For the past five months, Drew and I have been meticulously building out our fifth van home and first ever conversion.
We decided to dive into this project after returning from our 2.5-year van life Europe + North Africa honeymoon on wheels. After living in a number of different layouts and being completely inspired by the repurposing and creativity of vanlifers in Europe, we sort of knew exactly what we wanted, but had no idea that what we would create, would turn out to be SO beautiful. (You can watch our series of weekly episodes, documenting the entire process here).
Before starting this build, while we were still in Europe, we learned about a couple through Instagram.
They were using reclaimed wood to make yoga blocks, amongst an endless array of other beautiful creations. They sourced all their wood from old-growth trees that were being torn down by the city of San Diego for urban development projects. These trees, many of which were majestic Red Woods taken straight out of the historic Balboa Park, would otherwise be chipped or sent to the landfill. Instead, they were being turned into beautiful expressions of love and creativity. Even though we were thousands of miles away, something inside told me to reach out and connect with these talented souls, and so we did.
We didn’t even know if we would want to live in a van upon our return from Europe after having done it for four years. (We did van life in America for all of 2015 before we got married!) However, we had the fateful opportunity to meet up with Dan and Jess of San Diego Urban Timber on a quick stint from Europe to San Diego for our friends’ wedding. It was then that we proposed the idea of using their “re-TREE-ved” wood in our possible, future van build. Life had it that these two were just as open-minded and open-hearted as a magical collaboration such as this needed in order to make manifest.
Now, almost two years have passed since our initial Instagram message.
Since then, we have given our European van away to a sweet couple in England and we found an undeniable deal on a van upon our return to America. We spent four months building out the framework, electrical and plumbing with our families in Florida. Now, we have finally found ourselves in San Diego. After two additional months of building, the van home of our dreams is nearly complete, made possible by none other than the majestic souls (humans and trees) at San Diego Urban Timber.
Beyond having the opportunity to work with Dan, Jess, Mat, and Sal, laughing, learning, living and collaborating on a real-life project which all began with an idea sparked in the virtual world (crazy how things work these days), here are 5 reasons why we loved used reclaimed wood in our van build:
1. Sustainability and environmental responsibility
Undoubtedly, as we learned from Dan and Jess, the most important aspect of using reclaimed wood is the fact that doing so reduces the massive amount of emissions. These emissions are associated with the logging, processing, and transportation of new wood. Using reclaimed lumber also means that we are helping to massively reduce waste, contributing to the millions of tons of wood that are being diverted from the world’s waste streams, landfills and burn piles.
2. It saves lives.
Not only does using reclaimed wood save the lives of trees, ultimately preserving our world’s remaining forests, but it also helps protect the innocent little creatures, many of whom are endangered or becoming endangered, who call these green giants home.
3. Stability & Durability.
Using reclaimed wood, namely wood from old-growth trees (which is what San Diego Urban Timber uses), means that the wood was typically harvested and milled decades ago. This mostly dense-grain, old-growth material, is much harder and more durable than new lumber. Also, age acts to dry or “season” the wood, making it less likely to cup, twist or otherwise move. This also offers the dimensional stability and workability that new wood could never provide, which is especially important when paneling your ceiling.
4. Uniquely beautiful.
Reclaimed wood is vintage. Old. It carries wisdom and experience that we, mere humans, will never fully comprehend. But by studying its past, the growth rings, nail holes, bug history, staining, knots, we can begin to understand the unique story of each piece of reclaimed wood. All of these natural and man-made imperfections add to the character of the wood. As Dan and Jess taught us, perhaps one of the most fun parts of being builders who “re-TREE-ve,” is the fact that it gifts us with the ability to accentuate these unique character traits in new and creative ways, allowing us to transform our rolling home into a moving piece of art.
5. Hard work that you appreciate forever.
Reclaimed wood doesn’t come wrapped in plastic or neatly stacked in perfectly sized, identical piles, it becomes what you make of it. That 50-year-old Red Wood fence made from old-growth trees, centuries old, required A LOT of work before it became our beautifully, white-washed ceiling. Cleaning, sanding, painting, more sanding, waxing, cutting, resizing. That was perhaps the hardest of all our projects! Then there’s the avocado wood in our mesmerizing resin countertops (being finished this week!), the Red Gum Eucalyptus and various other woods used to make our amazing cabinetry. These all required a ton of time and effort in order to become the working masterpieces (if I do say so myself) that they are now.
We hope that our van, affectionately named “Spirit,” will inspire others to rethink how they buy and build, encouraging them to take their time, make better choices (which aren’t usually the easiest), and build beautiful things that only add to the growing wave of consciousness that is spreading across this limitlessly powerful van life community. As for San Diego Urban Timber, we are infinitely grateful to be able to share their beautiful story through our own. Giving these trees not only new purpose but new life, new adventure and an endless source of love from both of us. Living in “Spirit” has never been so beautiful.