FeaturedThe NorthSider

MADE helps woman turn van into rolling home

WEST END – Laralyn Mowers’ house isn’t for everybody. But it’s perfect for her.

It’s not for you if you’ve got a lot of clothes or books to store, or if you like to entertain guests at home. It’s not for you if you want a big yard with a garden.

But if you like to have Yosemite National Park in your backyard, and then Yellowstone National Park, her house is perfect. And she’s almost finished with making that house a home, with a small amount of help at a local makerspace.

Mowers’ “home” is a 2005 Dodge Sprinter van, which is in the final stages of being converted into a super-tiny house. Underneath, it’s a Mercedes made to look like a Dodge.

She bought it, thinking it already had been converted to a house on wheels.

“My plan when I got it was to spend a year or two traveling,” she said.

But the previous owner did such a bad job that she had to gut the interior. Mowers, 40, grew up in California and quit her job in New York City about nine months ago. She moved here with her van, after saving up for a temporary retirement. 

“I wanted a cheap place where there was a well-developed maker community,” Mowers said.

Laralyn Mowers assembles a wooden mosaic she designed for the interior of her van. (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
She got some help at MADE STL, 5721 Delmar Blvd. That makerspace offers training and equipment for just about every kind of skill, including welding, woodworking, sewing, laser cutting, 3D printing and machinery. In something akin to a coworking space, people can sign up as members and access the equipment.

She made a storage headboard by her bed and a partition wall at MADE STL and the rest elsewhere.

Her project included putting a bed in the back. Under that bed are storage boxes.

On one wall, she’s almost finished installing an induction stove and 16-gallon freshwater tank attached to a sink. That, and a small refrigerator under a makeshift couch, will complete a small kitchen.

On the walls, she’s almost finished with installing cedar tongue-and-groove siding.

“I went with cedar because it’s naturally mildew- and mold-resistant,” Mowers said.

Laurlyn Mowers stands at the rear of her van where storage areas can be seen beneath the bed. One of her bikes sits on a pull-out drawer for easy access. (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
“I’ve had to learn about DC electrical systems, plumbing, carpentry, more complex woodworking, in order to work with furniture,” she said. She also had to learn how to weld so she could learn how to work with steel. 

Three solar panels on the roof that charge a lithium battery will provide for all her electrical needs, including a heater, lights, refrigerator, water pump and fan in the summer.

She didn’t put in a shower and bathroom because that takes up too much space, and she frequently visits a gym, where she can take a shower.

Almost everything is done. Items she still must finish include some cabinetry and a floor.

Mowers figures her living space will be a mere 100 square feet. But that’s about the size of her first studio apartment in New York.  

As she fixed up her van, Mowers wasn’t crazy about St. Louis. It was too conservative, she said. But, she said, she discovered a strong core of creative people in St. Louis.

With her finished product, she’ll head out for the mountains to do rock climbing. She estimates that about 85 percent of the people she knows who live in vans are climbers.

But first, she has to finish the project. Of that, she said, “I’ve officially stopped answering the question about when it’s going to be done.” 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: