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The first time I saw photos of this Australian bus conversion from Samantha and Herb, also known as @hello_mr_pemberton, I instantly felt inspired and uplifted. The colorful interior and playful details are easy to fall in love with. And if you’re still waiting for winter to thaw out, these photos will warm you right up. It’s crazy to think that this beautiful home on wheels was once hired out as a school bus!
Samantha is an interior designer, and she and Herb renovated 13 houses and 3 caravans before taking on this 2002 Toyota Coaster bus conversion. Yet, it still came with its own set of challenges. They knew mapping out the build in a logical sequence was of utmost importance, and they spent a good chunk of time in research mode. Their hard work and attention to detail paid off because this transformation is awe-inspiring. Not only does this minibus include a beautiful kitchen and space to work or dine, but it also has a hidden, portable toilet and outside shower, allowing this couple to travel in style and comfort. Let’s get into the tour!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO EXPERIENCE tiny living?
We had previously renovated a Vintage Caravan which we affectionately named Hunter in 2020 and travelled the East Coast of Australia during Covid in 2021. During that time, we saw so many other vans, motorhomes and buses that could just pull into a beach carpark or set up by the side of the road for a lunch break or overnight camp. Having a car and a caravan made that much more difficult, so we decided to sell our caravan to one of our Instagram followers in November 2021 and started the search for our bus.
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE this Toyota Coaster to renovate?
We chose this particular Toyota Coaster as it has a very reliable 1Hz engine that they use in the old version of the Land Cruiser. These engines are designed to withstand more than 1,000,000km on the clock. The previous owner of the bus was also a mechanic and had meticulously cared for the bus. It was hired out as a school bus, so with a commercial licence in New South Wales, the vehicle had to be inspected every year for safety and had to go through a full “over the pits” inspection. It runs like a dream!
Was this bus conversion inspired by anything or anyone specific?
The renovation was inspired by our love for the outdoors and the colour sage green took centre stage. Since being on the road, we have introduced a few more colours which have been inspired by our travels both in Australia and abroad. Mr Pemberton’s logo is a rainbow, which reflects happiness, a safe space for all who visit and a shield of protection and love.
“Mr Pemberton’s logo is a rainbow, which reflects happiness, a safe space for all who visit and a shield of protection and love.”
How would you describe your decorating style?
As an interior designer, I love so many different styles. My all time favourite design style is Art Deco and our Vintage Caravan really played up on this theme. However I wanted the bus to be fun, a bright space to enjoy, a place that I fell in love with every time I walked through the door and so the design style of the bus is a little more eclectic than my usual style and definitely more colourful. Life is too short not to have colour in it!
What’s your favorite aspect of interior design?
My favourite aspect is the self expression that comes with design. I am equally at home styling multi-million dollar properties as I am designing a bus. I am lucky in that style and design comes easily to me and I have never been scared to express myself with design. It brings me the upmost joy in life and I change styles often. My biggest weakness in this space is linen… always buying.
What are your favorite places to source products and decor?
I must admit that I do love purchasing my linen from Adairs. They are always up to date with the latest colours and trends and I am a member of their rewards program, so I have access to great sales and free shipping. My other favourite place to source products is from local thrift stores while travelling. A vintage vase, vintage picnic ware, glassware and linen are some of my favourite finds.
What’s the most meaningful or splurge-worthy item you incorporated ino the interior?
There are lots of practical items in the bus which were splurge-worthy, but they don’t make for a good story. The most meaningful item would have to be the green glass and brass feature pendant at one end of my kitchen. I absolutely adore the ruffle of the glass and the brass just sets the tone for some many other little features that are incorporated through the bus. The shadows that the shade casts at night are just gorgeous against the shiplap wall.
I actually ordered the pendant online after searching for months. I didn’t use express shipping as I wasn’t in a rush to install it, but for some unknown reason I did something I never do… I paid an additional fee for insurance. The pendant was coming from overseas and being glass, there was just something in the back of my mind which told me to insure it. I was worried it may get lost and it was quite expensive, but I never dreamed that it would be smashed to oblivion when I opened the box. I was so heart broken, but the company I purchased it from were so amazing and they express shipped me a new shade which arrived 10 days later!
What was most challenging about this Toyota Coaster Bus Conversion?
The most challenging aspect of this renovation would have to be have been the off grid electrical system. Our previous build didn’t have an off grid system. Here in Australia you are allowed to do all the 12v system yourself, but you must have a licence electrician perform the 240v work. We spent months and months researching online what the best products were and how the whole system worked together. We saved thousands of dollars buying most items in the Black Friday sales last November and then doing all the fit out ourselves.
What project made the most difference?
I’d have to say that the ability to be fully self sufficient and live off the grid has made the most difference. However there are other things that people may not see or take for granted. We have a hidden indoor toilet, which is an absolute must now and we would never build another travelling home without one. The insulation to our walls and the main driving cabin is something that most people don’t see, but makes such a huge difference to the temperature and overall comfort levels within the bus.
Do you take on custom renovation projects or offer design consulting?
We travel full-time so we don’t take on the physical part of the renovation for clients, but as an interior designer, I still do offer a design consulting service. My services are very affordable and the money spent on just a few hours of consulting, can save thousands of dollars in the wrong design choices or mistakes. I can assist with a full van fit out and remodel or just help with soft furnishings, finishing touches or paint choices.
Any upcoming travel plans?
Mr Pemberton is our permanent home as we have rented out our apartment for the foreseeable future. We are completing a lap of Australia and have currently been on the road since the middle of December.
What piece of advice would you give someone about to begin an minibus conversion?
Research, research, research. We spent longer researching aspect of the build than we did actually building the bus. Herb and I have renovated 13 houses and 3 vintage caravans, but the bus still threw up challenges. You need to map out your build also in a logical sequence. It’s a lot like building a house in that we made sure the outside was sound and watertight, before moving inside. We also had detailed maps of where every electrical fitting would go, we taped out the floor and triple checked our measures of everything to ensure a streamline design. Many people have a temptation to rush and just do the pretty fit out, but I can assure you that the time we spent in preparation and planning was well worth the effort. There is not a single thing we would change about the bus.
Most asked about product sources:
The paint colour of the bus and the little feature wall as you walk in are painted in White Knight Rust Guard (yes we used the same paint indoors) and its called “Highland Meadow”. The feature wallpaper in our bedroom is from @bohoartstyling. The wallpaper design was actually shrunk down in scale to suit the bus. Our flooring is from our local big box hardware store, Bunnings. The kitchen is another crowd favourite and it is from Ikea. The colour is called “Bodarp”. All of our linen is from @Adairs and would you believe, most of it is from the Children’s range. All of our furniture and other shelving and cabinetry is custom made by us. Our sheer curtains are from @Spotlight and called “Anne”.