Renovating our 1997 Fleetwood Mallard for Full-Time Living (Part 24)
This is the story of how my husband and I purchased a 20-year-old travel trailer and I DIYed the crap out of it to make it suitable for full-time living. In this series, I’m giving All of the details about the process step-by-step, as performed by me, a 26-year-old woman with No experience in construction. The first installment in this series was called “The Wind Rose: The Beginning”, detailing the purchasing process and the changes I planned to make. You can find that article in the link below and start at the beginning. Then, follow along in the series by clicking on the link for the next article at the bottom of each page.
The final two pieces of built-in furniture that I want in my trailer are the dining table and the TV stand. Now, this is a travel trailer, so of course, all furniture must serve multiple purposes. The dining table is a bookshelf and window shelf as well as a table. In the trailer, less is more, and multi-purpose is king.
The Dining Table
When I ripped out the dinette at the very beginning of the project, I knew I wanted to replace it with something much more versatile and less bulky. The seating benches may provide storage, but they are uncomfortable and take up a lot of floor space. My idea was to build a flip-up table that would attach to a shelf under the window. The shelf would be a convenient place for a small potted plant or to put down your phone and keys when you come in the door, and would have storage underneath it for less-used items, kitchen gadgets, or even books.
According to my plan, the table would hang down, covering the shelves when not in use. It would be easy to flip the table up, flip the legs down, and pull up a stool or folding chair when needed. By folding down flat against the shelf I would have extra floor space in the kitchen to move back and forth between the stove, sink, fridge, and pantry while cooking. That allowed me to make it large enough to play a board game, do a puzzle, and even seat 3 or 4 people. If this table were permanently up, it would have to be much smaller to avoid taking up the whole kitchen. I thought a small shelf under the window would be nice for many reasons, and by making it only 8" deep I left plenty of floor space. The real limiting factor was access to the pantry. I didn’t want to block the panty or make it impossible to put a chair and sit between the table and the kitchen counter at the front of the trailer.
I decided to make this shelf out of sanded plywood rather than a 2x2 frame with luan plywood paneling. A 2x2 frame would be simpler, easier, and maybe stronger to build. However, it makes the shelves difficult since the 2x2s intrude on the interior space. It also makes adjustable shelves too difficult to be worth it. For this piece of furniture, I wanted to try a new technique and have adjustable shelving.
The shelf is 45" long, which was determined by the space I needed to leave in front of the pantry and next to the front door. I didn’t want any furniture to run straight up to the door because it would be annoying to come inside with a big coat or an armful of groceries and feel crowded, bumping into corners. Our trailer is small, and the living room area is the only space that doesn’t feel crowded. I wanted to preserve that open space so we could have one spot in our home where we could spread our arms out wide without hitting anything. The shelf is 8" deep because that’s deep enough to put a small plant or your phone on the top, but not deep enough to block the pantry. I decided to divide the interior space into 3 columns to make multiple smaller shelves. Smaller shelves are great for keeping organized and we already have plenty of roomy shelving elsewhere. I’m envisioning books on these shelves, I’ll admit. Books are a waste when I can read ebooks and have hundreds of them without weighing anything or taking up any space… But, I can’t imagine living in a house without books in it. “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero
The shelf is 29" high to match the average height of a dining table. It fits very nicely under the window where the dinette used to be. We arranged the placement of the 2 vertical shelf dividers to match the studs in the wall. I wanted to be able to fasten the shelf dividers to the studs firmly to support the weight of the swinging table. The table will pull away from the wall when it has weight on it, so a strong attachment is necessary. With the dividers attached to the studs and the bottom of the shelf screwed to the floor, we’ll have a sturdy piece that can support a loaded table (with the aid of two table legs).
I bought a few 2'x2' sheets of 15/32" sanded plywood for the top and sides of the shelf. Sanded plywood is more expensive but they choose a nicer veneer for the outer layer and sand it smooth, ready for paint or stain. The bottom and interior shelves are inferior construction grade plywood. I need the outside of the shelf to look nice after being stained, but the inside I’m going to paint and then cover with stuff, so I wasn’t worried about using high-quality wood. Also, the inside of the shelf will be mostly covered by the table when it’s not being used and blocked by the table when it is being used. Either way, the inside of the shelf isn’t going to be in view much, so I accepted a lower standard of beauty to save money.
I cut the pieces of plywood into 8" strips and used the Kreg Jig to make pocket hole joints at the corners. Building a box is very easy with the Kreg jig to make pocket holes. Drill your pocket holes so that they cross the corner, making a triangle. This allows the screw to pull the two corners of the box together at a 90-degree angle, strengthening your joint. It’s possible to drill a hole that does not cross the corner but it’s more difficult, so it’s not hard to remember to do it correctly. The pocket holes went on the top and bottom of all four vertical planks. I also made pocket holes on the edges of the vertical planks, facing towards the wall. These make it possible to screw the vertical dividers directly into the wall studs and keep the shelf firmly attached to the wall.
While I was drilling pocket holes, my husband was using the Kreg shelf pin jig to drill equally spaced, perfectly deep shelf pin holes for moveable shelves. We drilled the holes up the inside edges of the two side pieces, and drilled holes completely through the interior pieces, so the hole can hold a pin for either side of the divider. We can place our shelf pins in the holes at whatever level we want our shelves to be and move them if we want to. Adjustable shelving is great in the trailer since we want our storage space to be versatile. Drill your shelf-pin holes before you assemble the shelf since it’s a lot easier to do it on the workbench than try to do it with your arms and head inside the shelf.
Unfortunately, the 1/2" plywood we used for the top of the shelf was too thin to hold the screws firmly, and the screws poked out of the top. We solved this problem by cutting another strip of plywood and gluing it to the bottom of the first piece, doubling up the top layer to create a 1" thick plank. That held the screws and made the whole piece sturdier without compromising the design or the look of the piece.
We ran into some trouble when it came time to think about attaching the piano hinge to the front of the shelf to hold the table. The piano hinge is about 3/4" thick, as is the table. We want the top of the table to be level with the top of the shelf when the table is flipped up. That meant the piano hinge has to be attached below the top of the shelf. We were concerned that the upright dividers were too thin and too spaced out to make sturdy attachments for the piano hinge to hold the weight of the table and whatever weight is on the table. We solved the problem by attaching a 1" thick by 1" wide piece of trim to the top of the shelf, which provides a strong base to screw the piano hinge into. The many smaller screws of the piano hinge will distribute the weight and stress across the length of the trim and prevent the screws from pulling away from the shelf.
The interior shelving is simply plywood cut to the right size for each vertical shelf and held up by the shelf pins. I’m going to paint the interior shelves white and stain the exterior of the shelf before putting on a few coats of clear polyurethane to protect against water and scratches. I haven’t decided whether to whitewash stain the exterior of the shelf or choose a nice color to make an interesting statement piece.
The tabletop itself is an edge-glued pine (spruce) panel that I bought at Lowes. The panel was available in a piece that was 20" wide by 6ft long. I want the table to be 30" wide and 28" long, so I cut the panel into two 28" long pieces and glued the second piece next to the first piece to get a 40" wide, 28" long piece (with some leftover). After gluing, clamping, and waiting 4 hours for it to dry, I cut the panel to the right size (30" x 28") and sanded away the glue and splintered edges. The glue-up was made very simple by the nice straight factory edges on the panel. I used Tightbond II water-resistant glue on the edge, bar clamps to hold the wide piece together, and more clamps to keep it flat on the table. It glued up fairly flat and I sanded away the small ledge between pieces until it was impossible to tell where I glued it and where the factory glued it. Then I sanded the sides to make it smooth on all edges. I added cross-supports on the bottom of the table running perpendicular to the grain and edge-glued boards. Tables take a lot of weight and stress and I wanted the boards to hold together. I simply screwed two long 1x1" pieces under the table close to each end.
The final step was to stain and poly the table. I used a white-wash stain to make sure the grain would show through. The whitewash worked well to mellow the strong yellow tones of the pine while still showcasing the beauty of the wood. It downplays the knots and the wide grain of the spruce. A picketing stain will do something similar, and the good news is that there are a ton of colors to choose from. You can “whitewash” your wood in a variety of beautiful hues to make a unique and interesting statement piece. I chose white because I suck at decorating and white is at least neutral and bright. I had to coat it with stain 3 times to reach the level of white I wanted. I tested the stain on a leftover scrap to see how it would change the wood. Make sure to follow the directions on the can and plan how you’re going to wash your brush.
I used a water-based poly for this project. After doing some research on the differences between oil-based polyurethane and water-based polyurethane, I saw that modern water-based poly dries faster, doesn’t yellow in the sun, goes on clearer, to begin with, and is comparably strong and protective. Water-based poly used to be not as good, but those disadvantages have been worked out in more recent products. I recommend it. Having to wait 24 hours between each coat sounds like a drag, especially since I only have to wait 4 hours. After 4 coats of poly, I felt like the surface was evenly covered, smooth, shiny, and hard. Follow the directions on the can and sand between coats.
I painted the shelf white, mostly due to time constraints. I didn’t have time to stain and poly, but two coats of eiderdown white later and it’s looking good. We bumped the edge of the shelf top out with a 1" piece of wood to make room underneath for the table legs when it’s folded up. The piano hinge was a bit tricky, make sure to line it up with a level before you get too many screws in. We ended up re-using the table leg from the original dinette because it already has the hinge incorporated to fold it up. It wasn’t quite tall enough, so we added a block of wood under the table to make it level. The table leg had to go in the middle of the table since we only have one. Unfortunately, that means it sticks out when it’s folded up. We designed dit to fold up towards the panty, so it’s sticking out into the pantry and not in the way. We’ll probably replace this someday with a more elegant folding table leg.
The shelving unit looks great with small brass shelf pegs and staggered shelving. The pegs make the shelving adjustable. I love the extra storage. I think I might just keep too much food because I really should have enough space in my pantry… but I don’t, so I’m glad to have this!
We ended up ordering a set of 4 stackable plywood stools. They are sturdy enough to sit on and just the right height to use as mini coffee tables. When we eat at the couch we bring over two or three to put our glasses and plates on. I use one next to me to hold my tea while I write. They’ve been very adaptable to our new home-office situation (thanks, COVID19, for making tiny living just That Much More interesting). I can sit at the table and chop while my husband stands at the counter and cooks. We sit at the table for board games and dinner. I use them at my convertible TV Stand/Desk to write my blog. We move them around the trailer as we need them, or stack them when we don’t. I love how small, light, inconspicuous, and multi-purpose they are. I highly recommend these for tiny living.
I love how our eat-in kitchen plan worked out. We can put the table down to make more room, although it’s almost always open. I put my Instant Pot on the table and plug it in at the conveniently nearby outlet. It’s an expanded workplace, a game table, a place to put down the groceries, and in general useful and multi-purpose. The shelves hold baking supplies, cat stuff, cleaning supplies, and anything else we need. Tiny living isn’t so tiny after all.