Jamesport artist transforms old bus into mobile home, art studio

Holly Williams atop her renovated home and art studio. (Credit: Erika Peters)

To most, a school bus conjures the image of dozens of screaming children. Jamesport artist Holly Williams sees a home. 

Ms. Williams, 25, purchased a 2001 GMC Bluebird school bus about a year ago and began repurposing it into her own unique tiny home. She left her job as a studio assistant for a leather design studio in Quogue about two months ago to work full-time on converting the bus into a living space and mobile art studio.

“They look at me like I’m a crazy person usually,” she said, describing reactions to her project. “Then I show them photos — they realized it’s like a house, inside of a bus. It’s basically like a custom RV.”

Ms. Williams, a Riverhead High School and SUNY Purchase graduate, is constructing the home to include all the elements of comfort. It features a stove top, kitchen sink, shower, toilet, retro fridge and a cubic stove that heats the entire space. The side door of the bus even has a keyless entry system.

“It’s like glamping,” Ms. Williams said, referring to the popular term that describes luxury or glamorous camping. “I could’ve bought an RV and re-did it, but I wanted to build the whole thing from scratch.”

Williams works on painting the exterior of her new home. (Credit: Deborah Anders)

She purchased the bus for about $3,000 after finding it in East Rockaway on eBay. She has since done virtually all of the remodeling and heavy construction on the 28-foot-long bus herself.

“I pretty much had to teach myself everything,” she said. “I had to teach myself all the plumbing, electrical, how to do stud walling and carpentry.”

Williams said she has put around $15,000 into the bus she calls “Wander,” which, according to her, will be a completely self-sufficient vehicle.

“It’s built to be completely ‘off-grid’,” she said. “I carry my water on-board, and it’s solar-panel powered. I don’t need to be plugged into shore power or a house.”

Ms. Williams is a printmaker and graphic designer who calls her studio “Pine Barren Press” and works mostly with linocut and woodblock printing. In 2016, she created a sign permanently installed on the Peconic Riverfront illustrating and identifying native Peconic River wildlife.

Williams is doing virtually all of the remodeling herself. (Credit: Deborah Anders)

Raised on her family’s organic herb and horse farm, she said she enjoys spending time outdoors and her work is inspired “through the environment, exploration and natural process.”

“It forced me to get really comfortable with myself, and trust the decisions I’m making,” she said of the building process. “There’s that fear — when you start something for the first time — it’s a little scary. It’s like that every day.”

When she completes the bus, which she hopes will be on Father’s Day weekend, she plans to drive it up to the Catskill Mountain area to work as an apprentice in letterpress printing with a former professor, Leonard Seastone, at SUNY Purchase. She also plans to work part-time, along with her print-making and art.

After finding a job and completing her apprenticeship, Ms. Williams said she plans to use “Wander” to “go out west, dry camp for three weeks at a time, and make a bunch of work.”