Whether it’s an all-out project or a couple of tweaks, a motorhome renovation can increase your enjoyment and appreciation of your current motorhome.
By Mark Quasius, F333630
Many motorhome owners enjoy attending RV shows. After touring the latest and greatest coaches on display, it’s natural to dream of owning a brand-new model.
Purchasing a new motorhome isn’t always feasible, of course. Besides, many of us bought our dream coach years ago and are still happy with it, even though it may be starting to show its years.
RVers have another option. After inspecting what’s new in today’s RV market, consider renovating your current motorhome and incorporating some of those upgraded features.
Changing With The Times
An RV interior ages with years of use. For example, is your carpeting stained and worn in spots? Is the original vinyl flooring dull and pitted? You can opt for new residential-grade carpet or choose another type of floor covering, such as wood plank or ceramic-style composite tile in part of the motorhome, or throughout. The original pleated blinds can be replaced with attractive new roller shades in the latest updated fabrics and modern configurations — another common upgrade. Fresh fabric-covered valances, or new hardwood valances that match your cabinets, can further enhance the coach décor.
Furniture wears out, too. That formerly comfy couch may now be lumpy and uninviting. Or a floor plan is no longer as functional as it once was. You accommodated other family members using the sofa bed; now it may be just two of you aboard. So, you might want to switch it out for a pair of comfortable recliners with a small cabinet in between them, or even a theater seating unit with optional power recline.
The original four-door propane-electric refrigerator may have served you well, though it can be replaced with a roomier new residential model. If you need more battery capacity or an inverter, that, too, can be done at this time.
With rapid advances in technology, entertainment system components become obsolete. Case in point: that old, heavy CRT television mounted in the front overhead cabinetry, which you may have banged your head on more often than not. It won’t pick up the latest digital off-air broadcast signals, nor will it display HD signals from a satellite receiver or Blu-ray player. Replacing the original front TV with a larger, lightweight flat-screen TV will correct such problems. While you’re at it, switch out the rear bedroom TV as well.
The latest trend is to remove the TV from the front overhead and replace it with a useful storage cabinet. Then a new, thin LED TV can be placed on a power-lift mechanism and positioned inside a credenza behind a couch or in an entertainment center or desk. A couch, theater seating, or a pair of recliners may be installed across the aisle. This arrangement enables occupants to view the TV without having to look sideways and upward at the previous overhead location.
VCRs also have met their demise, after the last known company to make them ceased production in 2016. Usher in a Blu-ray player, perhaps. And thanks to advances in sound technology, new speakers, sound bars, etc. can enhance the overall entertainment experience aboard your coach.
Entertainment centers can be custom-built for each motorhome. This is the perfect time to upgrade the entire arrangement by installing a virtual surround soundbar with wireless subwoofer, Blu-ray player, and access for a high-definition satellite receiver or DVR. Frequently, an electric fireplace is incorporated in the new entertainment center, as well as a storage cabinet.
You also can replace your BOMB (Box Of Many Buttons), which distributed the various standard-definition signals to your TVs via coax, with a nice HDMI distribution system. Sending signals between your various devices via HDMI or cat6 cabling will deliver a high-quality signal throughout the motorhome. Upgrading to an automatic satellite dish, such as Winegard’s popular Trav’ler, will ensure that all of the cabling is run before the cabinetry is finished and that you will have adequate space to mount all of the various components in your new entertainment system.
Who Does The Work? And Where?
Owners who are fairly handy can tackle many coach upgrades themselves, although depending on the project, materials, tools, and expertise, modifications may require many hours, days, or weeks to complete. Other RVers may choose to rely on specialists who can perform upgrades quickly and competently. A number of professional coach renovators operate across the United States and beyond. Many are located in the area around Elkhart, Indiana, often called the “RV Capital of the World.” Some RV dealers, coach manufacturers, and converters also provide renovation services.
These pros have connections with various suppliers and have access to a multitude of components and accessories; they may even carry complete product lines. They are experienced at installing, reconfiguring, and upgrading within the confines of an RV. Plus, they boast the design knowledge to guide RV customers when making their upgrade decisions.
During a recent trip to Elkhart, I wanted to learn what is involved in renovating an RV. I stopped at Bradd and Hall, a company established in 1982 that supplies specialized RV furnishings and renovations. Though the process can vary considerably from RV to RV and from company to company, I had the opportunity to learn how Bradd and Hall approaches an interior renovation. I also viewed a work in progress.
Beginning The Process
An RV upgrade typically starts with extensive planning. Initially, the customer and renovation specialist meet to discuss what the client wants to achieve. Company designers can offer ideas about how to accomplish that goal, perhaps even some the RV owner may not have considered. Customers also can review photos and videos of previous modification projects to gather ideas for potential solutions in their own vehicle.
At Bradd and Hall, a showroom full of furniture enables RVers to try various pieces to determine which couch or recliner they like best. (The company carries Flexsteel, Villa, and Lambright lines, among others.) Customers can best match the materials that will remain in their motorhome by looking at samples of upholstery, floor coverings, or woodwork. Bradd and Hall builds most of their wood products in their own woodshed. They start by purchasing wood from a local Amish lumber mill. After construction is complete, a local Amish finishing company custom-stains pieces to match an RV’s existing woodwork, cabinets, etc.
Bradd and Hall recently partnered with New Debut, a Wakarusa, Indiana, company, to handle some of the more extensive renovations.
Clients decide on their renovations or updates, approve the price quote, and schedule the work. Orders will be placed for any furniture and other items.
A Renovation Story
According to Bradd Neidhamer at Bradd and Hall, currently one of the most popular interior renovations the company performs is creating an entertainment center and upgrading with modern HD components. Power TV lifts are in vogue right now. During my visit, one particular coach was in the middle of a total system renovation: a new entertainment center, which would feature a TV on a power lift, an electric fireplace, drawers, and cabinets.
The sofa was removed for this project. Across the aisle, a large, flat-screen LED TV was fastened to the power lift and mounted inside a cabinet. The entertainment center, custom-fabricated in Bradd and Hall’s cabinet shop to perfectly match the motorhome’s existing woodwork, was installed around the lift. A wooden top with a slot and a smaller hinged cover was placed over the TV; it matched the cabinet when the TV was lowered into it. An electric fireplace was added to the front of the entertainment center.
The original TV, a deep CRT model, was removed from its location in the front overhead. The boxy enclosure in which it resided was cut out. In its place, a custom-made cabinet was installed; the new, shallower piece was flush with the other overhead cabinets. This area was now available for storage, and to house the controls for the automatic satellite dish. Coax connections were made between this cabinet and the satellite receiver now located in the new entertainment center, as well as to the bedroom TV.
Two wall-hugging recliners were installed directly opposite the entertainment center, replacing the sofa. A custom end table, also built in Bradd and Hall’s cabinet shop, was placed between the recliners. Its drawers were sized to nicely accommodate remote controls, DVD movies, or similar items.
The bedroom TV, another bulky, outdated model, also was removed. Its enclosure was already flush with the existing cabinetry across the bedroom wall. So, a new, flat-screen LED TV was attached to a hinged frame and installed across the front of the enclosure. Bradd and Hall workers then modified the enclosure; this included adding a shelf to hold a second Blu-ray player and a satellite receiver, plus more storage space. Access to the storage area is gained by swinging open the hinged TV. Additional coax cable was run from the front of the coach to connect to the bedroom TV.
More Interior Upgrades
Other renovation projects were in the works in Bradd and Hall’s service bays. A simple couch replacement was scheduled for one motorhome. Another RV was being upgraded with a residential refrigerator and wood-look flooring. A third project involved custom-built desks.
According to Mr. Neidhamer, another popular renovation is replacing furniture coverings. Bradd and Hall recommends Ultraleather fabrics. “Many RVers have had issues with the imitation leather in their coaches peeling and falling apart. Most manufacturers used to use genuine Ultraleather but have gone with cheaper products to be competitive,” he said.
“We have customers come in with Ultraleather furniture that is more than 15 years old, and it is still as beautiful and buttery soft as it was the day the furniture was installed,” he added. “Especially after we clean it with Ultrafabrics’ recommended cleaners — Fantastik or Formula 409.”
This article barely scratches the surface of what can be done to prolong enjoyment of your home on wheels. Other possibilities include kitchen and bath remodels; new or switched-out appliances — a dishwasher drawer or a washer-dryer combo, perhaps; “home office” additions, with storage for tablets, printers, and files; new LED lighting and fixtures; and decorative hardware and fixtures. And that’s just the interior.
If you enjoy your motorhome but wish to improve its livability and looks, consider a custom renovation. You can modernize the interior; add the latest technology in appliances, components, and electronics; and freshen its décor with new furniture, flooring, and other furnishings. No hard and fast rules apply. When compared to the cost of a new coach, your savings could be significant. And your coach may feel like new.
Many FMCA commercial members provide a variety of coach renovation services. Some specialize in interior work only, while others focus on exterior upgrades; still others do both. The companies below are among those listed in the RV Marketplace, published annually in the January issue of Family Motor Coaching (see page 226 in the January 2017 issue). An online directory is also accessible at www.familymotorcoachrvmarketplace.com.
Companies in the RV Marketplace are listed by categories to delineate the services and products they provide. For example, the Services, Coach Components, and Accessories category contains subcategories such as Appliances, Audio Entertainment, Awnings/Shades, Bathroom Components, Furnaces/Heating, Furniture/Upholstery, Interiors, Refrigeration & Accessories, Sound Systems, and more.
Because of the custom nature of the work, services and products will vary by company. Do your homework: Obtain a clearly defined work plan; study price quotes closely before signing; request referrals; ask to see similar projects the companies have completed.
Please refer to the RV Marketplace listings of FMCA commercial members to search for additional renovation specialists.
Bradd and Hall, C5391 *
Brown’s Collision & Coachworks, C13204 *
Amsterdam, New York
Carr Industries, C12149 *
Classic Coach Works, C8792 *
Ormond Beach, Florida
Coachcraft By MacDonald, C9022 *
Dave & LJ’s RV Interior Design, C11174 *
Davis Cabinets, C9001 *
Junction City, Oregon
Duncan RV Repair, C6151 *
Luxury Coach Services, C10889 *
Master Tech RV, C11533 *
(Division of Recreational Specialties)
Oregon Motorcoach, C11513
Precision Painting & Interiors
(866) 909-4473 (Precision Painting)
(574) 546-2406 (Precision Interiors)
Pro Custom Inc., C12961 *
RV Décor, C12996 *
Smoky Mountain Coach Works, C10458 *
Taylor Coach Services, C12586 *
Texas Custom Coach, C5182 *
Pipe Creek, Texas
* FMCA Commercial Member