She Transformed a Grungy Greyhound Bus Into the Chicest Tiny Home!
At 30 years old, Manhattanite Jessie Lipskin found herself stuck in a corporate job, thinking there must be more to life. She felt too young to be tied down and longed to travel and experience the world.
A committed vegan, Jessie is passionate about sustainability and minimalist lifestyles. The more she learned about tiny houses and other eco-conscious living options, the more excited she became about joining this green movement. A home on wheels seemed like the perfect solution: she could live sustainably and explore new places at the same time!
One day, while browsing through eBay, she saw it for the first time: her bus. it was perfect. one problem: no driver’s license. another problem: no building experience. wasn’t deterred. one more problem: family thought she was crazy. She was determined.
As you can see from the before and after shots above, Jessie’s wild dream turned out to be a smashing success. Click NEXT to learn about her incredible journey transforming the aging old rig into a breathtaking, modern home.
Many tiny house movement devotees choose an RV for their vehicle to transform into a home. This is where Jessie’s vision started as well. After a while of seeing RV after RV, she started questioning that choice. As you’ll see, Jessie has great style and she wanted something with more personality.
One day, she was browsing eBay for the umpteenth time. . . and suddenly, Eureka! She came upon a 1966 GMC Greyhound that had served as a commuter bus in the San Francisco Bay Area. A little grey around the edges but oozing vintage character, this was no 1970s mobile home. It was love at first sight.
It wasn’t just the retro looks of the bus that appealed to Jessie. She was also drawn by two cool historic aspects of the vehicle. From her college studies, she knew that during WWII, nearly half of the Greyhound bus drivers were women. “Just as Rosie the Riveter helped out in factories, Greyhound’s female drivers took soldiers across the country as needed.”
The other fun fact was that this 1966 GMC bus happened to be the exact same model bus that appeared in the 1990s action movie Speed. She knew that tidbit would be a fun conversation starter.
The bus was located in the Southern California desert, far from her New York home. On the upside, the dry desert climate had helped preserve the vehicle through the intervening four decades. Plus, the engine had been replaced — with a 671 Detroit Diesel (in the 1980s, but hey).
On the other hand, there were still plenty of mechanical issues that needed to be fixed. . . and paid for. Thankfully, the asking price was very reasonable: $7,000. After doing all of her research and calculations, Jessie concluded that it was still a good deal overall. She was ready to buy.
There was still one little problem to resolve: she didn’t have a driver’s license. Like many Manhattanites, Jessie grew up riding the subway and had never really needed to drive until this point. As it happens, she was in the midst of studying for the test when the bus opportunity appeared. But she was a long way from doing a cross-country trip at the wheel of a Greyhound bus. On top of that, the bus is a manual!
Thankfully, Jessie has a lot of friends. She was able to talk two of them into doing just such a trip in order to bring her new vehicle from California to New York. Nice friends.
We kept the bus in a huge greenhouse in upstate NY to help handle the renovations during inclement weather. I rented a place up there for a bit while working on it and gutting it.
The first step was demolition, starting with removing the old seats. Obviously, she wanted to find a way to repurpose them. She lucked upon a train car-themed restaurant that wanted the seats — and even paid her for them!
Jessie says she enjoyed the gutting process and even found some cool treasures along the way. I found the schedule for a Greyhound bus in the late ’70s!
Things were off to an awesome start and Jessie was thrilled about her project. Not everyone in her life shared her enthusiasm, however. In the beginning, Jessie’s family was not supportive, to say the least.
My mom thought I was crazy. She would tell all the people in her apartment building, ‘My daughter is buying a bus to live in.’ People thought it was a big undertaking but they thought if anyone could do it, it would be me.
Her mom must have been wondering where her daughter had even come up with this kooky idea. If you’re wondering the same thing, read on.
Jessie is passionate about several things: reading, art and sustainable living. After college, she accepted a corporate job in New York and found herself immersed in the urban rat race, drifting further and further away from her ideals. She threw herself into learning as much as she could about green homes and other sustainable lifestyle choices.
I had the realization that people waste a lot of time focusing on physical items: purchasing them, misplacing them, and subsequently looking for them. Most of these items, from my standpoint, felt superfluous to a meaningful life and I realized that the time and emotional energy devoted to physical things could be better spent elsewhere. This was the spark that led me to my tiny home lifestyle.
Already familiar with the tiny house movement, she dug deeper to learn about other alternative sustainable lifestyles. She’d had enough of the New York corporate grind. Instead of concrete surroundings and conspicuous consumption, she wanted an existence that incorporated more outdoor living and less material wastefulness.
One day, she stumbled upon a fascinating documentary called Garbage Warrior about eco-architect Michael Reynolds who designs structures called “earthships”. Earthships are heated by passive solar systems and made entirely out of recycled materials, like the tires packed with earth that you see in the photo above.
Reynolds’ perspective really resonated with Jessie. “I feel like I’m in a herd of buffalo, and they are all stampeding toward thousand foot drop off, and I’m in that herd. And I’m like: ‘I’m not going there. I’m not going down that way.’ So I have to somehow affect the whole herd so that they will take a left turn or right turn and not go off this edge.”
Even before this Jessie began intensely researching alternative lifestyles, she had begun to downsize her existence. Like many new college grads, she moved frequently in the years after graduation: in fact, by the time she was 30 years old, she had moved seven times! In the process of all these upheavals, she’d gradually shed more and more of her possessions.
By the end, just about everything I owned fit in my SUV. Once I started purging the things that held less value, I felt more free to travel. It occurred to me that a more mobile lifestyle might suit me.
After removing the seats, the next step in the demolition process is the floor, followed by the wall and ceiling panels. Next: a zillion odds and ends to remove, plus wiring issues to deal with.
In addition to a power drill, the most important tool for the demo process is an angle grinder. On an old bus like Jessie’s, seats can be really tough to remove: the bolts are frequently corroded and also may have a nut under the bus floor that just continues to turn with the bolt. In these cases, a wrench won’t cut it. Instead, an angle grinder can slice right through the bolt, freeing the seat.
Useful hand tools for demoing include socket wrenches, screwdrivers, a pry bar and locking pliers.
When Jessie and her friends had finished gutting the bus, it was time for another move. This time, south to Asbury, New Jersey, where Jessie was tied into the community and could find people to help her work on it.
Jessie had zero building experience and was under no illusion that she’d be able to complete the construction work herself (not to mention the plumbing, electrical, mechanical, painting, etc.) Unfortunately, however, she was under a bit of an illusion about the cost. She thought it was going to run her maybe $40,000 tops. She was wrong. . .
Oh and she was off on more minor detail about the project: how long it would take. From purchase to completion, the project took three years — much longer than she had envisioned.
Why did Jessie’s bus conversion take so long? Jessie explains that there were lots of ups and downs along the way. I took some breaks to save up more money because it did cost quite a lot, and I had to take some breaks to find the right people — woodworkers and plumbers — because some people only work on homes.
With everything removed from the bus interior, Jessie was able to really visualize the entire space she’d be working on. The bus is 40-feet long and 10-feet wide, yielding about 400 square feet to work with. Somewhat surprisingly, her first impression was how spacious it seemed! When I walk in, it feels huge. It feels even bigger than my New York City apartment.
Once she began sketching out plans, the reality of the limited space she had to work with became much clearer. Jessie did have some experience living in small spaces — after all, she is a born and bred Manhattanite. Still, she sought the help of an architect to create a plan that maximized the space in the best way.
At last, it was time for the actual building to begin. The first stage of work was erecting the scaffolding and main framework for Jessie’s new home.
Right off the bat, they faced a major challenge: movement. Unlike a regular house on the ground, a bus house moves and sways.
The big challenge was that it was very different from working on a home that’s fixed in one location. I constantly had to account for movement, on top of that the angles of the bus and slanted style windows made it challenging to design the best possible layout and curved woodworking. Levels were useless as the bus incline changes depending on location, it was all about calculating angles. This added a lot of time onto the project.
Once the foundational structure was securely in place, it was time to build the basic furnishings. At this stage, Jessie brought in what she calls the “biggest indulgence” of the whole project: a master carpenter to do all of the custom woodwork.
Jessie found a local carpenter, Mike Slater, who had experience building vehicle conversion homes. His terrific custom work on the closets, kitchen countertops and cabinets, etc. prompted Jessie to praise his “amazing carpentry” on her Instagram page. She ended up paying him $70,000 in total. Gulp! But well worth every penny.
Homebuilders typically work with many materials. For those building homes on wheels, there’s really just one material sturdy and lightweight enough: wood.
Between the base structure, the flooring, walls and ceiling, the cabinets and the sleeping platforms — along with every drawer, nook and cranny — that’s a heck of a lot of wood. And many trips to Home Depot. This run was for more ceiling and wall supplies.
The closets were particularly challenging to build. If the angle isn’t exactly the same every time you park [the bus], you might have an issue with opening a door or something like that.
To maximize storage space, they decided on a very large closet: seven-feet long, with triple doors and one long pole running through. It was bigger than any closet Jesse had ever had in any previous apartment or living space.
Right behind the custom woodwork, professional electrical installation was the second biggest budget item in Jessie’s project. Of course, this was a non-negotiable item.
Electrical work is highly technical, requiring detailed knowledge of wiring, fuses and currents. Mistakes can be deadly. On top of the basic safety issues, this bus was going to be Jessie’s home and office. She needed lighting, as well as reliable charging for her laptop, phone, and other electronics. And unless she wanted to exist on trail mix and powdered milk, she would need a refrigerator too.
They put the electrical control center inside a massive closet behind the driver’s seat. A fuse box is for all of the outlets; these white boxes below are for the led lights; the labels show the various locations of the lights.
LED lights use barely any electricity. She runs all the lighting and outlets off of the bus vehicle batteries.
Converted bus dwellers know that there is one absolutely essential item: air conditioning. With such a big bus, Jessie went for two central a/c units: one up near the driver’s seat and another by her bed. Both are built into the ceiling and controlled by their own wall-mounted thermostats.
Jessie chose the Dometic 651816.CXX1C0 Penguin system and says “it works great!” She powers it with a 50 amp RV plug.
Lots of people ask Jessie about solar. She purchased solar batteries and put brackets on the roof, but decided to wait until technology improves so that a smaller area of panels can provide more power.
Onto more appliances and yet another big-ticket item: the stove. Jessie chose this 21″ three-burner range from Atwood (model: 72-4122).
Designed specially for RVs, the unit has a couple of features to address some of the particular challenges of “mobile cooking”. Special clips help secure the cooktop to avoid rattling. Plus, the burners sit atop a deep well to contain the inevitable spills.
And on to plumbing matters. Jessie chose an extra-wide sink since she knew she wouldn’t have a dishwasher on the bus.
But there was one luxury she wouldn’t give up: hot water. The propane tank and instant water fit right under the sink.
Due to her eco-consciousness, Jessie is careful to not waste water. At the same time, she knew her water needs would be significant since she’d be living and working on the bus 24/7.
She chose a 40-gallon tank to hold the fresh water for the sinks, shower, etc. The tank lives underneath her bed and has an outlet on the outside to use for filling up. The filter and other works that she needs access to are tucked into one of the storage spaces alongside her bed.
In the nook between the sink and stove, Jessie squeezed in a compact washer/dryer. This combo of a portable washing machine and spinner is very lightweight and energy-efficient. A drainage pump hooks directly up to the sink.
One drawback of a compact unit like this is that its capacity is also fairly compact. Jessie reports that she can fit maybe three pairs of jeans or else a bunch of t-shirts. The spinner is pretty effective, though she usually pulls her clothes out early to hang dry and save energy.
The washer/spinner wasn’t the only ingenious space-saving combo appliance that Jessie installed. She also added this handsome counter-depth fridge/freezer combo. It’s an IGLOO model (33 in. W 5.5 cu. ft.) from Home Depot.
You may also notice the beautiful new hardwood floor in this photo. Replacing the original floor is an essential part of a bus/van conversion. For one thing, old vehicle floors are often rotted or rusty. Plus, removing the floor allows you to add insulation to help maintain temperature and reduce road noise.
Jessie chose Rigid Core flooring from a local New Jersey floor store. Rigid Core doesn’t fluctuate in different temperatures as much as other flooring options do. For this reason, it’s often used in boat cabins.
This shot also features Jessie’s proudest DIY job of the whole project: the kitchen countertops. She sanded and sealed the maple wood herself and loves how beautiful the wood grains look. She added a second coat of water-based polyurethane for extra seal and shine.
On the walls, they went with a utilitarian timber: prefinished pine plywood. After all, they were about to be painted anyway.
For the ceiling, Jessie went with one of her favorite architectural styles: tongue and groove. This beadboard look is elegant, but surprisingly not any more expensive than plainer styles.
Here’s a beautiful shot of the interior lit up by the newly installed LED lights. The hockey puck-sized lights lay unobtrusively along the bus ceiling. A nice extra is that they’re all on dimmers.
Overlooking lighting is a common mistake among van/bus conversion DIYers. Fortunately, Jessie has the design sense to know how much lighting matters in creating a comfortable home. This was going to be her full-time home and she wanted to feel as homey as possible.
One design element that Jessie really cared about was adding a new side door to make a more welcoming entrance than the old passenger door at the front. This was another tricky part of the construction process that was best left to the professionals.
First off, this project requires welding skills. Also, you need the expertise to establish a safe location for the new door. This is tricky since you need to cut the floor out almost back to the frame rail to fit the steps in. The door has to fit between the frame ribs that support the ceiling and also be out of the way of the rear axle. On top of that, you have to steer clear of the gas tank, air tanks, and any other essential component of the vehicle.
Preserving as much of the bus’s vintage style as possible was one of Jessie’s priorities, but she felt that the red, blue and white stripes on the exterior looked a little dated. She wanted a fresher, more crisp look and decided to do a complete whitewash, top to bottom.
After sanding down the bus, they started repainting. They also powder-coated the bumpers to prevent rust.
I love working with clean white lines, it’s a great backdrop for all my art and collected items from travel.
Just like with the bus’s exterior color, Jessie knew what she wanted when it came time to paint the interior: pure white. Specifically, she used Benjamin Moore’s (cleverly named) “White”.
As you may be sensing, Jessie has a very strong design sense. Her credo is “keep it simple”, followed closely by “do detailed planning in advance”. She favors Scandinavian minimalism and other light, open, and airy design styles. But then she adds her own signature: bright pops of color from interesting objects, such as books or art. She particularly likes mixing antique items with the modern white backdrop.
Another principle that guided Jessie through the conversion and design process was to preserve her new home’s original identity as a bus as much as possible. After all, she wasn’t trying to pretend this was an ordinary home.
By preserving some of the best design details of the vintage vehicle, she was honoring its history as she repurposed it for the future. She even held on to the old manufacturing and license plates to display in a nice homage to the bus’s honorable past.
As you can see, Jessie also kept the driver’s seat and the entire area exactly as is. Old knobs and switches, worn pedals, every bit of its antique charm. Although it has a keyless ignition, starting up the bus requires patience as you have to wait for air to pump up in the system.
Jessie’s vehicle is from the “New Look” generation of GM busses (that replaced what came to be called “Old Look” busses). Debuting in 1958, the “new look” featured a huge amount of glass — including its iconic six-piece rounded windshield that earned it the nickname “Fishbowl”.
Another one of Jessie’s goals was to make her new home every bit as welcoming and comfortable for guests as a traditional home. For that reason, she asked her carpenter Mike to build a seating/storage bench that also converted into a queen bed.
Mike came up with this ingenious design with interwoven slats. All Jesse needs to do is pull on the handles (you can see one on the left side of this screenshot). They built the bed into the front area of the bus, so her guests even have a bit of privacy.
With this “guest room” finished, she was now ready for visitors and to show off her amazing new space. Ready for the tour?
Jessie has been thrilled to welcome many friends and family members to her new abode. She loves the blown-away reactions of her first-time visitors. Two comments she hears a lot are: “Is this actually a bus?” and “This is nicer than my apartment!”
Even with a virtual tour, you can understand why her visitors react with such amazement. Jessie’s bus conversion is a true masterpiece. Pulling off the combination of crisp minimalism and vintage charm is no small feat. Plus, it somehow feels both cozy and spacious. As Jessie likes to say, a little advanced planning goes a long way!
Welcome to her bright and fully equipped kitchen. It’s even spacious enough to rival many Manhattan apartment kitchens!
With the oversized sink, ample wooden countertop space, full oven and stovetop, fridge/freezer, and endless storage, Jessie isn’t lacking a single modern amenity (well, except a dishwasher maybe).
A committed vegan and enthusiastic cook, Jessie didn’t waste time breaking in her new stove. After sharing this attractive shot, many of her Instagram followers commented about their safety concerns. Those curtains are awfully close to those back burners. Jessie appreciated the reminder and later updated her followers about the situation: I keep them open full-time now that I have it on a property that’s secluded.
Another thing observant followers noticed is that there is no dining table on the bus. But of course, Jessie thought of that too: there’s a fold-up table stowed neatly under the bed. With 400 square feet to work with, everything must have its place.
An especially clever design element is that all of the kitchen baseboards are actually drawers, providing even more storage. This one holds her neatly organized cutlery and assorted utensils.
As you can see by the spare shelves above, there really is plenty of storage room in her new space. Of course, it helps a huge amount that Jessie runs a tight and orderly ship and embraces a minimalist philosophy.
I’ve always been very organized and love the idea of holding onto only what you really need. For me, that mainly includes things that hold sentimental value, particularly items that were handed down to me from my family.
As you can see, Jessie’s disciplined management of clutter and excess is enough to make Marie Kondo beam with joy. She believes that growing up in New York City apartments helped prepare for tiny home living. I’ve always tried to get rid of whatever I don’t need.
There is, however, one small exception to Jessie’s strict minimalism: clothing. In fact, most of the kitchen storage space is dedicated to clothes!
And welcome to the office! Jessie, who works remotely as a finance project manager, prefers this sunny spot to set up her work station. A bonus aspect of this location is that she gets to admire her pièce de résistance: the gleaming maple countertops.
The chair is one of several fascinating antiques in her new space. Known as a “North Wind” chair, it dates to the late 19th century Mythical Revival furniture style — which featured carvings of mythical figures, animals and fantasy creatures (often hauntingly grotesque). Hugely popular as parlor conversation pieces in the Victorian era, North Wind chairs featured a figure dramatically blowing wind to cast evil spirits away.
The collection of vintage objects that Jessie used to decorate her new home includes some family heirlooms. These charming black and white photos, for example, are of her grandparents’ wedding.
Including personal pieces like these was an important part of creating a real home. But more than that, representing her family in the home was a way to wrap her loved ones into her new life. . . even those who questioned her project at the start.
Another one of Jessie’s family treasures on display in her new home are these delicate china dishes that her grandmother had lovingly passed down to her. She has fond memories of her grandmother using the dishes to serve tea in her Lower East Side tenement building on Delancey Street.
The building burned down, so some of the dishes even have burn marks on them. You can’t microwave them or put them in the dishwasher, so they’re actually good for my home because I wash everything by hand. I still use them. I kept the whole set.
Jessie also decorated her home with several charming paintings and drawings. With her sharp eye, she found one of them at Goodwill!
An adorable watercolor of a pooch sits above the convertible sofa/guest bed. After hunting for a while, she finally custom ordered this evergreen bench cushion from a local New Jersey upholstery shop.
When asked by apartmenttherapy.com to name her “favorite element” in the new space, Jessie’s response was unequivocal: the closet! It has mirrored triple doors, which allow for comprehensive outfit-checking. Plus, the reflections from the mirrors make the space feel larger and lighter.
This shot shows just one section of the closet: it extends both directions out to a full seven feet of length. In other words, big enough to fit almost all of her clothes! (Jessie concedes that she has “way too much clothing”.)
Jessie’s light-flooded bathroom features a sink and mirror, with space for a toilet behind. She does have a compostable toilet to go in the empty space, but for the most part, she prefers just parking near an accessible bathroom.
Inspired by other tiny house folks, she eventually found herself looking on Amazon for some non-compostable toilet options. She finds that compostable toilets aren’t very user-friendly unless you have access to a compost site.
Directly across the hall from the sink/mirror room is the shower room, which features a full-sized stall, dimmer light and this attractive mahogany wood-slatted platform. Jessie just steps out of the shower onto the platform and drip-dries on the wood.
The floor underneath the platform is pitched so that the water can drain. Like the shower drain, the floor drain leads to a gray water tank that’s mounted under the bus. To avoid mold issues, Jessie purchased a specially treated tank but advises that you can also buy a product to rinse out water tanks.
And now on to Jessie’s favorite area in the entire space: her cozy bedroom. She loves the sense of being in nature that she has when lying in bed, thanks to the large domed window panes. Although she grew up in Manhattan, she developed a passion for the outdoors while away at college in upstate New York at Binghamton University, which has its own nature preserve.
As much as she loves her verdant view, she also wanted a way to thoroughly cover up those windows for privacy as well as temperature regulation. She had to search for quite a while to find just the right ones. She settled on these velvet curtains, which are lined to keep the sun and heat (and the a/c in) during the summer.
Another reason Jessie adores her bedroom is the colorful library of favorite books that she keeps on the ledge. I love the feeling of being enclosed in my big cozy bed with all my favorite books an arm’s length away.
The self-confessed bookworm opted not to have a TV in her new home and reports that she loves it! I had the option to have a TV, but I really like waking up in the morning and hearing the birds outside my window.
When the bus project finally wrapped up, Jessie was thrilled to have more time for reading — especially since her list of books had just grown longer and longer. I feel like I’ve been so busy these past few years that I haven’t read as much as I’d like. I have the time now to do that.
She loves reading in bed, of course. But in case she wants a change of scenery, she just needs to pop around the corner to this adorable reading nook. She had the seating cushion custom made at the same upholstery shop as the guest bed’s cushion.
It was a labor of love and I felt a true sense of accomplishment once everything came together.
Jessie completed the renovations in January of 2018, about three years after she’d begun. The total cost: $125,000, all in. The most expensive part was the woodworking/remodeling, which set her back $70,000. All the additional costs — mechanical repairs, plumbing, electrical, appliances, decor, etc. — added up to an additional $55,000.
No doubt about it, Jessie’s project was on the higher end of bus/home conversion budgets. On the other hand, it’s also one of the most sophisticated and well-built we’ve ever seen. The cost also seems a lot more reasonable when you consider the cost of New York real estate.
After completing construction, Jessie moved her tiny home onto a friend’s piece of land near Asbury Park. The property backs up to acres of woods for walks and outdoor activities. The rent? $100 per month.
Jessie was thrilled with her new home, but there were still a few things she wanted to change or update. Above all, she longed for a roof deck. The brackets she initially installed for solar on the roof could also be used for decking.
Unfortunately, there were some things that she couldn’t change or update. Parking was a major issue. Since the bus was registered as an RV, she could only park in RV-designated spots.
But the biggest challenge was just driving the thing! Jessie had gotten her driver’s license, but never learned to drive a stick. Plus, a 40-foot bus without power steering is a beast to handle. Luckily, she made some friends with the skills to do it, but she knew she couldn’t rely on other people forever.
The size of the bus made it hard to drive, but Jessie ended up wishing it was smaller for another reason that may surprise you: the new home actually felt too spacious for just her! After growing up in New York and college dorm life, she was accustomed to small spaces and came to learn that she really preferred it. . . and the smaller the better!
When the project began, Jessie had been in a relationship. She and her partner chose this size of vehicle with the idea that they’d be living there together. After the breakup, Jessie still wanted to see the project through to completion. But at the end of the day, she felt it was really meant for two.
Eventually, she came to the bittersweet decision that it was time to sell her extraordinary creation. It had been an amazing experience – so much so, that she’s now an even more committed tiny home devotee.
I learned so much about living sustainably and I’ll definitely take those experiences with me as I move forward. I like the idea of living small where you can be outside — it pushes you to do more, which I really loved about the experience.
For her next vehicle, she may downsize to a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter conversion or a towed Airstream trailer — something that she can handle without help. She wants the freedom to travel as much as she can before settling down somewhere. Where might that be? She loves New England so that’s a possibility. All she knows for sure is that she wants a small, sustainable home. . . wherever she ends up.
As for her masterful bus home, Jessie initially listed it on Craigslist for $149,000. Since then, the bus changed hands a couple of times and is now an Airbnb in California’s stunning Joshua Tree National Park. According to the new owner, it’s still every bit the minimal masterpiece it always was. She did add a full bathroom.
Interested? You can rent it for just $100 per night!