Shelter Skelter: Inside PollenArts' Revamped Winnebago Home

"First all we were going to do was paint, but more and more things got torn apart. We couldn't stop."

Camp // Johnie Gall // 01/09/12
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Juwels hid their refrigerator behind antique French doors decorated with pictures from their honeymoon in Southeast Asia.
While Winnie's more practical...
Peter and Juwels of PollenArts

When husband and wife team Peter and Juwels traded in their apartment for a rundown 1975 Winnebago Chieftain a few years back, they assumed the entire renovation process would take less than two weeks. Instead the couple– the founders of PollenArts, a line of handmade beeswax candles– was in for a yearlong adventure that’s taken them from the streets of Venice to the forests of Flagstaff, Arizona. For these two perpetual nomads, home is where you park it.

How did you two meet?
Peter: I used to own a skateboard shop and Juwels was a sponsored skater, so we met through friends in the industry.

Juwels: No, you have to tell the story! This girl I had just met called me up and said, “Come over and meet your boyfriend.” When we met it was like cool, whatever, but no sparks flew. But when we reunited a year later at an art show all of the sudden they were flying!

P: I was walking through this dark Hollywood art show and I see her out of the corner of my eye but I was too shy to say hi. She punched me in the shoulder and said, “What? Not going to say hello?” That’s pretty much our story.

How did you come across the Winnebago?
P: I wrote a novel in 2006 and Juwels and I would go to Venice Beach to try to sell it and hang out with all the balloon artists and snake charmers. In that community a hundred or more people lived in these motor homes. I started thinking to myself that if we got a motor home we’d save so much money on rent. We could drive into the forest, hang out in Mexico. Juwels was not into it because she pictured this dirty old motor home with tarps on the roof and a hundred stolen bicycles on the back. Then one day Juwels just called me and said, “I found it!” We got it for $1,800 from this strange guy up in San Francisco.

What was the renovation process like?
P: We thought in the two weeks between when we bought it and we left for our honeymoon we’d be done. We parked in a friend’s driveway in this sketchy area of Long Beach where the cops arrest people every night. It was the perfect spot for us to get away with renovating a motor home for what became a year without getting caught. We were just lucky we didn’t get shot.

But you’ve been kicked around town anyway...
P: There was some pretty big drama between the residents in Venice and the “vehicularly housed” (their politically correct term for us). Supposedly some guy in a motor home dumped his sewage tank on the street and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. RVs were banned from the lot we were in at the time so we parked in the lot of an artist collective. While exploring our new home Juwels found an antique bottle buried in a tidepool, which became the inspiration for PollenArts.

J: It’s my gift from the mermaids.

How much work went into “Winnie”?
J: At first all we were going to do was paint and get rid of the gross carpet. But more and more things got torn apart. We couldn’t stop. We tore down all the walls, the bathroom floor– you could see straight to the road beneath us.

P: We told ourselves if not now, when? If we were going to do it we’d do it right: Slate tile in the bathroom, bamboo floors, spruced up cabinets. The vanity in our bathroom we found sticking out of a dumpster in the alley covered in ants. Our kitchen table came from a thrift store for $15. Our sink is a wok we got in Vietnam. The whole place may have cost us a couple thousand but we’d saved over $60,000 in rent since we gave up our apartment.

What parts of the interior are you most proud of?
P: My favorite part is the bed. It hangs over the driver’s seat and we cut our bed at home to fit up there.

J: I used to build tree houses as a kid so I learned a lot about construction. My linen closet is made from an antique dresser we found and our fridge is hidden by these old French doors I found on Craigslist and cut up. I turned them into a photo wall with pictures from our honeymoon in Southeast Asia.

So what’s the next stop for you guys?
J: Right now we’re parked in this demolition selvedge yard in Flagstaff, deep in the forest where we wake up to deer grazing in our backyard. Once our business can run itself, we can’t wait until we can drive across the country for our Winniebago Diaries blog, like a little travel show. Some people don’t get it, and ask if now that we’re making money if we’ll get an apartment. No! This was our blood, sweat and tears, our biggest art project that we made together. I imagine having her forever, it’ll be our kid’s tree house someday.

Visit Peter and Juwel's blog The Winnebago Diaries
Enter to win a PollenArts candle on Twitter!

Originally published in February/March 2012

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