve which he attached to the same valve that is used to connect the sewer hose to empty the black tank located in the outside compartment. There is a grey and a black handle on the valve and these allow the separation or exchange of fluid between the grey and black tanks (only to be used once you have a composting toilet). This is awesome for dry camping as our fresh water tank is 80 gallons and the two waste tanks are 40 or 50 gallons each. With the black tank now accessible as a grey water tank we can dry camp for 2-3 weeks!
As we made the change to the composting toilet we needed to have access to an electrical outlet and to run the exhaust hose outside. At the same time we also needed to do something with the interior cover of the outdoor television. Solution was that Andrew built this wooden frame structure, insulated the space with spray foam and Reflectix. I made the fabric cover of with a hole for the exhaust. This change keeps the bathroom considerably warmer in cool weather (the TV cover is metal and again had air gaps).
Using the Toilet:
Back to the toilet. Using the composting toilet took a little getting used to as the urine goes into the front of the unit, where it is collected in a plastic container. This container must be emptied every few days or as often as it is filled. To clean after each use we spray 50-50 water-vinegar mix into this area of the toilet. I suggest buying an extra container for urine as it can fill quickly and allows the toilet to be used as we hunt for an appropriate place to dump it (dump station, rest area bathrooms, outhouse, etc).
The rest of the base of the toilet is a large plastic box that the seat is attached to and sits above. To prepare this part of the toilet we use coir/coconut fiber, damp enough to break apart, to fill the bottom ⅓. There is a lever that is flipped to open the bottom up when you’re ready to use it. It is vital to keep all urine in the front so that the solids do not become wetter or mix to make sewage in the large compartment. When done using the solids area the lever is flipped back and a three pronged handle is turned and this mixes the coir/coconut fiber and the solids. This is surprisingly clean and nearly odorless. We empty the solids part of the toilet about once a month. Once the contents are dumped into a heavy duty trash bag I wipe the inside down using a handful of coconut oil to keep things from drying and sticking to the sides and to disinfect. We are very happy with this toilet.
The bathroom had large upper cabinets which we use small boxes and labels to keep things where we can find them and use them. We also have storage for toilet paper and other bulky items under the sink. Behind the fabric TV cover (hung with sticky Velcro) we keep diatomaceous earth (helpful to keep the tiny fly population down in the toilet) and a scale.
Valances: (FIRST RENOVATION) Hello layers of heavy wood and fabric. It was bulky, ugly, and preventing sunlight and fresh air in. I spent a couple days unscrewing the valances from the wall and the mounting brackets to deconstruct them, recovered them with new fabric and replaced the parts that I felt were necessary. First off, you may not want or need valances at all. They are practical if you drive with your blinds closed. The side pieces of the valance keep the blinds from swinging into the room and hitting people that may be sitting there. The top valance may also be desirable if you don’t love the look of roller blinds. In my case, there are pretty stained moldings at the top to cover the roller blinds. I left those and deconstructed the triple layer side fabric-valances to allow more light and air in. As I did this I also recovered them in batik fabric rather than leaving the upholstery fabric which was not my taste. In the bedroom, I did not replace the side valances as no one will be sitting there as we drive so shades up or down they we not needed.
Curtains: After living with the blinds for about two years one fell while we were driving. At that point we realized they were way too heavy so we removed them and all the valances. Now we have IKEA curtain wires, DIGNITET, and I made curtains for each window. This is physically lighter (we are always thinking gas mileage) and seems more homey!
Heating, Cooling, Privacy
This is a bit of a trial and error and try some more. Basically I would recommend different setups depending on your living style. We live on BLMs and National Forest land, in parks, trailer/RV parks, and store parking lots so I’ll share what works for us in the different situations.
Dry camping: When dry camping or when we have no hookups, we are always parked in full sun to get the best use of our solar panels. If you don’t have solar panels or yours are not mounted on the roof you’ll have more/different parking options. Anyway, we are often in areas that are between 50 and 90 degrees during the day so we use Reflectix on the windshield during the day to block out unwanted heat. We also use our Magne Shade on the outside of the windshield (connected by magnets). This makes a huge difference as the front part of the RV heats up the most in the sunshine because it has barely any insulation.
On the sides, front driver and passenger windows, we use the Magne Shades on the inside. They are meant for the outside but we like to be able to fold them up from the corner when the windows are open to let the air in. We also doubleup if it’s really warm and use more of the Reflectix with the Magne Shade holding them in place. We also use the awning to shade a large part of the RV for part of the day which also helps.
The best defense to keep the heat out is a combination of the Magne Shade, foil reflector, and interior lined curtains that we hang on Ikea curtin wire just behind the driver and passenger seats. This creates a little space for the warmer air to stay and keeps the rest of our RV cooler. On really hot days our best bet is to sit outside under the awning and catch whatever breeze is available. On the hottest nights, without a breeze, we have resorted to running the generator and the AC unit for a half hour to hour to cool things down to at least fall asleep.
If the temperature highs are 65 or less we normally want the sun to shine on and in the RV and we don’t use the sun reflectors. In this case we do use the propane heater in the area we are in (the bedroom and main room have two different units) as evening falls and we get cold. If there are other campers around, or we are on a somewhat busy road we use the Magne Shades for privacy with a view. When the lights are off or low inside people cannot see in so it is great for privacy.
Camping with electrical hookups, we like the Magne Shades on the windows as a way to have a view and privacy. People cannot see into the RV as long as it is brighter outside than in. It works similarly to tinted windows. At night we use the interior curtains and create more privacy if we feel we need it. Even without the curtains, if we only have the lights above the sink on, we find that all that can be seen are shadows, no details. Here we don’t worry about full sun or whatnot as we have electrical hookups and we can run the AC or our small Lasko space heater. Obviously the AC and space heaters are not great options when only using solar panels but when we have hookups this makes the interior feel great.