C’mon in and meet Matt, Renée, Summer and Haven…and their stunning ’97 Toyota Coaster bus. Proving yet again that home-builds often rival and in fact can be superior to commercial fit outs. Architect Matt and Graphic Designer Renée spent a staggering 5,400+ hours converting the 20 seater tour bus into a Scandi styled showpiece. In fact the Surf Bus has even featured in Homestyle Magazine.
What was the kernel of the idea for a bus, had you both had camper experiences before and was buying a bach or moving to the east coast part of the discussion?
We have always loved the idea of permanently moving to the east coast – namely the Coromandel or Bay of Plenty, but family and jobs in Auckland have kept us from making that move just yet. We always holidayed on the east coast in rented bachs and were gutted when it was time to leave, so the idea of buying a bach has crossed our minds many times!
However, not only did we have nowhere near the budget, we also wanted the freedom of following the surf. Neither of us had ever travelled in a ‘camper van’ prior, let alone with kids! We did a bit of tenting, but it was always too time-consuming for us when we just wanted to roll up and hit the waves. The idea of creating our all purpose-built bach on wheels that met our specific needs just made sense.
You committed to an extremely tight budget of 20K for the donor body and another 20K for the fit out… did you realise how that would translate into man and woman hours. Was that part of the deal, to challenge yourselves with the project, and how many hours do you reckon?
When we bought the bus in June 2018, our goal was to have it ready for the upcoming NZ summer in 6 months and we knew that there would be a massive amount of hours required to achieve the result we wanted. Over the 6 month build, we estimate we put in roughly 30 hours extra a week between us over and above our regular jobs – so this meant most weeknights and weekends. Challenging ourselves was not part of the original deal, however, it certainly did challenge us! With us both being designers, the aesthetics and functionality were really important and it became a race to see if we could meet our deadline without compromising on those things.
How did you arrive at the layout you have now, being a graphic designer and an architect were there clashes of aesthetic?
It was important for us to make sure we made smart use of every space in the bus. We wanted the interior to be open, light with a natural flow (lounge, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom). To achieve this, one of the biggest design decisions we made early on was committing to the idea that our passenger seats (kids seats) would not be a permanent upright fixture. We knew we wouldn’t be able to achieve our design objectives if they had been. There are so many rules and regulations around how passengers can travel in a mobile home, so we had to come up with creative alternatives. The fold-flat seats (into couch/kids beds) are a design idea we had not seen anywhere else and it took weeks and weeks of design, engineering and fabrication to make the idea work. It certainly would have been easier to go with standard fixed seats! However, we were really determined to get that multi-functionality and wouldn’t progress with the rest of the build until we found a solution we were satisfied with. Once that area came together, the rest of the layout flowed.
Haha, we didn’t have too many aesthetic clashes at all! We are fortunate to have very similar aesthetic tastes, but with different focuses. Matt likes to focus on structure and spatial design and Renée on interior colours and materials. And we collaboratively decided on the layout and functionality.
Surfing is the priority and boards are a pain in the arse to travel with, did you consider any other option than Matt’s custom roof rack, like locking inside somehow. And what do you do with rust creating wet wetsuits?
Yeah, we did consider various other options, however, in terms of indoor storage and head height, we didn’t want to impinge on the already limited space. Generally, we park up at a spot and use our boards all day, so a once-a-day rooftop load in the evening isn’t too bad… unless it’s mega windy – then it becomes a bit tricky! We do have some ideas for a side-mounted option for such times… stay tuned!
Wetsuits hang outside on a tree or post during the day to dry out. If they are wet when they need to go back in the bus, we just put them in our plastic wet bucket… which is a bit chilly if you’re planning a dawny the next day in the same suit! Luckily we have a built up a reasonable wetsuit selection.
Matt’s pretty handling with a welder, do you guys have a decent workshop set up at home or did you have access to a workshop?
Matt taught himself to weld about 10 years ago and that definitely came in pretty handy! We have slowly built up our small basement garage over the past 8 or so years. This meant we were fortunate to have a great space to make cabinetry, brackets and anything else that would fit! We could only just fit the roof rack frame in. All other work was completed outside beside our house, so there was a heck of a lot of rolling around under the bus on stones and grass putting things together!
Give us the lowdown on water tanks, how much are you holding etc and the shower?
We have 1x 70L fresh water tank for washing dishes, drinking water, brushing teeth etc. and a 75L grey water tank for the waste. We also have a dedicated 85L fresh water shower tank that we can either hook up to our Joolca Hottap for fresh hot (environmentally friendly) outdoor showers, or we can plug the shower hose directly into the outlet hatch for a quick fresh, cold water shower. Having the spare tank is also great for backup potable water.
We decided not to install an indoor shower – although this was something we gave a lot of consideration to. We never anticipated staying in the bus for as long as we do (5+ weeks at a time) and the idea of bringing steam and wet into the interior didn’t feel right for the purpose we had for the bus. Surprisingly though, it has worked out fine… maybe we don’t need as many hot showers as we think?! Haha.
As surfers, we are continually getting wet and salty, but we are often at surf beaches that have fresh outdoor showers available for us to wash off and this is more than enough until we want the luxury of checking into a campground or public pool to get a more private hot water shower fix. If we were planning on going full-time, an indoor shower might be on the modifications wish list though!
Most of our readers would be used to 12v systems, but a lot of buses work on 24v systems, could you explain what you’re running and how that works with stepping back down to 12v?
Yes, we are running a 24v system. This gives us the independence to go off grid, because we have 2 charge systems, one from our 2x 200W solar panels and one from the bus’ alternator, with a 2 way VSR (voltage-sensitive relay) allowing the charge from the alternator to the house batteries and from the solar to the start batteries, that way both systems charge each other.
We have 24v to 12v converter to step down to 12v for smaller accessories. Then we have an inverter to take the 24v up to 240v for our large accessories (laptops, camera battery charging etc).
The electrical part of the bus build really blew our minds, haha. Hats off to all the electricians out there. We are so grateful for ‘more-knowing’ friends and family who gave their time to help us and figure out our setup.
Just don’t forget you’re on 24v and plug your 12v electrical item into your bus socket.. bam! True story.
And no cooking inside huh?!
Haha, that is more of a preference than a rule! We love a BBQ style cook up and generally prefer it. However, we do have a butane cooker that we use inside the bus (windows open and well ventilated) to cook if we need to (raining, windy etc). We may install a more permanent cooktop down the track, but so far it works for us.
Is there a plan to take the kids out of school and go on the ultimate Kiwi Surfari for a year or two?
We have thought about that… but not so sure we are cut out to be homeschool parents! Haha! If we can drop the schooling and our work then, yeah sure!
Check out more images from Matt and Renée on their Instagram Surf Bus Project HERE
And check out their feature story from Homestyle Magazine HERE