Reality TV & Bus Design

Posted on Aug 3, 2013 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured | 3 comments

I’m not much of a tv person. I do have a few shows that I like, but I watch them on the computer as I haven’t owned a tv in over 10 years. By watching on the computer, I avoid most commercials and I don’t flip channels mindlessly watching whatever is on. As a result, when I was approached by HGTV Star about having our bus featured in one of their episodes, I had never even heard of the show despite it being in its 8th season.

For those of you like me, HGTV Star, formerly Design Star, is a reality show where contestants are given interior design challenges, and each week one designer is voted off until there is a winner. Every season, contestants are also given an unconventional space to design, like a yurt or a shipping container, and this season it was a school bus.


That’s where we came in. We were asked to submit pictures of our bus to be briefly aired on screen as examples of real life school buses that showed good design. We submitted five photos and one was used in the episode, along with two pictures of other buses. The school bus episode is Season 8, Episode 6 and you can watch it online here. (We appear at roughly the 4 min mark).

I watched the episode this week and was struck by two things: first, I was surprised that our bus made the cut, and second, I was really disappointed with the way the show approached the school bus design challenge.

While I love the layout of Eliza Brownhome and I think we’ve done some creative things design-wise, I would say that aesthetically, there are some things that need to be updated. Compared to the other two bus photos used, Eliza is very dark and our soft-furnishings are worn out and dated. I would love to change our paint colour (to something much lighter), re-upholster the seats and get/make new throw cushions so that we can brighten up the place.  The other two buses shown look more recent than Eliza. We have to remember that our conversion was started 10 years ago and she’s been extensively lived in during that time (not just part-time for traveling, or as a studio or guest space). Furthermore, our temporary table is shown front and center in the picture that was used, and it definitely makes the space seem unfinished. Eliza just doesn’t have the same polished feel of a newer project.  For that reason, I was surprised that the show’s producers still used our photo.

But on to the challenge and how the designers fared. The design task was to create a no-limits, creative space inside a bus of their own. The designers were given no constraints for this challenge and were told,

“You need to show the panel that you can create something unexpected, unconventional, and most of all, inspiring.”

The results were disappointing, but the blame for that goes to the producers not the designers. The mistake was that the challenge had no limits, and that they were designing a creative space IN a bus, rather than FOR a bus. Granted, it probably is important to have at least one challenge where the contestants can really go out on a limb and  show their individuality. The problem here is that the school bus itself is the unconventional part of the design challenge – the space inside the bus didn’t need to be the wacky unconventional part. Furthermore, designing a bus presents a lot of ways to show ingenuity, but it was all wasted because the designers didn’t even have to design a bus. In fact, one contestant actually cut off the wheel wells, and another completely painted the  inside including all of the windows. The result was long rectangular rooms with low curved ceilings that could have been anywhere and had nothing to do with designing a bus at all. In the end what made their spaces unconventional was their crazy ideas, like a Mad Hatter Tea Party and a futuristic space lounge with an egg zeppelin floating chair thing (seriously – it made no sense to see it either). The school bus itself ended up just being a gimmick and that was a let down.

In my opinion, the part that makes a school bus a great design challenge is having to work with the constraints of a bus:

  • low curved ceilings
  • wheel wells
  • rows of long short windows
  • the shape (long and narrow room)
  • mobility (especially when it comes to accessories that might fall all over the place)

The real challenge in designing a bus is finding ways to create flow, but also to separate spaces. I would have loved to see the designers stretch themselves to design really functional mobile spaces without losing the busness. I would have liked to see them come up with savvy storage ideas or unique layouts. And they needn’t all have designed RVs. There are other ways they could have shown individuality while still designing a bus. Some ideas include:

  • a bus restaurant (like the food trucks, but with seating inside) – I envisioned a 50’s diner with checker board floor, booths on one side, counter and chrome stools on the other and a kitchen in the back
  • a mobile clinic like this birth bus I just heard about
  • a tour bus for a band
  • a practical tiny home
  • a gypsy-styled RV
  • an artist’s or writer’s studio
  • a backyard office for a self-employed person
  • an airy guest house, or B&B

To be honest, the person who came the closest to being creative with a bus was the guy who made it into a training/lounge space for an athlete, and yet he’s the very guy who cut off the wheel wells which means even he didn’t really get it. For this episode to have been really exciting, there needed to be rules and one of them should have been that the bus be functional rather than anything goes.

Either way, I was pleased to have our bus featured on the show, and I was reminded why I’m selective about what I watch on tv.

Have you seen the show? Which bus did you like best?


  1. I was excited when I saw the preview for that show and then disappointed when I actually saw what they did. The contestants get so little time that I shouldn’t be surprised when they use standard furniture or make unlivable spaces like an Alice in Wonderland tea party.

    You should put the photo in the post so we can see your bus!
    Foy Update (@FoyUpdate)´s last post ..What our July Vegetable Garden Looks Like

  2. I have just recently discovered your website and have fallen in love! We are from the BC Sunshine Coast and are in the process of doing exactly what you are. We have downsized, moved around the country a bit, had a lot of trail and error life lessons with two toddlers and are now back on the coast looking to purchase a trailer, or bus and lease some land and get our small business off the ground. It’s a long hard road, and it’s nice to see how well other have adjusted, especially with more that one child. I would love to chat! Email me anytime 🙂
    Erika H.

  3. It is so disappointing to hear what a waste was made of the space the contestants were given. I tried to watch a bit of the episode but (probably as I’m in Australia) it wanted me to pay for the episode. Given your description of it, I can’t justify that (especially with my current poor internet reception).

    We have a few converted buses I’ve seen here in Australia. One is the blood-donation bus (red-cross mobile blood-blank) that comes around to organisations, schools, workplaces, etc. (Australians donate blood for free, just in case anyone is wondering. I know some donations are on a paying basis in some countries.)

    Another is set up as a music group lessons bus, with keyboards and other equipment ready to do group lessons. I haven’t heard of anyone living in a bus since the late 1970s. (Consumerism had well and truly taken over by the 1980s in the post-modern age.)

    There are so many ideas they could have come up with yet what the contestants did all sound so wasteful. Just from Pinterest, you can see there is a huge desire for people from all around the world to find out more about life on the road. Surely there could be a show that’s happy to promote what can really be done in this area? The only Aussie shows I know of are sponsored by particular RV companies, so they’re not interested in showing less expensive DIY options. Maybe one day, the television executives will actually come up with what people want to see or even predict what they’ll want to watch in the coming seasons, instead of waiting for years for new ideas to come up!
    Lou´s last post ..Circle work

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