The Novelty UnSchool Bus - Tiny House Blog

The Novelty UnSchool Bus

the unbus

by Ashley Williams-Brookens

We repurposed a 1986 International School Bus, and created within it a very warm, comfortable, highly functional, off-grid, self-contained cabin. We live in the wilds of Southern Humboldt County, California where our home sets on an organic off-grid farmstead with a history of decades-old successful river and wilderness restoration. We exchange work for land-rent and water usage.

I’ve shown my daughters that innovation and creativity are positive, powerful tools with which you can create a joyful life that honors your convictions without sacrificing a rich quality of life. You’ll find below a write-up from my website that describes the why’s and what-for’s of my family’s own “Tiny House Movement.”

day one

There has been a great deal of (slow) progress on the Novelty UnSchool Bus. (Slow is the new black, in case you haven’t heard.) There have been obstacles. But as it comes together, the vision is gathering clarity and the process is one of infinitely unfolding inspiration. I have so many ideas that reach well beyond the actual conversion… I’ve been gifted with new inspiration in how I teach my children, approach my own work and education, and how other women might be sparked toward self-empowerment.

fresh start

There is also something deeply gratifying in the schoolie’s nuts-n-bolts transformation. Although it is an inanimate beast, there is still wonder in giving it new life. She, like many pieces of art, has become symbolic of rebirth, revived inspiration, and renewed purpose. Perfect for a thirty-five-year-old mother.

the plan

While being moved to share my experience, I realize not every mother wants to do something as dramatically unconventional as repurposing a transportation vessel for stationary housing. Although, as it turns out, the school bus cabin is as utterly safe, secure, practical, affordable and manageable as it is cozy, warm (esthetically and climatically), sanctified and beautiful. But whether or not other people choose my template for their own liberation, it gives them, by model, permission to create something wholly independent; something that works for their own convictions, and their family’s well-being. Something aligned with their desire to minimize harm and limit their dependence on unsustainable or exploitative institutions.

building the shower

NOVELTY, as contextualized by Terence McKenna, can be thought of as “density of complexification and dynamic change as opposed to static habituation.” It is choosing something different instead of defaulting to engrained conventions. Allowing creativity and complexity as opposed to reductionism. The Novelty UnSchool Bus has earned her name as exactly that. We experience our unbound potential when we un-school ourselves by learning through direct experience, instead of accepting only prefabricated, preapproved knowledge. Perhaps your expression of Novelty doesn’t involve a forty-foot 1986 International School Bus with solar power and endless on-demand (indoor!) hot water… but I encourage you to manifest it, whatever form it takes. As the great Mind of McKenna assured us, “The history of the world shows that Novelty wins.”

the plumbing

shower construction

Lovable Loo

cook mate stove

kitchen shelving


bottom bunk

top bunk

sink shelves

kitchen and stove

living area

tea time

solar system

solar yard

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Scott leidner - August 21, 2013 Reply

Check out he might be able to help you and he is ona 5000 mile trek with his bus and may be going through your town.

    Sequoia - August 23, 2013 Reply

    >he might be able to help you

    lol Ashley might be able to help HIM. She’s actually living in this bus with her kids, it’s more than just a college project.

    Animosity aside, I assume that as people who share a common interest or hobby they would be happy to meet, but Scott I’m curious why you think Ashley needs “help” from someone who built a prototype of what she’s actually living in.

      anomdebus - August 24, 2013 Reply

      How about because one seems to be a work in progress and the other one seems to be complete? Though I really don’t think anything besides idea swapping would actually occur.
      I am a little confused by your insistence on calling Hank’s bus a prototype. He is also living in his.

      Emile - August 24, 2013 Reply

      Who cares if he said ‘help’ instead of “share ideas”? It is was a quick-meant-to-be-helpful-comment on a web site.

Steve Spence - August 21, 2013 Reply

As a fellow off gridder, home built rv converter (bread truck), and homeschooler (kids are now grown), I salute you!

Phil - August 21, 2013 Reply

Love it!
But, after reading the article, it would seem it’s still a school bus; transporting people to a place both physical and other that is, to say the least, educational. Thanks for the pics and fine reading. I wish you well in your endeavors.

Kevin - August 21, 2013 Reply

WOW!!Spectacular!!I too wish to attempt a bus conversion in the not to distant future.Thanks for the pics and providing inspiration.Your daughters look to be enjoying their surroundings!!

Walt Barrett - August 21, 2013 Reply

You did a great job and the photo story was the best an most complete that I have seen in a long time!

Tom - August 21, 2013 Reply

I love creativity. This is incredibly creative. Very nice work.

Malcolm and Ciejay - August 21, 2013 Reply

loved it, what a great job and a lot of heart and soul went into this conversion, I’d live in it .

curt - August 21, 2013 Reply

i love the bus…looks fantastic

Andrea Emilsson - August 21, 2013 Reply

How wonderful and pure! I’ve been daydreaming of this exact concept for a long time, but still trying to get my husband on board! The fact that you have no mortgage makes you about $250,000+ richer that most people even though the average Joe might think your “poor”. Our concept of wealth and severe materialism has cause soapy if us to live and die for “stuff”! Keep on doing what you’re doing! God Bless You and the girls!

Alexandra - August 21, 2013 Reply

What you’re doing may not be for everybody but it is very inspirational on so many levels! You’ve done a beautiful job with the school bus! :-))

Andrea Emilsson - August 21, 2013 Reply

Meant to say ” so many of us”.
Stupid autocorrect!!!! Hahahaha!

Joyce - August 21, 2013 Reply

Lovely and happy looking home the conversion is just beautiful and so practical. Excellent way to teach your daughters independence and conservation in a very personal practical way. Kudos to you

Lisa - August 21, 2013 Reply

Love this!!

One question, where did you find the shower with the small tub bottom? I’m currently building a tiny home and this would be the perfect solution for my family.

Najja Foluke - August 21, 2013 Reply

Simply beautiful! Love it!

EMBG - August 21, 2013 Reply

Where did you get your tiny bathtub and what size is it?

LC Jack - August 21, 2013 Reply

I really like the photo progression of the work done on this very cool repurposed bus/home. Nice! Lovely floor, too.

Wendy Bailey - August 21, 2013 Reply

It’s amazing (or rather “She” is amazing). You’ve done an incredible job and I applaud your efforts to provide a loving environment for your children. I imagine their friends think it is the funnest house on the planet.

Tonita - August 21, 2013 Reply

You did a great job with that bus. It is adorable. Looks like you put in the same bathtub that I used in my tiny house. Creating the shower enclosure around it was a great idea. Hoping you and the girls have many happy years in your wonderful bus.

desertwildflowerlv - August 21, 2013 Reply

I love that it’s so pretty and clean. The workmanship is beautiful. But aren’t you going to enclose the toilet?

Tina Larkin - August 21, 2013 Reply

Love what you are doing Ashley-creative, low carbon print, abstract problem solving. the place is beautiful, and you are teaching your children respect and creativity, and thinking outside of the box!!
thanks for sharing

Duncan Bray - August 21, 2013 Reply

Hi. I had a 52 GMC years ago which I completely re-outfitted. I bought it with the interior already partly done but added a few things. 1. the bed was on hinges, so when it flipped up it was a couch with drawers underneath… more living space. 2. I used a boat stove which could run on diesel or stove oil, so I could fill it at gas stations./// It had an OVEN! :~) … could do 2 loaves of bread.. and of course it easily heated the whole unit, even in -40F weather. // It was painted fire engine red. In those days (early 70’s) we were still quite a novelty in the towns we rolled into. // For a travelling musician, the advantages were great.. especially if I had a week off!

Paul Jenkins - August 21, 2013 Reply

Love it Ashley! Do you have a blog?

Aubrey - August 21, 2013 Reply

Beautiful–your life, family, and bus/home.
You’re awesome! And I’m inspired.
Did you already know the owners of the farm?

fleming behrend - August 21, 2013 Reply

Nice job!

Esther - August 21, 2013 Reply

Beautiful write-up! On a smaller note, where did you find your tub/shower? It looks perfect!

Stacey - August 21, 2013 Reply

This is wonderful. I am full of envy and awe. I want so much to be rid of all the chains we (most of us) live shackled in. Best wishes to you and your vision.

David Rolin - August 21, 2013 Reply

The interior looks charming. You did a great job.

One technical question: How have you dealt with condensation on the metal interior during cold weather when all of the windows are closed?

My family and I lived in a converted bus for a couple of years and that was the only drawback on the technical side.


Eva - August 21, 2013 Reply

Just starting out – getting a shed 8 by 16 with barn roof (yankey roof) and half loft, making it into a living space, off the grid. Wanted to stay under roof while building and working in it. I hope to prove that I can do this for under $5000. Wish me luck for my one person effort. 🙂

    Donnag - August 21, 2013 Reply

    I would really like to see how that goes, please put the info out there! I’m hopin to go that route on a pretty piece of property, and one real ugly budget!

    liz goertz - August 24, 2013 Reply

    eva, keep us informed of your progress.

Kay - August 21, 2013 Reply

This is wonderful. My parents did something similar after my youngest brother was born and the rest of us were grown and gone. They built their own van conversion and spent 6 months a year in southwestern Canada, 6 months in Baja, Mexico. My brother switched languages automatically, and did well in school in both countries. He gained so much and found out that ‘normal’ is just another word for ‘ordinary’!

Donnag - August 21, 2013 Reply


Two Twiggs - August 21, 2013 Reply

I love the Bus. The insides are so beautiful. Bright shiney soft green. That is so pretty. I love it all.It would be nice to see the whole footprint of it with all the sleeping spaces etc. We too have lived in Humboldt actually above Black Sand Beach years ago. In the 70’s there were lots of people living in organic hand built school buses. Not too many moved every far..mostly got planted in Norther ca. or Oregon. Have you ever seen the Rolling Homes Book from the 70’S? Its so good. Enjoy~!

Jane Patterson - August 21, 2013 Reply

Very beautiful and functional space. I love conversions like this where there appears to be just what is needed and yet there is still enough open space to make the room look bigger than it is.

james britton - August 22, 2013 Reply

I love the bus and I’m inspired by your having the courage and vision to live your dream. WHERE did you get those fantastic fabrics?
Jim Britton
Umpqua, Oregon

Kathy - August 22, 2013 Reply

Wow! You’ve done a terrific job! I love you went solar and the instant water heater. I found an old pink church bus with the bathroom across the back, would have prefered the bedroom there but it looks good. I plan to put radiant flooring in it and bamboo floor. My kids are grown and scattered, I’m 60. I hope you will continue to share your progress!

Nerida - August 22, 2013 Reply

What is about buses? The people who convert them to homes are so creative.

MsDawn Burton - August 22, 2013 Reply

I love it. I have lived in everything from a huge multi story house to a 27 ft motorhome to a tent to currently a 16×24 cabin… I am presently looking for a change and considering an old box van. Now to find a handi partner that shares my dream. God bless you on your continueing adventure.

Ellen Mere (also a mom) - August 23, 2013 Reply

Wow – I’ve seen several bus remodels – including some other off-the-grid style moms’ – and they always look a little funky. The lovely flooring, shower door, metal work, river rock, and super upholstry fabric all conspire to make yours look nicely finished. The bunk beds are cute and purposeful, in the deepest sense of that. Overall, I love it, and its meta-entendre name. Good for you and your girls. They look so happy, and right at home.
(But do tell on the viability of the indoor composting toilet. I just can’t quite get into the commode options for the tiny household.)
Joy to you,

Larisa - August 24, 2013 Reply

What a wonderful inspiration, your home is truly beautiful and that you constructed/designed it is AWESOME!

Irene - August 24, 2013 Reply

And another cool thing about International Harvester school buses is this: In nearly every city and small town in the U.S., there is a mechanic who knows how to work on it should something go wrong. I learned this from personal experience. Happy Travels!

liz goertz - August 24, 2013 Reply

really beautiful and inspiring.

Bruce - August 24, 2013 Reply

Great job and great creativity. Here is a point you have probably already addressed but if not – add at least (2) CO2 detectors and (2) smoke and fire detectors plus have periodic fire drills for the kids to show them the different exits and to make plenty of noise. etc etc.

Good luck to you all . ..

Pete - August 24, 2013 Reply

I had a friend that converted a school bus about 30 years ago while he build a small A-frame. His biggest problem was condensation on the inside during winter months. Ended up with a motel room until the A-frame was habitable.

Have you had any cold weather condensation issues? If so, how are you dealing with it?

charlie - October 22, 2013 Reply

Beautiful and Serene!

Grateful (~)8-#}

Luis - May 14, 2014 Reply

I love what you did with the bus and it gives me inspiration. We are in the process of converting our school bus into an RV or better said, our new home. Thank you for sharing all of these pictures of your home with us.

Karlee - April 10, 2015 Reply

How much does a conversion like this cost?

School Bus Tiny Home Brings Meaning To Life - August 24, 2015 Reply

[…] Ashley Williams-Brookens and her family repurposed a 1986 International School Bus and transformed it into a cozy, off grid cabin. They parked the bus in southern Humboldt County, California on an organic off-grid farmstead. […]

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