9 Things We Learned When We Painted Our RV Interior

Wait. You did what? Why?

Well… we were tired of the gold wallpaper in our 2008 5th wheel, and we were stuck in a small Texas town waiting for a major repair to be completed on our truck, so we had plenty of time on our hands.

Also, we’d recently admired the interior paint job completed by new friends and fellow Heartland owners David & Cheryl of Landmark Adventures, so we knew it could be done by regular ol’ people like us.

Yes, yes, I remember that I once wrote this, all but swearing we’d never become those RV people. But then we decided we’d keep The Toad rather than upgrading to a newer model, and well, things started looking dated in here. Fast.

Dated, dated, dated.
Gold-tone wallpaper, decorative border halfway between floor and ceiling, and upholstered cornice boxes around the windows

So, like our two favorite major DIY projects of all time, this one also began in the bedroom. (Ahem. Sorry, sons!) But hey, we figured it was the best place to use our early painting mistakes as learning experiences, because not so many people see that part of the RV. By the time we worked our way out to the main living/visiting area, we’d be pros.

Or so we thought.

Here’s what we learned:

Lesson 1: Spending money on samples was worth it

We ended up buying eight color sample cups at about $4 each, which seems costly, but by the time we were ready to spend money on our full gallons of high end paint/primer combo at $44 each, we knew which colors and finishes looked best.

For that comparatively small investment, we were able to rule out three shades of green we thought we’d love, and we could also see that a satin finish looked rather flat in here, so we bumped up to a semi-gloss.

These two samples were no-go’s.
We ended up trying half a dozen more before getting things right.

Lesson 2: Prep time is, like, forever

We washed all the walls with a 50/50 vinegar-water mix, removed every fixture we possibly could, and rearranged items multiple times as we shifted operations from one area to another.

We pulled off the wallpaper border and unscrewed the window cornice boxes and said buh-bye to them for good.

We taped, and taped, and taped, using 3 full 60-yard rolls of 1” blue tape and several yards of a fourth.

Buh-bye border.
Peeled that shit right off!

Lesson 3: We should have checked the color of that first gallon against our sample

It would have saved us a full day’s work.

We put the entire gallon on our walls, then went back to the store for more to finish up the second coat (the label boasts one-coat coverage — don’t fall for it). We painted two walls before noticing the difference: they’d given us the wrong color in the first gallon. Argh!

It was Parchment Paper, not Parchment, and the difference in tone and warmth was important enough to us that we spent a full day repainting all the walls with our preferred color.

We feel like British royalty, as we are now riding around in Parchment and Royal Orchard Green

Lesson 4: It didn’t cost a lot of money

We made 6 20-mile round trips to Home Depot for a total of about $220 in paint and supplies, after deducting our 10% military discount.

Specific items we purchased:

  • 3 gallons of Behr Marquee Paint/Primer — 2 in our main wall color, 1 in our accent color
  • 1.5” and 2” high quality cutting brushes
  • 6-pack of 6” rough surface rollers
  • Roller handle
  • 4 rolls painter’s tape
  • 1 rolling pan
  • 2 paint cups with handles
  • Spackling compound
  • Plastic sheeting to protect furniture
  • 8 color samples as mentioned in Lesson 1

Other supplies we used included a drill, putty knife, sandpaper, utility blade, stepstool and ladder, all of which we already had on hand.

Lesson 5: It did cost a lot of time

Seven days scrolled by, from “let’s buy samples” to “let’s take the ‘after’ photos,” with four of them qualifying as intense, all-day efforts. Without the color mess-up, it would have been closer to three days.

Now 3-4 days doesn’t sound like a lot of time to spend on a complete interior paint job, but there were two of us working. And our total square footage is 355 feet, not much of which is actual wall. So yeah, it’s a complicated endeavor.

Lesson 6: Things were a hot mess until they weren’t

We chose to paint over our vinyl wallpaper rather than strip it, hence the high-end paint/primer combo. Vinyl wallpaper does not like being painted, so we needed a product that would grip, not drip.

We read a lot of tips, we consulted with others, and yet… it just didn’t go well in some spots, and we had to smooth out a lot of drippy-globby areas as we went along — with a brush or roller if we found them quickly enough, or by sanding and touching up later if we didn’t.

It was a lot like trying to become “experts” by reading about parenting before we had our own children: first thing we learned was that the babies don’t read the books! Well, the wallpaper didn’t read the tips, and it fought us at every turn.

In fact, when it came time to remove all the painter’s tape, we had to use a blade to help the process along, otherwise the paint pulled right off with it. Talk about time consuming!

Scoring with a blade helped the paint stick to the walls and ceilings, not the tape.
Damn vinyl wallpaper.

Lesson 7: It’s possible, and rewarding, to correct mistakes with kindness

After we’d finished painting, we decided to go back to Home Depot with our empty paint cans and our story of Parchment Paper vs. Parchment.

We were polite, we showed a before & after photo, and we asked for nothing in return but a listening ear. Yet to our surprise, the paint department manager made up for our troubles by giving us a $30 voucher toward that day’s purchases. Turns out we were the first folks (fools?) he’d met who’d tried to paint the inside of an RV!

This is the photo that helped win the day.

Lesson 8: It’s not for everyone

We were conscientious and careful, and we used high-end materials, but we can see flaws and oopsies everywhere — and some of them were caused by issues we couldn’t control, like buckled wallpaper in difficult-to-reach areas. If you can’t handle tons of work for results that might not leave you overjoyed, don’t do this yourself.

Overall, we’re happy with the transformation we’ve pulled off in here, but if a professional painter had left things like this? We would have withheld pay and filed a formal licensing complaint.

Here’s the deal: You think you know how many tight spaces your RV has, but you don’t — not until you try to paint them all. If you can’t handle spending hours in contorted positions, painting with your non-dominant hand around blind corners, and then living with the less-than-perfect results of that? Don’t do this yourself.

You have to hate the wall coverings you’ve got hard enough to commit fully to changing them. Otherwise? Don’t do this yourself.

Lesson 9: It will lead to more projects

Now that we’ve removed the window cornice boxes, we’ve got naked blinds, so we need curtains.

And our walls look really bare without the textured wallpaper and decorative border to break up the space, so we need artwork. (Good news: we know where to find tips for hanging it!)

And our furniture, in addition to already looking shabby, also no longer coordinates with our wall colors, so we need a new sofa, recliner, and set of dining chairs.

Carpet’s pretty worn out too…

Project creep: the struggle is as real in an RV as it is in a house!

For now, enjoy our befores & afters. I know we are.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

10 thoughts on “9 Things We Learned When We Painted Our RV Interior

  1. Emily, I love your new paint job. I painted the bathroom of our 2004 Carriage Cameo. I didn’t start out to paint the bathroom – all I wanted to do was take off the border but I decided to help the process with a little heat from my hair dryer. Should not have tried that. I bubbled the wallpaper in the area. That lead to sanding and paint and Steve creating a beautiful oak chair rail to hide my mistake. You guys did a great job. Quick note on new furniture – We just purchased a 2006 Mobile Suites 36TK3 in great shape except for the furniture. We bought the Thomas Payne tri-fold sofa and theater seating. It is modular and was easy to install in the trailer. Out with the old and in with the new!

    1. Thank you, Sharon! Becoming RV redecorators was really not on our radar when we started, but it sure did become a necessity when we decided to keep this ’08 rather than upgrading to something newer. I am so tired of this beat-up old sofa I can hardly stand it!

  2. Okay, Steve said I better tell the whole story of the furniture. We bought the “new to us” rig at Lazydays in Tampa, Florida. After an exhausting day of transferring all our stuff from the old rig to the new one we moved next door to the Lazydays campground. One night on the old mattress prompted a trip into Lazydays Accessory store for a new mattress. I had also seen the Thomas Payne furniture in all the new fifth wheels and wanted the theater seating. Luckily it was available at Lazydays and Steve decided to spring for new furniture rather than put up with my whining about the old stuff. We saved so much getting the older trailer that he was in a good mood. He also got a new to him 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dully 4×4, (the BAT) with only 23,000 miles still under warranty so he was really in a good mood. We bought the mattress and furniture and the guys from the store came, removed the old stuff, put in the new stuff and we left the next morning with what felt like a brand new trailer. They brought the new stuff on golf carts! It was amazing. I did find the furniture on Amazon and it was prime shipping.

    1. That’s a great story. We ordered our new furniture from La-Z-Boy, and had it shipped to one of their stores in Indiana, because we know we’ll be parked there for the first 3 weeks of June. Can’t wait to get it in here.

      1. You will love the Lazy Boy furniture. We have a ton of friends who have changed out their old for Lazy Boy. I’m just too impatient to wait and the Thomas Payne only came in three color choices – dark brown, medium brown, light brown so I didn’t have to spend months deciding which fabric would be perfect! Post pictures when you get your new furniture. By the way, are you planning new carpet or flooring?

  3. I just got done painting 5 – Yes 5 Coats of paint in our TINY Santa Fe camper. I first used gripper paint that did bond very nicely. Then finished with a more professional paint and primer combo, but can I just say I admire y’all!!!!! Had I needed to paint more square feet of our camper I would have quit. It is NO easy task and y’all did amazing! Bravo! It looks so nice I hope y’all love it- happy camping:))

    1. Believe it or not, your comment came in as we are in the middle of making some major repairs to our rear interior wall (water leak, and future blog post), so we will be painting it again.
      Shoot me now.

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