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A Great Room: Replacing an RV Dinette

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

My wife and I travel extensively in our 2008 Winnebago View, and we love its compact size. There is no need to tow a dinghy, our traveling home is just a little bigger than a large SUV, and it’s easy to maneuver and park at the grocery store or the golf club. We also appreciate the 16-mpg fuel economy.

The trade-off is limited interior room.

Our 24J floorplan has a fixed bed in the rear, making the dinette our only seating choice. Even with an aftermarket swivel device for the passenger-side cab seat (standard on newer models), we lacked a comfortable place to sit and read or watch TV. The TV is mounted above the entry door, at right angles to the dinette, requiring a 90-degree twist while seated on the dinette bench. After a few days, my back is wrenched and I have to trade sides to balance the pain.

During my 40-year career as a residential architect, I designed large custom homes for wealthy clients. Space was not an issue; rooms were enormous. Now, I look at the 3-foot 6-inch by 6-foot 2-inch dinette space in my motorhome and am baffled. Twenty-one square feet, about the size of a small powder room in a typical home. This, I decide, will be my great room.

European RVs are compact wonders of efficiency by necessity, as the narrow streets require small motorhomes. I studied many versions on the Internet and noticed that few of them have the typical double-bench-and-table arrangement so common in American designs. What I needed was a clever multifunctional arrangement.

To begin, I removed the entire dinette, saving the pieces. I will miss the storage under the benches, but we don’t need seating for four at our dining table, and we have never used the bed conversion, having two other double beds available for sleeping.

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I didn’t realize how much room the large table and benches consumed until they were removed. I was encouraged by the space with which I had to work. I could create a flexible design that maintained the open feeling I wanted.  

The central feature of my new design would be two comfortable swivel chairs, which would allow us to look directly at the TV without contorting our bodies, or put our feet up and read a book. It was a challenge shopping for swivel chairs small enough to fit the space. I found a pair of chairs that were the right size and were comfortable, but I wasn’t crazy about the color – red. It reminded me of what it must have been like to buy a Ford Model T – you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black. To complete my multifunctional goal, I designed a wall cabinet with storage bins and a small folding table. 

After removing the original dinette, I installed Pergo plastic laminate flooring on the platform to match the rest of our flooring, an upgrade I had previously made. The Pergo is easy to install, just cut and snap the pieces together. The flooring is floating, which means it isn’t attached directly to the subfloor, being held in place by gravity and the edge trim. My only challenges were cutting holes for the seat belt bolts (which I did not want to remove) and the edge trim, which tested my mitering skills.

When the platform was completed, I designed and built the cabinet for the outside wall. I have many talented friends, and my woodworking pal was generous with his expertise and well-appointed workshop. The new cabinet matches the existing maple interior and serves a number of purposes: it covers all the holes in the wall that remained from the original dinette; it provides storage for convenience items; and it incorporates a folding dining table. One storage bin covers the original 120-volt-AC and 12-volt-DC outlets. This became the electronics bin, a perfect place for my many charging devices and cords. Another bin stores office supplies, batteries and the TV remote. The laminated table is attached with folding shelf hardware and is easy to raise and lower. The table is usually in the down position, except when we are dining, giving us more leisure space.

A sturdy ottoman with interior storage space and a reversible tray top completed my furniture selection. I store the cordless vacuum cleaner and my tool kit in the ottoman. It’s also a small table for my martini or a place to put up my feet as I sip my morning coffee. Multifunctional heaven.

Since my wife drives too fast and corners like Mario Andretti, I had to secure the chairs and ottoman with bungee cords or risk having furniture in the cockpit. Eyebolts attached to the cabinet provide secure anchors. We’re ready to roll ‘n’ rock.

The total project took about 40 hours and $825, which included $390 for the chairs (from www.allegroshops.com), $70 for the ottoman (from Target), $300 for the cabinet materials and $65 for flooring.

Now that the transformation is complete, our dog misses its little cave under the old table. Luckily, our cat is enjoying the new cabinet and lounges on top of it while looking out the window, dreaming of catching blue birds. Most importantly, my wife and I are happy and comfortable in our 21-square-foot great room. Who needs a mansion?

I might get old someday and want to sell our little motorhome to another vagabond, so I retained the factory dinette setup. I could restore the interior to original specifications in about an hour. But why would I want to?

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