RV Renovations: From Camp Kitchen To Cozy Cafe

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Even as someone who loves to cook, the kitchen was really last on my list of things to look for when we toured our RV for the first time. I have lived in some tiny apartments, most without much counter space, and almost all without a dishwasher, so I figured I could make do in anything that came along with the rest of the rig. I was surprised to find a four burner stove, and a decent sized fridge, as well as a two basin sink that has become indispensable. The changes we made to the kitchen were mostly cosmetic, but we learned a lot about how to make an RV kitchen a functional space, where we can easily and comfortably make all our meals.

Our kitchen started out like the rest of the interior. Wood. The same color wood from the floor to the walls to the cabinets, which cramped the space and really showed the age of the RV. Before I can even start thinking about aesthetics I have to make sure the space is clean enough to cook in safely. Our rig was definitely a fixer upper with a lot of elbow grease required right at the start to clean it up after years of neglect. I took stock of the damage. We had lots of mouse poop, but no mice that I could see. I made a mental note to have Nathaniel check our wires for signs of chewing. Vern cleaned out everything he wanted to keep, but we were left with a quilt, some old sheets and pillows, and a bag of pajamas in the closet, all of which would have to be thrown out. The drawers held some broken dishes, bug spray, and a bag of plastic bracelets that were supposed to repel mosquitos. Dated to expire… 2005. Ok, out those go too. Under the sink was a ceramic plate, some trash, and a rusted wire basket on a track so you could slide a small trash can in and out of the under-sink area. I opted to WD40 that and let it stay, but got rid of everything else. I wish I had asked vern about the plate when I found it instead of waiting until I discovered its purpose, but what fun is life without a little mystery, right?

The biggest change I made was painting the kitchen the same color white as the living room, but leaving the brown trim off so that there was a visual difference between the two “rooms,” even though the physical difference is basically non-existent. When Nathaniel cooks he can reach almost every cupboard in the kitchen or living room to get what he needs without even stretching his back. I, on the other hand, move around quite a bit and sometimes employ a step stool to help me gather what I need. We experience this RV very differently, the two of us.

The microwave that was installed when we purchased didn’t work, and we set out to find a residential model that would fit in the space and still be able to be mounted in a way that would keep it in place while the RV is in motion. This required a bit of handy work from Nathaniel, and was actually the first construction project he did on his own, the first of many. As I type this I can hear the buzzsaw and drill outside as he works on his latest creation. i’m not sure what it is, and I’m afraid to ask, but our entire home is filled with the physical manifestations of his brainstorming. The shell for the microwave doesn’t look like much, from the outside, which is exactly the point, but hold it snugly enough that we don’t have to worry about it crashing to the floor when we pace along endless stretches of bumpy roads (I’m looking at you, Arizona!).

Designing this kitchen was all about functionality. I wanted a space that felt homey, and let me create meals that were a step up from our camp-stove creations we ate for the month of our tent adventure. Nathaniel wants our RV to be “ready to move” at all times, so things hanging out on the countertops was a no-no. We accomplished both of these goals with some simple hook installations in the side wall where cooking utensils and our main skillet can hang when they’re clean, and not in use. After we acquired a deep pot, we hung a second hook on the opposite side, to store it out of the way as well. Some of the kitchen hangs into the living room, like our new wine glass rack that lives above the couch. We’ve accrued a pretty impressive wine glass collection throughout our months of winery visits and tastings, and this keeps them safe from accidentally dropping. They can even remain there when we’re in motion, a tiny bungee cord looped around the opening of the rack keeps them in place.

One of the best ways to keep our fridge and pantry area organized is by keeping everything modular. To do this, we have an assortment of pyrex and Tupperware containers to arrange food in after we get home from grocery shopping. For example, a two cup bag of shredded cheese gets put in a two cup square container before finding its home in the fridge so that we can always see what we have on hand, and maximize our space with stackables. This will make it really easy to buy in bulk and cut down on our plastic waste, as soon as our local grocery stores deem it safe enough to use personal containers again!

This towel rack was installed in one of Nathaniel’s “I feel like having a project” moments. I mostly use it for decorative and hand towels, but it is a nice thing to have that I didn’t realize I wanted until it was there. Directly above, we had shelves installed for a very brief amount of time. I thought they were perfect! Nathaniel came home from a trip that was supposed to be for groceries with these in tow, and the decorative items we put on top. I though they made a great addition to the space and liked that our large diagonal wall wasn’t empty anymore, but unfortunately they had to come down. Nathaniel knocked his head and shoulder on them one too many times, so we sacrificed aesthetics for functionality and went back to an empty space. Like I said, very different experiences! I hope to print out some photos of us, where we would like to go, or maybe a scratch-off state map to take their place. I’m just waiting for the perfect thing to catch my eye. Until then, they temporarily held all the Christmas cards that were sent to us here at the park.

Since we want to keep our limited counter space as clear as possible, I couldn’t have a bowl of fruits and vegetables for the week sitting there taking up space, but a hint from a book I was reading about life onboard a sailboat gave me inspiration. We had a leftover hanging basket from our living room and bedroom projects, so we tacked it up above the sink to hold our produce, like the macrame hammocks that the sailors use. It lets the fruit ripen in an open space, which is nice, and I’ve found we barely have any food waste with all our groceries being so visible! Gone are the days of tucking produce into a crisper drawer and forgetting it’s there until it begins to rot.

Below our fruit hammock sits the insta-pot, the magical little cooker that saved our Thanksgiving this year. On the tabletop that we use as a desk sits our cozy coffee cafe. My espresso maker and Nathaniel’s Keurig give us both the comfort of coffee the way we like it, anywhere we happen to roam.

As I spent my time admiring my beautiful domestic abode, preparing my favorite meals, and sipping my homemade lattes, deep beneath the surface (well, just under the sink), lurked something sinister. Months ago I had moved the plate that was taking up space under my counter, and unleashed a world of problems. I have come to the conclusion that that ceramic plate was somehow a cornerstone of the structural integrity of our plumbing system. The plate was propping up a pipe, with a hairline crack in it, to release the gravitational pressure on it and thus holding it together. It also collected the minuscule amount of water that would leak out from this invisible crack over the years. Obviously, it wasn’t stored with the pipes full and OBVIOUSLY we should have inspected this further before we purchased. One day, I’ll write a book about how NOT to buy an RV so that you can avoid all these brushes with fate yourself, but until then, I learn the hard way so you don’t have to. My mistake here was twofold. I removed the plate. And I shoved the cupboard to the brim with our plastic bag collection, wine and soda bottles for recycling, and our tiny trash can, so I didn’t notice the problem until the bottom of our cupboard became spongy. Afraid to look, I sent Nathaniel in and took off for work. When I came back eight hours later his head was still under the sink, and he had a long list for the hardware store in town so that we could fix our water problem. They had already closed for the night, and to be safe Nathaniel had cut off our water supply to avoid further damage, so a full sink of dishes and nothing to cook with left us heading out for takeout.

The next day we visited Mendo-Mill, the local place for any project, and set out to redo our entire kitchen plumbing system. It was a long day of pipe cutting, crimping, and backbreaking contortions for Nathaniel. I…. held the flashlight. Hey, it’s helping! Pipes and cupboard floor replaced, we now check religiously for any signs of a leak in an area that would be harder to repair, and thank our stars that it was in such an easy spot. We also keep that area clear of anything except for our trash can, which gets emptied nightly. To be extra safe, a healthy layer of Flex-Seal spray binds all the crimps and joints together. It doesn’t look so hot, but it keeps our home dry and gives an added sense of security.

I love our kitchen! It’s the only thing visible to campers when we open the door to assist them, so I wanted it to be beautiful. Not only does it look nice, it’s also functional. We take turns whipping up whatever we feel like having that evening, and probably consume our weight in grilled cheeses for lunch week in and week out. We’ve learned how to shop for two with limited storage space, and made sure our food waste is practically zero through our storage and shopping habits. Cooking on a gas stove is easier for me than the electric appliances that dominated in Florida, and since it’s just the two of us, the lack of space doesn’t bother me much. It’s worth it for the financial and physical freedom of RV living. We have so many more projects in progress. We just found out that the ugly purple blocks built into the cabinets are SPEAKERS?! What?? So we’re figuring out how to hook those up. Our bedroom has a lot of exciting changes being made too. So, chapters 3 and 4 will be coming as soon as we’re ready to show off our progress!


Recent Posts

See All