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Emma & Luke’s Amazing Modern 1979 Chevy Van Remodel (Interview!)


Emma and Luke said goodbye to their city lifestyle in Toronto, bought a 1979 Chevy Van and made it into an amazing home on wheels they’ve used to explore Nova Scotia, the East Coast of the USA, Mexico and now the West of Vancouver.

The van (named Brier) had a lot of water damage and rust and had to be stripped bare and rebuilt. It took the couple about 6 months from purchasing the vehicle to moving in full-time. But it was worth it: Emma says they love the freedom that vanlife affords them.

You can read our interview with the couple at the end of the post and see Emma’s awesome video tour of their little home.

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Couple’s Chevy Van Renovation (Tour & Interview)

Besides food and fuel, the couple have very few expenses living in their van full-time.

The van wasn’t much to look at when they began renovations.

But now it’s a crisp and clean home for the happy couple.

The white paint and subway tiles really brighten the space up.

Emma says they even repainted the exterior of the van themselves.

On her Instagram, Emma has tons of stories showing their van meals.

The two spent 5 months touring Mexico.

Their vintage van looks amazing in nearly every setting!

I’m in love with the groovy plaid fabric here.

Living in a van has some challenges: It’s only 60 sq feet and things will go wrong, Emma says.

The couple also has their cat, Tonto, along for the ride.

What an amazing lifestyle!

Make sure to watch their video renovation…

VIDEO: Modern 1979 Chevy Van Remodel

Tiny House Talk Q&A with Emma

What are your name(s)?
Emma Norman & Luke McDermott

How many people (and animals) will are living in your van?
2 people and a cat

Where do you live?
We currently don’t have a fixed place that we live. We started our journey from Nova Scotia travelling through the east coast of the USA, and then spent the last 5 months in Mexico exploring the entire country until recently returning to Canada to explore the west coast of Vancouver.

Why did you decide to go tiny? What are you hoping to get out of living tiny?
We decided to go tiny (vanlife specifically) to be able to travel but still have the comforts of our home everywhere we went. Another reason for this lifestyle is after years and years of renting apartments and the price always increasing we wanted to fully own our home. We know that a van might not seem like a real first home for many but living this way gives us more financial freedom than ever before!

How did you first learn about van life?
I first learnt about van life from people online, seeing other people live this lifestyle is so encouraging when your just starting out!

How long did it take to finish your van?
It took us about six months from when we bought the van to when we moved in full-time.

Can we ask how much it cost?

It cost us around $3,000CAD for the renovation of the van.

How did you build your van? Did you have any help? Did you do it yourselves?
The first few months of our van build went quite slowly. It was originally built as a camper but had lots of water damage and mold so we had to remove everything down to the shell. We ended up finding lots of rust through the frame and had to wait a few months for someone else to fix the body. After we got our van back it took us about two months to fully build out the inside ourselves. It was the first time either of us had ever done anything like this so it took a few mistakes and a lot of learning! We even painted the van ourselves!

How did you find a place to park and live in your van?
We love using the iOverlander app to help us find spots! It has brought us to some amazing places over the last 6 months. Our favourite places are always more remote places away from towns and cities which are usually free! We haven’t payed for a campsite in months now!

Do you work while on the road?

We did not work while we were travelling, but will be working in Canada while living in the van.

Before going tiny, what was life like?
Before deciding to invest in a van we were both very busy living city life in Toronto, Ontario and really, not having enough time in a day to be enjoying our lives the way we wanted to. So when Luke finished his Masters degree we packed everything up and moved back to Nova Scotia to live with family and save for our van. It definitely wasn’t easy, moving away from our friends and working jobs we didn’t love, but it was worth it to build a life we wanted to be living.

What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny?
FREEDOM! It is so empowering to wake up everyday and decide what you will do and where you want to go! The same goes for finances too! We no longer pay for rent or utility bills and we usually never pay for a campsite! So many people ask us how we have been able to travel for so long but when you no longer have so many monthly payments you’d be surprised how much more money you’ll have. One of the most amazing benefits though has been all the places and friends this lifestyle has brought into our lives. We have more of a community now than we ever did living in one place.

What about some challenges?
This lifestyle brought many new challenges to us. Learning how to deal with stress and failure were crucial in the beginning. When you live on the road things are not always going to go to plan, things are going to get broken and it is so important to learn to not blame your partner or yourself. You can’t take anything too seriously when you live in 60 square feet with another person and a cat!

What makes your tiny house special?
That we can bring our home anywhere we go! Which also means we can also bring our cat with us on all our adventures.

What is your favorite part of your van?
Our van is a 1979 chevy van and we love her unique shape and look, we always get so many questions and everyone is always so surprised that she is 41 years old!

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny?
Keep it simple! There are so many amazing van conversions online and it can be very overwhelming and expensive if you buy everything recommended. Invest in the things that you feel are important for you and remember you can always change or upgrade later!

Do you have a website, blog, or social media page where we can follow along?
You can find me @lifewith.emmalouisa on Instagram and Emma Louisa on Youtube
You can find Luke @rootedathletics on Instagram

Learn more

Our big thanks to Emma Louisa for sharing!🙏

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife and mama of two little kids. She and her family just purchased a small fixer-upper and are starting a self-sufficient homestead on their happy little acre.
{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Avatar Linda Baker
    April 22, 2020, 2:07 pm

    are you able to find places to shower/do laundry use bathrooms during virus lockdown?

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      April 23, 2020, 2:05 pm

      From the vanlifers I’ve been in contact with, finding a place to shower has become nearly impossible unless they have friends with homes in the area! Yikes!

  • Avatar Sheila
    April 23, 2020, 10:59 am

    They did a beautiful job on this home. A home is a home and what we make of it. Be so cool to cook outside also. The best part is being able to travel. Looks like they have plenty of storage also. Beautiful job. Best to you both.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      April 23, 2020, 1:55 pm

      Precisely!

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