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Ideas for Updating RVs With Wood Cabinets (Without Having to Paint!)
One of the most common RV update ideas you see online is to paint the RV interior, including painting or wallpapering the walls and painting the cabinets.
But painting RV cabinets is A LOT of work if you do it right. While there are many people out there who will tell you about ways to paint RV cabinets with no prep or sanding, all of the professional RV renovators I've talked to agree that the best way to achieve quality results is to do a thorough sanding of any solid wood followed by a coat of bonding primer over everything and two coats of paint after that.
What if you want to give your RV a makeover but don't want to do so much work?
Or what if you like the look of your wood cabinets, but just don't love the overall effect?
- Maybe you feel your RV interior is too dark and want to lighten the RV interior….
- Maybe your RV looks dated and you're looking for a way to update honey oak cabinets….
- Maybe your RV has beautiful cherry or maple cabinets and you want to renovate your RV in a way that highlights the beautiful wood instead of covering it.
Regardless of your reasons for not wanting to paint your wood RV cabinets, in this article you'll see that you can give your RV interior a makeover WITHOUT painting all of the cabinets!
Read on for ideas for ideas on how to update wood RV cabinets without painting them!
Idea 1: Clean and polish your cabinets.
I know this sounds super basic, but you might be surprised at this difference this simple step can make. A friend of mine who was considering painting the oak cabinets in her kitchen ended up loving them after she thoroughly cleaned them with Old English Wood Polish & Restorer. This product has been around for decades, and it blends in scratches and restores the shine to make wood cabinets look new again. It comes in a version for light wood and one for dark wood, so make sure to get the right color.
Idea 2: Add modern decor.
Some decorative touches will go a long way toward updating your RV interior. These can include new window treatments, recovering dining booth benches, replacing furniture, and adding plants and wall decor.
In the photo below, you can see an RV that was given a total makeover with no permanent changes. The owner's Boho-style updates include:
- A faux fur couch cover
- A shabby chic mirror on the wall
- Macrame plant hangers
- A macrame door curtain
The RV below is a Class C motorhome that has been modified full full time living with the addition of a pull-out desk, extra storage, a flip-down countertop extension, and more which you can see on the owners' Instagram account. The decor includes a macrame window valance, a small faux cow skull, a lumbar pillow with a shaggy faux fur cover, and a leather pouf ottoman.
The owner of the RV shown below used painter's dropcloth fabric to make new covers for the dining booth seats as well as the window cornices / valances. Just covering up dated upholstery fabric can go a long way! You can see more photos of this camper at the owner's blog.
My personal favorite way to decorate is with plants. Of course it won't be practical for someone who only uses their RV occasionally to have more than a few plants, but many full time RVers enjoy keeping lots of plants.
For tips on growing plants inside an RV (including what to do with them with the RV is in motion and information on bringing them across state lines), read my article about Indoor Gardening for Full Time RVers.
Some of the other decor seen in the photo below includes white roller window shades, a hexagon cowhide area rug, a reclaimed wood coffee table, and a velvet couch.
Here's another photo that shows what a dramatic difference tasteful decor can make in whether or not brown RV cabinets with beige walls look beautiful or bland.
Decorative elements in this RV include:
- A red oriental rug in the living room
- A woven runner rug across the desk
- Macrame window valances (a long one and a short one)
- Faux brick wallpaper
- A Southwest patterned throw pillow
Idea 3: Add a trendy kitchen backsplash.
White subway tile can brighten and modernize oak or maple cabinets, making a dark kitchen seem lighter. RV owner Morgan Conner used peel-and-stick subway tile in her RV kitchen, pictured below:
I've also known quite a few RV owners who installed a real tile backsplash, like the one seen in the photo below by RV owner Patricia Pradmore. Flexible grout (available at most home improvement stores) is recommended due to the motion of the vehicle.
Of course, you don't have to use white tile. You can see an RV kitchen with a dark gray peel-and-stick subway tile backsplash in the photo below.
Idea 4: Replace the Cabinet Hardware.
You would be amazed at how much a difference it can make to replace dated cabinet handles and drawer pulls with modern looking cabinet hardware.
Here's an example of some oak cabinets in a residential kitchen with new black handles:
And here's a kitchen with old wood cabinets given a makeover with brass hardware:
A Tip to Skip: Spray Painting Cabinet Hardware
You might be tempted to spray paint your old cabinet hardware to freshen it up, but I would advise against that.
I've tried that myself, and a friend of mine did that with her RV cabinet hardware (pictured below), and in both cases the paint ended up chipping and peeling after a while, which completely defeats the purpose of using nice cabinet hardware to improve the look of dated cabinets.
Plus, spray painting cabinet handles doesn't change their shape, and often it's the shape rather than the color that makes cabinet hardware seem dated.
Idea 5: Makeover your RV cabinet doors.
If you're just looking for a way to reduce the amount of wood or add a little color to your RV, one way to do that is with the cabinet doors.
One RV owner who didn't care for the frosted glass inserts in her RV cabinets scraped all of the “frost” off the back of the glass and put pretty fabric behind the glass instead. You can read about how she did it on her blog.
Another way to achieve this look would be to remove dated glass inserts and replace them with plexiglass that has fabric attached to the back, or you could cover the glass with burlap or paintable beadboard wallpaper, or replace them with some other material altogether, such as punched aluminum sheeting, or rattan webbing (see farther down for a photo of cabinets with rattan inserts).
Don't have glass inserts in your cabinet doors? The owner of this RV added sheets of imitation black leather contact paper to the wood panels of her cabinet doors. Chalkboard contact paper or wallpaper could be used for this look as well.
Another RV owner did something similar in her RV bedroom using wood plank wallpaper:
Idea 6: Decorate with wallpaper.
One way to give your RV a total makeover without having to touch a drop of paint is by using wallpaper to create some accent walls in your RV.
I have heard mixed reviews on whether wallpaper will stay stuck to RV walls through fluctuating and extreme temperatures, but recently I talked to a professional RV renovator who said this:
Originally, she tried using peel-and-stick wallpaper in her RV, and after a winter in cold storage, the wallpaper started peeling off the walls. She put the paper backup with regular wallpaper paste, and after that it stayed put. Since then, she has renovated several RV's using wallpaper paste to hang the wallpaper (whether it's regular wallpaper or peel-and-stick), so that seems to be the way to go!
What I love about the wallpaper in this next RV decorated with brown pineapple wallpaper by interior designer Staci is how well it matches the original cabinets. Embracing the cabinets as they are and choosing decor to match creates a more unified feel while still getting away from the hotel-like look of the original factory decor.
Idea 7: Paint the walls (but not the cabinets)
I've put off talking about painting, because I know you may have come here looking for ideas that don't involve painting. But in this next section I want to show you how painting the walls inside your RV can make such a big difference without you having go to all the trouble to paint the cabinets or cover up the wood if you actually like the cabinets.
My RV with Gray Walls and Unpainted Maple Cabinets
First up is a photo of my own RV, a fifth wheel that my husband and I used to live in. When we first moved in, I had a hard time convincing my husband that renovating the interior was a good idea, so we compromised by painting the walls a light gray color (a Benjamin Moore color called “Into the Gloaming”) to compliment the maple cabinetry.
Over time, I came to really love the look and was glad I didn't paint over our solid maple cabinets. I really think it looks nicer and more unique than it would have if we had painted all of the trim and cabinetry white.
Also, painting the walls was really not difficult. I used two coats of Valspar Signature Paint + Primer All-in-One from Lowe's without any additional prep or primer, and it turned out great and never scratched or peeled during the three years we lived in that RV.
I know some people recommend using a bonding primer, and if you are painting the cabinets it is probably easier to spray the entire interior with the same primer, but our walls had a texture to them that the paint adhered to really well. If your RV walls have a totally smooth texture, starting with a bonding primer can help make sure the paint doesn't peel.
In addition to painting the walls, I also added a blue oriental rug, made curtains out of white bed sheets, added decor, replaced the sofa and other furniture, and made other little changes that together made the space feel very homey.
RVs with Dark Cabinets and White Walls
As much as I liked our gray walls, my taste has changed since then, and I would probably paint the walls white if I were to do it over again.
Below is the first photo of an RV interior I ever saw that made me fall in love with the look of an RV with white walls and unpainted wood cabinets. You can see more photos of this RV in this post on the owners' blog. I think the white curtains and comfy tan leather couch are a big part of what makes this RV look so homey.
The family that owns the RV below lived in it full time and didn't feel they had time for a total renovation, but painting the walls white helped it feel more bright and airy and provided nice contrast to the dark wood.
Other updates in this RV include adding a geometric peel-and-stick tile backsplash (sorry, I can't find the exact pattern they used!), adding a decorative light fixture (I think this is a DIY light fixture made from a basket?), and decorating with some greenery cascading down the side of one cabinet.
The RV below is a 2014 Grand Design Solitude 369RL with the walls painted white. The owners also replaced the living room furniture to create an office area, replaced the pendant light fixtures over the island in the kitchen, and updated the decor in the bedroom with new curtains, a rug, a new bedspread and throw pillows, and wall art.
The 2016 Coachmen Chaparral shown below also has original flooring and cabinetry but has been given a Boho-style makeover that in addition to white walls includes the following:
- a red oriental rug (I found the same exact one here)
- new furniture including a yellow velvet sofa (see some velvet sofas in this article)
- geometric pendant light fixtures
- white curtains with black stripes
- white peel-and-stick subway tile and faux shiplap accent walls
- a black and white shower curtain (I think it's this one)
- brown faux fur throw pillows
- Southwestern patterned blanket on the bed
Notice they also painted the trim that goes along the ceiling, which I think really helps open up the space and makes it feel more like a “regular” house. You can see more photos of this RV on the owners' Instagram page @the.wanderpreneurs.
Here's an RV with white walls and dark cabinets that leans more towards Modern Farmhouse style with its cozy decor. I love the use of baskets under the couch for extra storage! The RV owner said on Instagram that the lace curtain is cleverly hiding their cats' litter boxes. 🙂 (Find more RV litter box storage ideas here!)
Some of the details I love about this Southwestern themed makeover:
- rattan webbing inserts on the cabinet doors
- white curtains over wood blinds
- window shades rolled up and fastened with leather straps
- Southwestern print dinette cushions (I how the patterned fabric was used only for the backs and a neutral brown fabric was used for the seats.)
- faux brick paneling (painted white)
RV's with Colorful Walls and Unpainted Cabinets
If you're not a fan of all white, here are a few colorful RV interiors where the cabinetry and woodwork was left unpainted but the walls were painted with color.
In this first one, you can see these other decorative touches:
- Couch replaced with a mid-century style leather sofa
- Oriental rug added
- Geometric wallpaper added to the back of shelves decorated with plants
- Dining area light fixture replaced with a sputnik style chandelier (hard to see but I think it's this one)
- New dining table and coffee table
The owner of the RV shown below loves beach and mermaid themed decor, so she painted her walls a rich blue (though she later decided to repaint the walls a light blue).
The colorful fifth wheel below is one that some friends of mine, Dan and Lisa Brown, lived in full time. They hated their beige walls and so decided to do a cheerful makeover, covering the window cornices in addition to painting the walls in vibrant colors. You can read about all the details of their makeover in this blog post.
Interestingly, they ended up later trading in this RV, and the dealer had no problem with the fact that the walls were painted…but they did have my friends repaint the walls a neutral color before accepting it for trade.
Idea 8: Paint the walls and some of the cabinets.
Another popular approach with a lot of RV owners is to paint just a few of the cabinets a bright accent color, which is what RV owners Ken and Steph did with their family's camper.
Here's a list of some of their updates:
- Lower kitchen cabinets painted bright teal
- White peel-and-stick subway tile in the kitchen and bathroom
- Black and white wallpaper added to the bunk area and dinette booth
- Recovered the dinette cushions
- Black and white rug
- DIY light fixture makeover
The owners of this RV decided to paint their bathroom cabinets a pretty shade of teal to match the accent wall in their bedroom, but they left most of their cabinets unpainted. Swipe through this Instagram post to see–I especially love the colors they chose for their living room sofa, rug, and throw pillows:
You can hardly tell from this photo, but in this RV the walls were painted white and the island was painted green. A modern sputnik style light fixture adds to the effect.
I know I'll probably get some questions about the floating shelves that admittedly don't seem very practical for an RV. I've asked some full-time RVers with floating shelves about this, and they've told me they just take the stuff down and pack it in a box before traveling. Additionally, the decorative items could be left in place by sticking them to the shelf with acrylic mounting tape.
If you like the look of open shelving in an RV but don't like the idea of constantly packing and unpacking the stuff, I know an RV renovator who makes and sells handmade open shelving that comes with a railing to prevent stuff from falling off.
RV Renovations with Original Wood Cabinets
This last series of photo inspiration is really for someone who is planning on a total RV renovation but genuinely loves the look of stained wood and for that reason doesn't want to paint all of their RV cabinetry.
Lately I've been seeing a trend among RV renovators of leaving some of the cabinetry unpainted, and I'm a huge fan. Following are some photos of this look for inspiration.
Mostly White Makeover with a Few Unpainted Cabinets
This RV was given a total makeover that included new luxury vinyl plank flooring, new light fixtures, new window treatments (added after these photos were taken), and white paint throughout, but professional RV renovator Rachel of @RV.Family.Reno, who renovated this fifth wheel and also publishes courses on how to renovate RV's, decided to leave some of the doors and cabinets brown.
You can see the beautiful result in the before & after renovation photos below.
Updating Cherry Cabinets Without Painting Them
This Heartland Bighorn fifth wheel was renovated by Trina and Steve of @RVFixerUpper, professional RV flippers who are well known on Instagram for their beautiful fifth wheel makeovers.
Painting the walls, ceiling, and slide-out trim white makes everything feel light and bright and actually makes the cherry cabinets that were left unpainted stand out even more.
Replacing the cabinet handles, kitchen faucet, and living room wall sconce with modern brass hardware gives the RV an updated look that can easily be changed if brass goes back out of style.
I also love how they chose to paint the drawers in the bedroom black instead of matching them to the rest of the woodwork, because doing so makes them look like a piece of free standing furniture.
Many RV owners remove upper kitchen cabinets in an RV to create a more open feel, but personally I like adding storage to an RV, not taking it away, so I love that the Auerbach Family who renovated this RV decided to leave the upper cabinets, but removed the doors and painted them white so there wouldn't be so much brown.
Again, the decorative items on the shelves will stay in place if they are attached with acrylic mounting tape or museum putty, and the baskets on the open shelves would be easy to take down, but may stay in place if the shelves have a lip to them, especially if the shelves are lined with non-slip shelf liner.
How to Get Started
Ready to get started with your DIY RV makeover? Here are some resources to help you:
- Complete Guide to Painting Your RV Interior
- Rustic Decor You Can Make for Your RV
- RV Renovation course series from RV Family Reno
For more decor inspiration, check out these articles: