Redecorating Your Rental RV




After sixteen years of attending the Burning Man festival, a temporary community of 70,000 people and thousands of rental Recreational Vehicles, we've discovered a few ways to turn your rented motel room into a space for personal expression. Without damaging your rental! Nothing spells "Sad" like a standard issue RV home when settling in for the night, or day. It doesn't take long to create, and your plentiful guests will greatly appreciate a comfortable, colorful oasis in the desert.

Ok, I lied... "s a d" spells "Sad". So don't be sad: take a few easy hours to make your home a home!

Step 1: Starting From Scratch

Front and Back views inside a typical rental RV.
Note how clean they start out (like a sterile motel room).

  Duct tape
  Painter's tape
  Rolls of old carpets, padding, and bathroom rugs
  Various fabrics (both strong and delicate for placing in different locations)
  Safety pins (best to have 100's of pins in various sizes)
  Extendable shower rods
  Metallic bubble plastic wrap (aka Reflectix)
  Lighting toys (LED strings are better and safer than incandescent christmas lights)

Step 2: Cover Your Floor

Start by covering the floor. Use several layers of flooring - padded on bottom, fluffy on top. Use several layers so that if accidents occur, just remove a layer rather than further covering up the mess. Use duct tape on your fabrics, but only use minimal painter's tape to the RV walls or floors - the fake wood paneling can easily tear off even if careful. If you have pull-outs, leave those sections' floors untaped and available to be rolled up or pushed back until arriving in your permanent location in Black Rock City, or wherever your final destination may be.

Step 3: Floor Details

Make sure to leave openings where needed. Scraps can be reused. Safer (and comfy) to have more carpeting than less.  You'll find a comfortable floor leads to more people being able to hang out in your RV.  After several years, you'll amass plenty of used pieces for your rental RV (make sure to wash all your carpet pieces after each burn).

Step 4: "No Shoes" and Other Easy Rules

Signage at the front door helps remind new visitors to a super-simple basic rule on keeping the floors clean - keep all shoes outside. Place a sealable plastic bin outside under your entry steps to contain the dusty footcoverings. Covering the seats and couches first in plastic wrap then in fabrics can protect from accidental spillage and guest destruction. Make sure to bring posters, paintings, or other interesting artwork for covering the walls, cabinets, and windows.

It's your RV for the week - make your rules as you see fit.

(Oh, yes, it's most annoying to have just spent 15 minutes outside lacing up your 24inch boots when you realize you forgot your camelback inside - many a time we've crawled in on our knees with shoes desperately dangling in the air as we stretch to reach for that one forgotten item - but we try to not be hypocrites to the sign.)

One controversial RV rule to think about - restricting the use of the toilet from both guests and rentees. Yeah, that's a big reason many people rent an RV, but unless you are getting them pumped on a regular basis... ...after a hot week on the playa, there is nothing in the world to prevent it from smelling bad. Real bad. Scary scary bad. For guests, perhaps provide a map to the nearest bank of johns. The bright side - retaining humility of the quintessential playa experience: the 6am port-a-potty run.

This goes for showers too, we've discovered. The bacteria growth can be quite aromatic. Our camp usually has a sun shower, or a sprayer, or some other shower built for camp use, and we've used that instead. The benefit is... more closet space! Clear bins with lids (from Target or such mega-store) make excellent clothes organizing units, and if stacked up high in the shower and on the toilet, less possibilities of drunken visitors not understanding the RV rules when your back is turned.

Also, perhaps making a sign warning off potential users, as we've always thought about needing one right after one would have been useful. Drunk people claim they can't help it, but desert survival means knowing where are the closest public potties. "If You Did Not Pay For The RV, You May Not Use The Facilities" or such. But then it rule also should apply to the rentees as well, at least up to about 24 hours before you leave (if you hoped to use them), otherwise you are sorta fouling the nest. The science behind this is that the chemicals you dump in the toilets to neutralize everything require the movement of driving every day to mix properly, without it, they do nothing. So if you like a week of living with, well... just please take my advice on this one thing, please? :-) Rental RVs are not designed to just sit like we do.

If you have guests over to borrow your kitchen, make sure to stress the scarcity of RV materials. (One person didn't realize how little tank water there is, and after a marathon pot-and-pan-scrubbing while left alone in the RV, used up all the potable tank.) Be warned, you'll probably be pressed to take some friend's trash upon exodus, and it's your decision, but here's to hoping you don't need to stress 'pack it in, pack it out' to any proper playa dwellers.

Step 5: Cover Your Windows

The sun will start to melt you by about 10am. Metallicized bubble wrap can be fitted into the RV windows to block the sunlight and its horrible horrible warmth. Make sure to leave no gaps between the glass and the material. Use tape if needed, but usually the wrap can be cut with a few extra inches and be pushed to fit into the window frame.

Most of the RV windows do not need to be used during the week, so make sure to cover the cab area completely (this driving area can be best used for keeping bins of materials out of the bunk area). The skylight over the shower usually could use sunlight protection as well.

If you want some sunlight, use half-silked fabrics to allow partial light through some windows.

Step 6: Safety Pin Your Ceiling*

Most rental RVs have indoor-outdoor carpeting on the ceiling. Use safety pins carefully to cantilever heavier objects. By using large pins as anchors, looping through the swirls of the carpet, and then using smaller pins that link any fabrics or lighting to the larger anchors, you can hang relatively heavy objects throughout the RV.

Make sure to pin around any air-circulating systems in the ceiling. Ceiling carpet only can hold so much weight, so gauge carefully. LED net-lights provide a lovely animated light through layers of light-weight fabrics.

*Note, in 2010, the carpeted ceiling was gone, replaced by a flat vinyl smooth surface. Not wishing to puncture such material required new techniques with more shower curtain rods. In some cases (such as in the upper bunk above the cab), the rods are not long enough, so the solution is in using shorter, cross-braced rods pushing slightly into each corner of the bunk.

Step 7: Bridge Your RV

Extendable shower curtain rods can bridge across the RV for easier ceiling fabric hangings too.  Make sure to get the longest available to stretch across wide RVs with the slide-outs, while back bedrooms might need much smaller sizes.  (We've even added Pringles Cans for extending the length further, in a pinch.)

Secret bonus tip for cleaning up after-playa:  Club Soda cuts through playa dust.  Spray club soda and wipe up to easily remove the alkaline dust from the interior and exterior of your rented RV.  This took ten years to discover (many things take that long to discover).

Secret fire prevention tip:  Don't allow open flames in your RV near your hanging fabrics.  This shouldn't be a very 'secret tip' at something called 'Burning Man'.

Step 8: Completed Art!

Your rental RV could be a super showcase for your personal playa art, plus it keeps most of the interior clean for when you have to return your vehicle.  There are friends that claim making your home "too nice" means one never leaves, and that's understandable as it takes overcoming much inertia to get out of the house into the dusty world, but nothing is more wonderful than having a beautiful home in which to return.  We encourage all burners, and other freeway travelers, to try to decorate your insides - why have a fantastic outside-playa time, but feel like you are living in a generic motel room at the end of the day?

Plus, if you don't do "something", it's really pretty incredibly sad and boring to visit you.  

P.S. one final tip:  Use plastic bins to place all your RV fabrics after cleaning each year, that way when the next burn (or trip) rolls around, just grab the few bins and be packed to go.



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    24 Discussions


    2 years ago

    You have some great advice here! I always cover the sh#t out of everything, and it's a great help for clean up (and getting your deposit back!) Has anyone here ever used contact paper on the interior walls? Does it leave any residue? FYI We are renting from a private party this year for the first time, (usually go with Cruise America, but private was cheaper) I told him I usually cover the floors with that adhesive clear stuff they put in houses for sale, but he said it leaves a residue on the carpet...

    2 replies
    Commander GaijinMarieV22

    Reply 2 years ago

    Contact paper might have too much pull after a week to take off safely, especially if your walls are wallpapered. (I remember hearing curses over a long period of time, followed by a lot of repainting wood grain, when we used it once on cheap materials.) We've used plastic sheeting with bamboo prints (it might have been a cheap tablecloth?) from Party City one year, cutting it into proper lengths and just taped it at the top and bottom. They have lots of cheap options that are fast to clean up. Usually the walls don't get "that much dust" that can't be wiped down easily with a Club Soda Solution, if you don't cover them.

    I'm not sure about carpet adhesive stuff, but as we've always enjoyed the luxurious feel of unadulterated carpets after a long day hiking the playa, plastics can be a bit of princess and the pea. The duct tape in its small strips doesn't get felt (nor leave residue), but we've had tried a base layer of plastic one year and didn't care for it much - things slid much worse than usual.

    Have a great burn!

    MarieV22Commander Gaijin

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you! I agree about the walls not getting too bad, and will just wipe them down (a friend suggested microfiber cloth and I will try that this year)...we found some rubber-like carpet padding that we will lay down under our "Playa rugs" on the floor and will tape to secure. We leave 1 week from today! Ahhhh! Pack all the things! ;-)
    Have an awesome Burn!

    Commander Gaijin

    2 years ago

    I was asked "if I owned an RV..." and definitely I would get a roll of professional theatrical mylar, and tape it up to all the walls, floor, and ceiling in the RV bathroom. Add slowly changing LEDs or lasers. I did it once, and it made all our visitors giddy with delight. But we used up all our mylar that year, never had the same bathroom configuration, and never did it again.

    Some one, do it. But don't tell anyone until they go inside.


    2 years ago

    I have just one suggestion to add (after 8 years of RV on playa) You should put the shade covers for the windows on the outside . . . that way it stops the heat before it gets inside, made for a dramatic difference between the inside and outside shade . . . but it took me a few years to figure that out . . . also if you can rig a large (preferabley silver) tarp over your RV . . its like parking it in the shade of a tree . . .

    1 reply
    Commander Gaijindabob

    Reply 2 years ago

    Oh yes, I've been quite jealous of friends of ours that bring pipes and silvered tarps to build a giant RVport around their RVs. Definitely you are right about stopping the sun before it even hits the RV at all.

    Sometimes my rentals are different sizes or have different locations of delicate roof items and vents, and so have never had enough consistency to build outside shade covers - I've found Reflectix stuffed into all the corners of the windows cuts 98% of the heat, with two layers of blue tape on wherever the glass is peeking to cut the rest.

    We try not to attach too many things that can flap about outside our RVs, as we found scratched labels and paint can be over $1000 charge (though some paints can be touched up, if you are trying to fix outside damage, call a professional, they are cheaper than your deposit).

    Plus, putting the Reflectix inside means working inside in the a/c (yes, i've gotten lazy). Though if I owned, I'd build a place for pipes in the RV, to build a big shelter to park under, for sure, it's great to have an afternoon porch.


    7 years ago on Step 8

    I love your ideas! I hope to make it back to the playa in 2012 in a well decorated (and protected) rv!

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I just read your burning man blog and had to comment. While waiting during Exodus, my daughter and I had the same idea that you had sometime back. We thought of contact paper too as a way to cover up all the offensive logos. We thought about being somewhat more vigilant though, and with black ski masks and (no crow-bars) simply attach the (removable) templates to the vehicles. Mreaaking it even more of a popular game, hopefully, we would go on BMIR with our voices altered and threaten and boogie-scare the offenders into coming up with their own alterations. Should be tons of fun. And it gave us something positive to do during Exodus.

    1 reply

    3 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Commander,

    I am trying to replicate your excellent work. I am trying to identify the black padding you have on the floor... is it regular carpet padding or something else?

    Much appreciation.


    3 replies

    It was automotive black padding, however it's about the same as regular carpet padding and would totally do the trick. And like someone mentioned, perhaps let it sit outside for a few days or a week to outgas before installing it inside? (Though outgassing can be a long process, we had the padding in a garage for a few years before realizing its RV value, so no idea on how long it takes.) Have a great burn, David!

    Hi GC,

    Thanks so much! It looks like you have several layers of various materials... great job!

    Notice the Gaijin part of your Playa Name... spend some time in Japan?


    Lots of layers! Sometimes they get lumpy, like we left the cat underneath. We do re-sort the layers occasionally if they slide around. But to have lots of layers means if someone party-fouls, just pull up or cover over.

    Return to tell us of your adventures? What works and what didn't? Stuff like "we learned to be careful with tape on cheap woodgrain - a skilled painter with fine brushes and many colors can touch-up rips (we had one in clean-up), but better to watch what you stick." :-)

    Japan, not yet, but in November, Yokohama and Tokyo for a week!


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Ah ha! Now I know why I was a bit confused in following your steps... these photos are not all of the same RV... there two different RVs in your flooring sections...I finally noticed that because the color of the center console in the drivers compartment is different... I couldn't figure it out for a while...

    1 reply

    Yes, the decorating has been growing over years, but some years the camera is forgotten until way after the work gets complete. There might be photos of more than two RVs, in fact ...though, in the RV industry, the floor plans are similar for endless eons.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Hi! Love it... what is the black carpet-like surface you are using?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    also might want to think about using materials that are greener like carpeting that has no formaldihide (sp?) and have an exhaust fan to keep the temp down and fumes out.motorvehicles put out alot of fumes just sitting from all the petroleum based produsts like plastic