Interiorssneak peeks

A School Bus Turned Vacation Home

by Amy Azzarito

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A couple of weeks ago we featured the Victoria, British Columbia home of Marco Khalil and Caroline West, and the couple mentioned that they had transformed a school bus into a camper – and we just had to see inside. The couple bought the bus in 2012 after returning from an Oregon buying trip with their VW bus. Marco was disappointed that he could not fit a large vintage railroad sign within, so they decided to hunt for a larger vehicle. A quick search on Craigslist Vancouver turned up a vintage school bus for a bargain price. Because they wanted the bus to be a multipurpose truck, pop-up shop venue for their company Eight Inch Rule and an open-plan mobile cabin, they removed nearly everything in the bus – the seats, stanchions, heaters. They first recovered the floor in an utilitarian vinyl tile. Then they added a timber daybed and a cubby unit comprised of vintage wood crates – both of which are easily removable when the bus needs to fulfill its cargo-carrying role as a truck. The full renovation took ten days. Now the bus, which they call Riley, serves as the backyard cabin on their property. Marco and Caroline regularly use the bus as a mobile cabin and, whenever they can, they book their favorite seaside site at a local RV park that provides everything they need – a firepit, BBQ, coastal beach walks and a modern bath facility. This summer they plan to take the bus a little further afield to the American San Juan Islands for a little summer retreat. –Amy

Photography: Caroline West

Image above: “Our 1979 GMC / BlueBird school bus, 36 passenger shortbus version. We named it Riley, as in ‘The Life of Riley,’ which pretty well sums up the contented quality of life aboard.”

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Image above: “A wide angle view of the interior and a view of our favourite seaside campsite.”

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See more of the school bus after the jump!

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Image above: “The handmade cushions were made by Caroline using graphic vintage cereal sacking as appliqué. The handmade canvas window blinds feature magnets to secure them to the bus’s steel shell.”

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Image above: “Vintage American boys’ adventure story books set in a Libby’s roast beef packing crate with a metal fire engine toy.”

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Image above: “Wood toggles and canvas are components of the handmade cushions by Caroline using vintage boat signaling flags as appliqués.

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Image above: “A 1950s cautionary street sign was a San Francisco vintage shop find. An industrial design classic by American Seating Co., the streamlined school chair dates back to the 1940s. The window blind was made from a portion of an Adelaide, Australia tram destination blind from the 1930s. A real ‘barn find,’ these were discovered in a hayloft in the Australian countryside and purchased for a trifle.”

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Image above: “Caroline’s handmade cushions are made with vintage grain sacking.”
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Image above: “A vintage school house chemistry lab stool used as a side table.”

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Image above: “A simplified globe by Denoyer-Geppert, c.1950s is favoured for its two-tone palate
– a numerical transit bus number identifier sits in the background.”
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Image above: “We have a vintage collection of mugs from the Boy Scouts of America (1970s); they have vibrant graphics and are virtually indestructible at the campsite.”


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Image above: “An old canvas yacht club pennant acts as our ‘house flag’ as well as a handy window prop.”

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Image above: “I built the timber daybed with convertibility in mind; quick release for complete removal or left in place without upholstery as a product display deck when Riley is in pop-up shop mode. The vintage suitcases tuck neatly beneath for stowage of our camping kitchenalia.”

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Image above: “The antique shipping trunk in an unusual cube format sports a construct of leather, cane, canvas and brass, all with a wonderful patina and makers mark from Croydon, London. The C. M. initials are original and a happy coincidence. Placed alongside the settee, it acts as end table and blanket box. The vintage lamp has been wired into the bus’s 12 volt power system.”
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Image above: The original bi-fold door actuator.

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Image above: The magnetically secured window blinds made by Caroline have labels made by the same company that made her school uniform labels when she was a schoolgirl.

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  • Oh gosh, this is just lovely. My husband and I have had major camper envy lately. The magnets on the curtains was a brilliant idea!

  • Best ever Sneak Peek!!! I know I have said that just one or two times since I have been looking at Sneak Peeks but this is truly my favorite. I am so jealous but inspired too, just going to forward it to the boyfriend, see if he wants to buy one with me.

  • @MORGAN.
    Thank you Morgan. A friend in England emailed me and said, “You must see Moonrise Kingdom, the entire film reminded me of you.” So I saw it, five times, I loved it and find the art direction, sets and photography wonderfully nostalgic, original and inspiring.

  • Lovely conversion! Just be sure to check your (Canadian) state rules about what color the outside can be. They can be particular about who is asked to use school bus yellow and may restrict it to vehicles that are in the active business of hauling school children.

  • Wow!

    I really like it. The decorations look a bit awkward, like they could fall all over the place if you actually drove the thing.

    I dream of converting a sexy european 60s bus this into some kind of cozy hippy summer camper for cross Europe vacationing. It will unfortunately probably stay a dream..

  • What a great cabin on wheels! I’m sure they batten down the hatches when it’s time for take off, but I love the styling when it’s at the campsite!

  • @RLG: Canadian road rules require the words ‘SchoolBus’ covered over as well as disabling the safety lighting.

    @SOFAS LONDON: works as a cabin, not as an RV.. we stow everything securely before moving the bus and only transit with the driver aboard. All furnishings are either fixed or stowed.

    @ALEXANDER: sounds like a plan.

    @EVERYONE: thanks for your comments and enthusiasm for your project, we love RILEY too.

  • i love this! i also wondered about the movement, but they answered that! the only other question i have is where your passenger sits? i’m obsessed with this idea and will be sharing with my husband!

  • @TAMSIN: you can! Caroline makes and sells custom vintage style cushions.

    @HEART VINTAGE DESIGN: thank you! this autumn we aim to finish two other big projects which we’ll highlight on our FACEBOOK page.

    @KATIE: we take a ‘support’ vehicle with us to the RV park for the quotidian things like coolers and BBQ and shopping. Otherwise, there is only safe accommodation for the driver while underway.

    @SOOKTENG C: inside measures 17 feet x 8 feet with 7 foot ceilings.. there are 13 opening windows, two doors and a 360 degree view. Everything you’d want in a cabin, and a footprint no larger than a Crew Cab Pickup truck!

  • As the owner of Connecticut’s 1st vintage boutique on wheels, a school teacher and fan of all things mobile and vintage, I have to say this is the MOST beautiful thing I have ever seen! It has me pining for a school bus of my own. Love the COLOR.

  • One of my secret desires: opening and closing those manual school-bus doors! Love that you showed the actuator. Such a fun and inspiring project — thank you for sharing!

  • Cool idea and wonderful, happy colors. It seems made for children but it also seems like youre not supposed to touch anything.

  • What kind of gas mileage does that lovely-but-large vehicle get? Especially if it only carries one person (the driver) at a time? I love great design, but this only seems to cover the aesthetic side. The function seems a bit limited. Though love that it’s refurbished and adorable.

  • @amy Surprisingly, school buses get around 10-12 mpg. Our 36 foot converted school bus gets that much. Among the design community they seem to be an anomaly, but there are quite a few around!

  • I recently retired from school bus driving after 40 yrs on the same route. I actually have the chassis of a 50 something bus on my family’s cabin property in N. MI. I have been entertaining the idea of turning it into a stationary tiny house. This shoot encourages me to the max!

  • What type/brand of paint was used on the interior? How was it applied to be so smooth and glossy? I love it!


  • Wow, wow, wow! Drooling over all that lovely vintage stuff. You’ve got everything I want in a weekend cabin – okay, may make that a bus!

  • What happens when the bus needs mechanical repairs? Where do you get a school bus worked on? And is it more expensive to work on than an RV?