Sunday, July 5, 2015

Our Complete Mobile Home Renovation!

Less House, More Life

We recently completed a full renovation of our 1991 Fleetwood double-wide, pre-manufactured home located in the heart of the Napa Valley. It's not officially a "tiny" home, but at 1288 square feet, it fits into that "less house, more life" thing we've got going on

Because it's a mobile home, we didn't/couldn't change the footprint, nor could we move any of the interior walls - that would have been cost-prohibitive.  We made do with the original layout and spent money on our finishes instead.

We sold our 5-Star Built Green Dwell Development home in Seattle in May of 2014 and returned to our mobile home, which had been serving as a second set of digs.  We're not sure we understand it, but we love this little house more.  Way more.

Some of what we did isn't very sexy (aluminum-and-foam-core roof, vinyl windows, whole-house water filter, new strap-down foundation supports, etc.) but it all adds to the quality of the house.  The rest of the work resulted in an excellent makeover with a groovy mid-century feel.

I'd intended to post updates throughout the renovation process, but it turns out that blogging is a lot of work. Life - and a certain lack of interest in blogging - got in the way of that. Oh, well.

What follows are some before photos, some after shots and some running commentary, in semi-chronological order. 


hodge podge

Curious ledge.

Small bath. What's with the ledge behind the crapper?

We relocated this window because it was directly across from the bathroom and right next to the closet (where I am often naked) and installed a solar tube in that corner instead.

Master bath, if you wanna call it that.  The drain hadn't worked in years.

Office, sort of.

Icky brown burber carpet throughout.


Demolition began the Monday before Thanksgiving, 2014.  Everything had to go.  Including the popcorn ceilings. (Yes, we underwent a full house renovation during the holidays.  It wasn't near as painful as one might imagine.)


Early progress.

That gross brown carpet was actually an improvement on the Dusty Rose shag that came with the place when we bought it 9 years ago.  Putting down anything other than carpet required a new underlayment, which we finally did as part of this renovation.

After a classic husband-wife wrangling over flooring choice, we went with my pick, natural cork.  At just under $4 per sq ft, it was about half the cost of any other sort of engineered wood product and just as durable. We ran it through the entire house, including the bathrooms and the kitchen.  Because we're crazy like that.  

1/2" plywood underlayment

48 hours to cure

So smooooooth.

We were smitten with our contractor, Chun Li, who was always on time, always happy and always willing to find a solution.  Cute as a button and totally affordable.  If you're within an hour of Sacramento and have a home-improvement project, you want this guy.  Seriously.

Master Chun Li and his crew.  I'm the weird Caucasian lady.

We splurged on subway tiles in both bathrooms.  I ordered the deepest non-custom tub I could find for the guest bathroom and went with a glass enclosure for the master bathroom shower.  

Missuz Li and her brother, Fung

Tile Master Li

There were so many cool milestones and appliance delivery was one of them.  The washer and dryer seemed really huge at first, like a couple of giant eyeballs. 


 And, little things made me happy.  Like, toilets.

No pubic hair catcher!

Fung gets it done.

Ikea.  I haven't mentioned the hours and hours and hours spent at Ikea.  We bought our kitchen cabinets (hood and dishwasher, too) at Ikea, used their out-sourced design services and their contracted installation team.  There were some glitches with the contractor, but ultimately they made it right and we're completely happy with the outcome.  Best kitchen I've ever had, hands down.

IKEA design plan, south wall

Oleg bangs out some kitchen cabinets.

Note the integrated DW!

Not a fan of granite, I chose Corian counter tops in Doeskin because it reminds me of poured cement.  At about half the price of CeasarStone or something similar, it's perfectly suited to this home.  Apparently, the French Laundry uses Corian in their kitchen and that's good enough for me.  (Name dropper.)

Before backsplash.

I've got counter and cupboard space for days!

We used Ikea cabinets, lighting, mirrors and fixtures in the bathrooms, too.  Because you just can't have enough Ikea, really.

And, Chun Li knocked up some simple shelves to make our closets so much more functional.


We moved back into our home in mid-January, about 7 weeks after construction began.  I am almost certain that, thanks to Chun Li and the Gods of Renovation, this was the least painful home-improvement project in recorded history.


Are you ready for the Big Reveal? 

 Feast your eyes....

We didn't move any plumbing, electricity or gas lines. 

Possibly my favorite room in the house.

Small bedroom

Master bedroom.  There's a story behind the cow rug.

 We don't hang anything over the bed since the August 2014 earthquake, but I needed some height on that side of the room, so I used a screen inherited from my mother.  (She's still with us.)

Ikea curtain panel hides the walk-in closet. Office in the distance - master bath is out of frame on the right.
Marvel at my ample (Ikea) storage, which was my argument for no-TV-in-the-bedroom.
Master Bath - a tall mirrored cabinet, left,  is reflecting the shower fixtures. That's a solar tube in the shower.
Office Space. Small deck leads to backyard.

These photos were generously taken by my husband's son, who offered to work his Photoshop magic on them in order to correct what he thought were lighting issues, but I think they're great and left them unedited.  You can see his professional work here:

In round numbers, we dropped about $80k on this project.  We don't own the land it sits on, but we don't pay exorbitant property taxes - or a vig to the banksters.  We have a great deal of freedom as a result of living lean - we wanted to do it in style and we think we achieved that.

Eighty grand might seem like a LOT of money to put into a mobile home, but our location makes it make sense. Located within walking distance of some of the best restaurants and wineries in the world, we're also within an hour or so of San Francisco, less than 2 hours hours from the beach and just a few hours from the mountains.  We're certain that there is no place like it in all of California - no place in the whole country this desirable which would be less than $800 (in fixed costs) per month to live.  So, we made the decision to invest in our comfort instead of a mortgage and we're so glad we did. 

We plan to do some minor landscaping (lots of rock) and we may wrap the home with new vinyl siding next year, which will allow us to more closely coordinate the inside of the house with the outside.  (Also, energy conservation.)

It's been a little odd being in a senior mobile home park for the last 10 years - I'm not yet 55.  Until recently, my neighbors have largely been quiet and reclusive - the only times I've seen them is when they shuffle out to their mailboxes -  but there's an influx of new retirees who are active and social.  There's been a flurry of buying and selling, with several old homes being taken out to make room for newer, fancier cribs.  We looked at that option for ourselves, but decided that we didn't need more room - we just wanted to upgrade what we already had.  So, we did.  And, we love it.

Feel free to contact me with questions about our renovation - use the comments section below!

(Update: Our contractor Chun Li passed away in August of 2017.  We were crushed to hear the news - I have rarely met someone who made me smile the way Chun Li did.  We were so blessed to have him renovate our home but even more blessed to have known him at all.)