When Rachel Oldenburger starts a new RV renovation, it’s never long before she makes her first trip to IKEA. Oldenburger, who co-owns RV Family Renovators with her husband Jake, says the Swedish furniture retailer is the perfect place to look for pieces that make a major impact, without breaking the bank.
“They’re very cost-effective,” Oldenburger says, “but more than that, because IKEA’s stuff is made with [medium-density fibreboard], it’s lightweight. You can put in a larger bookshelf, a table, or a chest that, if you were to get the same piece in solid wood, you could never put in an RV.”
The retailer’s furniture also tends to have a smaller footprint and more minimalist look, says Libby Behrens, who documents her do-it-yourself RV mod projects on her Instagram, @behrnecessities. “The sizes are smaller, and it’s all made with just clean lines and nothing fancy,” she says, “so you can customize everything.”
1. The Iconic Cube Unit
There are few things more recognizably “IKEA” than the KALLAX. The cube unit comes in a number of configurations and dimensions, and the wide range of baskets, shelves, drawers, and doors designed to fit in the unit means you can customize it for a variety of storage needs.
Behrens’ top tip is to add some height. To create storage for her son’s toys, she flipped a KALLAX unit sideways and attached four feet to the bottom. “We lifted it up off the ground because in an RV you want to make sure your airflow stays constant,” she says. “Moisture can cause mold and mildew, so you don’t want places under your furniture where condensation can form.”
Oldenburger uses the KALLAX in nearly every renovation, and sometimes it’s not just about the storage. In her most recent project, she created a dining area bench using a KALLAX with an added wooden top piece. She always adds basic trim pieces to make IKEA pieces look custom. “Trim makes a difference,” she says. “With IKEA, most of the time you can see the bolts and stuff on the sides. When you add trim, it looks custom and hides the bolts.”
2. Repurpose Countertops
When Oldenburger redesigned her personal RV, she went with a lightweight, wood-finish IKEA laminate countertop for the bathroom. When she removed her dinette and was brainstorming ways to use the space, she remembered the countertop. “We bought one extra slab, screwed on some hairpin legs, and now we have a 25-inch-wide, almost 6-foot-long dining room table in our trailer.”
3. Create Vertical Storage with a Rail System
When it comes to storage—especially in the kitchen—every square inch needs to be put to use. Behrens loves to entertain and owns a handful of big charcuterie boards, but she didn’t have anywhere convenient to put them in her trailer. So, she got creative.
“There’s an IKEA rail system, it comes with hooks for hanging things, buckets you can put stuff like utensils in,” Behrens says. She installed two rails and attached a narrow piece of wood to the wall below one of them, creating the perfect place to put her charcuterie boards. On the lower rail, she hangs bags for produce.
“It keeps everything up off the counter, and when we have our produce in there we use it because we can see it and it’s accessible,” she says. “Plus, that’s where the slide comes in, and there’s enough clearance that the rails can stay up, so I don’t have to worry about taking anything down when we move.”
4. Shoe Storage Doesn’t Have to Be for Shoes
Some of Oldenburger’s go-to IKEA pieces are designed to hold shoes. Cabinets like the BRUSALI, HEMNES, and BISSA products are narrow, with doors that open by folding down. It’s a space-saving solution for a shoe collection, but they can be used to store other items, too.
“They’re so skinny, a lot of times they can go in a hallway or entryway,” says Oldenburger. “In my last RV, I used it as a place for the family to store things like the kids’ schoolwork and books.”
5. Brighten Things Up with Strip Lights
RVs have nooks and crannies, and stock fixtures don’t always provide enough light. But installing new ones can be a tall order: RV wiring is tucked behind the walls, so even if you have enough electrical know-how to install a new light, “you’re going to have to chop up the wall to do it,” says Oldenburger.
Instead, embrace the power of the battery. IKEA’s battery-powered strip lights, the STÖTTA, are low-profile and easy to install. Put them under your kitchen cabinets, inside the closet, or along the baseboards to give your RV a quick, easy, custom lighting design.
6. A Work-from-Anywhere Desk
Most RVs aren’t designed with work in mind. That means if you need an office area or a desk, you’ll have to get creative about where you put it. In a recent renovation for a family who plans to live and work full-time in their RV, Oldenburger says finding the right desk was challenging.
“The bedroom in this particular RV is small—the slide comes in with the bed, and it originally bumped right up to this super narrow dresser,” she says. “They needed a desk in order to work from home, but I couldn’t find a desk that fit and allowed the slide to come in.”
Then, on a trip to IKEA, she spotted the SVALNÄS, a wall-mounted desk with no legs. “When the slide comes in, the bed clears right under the desk,” Oldenburger says. “If you’re working from your RV you need to run out and buy this. It’s the perfect RV desk.”
With just under 100 locations in the United States and Canada, the beauty of IKEA is that many people live within driving distance of a store. You can even buy some products online via Amazon. Plus, all of the furniture comes in boxes and can be assembled right inside your RV. Oldenburger’s last IKEA shopping tip is arguably the most important. “Take all your measurements and a tape measure with you into the store,” she suggests. “You know what they say; measure twice, buy once.
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