Melinda Lavine column: The escape I didn't know I always wanted
A friend's camper renovation makes it look doable.
DULUTH — Y’know that friend who DIYs it all? Mine’s named Heidi.
During the shutdown, I, and hundreds of others, followed her home renovations on social media.
She added a kitchen island and a sliding barn door. Up went a chimney and a wood stove, and down went all new flooring. At one point, Heidi slapped an old bookcase with paint she had lying around and turned it into a hot cocoa/coffee station for her at-home business.
This lady’s amazing.
None of these feats seemed more magnetic to me than watching her gut a camper and turn it into the getaway I didn’t know I always wanted.
I’d lived alone for 10 years. Then, I fell in love, and a year later, COVID shutdowns were jarring (read: isolating, terrifying) for this extroverted, huggy, people-person.
I finally got that dog I’d been wanting for years, and for a brief time, zero turned into three roommates and two cats acclimating to one dog. (Yikes!)
Gratitude for my home life pushed against claustrophobia, and I began daydreaming of a home away from home. A place to squirrel away for healthy solitude once in a while.
When I lived solo, I'd sometimes unintentionally spend 24 silent hours, cooking, cleaning and getting into that flow state with whatever projects or crafts lie ahead of me.
It's my partner and I and our pets now, but this time bunking with others made me aware that my relationship with self was sorely missed, and that it was one I was thankful to cultivate in the first place. One I'm unwilling to lose.
So, I booked solo stays at a cabin in the woods. My first trip, I journaled through two pens on the first night. I stared at the dancing, destructive fire. I watched falling snow, luxuriating in the silence with self.
Fast forward and Heidi’s posts made finding and making a space your own seem possible, and I wasn’t alone.
Wherever she parks, even among the “humongous” campers, people want to know about hers. The feedback she gets on social media astounds her, she said: “I didn't know so many people were interested in old campers.”
The 1971 Aristocrat Lo Liner is a hand-me-down, from family friends, to Heidi’s parents, to her — the latter not by choice.
“My dad said, ‘You should take that camper,’ and I said, ‘I don’t think so, Dad. It’s rotting and falling apart,” she recalled. “I turn around, and he’s welding a receiver hitch onto the back of my vehicle.”
She became obsessed. She demolished and learned how to use a steel cutter and invested in a table saw.
Heidi cut corrugated steel sheets, she spray-foamed and she tore out plumbing.
She replaced the flooring, used leftover paint and turned dish towels into curtains. Lime-green walls and cupboards turned into clean, off-white and steel sheets.
The white-covered recliners have been replaced with a deep-blue pullout couch.
“My vision board kept changing based on whatever would come out right, whatever things I could find on sale,” she said.
She has a single plug-in burner and a coffee maker, and Heidi brings drinking water and uses available resources at campsites.
Two months, $500, sweat, blood and tears later, the camper, named Pippi Shortstocking, was ready to hit the road. She’s taken it on a few trips, but it may stay planted in the backyard with a “guest house” sign on it.
“I have been prowling Facebook marketplace for two solid years looking for exactly what we just bought,” she said.
She went in on a camper on Sturgeon Lake with an attached sunroom, deck and, oh — a pontoon.
It’s not 100% her style, she said, but it needs no work. (Though, she did paint a “Welcome to the promise land” sign for it.)
“Sometimes, it’s good to get away from your own house, even if it is just 5 miles away,” she said.
The night before I visited her campers with a photographer, Heidi had added an electric fireplace to Pippi.
Days after we’d left, she posted pics of her house and garage — newly painted to match the camper.
I’ve spent hours scrolling tiny homes, "she sheds" and campers. Heidi suggested I look at fish houses or skid houses, and she started sending me listings. I’m not positive I can do what she did, but I’ll take all the advice I can get. Here’s some of hers:
“Just dig in. Everything’s figure-out-able."
“There are a couple things maybe I called Dad about, but nobody else did anything in here. It was pretty much just me and I don't know what I'm doing."
“If I can do it, anybody can.”
We’ll see about that.