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Before & After: Converting 188 Square Feet on Wheels into a Home

by Quelcy Kogel

If there’s some passion or wish you’ve been secretly harboring inside those inner archives of wild dreams, then meet Mandy Fierens and Kevin Holesh, a couple who may just convince you to say those wishes out loud. More importantly, they may inspire you to take some giant leaps of faith and go for those wild dreams!

During her horribly insecure teen years, Mandy fell in love with fashion, but her 5’10” curvy frame didn’t fit the typical mold. Naysayers told her the barriers to enter the fashion industry were too high (adults are the worst!), but she didn’t let that stifle her. Today, she uses The Curvy Blogger as a positive corner of the web, where she hopes to help girls all over the world find confidence in their own skin. If the photography on her blog is impressive, it’s because Mandy is also a wedding and elopement photographer. She credits her other half, Kevin, with giving her the boost in confidence she needed to ditch a steady day job in order to pursue those creative passions.

Kevin is an iOS developer (check out his app, “Moment,” to help you curb your phone addictions), who can pretty much figure out anything he puts his mind to. The one idea on both of Mandy and Kevin’s minds? Travel! After marrying and settling in Pittsburgh, PA, the two borrowed an aunt’s pop-up camper and spent two months traveling the South. They were totally hooked, and the return to apartment life left them feeling cooped up.

Where others may have tried to just swallow that nagging feeling, these two brave souls had a real talk about their desire to travel. They put words into action, lived frugally to save money, consolidated their lives in a major way, and when the right “fifth wheel” presented itself, they committed to living in 188 square feet, which they dubbed the “Keystone.” Whether you have the same travel bug and work freedom, or your life is completely tethered to one place, you can dive into their adventures and live vicariously through their blog, 188sft. Enjoy! —Quelcy

Photography by Mandy Fierens | Family portrait by Krystle Castillo

Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
After committing to the idea of a life rooted in travel, Mandy and Kevin went on the hunt for a vintage trailer, but then they began to consider "fifth wheel" models. The two wanted to save and pay cash to avoid debt, so they had planned to take the idea rather slowly, but when Camping World in Buffalo, NY advertised a $4,900 price tag, they drove north, seized the deal and thrust their plan into action. In honor of their home base, they dubbed their new home-on-wheels "Keystone" and got to work turning the dingy, dark trailer into the bright, airy home it is today.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy and Kevin left the structure of the camper intact, but they touched every surface including a skim coat of concrete on the countertops and tables. Mandy confessed, "I want to stress that we had no idea what we were doing. This was our first house and first camper, so with the help of YouTube and articles online we did everything ourselves, which made it difficult but so rewarding!"
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy and Kevin painted the interior white to take advantage of all the natural light. Mandy reminisces, "I remember the amazing feeling of accomplishment when we took the tape and paper off the windows, and the light peeked through onto our fresh white walls. Up until that point, I was doubting everything we were doing, but luckily Kevin is the fastest learner in the world and was confident through the whole process and crushed my doubts."
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Kevin and Mandy left a 1,200-sqare-foot apartment for 188 square feet of camper living, but with bright, airy corners like this one and so many cozy zones, it hardly feels like a sacrifice.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
For two exhausting weeks, they woke up early, left their busy part of town, drove to Kevin’s parents’ house, where the Keystone was parked, and they dove into converting their dark, grey, dingy fifth-wheel into a bright, white, open space that feels far larger than its minimal footprint. Then they took to the road for six months to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Bright pops of color and pattern give the "Keystone" plenty of personality while still maintaining a minimal feel.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy and Kevin have four pets: two dogs (Luna and Foxey) and two cats (Grizzly and Nimbus), so making the camper a cozy place for the animals was a high priority as well. The upper cabinets provide private nooks and crannies for the cats, and by the look on Luna's face, it seems they did right by her. Now Luna and Kevin get to go on trail runs all across America.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy initially wanted to dye the fabric on the couch and booths, but more than 10 tests in, she still couldn't achieve the color she envisioned. With all the work and money the couple had already invested, they were worried they'd have to buy an expensive couch, but IKEA came to the rescue! They found an uncomfortable, wrong-colored couch for $100 that fit the space perfectly, added a mattress pad and stapled different fabric over it. Now it's the perfect futon for guests and a daybed for them (and the pets).
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Kevin and Mandy do plenty of reading, journaling and scheming from this dining nook. In their first year of camper life, they spent six months on the road, but in 2017, they plan to be traveling full-time, which has inspired Mandy to shift her wedding photography business to focus on elopements. Book her, and you might get to scheme from this dining room nook, too!
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy loves crafting and decorating. The light fixture, made of plastic straws and gold spray paint, is one of her many DIY touches. The Pittsburgh pillow from Cat Studio, like the camper's "Keystone" nickname, is another shoutout to their home state.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy's love for crafting and decorating is limitless, but she has to keep her home ambitions in check. A camper presents a different set of challenges than a building with a solid foundation. As she said, "The most challenging part of our home is we aren't sure how long the outside will hold up. We still feel that there is more to do. However, there is only so much you can do to keep the outside and underneath clean and taken care of."
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Both Kevin and Mandy work remotely, so having a workstation was a high priority. Kevin created the app "Moment," which helps you to "put down your phone and get back to your life." The camper is evidence of Mandy and Kevin's commitment to living their life to the fullest!
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
There are still plenty of spaces for Kevin and Mandy to display the collections and photos from their many journeys.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Their 188-square-foot camper is actually a split-level, which they accented with bright, patterned tiles.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy and Kevin said "Bon Voyage" to 1980 with their camper bedroom renovations.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
A painted geometric accent and travel photos help to carve out a different zone from the bedroom area.
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Mandy says the bathroom is the biggest interior design challenge. "It is so small, and our shower is an ugly creamy yellow color. We have hopes to replace it and our plastic sinks that stain every time we pour coffee into them, but all we see is dollar signs."
Before and After: Converting 188 sq ft into a Home on Design*Sponge
Kevin, Mandy, Foxey and Luna enjoying their home on wheels. All of the hard work and risks were worth it. As Mandy shares, “We can be in a desert, completely alone, and have all the comforts of home with us. It is such a luxury, we honestly feel like we are the luckiest.”

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  • Love everything about this! Kevin’s and Mandy’s reno is a complete delight … Everything needed in place, freedom to roam, beloved pets at their sides. And the price tag is a lesson to over-spenders!

  • You have such a beautiful little space there now! Very resourceful ideas. LOVE those copper mugs hanging there too :)

    • Thank you so much Josh! I am so glad you like the mugs! Guiltily they hold some jewelry and not moscow mules most of the time. ;)

  • If I by the trailer, can I have you two fix it up?? Yours is absolutely brillant!

  • I have questions!
    What are they towing it with? Pickup truck?
    How do they secure all of their things when mobile?
    Where is the litter box?

    It looks so clean and cozy and comfortable. My daughter has vague plans for buying a camper some day and taking her photography on the road, so this camper is intriguing to me!

    • Hi Heidi!

      We tow with out dodge ram truck. We put anything that slides around while driving in baskets (not very many items need to be put away). And bungy cord a few things like our computer screen, and pantry! Litter box we made a special spot for. Check out our youtube channel to see where: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akfndaMImII

      xo Mandy

  • We are spirit animals! From Grand Rapids as well. Lived in a (non-renovated, 80s style!), am a wedding and portrait photographer too…weird. This trailer is AMAZING and totally motivational! Maybe one day we’ll have the guts to take on a reno–in the meantime, I’ll enjoy drooling over yours. Awesome job!!

  • Thank you for featuring this lovely reno! I have been waiting for a very long time for a RV to be featured. Beautiful, lovely, modern, inspirational ! Dogs are cute too.

  • Love this. I live in Montana where it is very common for people to have 5th wheels for the weekend trips in the mountains and lakes and I was always puzzled by how people never
    personalized their spaces. These same people would never live in
    a apartment/house without putting in personal touches. Plus some of them actually spend a lot more time in their 5th wheels than their houses.
    Like Jessica, how did you paint the wood and walls and what type of paint?
    Would love to see more of this type of reno and would pass them on to my 5th wheel friends.

    • Hi Joyce, We didn’t have any issues painting. Most of our walls are real wood or wallpaper covered! But we used Kilz max primer, at least two coats, then painted!

  • Hi Mandy, great job, it looks amazing and so fresh! I saw at a hone show recently a company that fits a new tub frame over an existing one, like a glove. Its supposed to be significantly cheaper than a regular tub. It was something I was considering for my rv renovation and maybe it can work for you as well!

  • I think this is the first camper/tiny home reno on a design website that I’ve seen that didn’t rip and replace the whole interior. I really like how they used the layout that already existed, which is a typical camper layout, and just used some great paint and other aesthetic tools to make it look like a brand new place. It’s so much more cost- and resource-efficient!

    • Yea, we kinda took the easy way out. ;) But yes, we were trying to make it cost efficient. To be honest, our rig isn’t meant to last like airstreams are, so we tried to limit the amount of money we spent. Thanks for the love. :)

  • Ah, the traveller live is always good to hear, and I believe most people want to do the same things as you guys have done. By the way, the new place looks so charms!

  • Amazing! Incredible transformation-my hubby and I want to do the same thing-thanks for the inspiration!

  • Oh my – this gives me hope! My husband purchased a 5th wheel last spring and I never saw it until he brought it home…. although it is super comfortable I HATE the interior and have been racking my brain over what to do to it. I love this! It’s very similar in layout to ours – so I am going to show this to my husband and start planning our winter renovation. Did you do blog posts as you went along? We might need tips galore – like the flooring… is that vinyl planking or sheet vinyl or did you go with real wood? And how do you handle the slide out? So many questions! Love it.

    • Great questions. Feel free to e-mail us! We haven’t finished our blog post series about the reno, but this may be the fire under my butt to finish it! In the meantime feel free to reach out! theholeshs@gmail.com

  • Wow love it! What did u do to the countopz and the table tops???, they look amazing as well! Thanks so much b