To many, RV living doesn’t exactly scream “glam.” But Cortni Armstrong is changing that perception one ugly RV at a time, with the help of her mom and business partner Patti Armstrong. They’re the mother-daughter duo behind The Flipping Nomad–a RV renovation business that’s essentially the Chip and Joanna Gianes of RV remodeling–and one look at the interiors of their RV renos will make you want to ditch your stationary residence and move in immediately.
The Flipping Nomad was born out of a dark period in Cortni’s life: About six years ago, she had to take over her father’s two businesses after he had a stroke. They weren’t doing well, and there was hardly enough money to pay herself. At the same time, Cortini's lease renewal was coming up on a house she shared with three roommates. She discovered her roommates had made other housing plans that didn’t involve her. Left hanging, she turned to a family friend who managed a campground. He said there was a fifth wheel for sale. The owner would finance it, and all she would have to do is pay for the RV. The electricity, internet, and other expenses would be covered if she took a job at the front desk. She agreed and moved in three days later.
“I felt borderline homeless, and I was really embarrassed about it,” Cortni tells House Beautiful. “I was in my mid-20s at the time and a recent college grad, so all of my college friends are in their careers and buying houses and cars, and here I am in this trailer park.”
A year into RV living, her perspective shifted. She loved the genuine people she met and how freeing it was to only live in 350 square feet sans clutter. “I started falling in love with the lifestyle but wanted a rig that was laid out a little bit different,” she says. She obsessively searched for “something that was appropriate for a mid-20s bachelorette pad” but realized what she wanted didn’t exist. So she found a rig with the floor plan she wanted and decided to renovate it herself.
“I kept coming back to my buying experience and thought maybe other people don't like these interiors too, and there's business to be had here,” Cortni says.
At first, Cortni was buying RVs, cleaning them super well, and then selling them. When she combined that with renovating, she did custom renovations–even taking on RVs people had already owned. Her mom joined the business about two and a half years ago when she also decided to move into an RV herself. Together, they buy RVs, renovate them, and sell them out of a shop they own on 66 acres of land in Emmett, Idaho. The shop is big enough to fit three RVs with plenty of room to park other rigs outside. They typically keep their own RVs on the land, too.
The duo now focuses exclusively on designing RVs. “We figured out that to do customization work it takes us about 50 percent longer than it does to buy it, renovate it, and sell it as is,” Cortni says. “I know it sounds counterintuitive but in an effort to service more clients, we stopped servicing clients.”
Before Cortni and Patti ever buy an RV, they do a field inspection on it that involves getting up on the roof, checking for signs of water damage, the age of the tires, and warning signs for tank cracks. Once it passes that, they take it back to the shop and do a PDI (pre-delivery inspection) where they check the electric–AC, outlets, fridge–and fill the tank with water to ensure everything is working properly. When they confirm the structure of the rig is good, they renovate it.
For the interiors, they try to go with popular design schemes. “Farmhouse is so hot right now, and everybody wants something that looks like Joanna Gaines did it,” Cortni says. “I also want every rig to have its own personality, so I switch it up a bit with each one.”
The rigs they sell are typically furnished with items including couches, love seats, and chairs. In Cortni’s experience, most people prefer to bring their own mattress. The details–throw pillows, rugs, blankets, table settings–are included on a case-by-case basis. “Some clients really enjoy shopping for their own rig and putting their own personal taste on it and other clients are intimidated by it,” she says.
Her favorite furniture brand to use is Home Reserve. The Indiana-based company offers modular pieces with storage in the seats. Cortni says multifunctional pieces are essential in such a tiny space. Plus, all of the company’s made-in-America pieces have removable and washable fabric, so you can easily clean it or swap out colors.
Being able to flex her creative muscles and reimagine a small space is Cortni’s favorite part of the job. Oh, and the demolition phase of course. “You go in, rip stuff apart, chuck stuff out the door, and we have music playing,” she says.
So far, The Flipping Nomad has done about 15 full renos and worked on around 45 RVs–including partial renos and cleaning–since its inception. The price varies based on the model and staging among other factors, but the minimum budget required is $50,000 for a fifth wheel or $30,000 for a travel trailer.
There’s currently a huge waitlist to snag one of The Flipping Nomad’s renovated RVs. Their typical clientele is first-time home buyers in their 20s and 30s with a mix of couples and couples with kids. That came as a surprise to Cortni who thought her clients were going to be retirees who have disposable income and have been saving up for the RV lifestyle for years.
The completion time varies for each RV renovation. If you want less of a wait or don’t want to go all in on a renovated RV, The Flipping Nomad sells non renovated RVs that you can enjoy as is or renovate yourself. They also offer RV lifestyle and renovation coaching.
Cortni now lives in an RV called the Ultimate Montana, which she teamed up with Keystone RV Company to build. It’s similar to a concept car in that it is “very impractical, very much a show piece, but we wanted to push the limits on everything and see what’s possible,” she says. The rig has a freestanding bathtub, three fireplaces, pizza oven, TV projector, and bar.
As if The Flipping Nomad’s renos weren’t stunning enough, Cortni’s current RV is sure to make any apartment renter or homeowner envious in some way. Glam RVs are the right-under-our-nose tiny homes we didn’t know we needed.
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