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Ashley Mann spent three years living full time in a 38-foot, 5th-wheel RV with her husband Josiah and their cat, Kitty. Her favorite thing about RV life is the challenge of finding the perfect way to organize a space, and she loves seeing all the creative and clever ways people come up with to customize their RVs.
Can you give your RV a beautiful makeover with unpainted cabinets?
One of the most common RV update ideas you see online is to paint the RV cabinets and walls.
But painting RV cabinets is A LOT of work if you do it right. 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.
So, what if you want to give your RV a makeover but don't want to do that much work?
Or what if you like the look of your wood cabinets, but just don't love the overall effect?
Regardless of why you don't want 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!
Idea 1: Clean and polish your cabinets.
I know this sounds super basic, but you might be surprised at the 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 trusted product has been around for decades. 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 order 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.
Bold decor can give an RV a total makeover with no permanent changes. The above RV owner's Boho-style updates include:
- Faux fur couch cover
- Shabby chic mirror on the wall
- Macrame plant hangers
- Macrame door curtain
The RV is a Class C motorhome that has been modified for full-time living with the addition of a pull-out desk, extra storage, and a flip-down countertop extension. The decor includes a:
- macrame window valance
- a small faux cow skull
- a lumbar pillow with a shaggy faux fur cover
- a leather pouf ottoman
The owner of this RV used painter's dropcloth fabric to make new covers for the dining booth seats as well as the window cornices/valances. Just covering outdated upholstery fabric can go a long way!
Related: 35 Ideas for an RV Window Makeover
My personal favorite way to decorate is with plants. This isn't practical for someone who only uses their RV occasionally, but you often see full-time RVers keeping multiple 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 above 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!
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 above.
I've also known quite a few RV owners who installed a real tile backsplash, like the one 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 tiles, like this dark gray peel-and-stick subway tile backsplash.
Other popular choices with RVers include geometric or multi-colored mosaic tile backsplashes. Smart Tiles and Tic-Tac-Tiles are two brands that seem to deliver good results in RVs.
- PREMIUM PEEL AND STICK TILES MADE IN NORTH AMERICA : Buy local from the market leader in self-adhesive wall tiles. At Smart Tiles, we offer a large selection of easy to install, high quality backsplash tile designs. Each pack of 4 tiles covers 2.65 sq ft (0.24 m2).
A mosaic-style backsplash is also a great way to make an RV feel more like a residential home.
Idea 4: Replace the cabinet hardware.
You would be amazed at how much of a difference it can make to replace dated cabinet handles with modern-looking cabinet hardware.
- MATERIAL:Black cabinet handles made of high quality Stainless Steel,they are hollow construction,lightweight but durable and anti-corrosive,can be used for many years.
You can find packages of handles and pulls (usually in packs of 10) on Amazon. They generally cost $1-$3 per handle in a package versus $10+ per handle when you buy individually at Home Depot. We always buy packs from Amazon to replace cabinet handles and love them. (Currently loving these!)
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.
It is a very cheap makeover, however, the constant use means the paint ends up chipping after a while.
Plus, 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.
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 a drop of paint is by using wallpaper to create some accent walls in your RV.
Wallpaper can be tricky in an RV due to fluctuating temperatures. Check out our guide to hanging RV wallpaper for details on how to properly install wallpaper in your RV.
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.
This RV was decorated using this wallpaper along with some vertical subway tiles. These wall updates easily brighten up the RV even with extra dark cabinets. You can see more photos of this camper's interior on the owner's Instagram page @rad.ronda.rv.
Idea 7: Paint the walls—but not the cabinets
I know you came here looking for ideas that don't involve painting. But I want to show you how painting the walls inside your RV can make such a big difference without the trouble of painting cabinets.
My RV with Gray Walls and Unpainted Maple Cabinets
First up is a photo of my own fifth wheel.
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 complement 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 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 not difficult. I used two coats of Valspar Signature Paint + Primer All-in-One from Lowe's without any additional prep or primer. It turned out great and never scratched or peeled.
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 to make the space feel very homey.
RVs with Dark Cabinets and White Walls
White painted walls are even more popular than my grey. 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.
This RV owner opted for white walls and a geometric peel-and-stick tile backsplash.
They also added a DIY basket-turned light fixture and some greenery cascading down the side of one cabinet.
The RV above 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
- updated the decor in the bedroom with new curtains, a rug, a new bedspread and throw pillows, and wall art.
This 2016 Coachmen Chaparral 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
- new furniture including a yellow velvet sofa (shop velvet sofas here)
- 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
- brown faux fur throw pillows
- Southwestern patterned blanket on the bed
They also painted the trim that goes along the ceiling, which helps open up the space. 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 toward 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.
Related: 7 RV litter box storage ideas
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)
RVs 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 were 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
- A sputnik-style chandelier (look above the dining table)
- New dining table and coffee table
The owner of the RV shown above loves beach and mermaid-themed decor. She painted her walls a rich blue to match her bedspread.
The colorful fifth wheel is owned by full-timers Dan and Lisa Brown. They hated their beige walls and decided to do a cheerful makeover. They covered 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. The dealer 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 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.
They tied together the dark wood trim and cabinets and the teal color by creating teal wainscoting under their bunk bed.
I love this unique way of adding personality and style to their RV by only painting the bathroom cabinet!
In this RV the walls were painted white and the island was painted light green. A modern sputnik style light fixture adds to the effect.
If you're concerned about the floating shelves, I've asked some full-time RVers about this. 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.
Or, if you need more storage space, build shelves inside your cabinets, as demonstrated in this video:
Idea 9: Update Your light fixtures
I've noted many light fixtures in this article, but they do wonders in modernizing wood cabinets. Check out these before-and-after photos:
Professional RV renovator Rachel of @RV.Family.Reno painted the walls white and added vinyl plank flooring. I particularly love the added hanging lights over the kitchen bar.
Two unique light fixtures make this next RV stand out:
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 bright white also makes everything feel light and spacious. 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.
How to Get Started
Ready to get started with your DIY RV makeover? Here are some resources to help you:
- A Complete Guide to Painting Your RV Walls
- 20 Creative Ways to Remove and Replace Your RV Dining Booth
- 35 Ideas for an RV Window Makeover
For more decor inspiration, check out these articles: