One of the main reasons we chose our specific coach was so that we could convert the existing bunkhouse (two bunk beds) into a separate, dedicated office for Marc, who continues to work full-time (virtually) at his regular 40 hour a week job during our travels. Marc has always placed a high value on work-life balance, health, wellness and on being a high producer at work, and had a separate office to work from in our stick n brick home (pictured below).
Here is Marc’s criteria for what he needed to achieve for his workspace while living in an RV:
- a dedicated workspace with enough space for his 17 inch laptop and external monitor
- privacy and a quiet space to conduct conference calls and focus on his work without distraction
- excellent ergonomics, to keep him in good physical and mental health
- the ability to literally “close the office” at the end of the working day and week
Once we realized how important these factors were in supporting Marc to create the environment he needed to work effectively and live happily, it made it a lot easier for us to narrow down our final choice of motorhome to the Tiffin Allegro Open Road 35QBA. Until that time, we’d been very seriously considering the new Winnebago Sightseer 33C, but it would have been a little more crowded and Marc would have had to work in the main living space, which wasn’t ideal.
As soon as we got our coach back home to Colorado after our maiden voyage driving from Ohio in May, Marc started scoping out the RV renovation project to convert the bunkhouse into an office. Fortunately, Marc had a week vacation from work so we could spend time with my (Julie’s) Dad, Ken (aka KS) and his wife Helen who were visiting from Australia and staying with us in our townhome. It was a bonus to have both the time and an extra set of hands to do the job, so we put KS to work with Marc. An added bonus is that KS was a pattern maker by trade, so we had two very capable men on the job – not to mention a fun bit of Aussie lingo and humor thrown in (which you’ll see in the video). Meanwhile, Helen – a talented sewing teacher – helped me create some fabulous decor and accessories for the coach!
We’ve put together a pretty comprehensive video that covers the key steps of the bunkhouse to office conversion project in more detail, including a couple of the challenges we faced and several tips from our learning experience. We hope this video will prove to be a useful resource for anyone considering a renovation project in their RV, in particular, one that involves building an office and/or converting a bunkhouse into a dedicated workspace. Check it out.
In a nutshell, there were 9 key phases of the project:
Step 1: Dismantling and removing the bunk beds
This required two sets of hands, so Marc was very happy to have my Dad (Ken) on hand to help out with what would end up being the most time consuming, fiddly and heavy duty part of the project. Because the space was so tight and the bunk board was large and awkward, in order to get it out, Marc and Dad (Ken) needed to completely remove the window covering from the lower bunk window and also temporarily remove the lower wall light fixture. They needed every inch of space to get that bunk out! We stored all of the parts we removed from the bunkhouse just in case the future owner of our coach prefers the original bunkhouse setup over our awesome office (even though that would be crazy, right?)
Step 2: Disconnecting the DVD monitor wires
Our RV bunkhouse had the upgraded DVD monitors, typically to entertain kiddos. We left the top monitor in the ceiling and the lower one came out with the removal of the top bunk. This part of the job involved turning off the power source to the coach (and flipping the breaker on the fuse panel), carefully disconnecting the wires between the lower DVD monitor and the coach power source, capping and labeling the wires with some masking tape, and finally sealing the caps with electrical tape.
Step 3: Removing and inspecting the bunk floor
Lifting up the floor gave Marc an opportunity to inspect what was needed to increase the base support sufficiently for a heavier duty floor that would support the more focused weight of his body weight sitting in an office chair.
Step 4: Measuring up the wood we needed for the office
Marc took all the necessary measurements for the desk, floor and additional supports, with KS on hand to capture and sketch the detail.
Note: If you are converting your own bunkhouse, please understand that the image below is specific to our coach measurements. Even if you have the same coach as us, you will need to take your own measurements as they can vary widely (as you will see in our video commentary).
Step 5: A trip to the hardware store for supplies and wood cuts
Lucky for us, there was a Home Depot right across the road, so it was a quick trip in the Mini to pick up all of the supplies they needed to finish the job. Home Depot made the boys’ job a lot easier by cutting the wood at the exact measurements needed for each element of the project. They used a sheet of 3/4″ premium plywood for the desk and floor, and cedar for the supports. Cedar is light yet strong, which reduces unnecessary weight in the coach without compromising on strength and durability.
Step 6: Sanding and staining the wood
Next, Marc set about sanding the desktop to a smooth finish, then sanded both the desktop and the floor to give them both nice, rounded edges. Rounding the edges on the desk prevents injury if anyone was to bump into the desk corner. Also, slightly rounded the edges on the new, stronger floor piece made it easier to install without scratching the wall finish. We picked up English Chestnut wood stain to match the rest of the cabinetry in the coach – Marc even found a heart shape in the desk corner that showed up while he was staining. This was amusing to us, being RV Love after all. Yes, we know, we’re cheesy like that. Marc also drilled a hole for the cables and some holes for the screws for when it was time to attach it in the RV.
Step 7: Finishing the floor with a matching vinyl laminate tile
We found some vinyl laminate tile flooring at Home Depot that was similar to the vinyl tile in the coach, which we dropped over to our friend Rob Reilly’s house. Rob is a flooring professional who offered to install the vinyl tile onto the board for us as he has all the tools and supplies, plus mad skills. While we could have installed the vinyl flooring ourselves using adhesive, we were very happy to accept Rob’s generous offer – he did a fantastic job! Rob is a great guy and meticulous with his work – if you’re in Denver and need any flooring work done (laminate, tile wood, carpet), give Rob a shout out at Hi Altitude Flooring and he’ll be happy to give you a quote.
Step 8: Installing the desk and floor in the RV
Time to install the desk and put the floor in place! Marc screwed in an extra support underneath on the right side and attached the desk to the supports then dropped the finished floor into place – easy peasy!
Step 9: The finishing touches that complete the project
With the labor-intensive part of the job complete, it was time to add a few final touches and call it a wrap. First, Marc installed a keyboard tray under the desk for better ergonomics. Meanwhile, because the lower window covering had to be removed to allow space for Marc’s chair, the lower bunk window needed an unobtrusive cover to provide privacy and reduce solar heat gain. I picked up some cardboard, foam padding, some suede-like fabric that complemented the wall and some velcro strips and cut the cardboard to the size and shape of the window. I spray glued foam padding and suede fabric to cover the cardboard then spaced velcro strips around the cover, sticking the opposing velcro strips around the window frame. The cover now sticks to the window frame via the velcro, covering the lower office window – an easy, lightweight and effective solution. Finally, I found a lovely pair of neutral, linen-look curtains with grommets at TJ Maxx for just $20, all I had to do was I cut and hem them to fit. We hung them on an adjustable tension road, which removed the need for screws. All in all, the project was a highly successful and rewarding team effort.
And now, Marc can literally close off the office at the end of each day, to forget about work and focus on play!
How long did it take?
The entire project took place over about a week, allowing time for the stain to dry, the odor to subside and Rob’s work on the floor. We estimate the total number of man hours was around 15-20, not including Rob’s time affixing the vinyl tile to the floor or Julie’s time on the window covering and curtains. You might save some time learning from our experience when trying to remove the bunkhouse, as you’ll see in the video. Naturally, the time required will vary widely depending on any number of factors, including your type of rig, whether or not you have DVD monitors, your level of skill, whether or not you have an extra person to help you and the extent of work required. If you’re really focused and all goes smoothly, you could knock a project like this out over a weekend.
Total Cost: $194
We had basic tools and supplies on hand – screwdriver, tape measure, sanding block, staining brush, wire nuts, masking tape, electrical tape, glue – so in the list below, we’ve only included the items we had to purchase for our RV bunkhouse renovation project. Here’s the detail:
Plywood for desk and floor: $35
Cedar board for supports: $19
Pack of cedar shims: $5
Screws (x 3 lengths): $6
Sandpaper (x 2 grades): $4
Wood stain: $5
Vinyl laminate tile flooring: $58
Home-made window covering supplies: $20
Tension curtain rod: $12
Keyboard tray: $10
For under $200, we think we’ve made a pretty great investment in our new home and lifestyle, which allows us to travel, work and play in the way we like. We are both delighted with the finished result, especially Marc who loves his new workspace with it’s ever-changing view.
Thanks again to KS for your help with the build project, Rob for installing the floor covering and Helen for your help with our RV decor and accessories.
If you’ve just been reading this post and want to see Marc (and my dad Ken) in action, here’s the link to the video showcasing their workmanship.
What did you think?
We’d love to read your comments, thoughts and questions. Please share them in the Comments section below and/or in the comments section of the YouTube video.
Disclaimer: We are neither RV experts nor building professionals. Marc is just a very handy guy. If you plan on doing your own RV renovation or bunkhouse conversion project, please consult with your RV manufacturer for advice. This information is simply shared with the intention of providing ideas, inspiration and entertainment.