Back to all news stories


STAMPS student converts school bus into mobile living space

By Alana Valko

Tori Essex stands inside her school bus converted living space.

At the corner of practicality and creativity exists a school bus-turned-living-space. Tori Essex, a 2018 Stamps School of Art & Design graduate, designed and converted a former yellow school bus into a sustainable home for her senior thesis project.

Complete with The Magic School Bus books in tow, “The Magic Skoolie” is fully equipped with areas devoted to cooking, eating, working, sleeping and even bathing. There is a sink and a kitchen, as well as a bathtub, bed, and what she hopes will eventually be a composting toilet.

As far as water for the sink and bathtub, Essex says she plans to use “rustic plumbing, with fresh water provided from attached stowaway tanks, and a hose to drain used water out of the bus.” Additionally, she hopes to install a solar energy system that can hook up to her electric.

According to Essex, she got the idea while on a trip abroad about a year ago. 

“When I was farming in Ireland last July, I wanted to build a mobile living space in the U.S. to volunteer with after I graduated. I used the idea for my senior thesis work, bought a bus, and got started. I figured it out as I went, and made lots of great connections along the way.

Converting her bus wasn’t easy. According to Essex, the hardest part was the remodeling—removing each rusted row of seats individually, bolt-by-bolt, to make room for the open living space it is now.

While converting the bus into a livable, “off the grid” environment, Essex utilized sustainable and repurposed materials in her design: her desk chair is a former bus seat; all wood used is reclaimed, including the countertop; and her desk was made from scrap material salvaged from her father’s landscaping business.

Essex’s goal is to drive the converted bus across the U.S. to work with nonprofits and independent farms.

“I hope to continue to make connections through the bus, volunteer with independent farms in the U.S., and pursue creative collaborations as they come up,” says Essex.

While Ms. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus takes students on field trips to unimaginable places, Essex’s Magic Skoolie reimagines what the school bus can be, transforming it into a livable mobile space while providing a lesson on responsible design and creative living.

Essex’s project was funded by the Ann Arbor Chapter of the Awesome Foundation, ArtsEngine and Arts at Michigan.


Continue Reading