Lauren Nelson, 11, spent the last two months turning a rundown camper into a diminutive domicile after drawing inspiration from an American Girl doll magazine.
“She showed us a $650 little VW bus that they sell. My husband was like, ‘That’s ridiculous, you could buy your own camper for that price,’ ” Aimee Nelson, her mother, told local news outlet WKBW.
So the preteen decided to give it a go. Lauren started saving some money while keeping an eye out for a camper she could buy near her hometown of Attica, New York, located 35 miles east of Buffalo. Opportunity struck when a neighbor put a “For Sale” sign on their RV. “She squealed the whole way home,” said her mother.
The young girl approached her neighbor, who said he was selling the 20-foot-long, beat-up camper for $500.
Lauren had managed to save up $400 after selling items at garage sales and taking the funds she would have used to go to 4-H camp.
“Lauren really does have an envelope where she saves money,” Aimee told The Post. “And it’s just a little bit here and there from things, like $5 at Easter or Tooth Fairy money. It just added up.”
Lauren negotiated with the neighbor and struck a deal.
“It wasn’t very hard. He said ‘$500,’ and I said ‘$400,’ because that was the money I had in my bank account, and he said, ‘Sold,’ ” said Lauren.
With the camper in her possession, it was time for the renovation to begin. But given its condition, the first step was to clean it. “It was a process,” said her mother. “We brought home a family of mice. So there was a lot of deep cleaning.”
Despite the mess, Lauren was motivated because she wanted a place to hang out and call her own. With the help of family, friends and help from HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters,” she transformed the dated space with a beachy boho vibe.
Basic drab wooden cabinetry became an airy, teal-hued working kitchen, while the rest of the camper features a sleek, all-white base with pops of color from key decor elements such as pillows, flowers and deer-patterned sheets on the bunk beds. And a tiny pink and blue sign reads, “Lauren’s Lil Camper.”
Incredibly, the entire renovation only cost $400, as Lauren researched on Pinterest for frugal design ideas. It even has a bedroom, with two sets of bunk beds, and a working bathroom. “I was very motivated with this camper, I really wanted a place where I could hang out, like my own house,” said Lauren.
Aimee acknowledged on Facebook that some items in the trailer — pillows, sheets, rugs, throws — were birthday gifts. “Most of the decor came from our house and potting shed though,” wrote Aimee, who added, in a nod to her daughter’s skills: “But I just don’t understand why my house doesn’t look like this!” Aimee told The Post Lauren has always been crafty. “She builds the furniture for her dolls and will make her own couches out of cardboard,” the proud mom said. “We always just let her run with it.”
Aimee also broke down pricing of Lauren’s passion project: The floors cost $1.39 per square feet for 100 square feet of interior space; chalk paint (for easy clean-up and low odor) came to $75; the kitchen backslash that looks tiled is actually a $20 decal; cushion covers totaled $20; succulents and wall stickers from dollar stores were $10; and the hand sanitizer pump and bed pillows were purchased from Walmart for $20.
Upon completion, the design-savvy youngster dubbed her new hangout “Camp Hygge,” referring to the Scandinavian concept of coziness. She now spends the majority of her week in the camper, which is parked on the family’s lawn. “She now says she’s part of the tiny home nation,” said her mother, who also shared a post with more before and after photos on Facebook.
“I love the kitchen the most. It’s so beautiful, light and airy,” Lauren told The Post. “I can just sit in it and feel very relaxed. Once we get the solar panels up, we can actually get it up and running. That’s what I’m saving up for next. I love cooking, especially lasagna.”
Aimee told The Post that the project gave the entire family a diversion from the coronavirus crisis — and other hardships.
“I was diagnosed with cancer last summer, so I was going through radiation and to doctor’s appointments. We were really thinking this was going to be our summer, since we didn’t get one last year,” Aimee said. “Then COVID hit. This camper gave us all something to do and really made a great summer.”
Friends and well-wishers keep congratulating Lauren on a job well done, and she has replied via Aimee’s Facebook page, “I will be renting out the camper! You can come hike trails and pet the animals! Text my mom if you want to! It’s twenty dollars a night!”
Not surprisingly, the family has also received messages from other people who want to do the same thing. “I wanted to inspire some people,” said Lauren, who hopes to one day have a career in home renovation. “I really hope that kids want to do this and follow their dreams. They should start saving their money and have fun doing it.”
Aimee told The Post that Lauren plans to share Camp Hygge with friends once it is safe to do so. “She was making up a business plan yesterday,” Aimee said. “She would like to host up to four girls and make it into an American Girl doll playhouse where they can come with their dolls. She will braid the dolls’ hair to match the girls’, while the moms sit on the back deck and relax.”
Even as she continues to add touches to her pretty project — including plans for a white, gold and turquoise bathroom — Lauren already has her eye on another makeover down the line.
“My big plans are to sell this camper to someone who really loves it and get an RV to renovate,” she told The Post. “I might try a bit more modern style with it, though.”
Will she take it on the road first? “For this year, it is only a playhouse,” Aimee said. “But it is road-ready, so we shall see!”