The concept of tiny home living is nothing new at this point, but that doesn’t mean that people have stopped getting creative with it. Instead, the opposite is true. Take Michael Talley from Austin, Texas, for example. He purchased a used ambulance in decent shape, and with some elbow grease and a lot of creativity, he turned it into a portable home that anyone would be proud to live or travel in.
Michael Talley is a designer in Austin, Texas, who enjoys turning vehicles into incredible tiny mobile homes. He’s already done that to a school bus and a van, which he lived in for a while before deciding to look for a new project.
“Initially I considered another van or bus, but one morning I woke up, refreshed Craigslist and found this beautiful, boxy behemoth listed for sale,” he says. It was in pretty good shape and had been well-maintained, so he scooped it up and set out to start on the big transformation.
An Interesting History
The unusual vehicle, a 1992 Ford E-350 7.3 Diesel, had originally been a “small-town ambulance” in Tennessee that was later purchased by an AstroTurf company that used it to transport tools and supplies, like huge rolls of fake grass.
Even though Michael had proven that he’s good at vehicle transformations, this was a different ballgame altogether. “Despite being cluttered and carpeted in AstroTurf, I could see the potential and purchased her on the spot,” he writes.
The Inside, Before Michael Began His Magic
Creative people have a knack for seeing the potential in things. Michael could easily look past the clutter and other flaws that the ambulance had.
“Everything that was damaged or in disrepair seemed like something I planned to replace down the road anyways,” he states. He knew he had his work cut out for him but was ready to get down to business and turn this solid vehicle into the gem he knew it could be!
A Fresh Start
The first step in a project like this is to completely empty the vehicle so he’d have a fresh start with his renovation. With everything removed, it’s easier to tell here that this was once used as an ambulance.
Michael says that one of the top questions people ask him about the vehicle is whether anything tragic happened in it. “Yes, people probably died in there,” he acknowledges, “but people’s lives were also saved so I feel like it’s a wash.” Either way, he fully stripped and cleaned the ambulance before getting started.
The Layout Comes To Life
Next, Michael started thinking of where everything would best fit into the tiny space. As we see from his sketches, he planned to install a wood ceiling, mount a TV, and even include a refrigerator in the space where medical equipment had once been stored.
He joked that he’d keep the chair where it was, but added, “[a]las, the chair was removed and put to rest in a dumpster behind a Domino’s.”
Storage Space Everywhere
Using every inch of possible storage space is very important when designing a mobile home. Fortunately, Michael had experience with transforming other vehicles into homes so he was already full of good ideas.
A bed would be cleverly concealed in a bench, there was a special space to store the mattress, and a sound bar would be installed near the ceiling. He says, “though some of it ended up changing based on new ideas and available materials, this [plan] ended up being pretty close to the final product.”
Installing A Ventilation Fan
With everything cleared out and the beginnings of a plan in place, things could really get rolling. Ventilation was the next thing Michael needed to address. He cut a hole in the roof of the ambulance to install this vent fan, which will keep the air moving and comfortable inside.
He says that his fan of choice is a Maxxair 12v model because it has a reversible motor and digital buttons.
The next job on Michael’s to-do list was to “address the old control panel that was located in my soon-to-be kitchen.” The panel couldn’t be removed easily because some of the electrical components of the engine ran through it which would be a big job for someone who wasn’t professionally trained.
The ambulance is also outfitted with solar panels to harness the power of the sun. Michael purchased the panels from an electrical supply warehouse and installed them himself.
It’s not every day that you see an ambulance with gorgeous hardwood floors. Michael purchased these at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a nonprofit chain that sells gently-used home improvement items.
He admits that he made a mistake with the installation of these floors. “Invest in some hardwood floor protection after installing,” he writes. “My floors are already scuffed up. Though not too bad, it would have been nice to enjoy a perfect floor for a while.”
Keeping Refreshments Cold
Michael’s height came into play when it was time to install a refrigerator in his new kitchen. Standing well over six feet tall, he doesn’t relish the thought of bending over every time he wants to get something refreshing out of the fridge.
He also likes the looks of a floating refrigerator, so this design decision makes perfect sense. “I decided on this particular fridge for its thickness, its style, and the ability to turn it off from the inside,” he says.
A Custom Backsplash In The Kitchen Area
Remember that control panel that Michael couldn’t move? Well, that played a role in his decision of what type of backsplash to install. He’d planned on subway tile but that wouldn’t be possible with the panel still in place, so he improvised.
“I decided to disguise the panel with an industrial and riveted style backsplash,” he says, and painted it with a copper-colored spray that gives the effect of hammered metal. Clever!
A Lucky Find
Although he used a tongue and groove pine paneling on his past builds, Michael found a deal while he was out scouting wood for the ambulance’s new interior. “[W]hile walking through Home Depot, I came across this faux barn wood for a ridiculously low price,” he says.
“It came in 12′ boards, which was exactly the length of my kitchen cabinets!” This meant that he didn’t have to cut any of the boards that you see on the left, except for the very top one which needed to be narrower.
Solving The Bedding Dilemma
When it comes to converting a vehicle into a mobile home, most people do one of two things with the bed area: either have a permanent horizontal bed or a futon-style version that folds up into a sofa during the day.
Neither option appealed to Michael, who had a more ambitious idea: to “[c]onstruct a new bench in the back that could somehow TRIPLE in size.” As usual, he started out by sketching a plan.
A Triple-Tricky Design
Michael took inspiration for the bed from an extendable dining room table he’d seen in a store in San Francisco. The plan was to build a bench that would extend to triple its folded size.
He accomplished this by using heavy-duty drawer slides. It took three attempts but he ended up with the bed he wanted, writing that “this sort of bed has never been built, or at least never implemented in a van build” (as far as he knows).
Netflix On The Go
Michael definitely wanted entertainment when he was relaxing in his newly-converted mobile home, and as usual, Netflix came to the rescue. He installed a smart TV on an articulated mount so it could be moved out of the way when not in use.
This television “has a built-in system that lets you broadcast your phone to it without having to be connected to any wifi, which is a situation you find yourself in a lot while traveling in the western United States,” he says.
Anyone who’s ever been squeezed for space knows how important it is to find smart storage solutions. With this ambulance conversion being Michael’s third such project, he had a lot of great ideas for making the most of his space.
He glued magnets to the back of the TV and Bluetooth speaker remote controls, and now they can be kept out of the way using a magnetic knife holder strip!
A Shower For The Road
He thought of everything, even a shower. This one doubles as tool storage and was built using a rechargeable pump that Michael purchased online. The pump is “built in to the hose that allows you to use any water source for your awkward van life shower,” he jokes.
Hot water is no problem with this set-up, as long as it’s daytime. Michael says just to leave the can or jug out in the sun for a while, and the water will heat right up.
The converted ambulance is full of storage spots. This drawer is one of many located under the benches and can be used to store anything a traveler might need on the road.
Michael also installed barn wood on these convenient cubbies located right behind the driver’s cab. The wood is a special detail not everyone would have thought of, but it adds a really nice finishing touch to the converted vehicle.
Finding A Good Building Site
Michael says that people always ask him where he’s able to complete these vehicle conversions. “I simply look for spots that seem open to a dismantled vehicle or a war-zone-like construction site, then contact the owner and ask if they’d be willing to put up with my tomfoolery with a short-term lease,” he explains.
The ambulance was actually completed in a junkyard that Michael paid $200 a month for. As an added bonus, the site was directly across the street from a hardware store!
Sleek And Stylish Interior
Although most of the ambulance’s interior is wood, the look is not monotonous or boring at all because Michael mixed it up. “I didn’t want all the walls to be one kind of wood, so I decided to treat the barn wood as ‘furniture’ wood and the tongue and groove pine as ‘wall’ wood,” he explains.
He says the pine he used is about $10 for a six-pack of eight-foot segments at Lowe’s Home Improvement. It certainly looks like it cost more than that!
Amazing ‘Before’ And ‘After’ Comparison
Wow, what a difference. Remember when the ambulance was full of clutter and supplies from its days transporting artificial grass? It is barely recognizable as the same vehicle in this “after” photo.
Believe it or not, this entire project took Michael about four months from start to finish. Although that surely felt like a long time as he was working on it, the results were definitely worth it in the end.
The Completed Bed
Here’s the custom-built bed when it was complete. It telescopes out using heavy-duty drawer slides. As Michael describes it, he “basically turned it into four drawers with one front, with only the inner most drawers containing storage for blankets and pillows.”
The bed is almost the same exact height as the side bench when it’s pulled out, so Michael can extend his long legs onto it. “This also allows for a comfortable reading nook or a perfect spot for a dog to sleep without taking up valuable bed space,” he says.
Trusty Traveling Companion
This photo is just about the cutest thing ever and really showcases just how cozy the space is when set up as a bedroom. The pup’s name is Bumper, and “he is my pet tax,” jokes Michael.
One feature you can’t see in this picture is that the design “lets you open the back doors while laying around in bed, one of the best things about van life that most ambulance builds don’t allow for.” Sounds heavenly.
The Inside View From Bed
Of the finished interior, Michael says it stayed really close to his original plans other than the speakers’ placement and including a bookshelf.
He intentionally included this shot of Don Draper on the ambulance TV. “I thought I should inject a little Mad Men in to this post, partly to show what it looks like with the TV on, but mostly so if a cast member sees this they’d, I don’t know, say hello or something,” he writes.
With Touches From A Gourmet Kitchen
Can you guess the material these lovely countertops are made from? Surprisingly, it’s concrete! It was applied using a process called skim-coating, which is very lightweight and can be applied to a variety of surfaces.
Here, we see a closer look at the unique copper-painted backsplash that Michael created to cover the control panel. The ambulance also has a storable propane cooktop for preparing delicious meals. It’s really everything you need, but on wheels.
Painting The Exterior
When Michael purchased the vehicle, it was covered in advertising wrap from the Astro-turf business as well as a ton of reflective adhesive tape from its days as a working ambulance. Scraping all of it off was tough work, especially in the intense Texas heat.
After scraping, he used an electric orbital sander to really smooth the surface out and prepare it for its new paint job.
He wanted the newly-restored ambulance to have a vintage look, so Michael chose this green with white detailing along the original stripe lines. This wasn’t his first plan, though.
“I was originally considering a Black/Charcoal/Grey tonal paint job, but I thought it was a bit too serious, so I started looking at old campers and Suburban paint jobs,” he says. He then settled on the color scheme you see here.
An AstroTurf Rooftop Terrace
Take a look at this clever use of space that includes a nod to the vehicle’s history. “When haggling the price for the ambulance, I took [the former owner’s] offer on the condition that he would throw in a roll of his finest AstroTurf so that I could create a removable roof rug,” Michael shares.
Although it was initially done as a joke, he says he loves it now. Measuring in at over 50 square feet, you can do anything from yoga to sunbathing to enjoying happy hour up on the rooftop terrace.
How Much Does The Ambulance Cost?
The ambulance is for sale, according to Michael. How much is he selling it for? “I never thought I’d build anything to sell it but I’m excited about giving others the opportunity to have their own tiny home on wheels,” he says.
“So, I’m listing it for $30,000, which is less than half the price of a generic, newer van conversion.” This sounds like a bargain to us, given the obvious quality and all the extra details.
As we already know, Michael is really into doing vehicle conversions (not to mention that he’s obviously really good at it, too). So what’s next for him? “[W]hile traveling with my girlfriend, I went and bought ANOTHER AMBULANCE,” he writes.
Their plan, once they sell the first ambulance, is to customize the new one and use it for their own travels. He acknowledges that this likely won’t be his last project, though. “[R]inse and repeat” seems to be his motto when it comes to turning oddball vehicles into gorgeous tiny homes.