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A couple converted a van into a mobile home with its own painting workshop using recycled materials. Take a look inside.

René Brink and Yasmine El Kotni in the van they converted into a mobile home.
René Brink and Yasmine El Kotni in the van they converted into a mobile home.
  • A couple converted a van into their home using 90% recycled materials and made a business out of it.
  • René Brink and Yasmine El Kotni's $7,600 camper van has a painting desk, oven, and solar power.
  • They told Insider it was challenging, "but we liked the creativity that came out of it."
René Brink and Yasmine El Kotni are a couple based in west France who converted a 2010 Renault Master van, purchased in 2019, into a mobile home.
Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink in the van they converted into a home used recycled materials.
Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink in the van they converted into a home used recycled materials.

While the couple said they go through periods of international travel in their van, they are currently based in Loire Atlantique, near Nantes, France. They run the Instagram account Recycle Inn, named after their van conversion business.

They told Insider they purchased the used van online in August 2019 for €6,700, or around $7,600, after traveling around New Zealand in a smaller van. 

"When we came back home we already had the idea of building another van, but one of the conditions was something a little bit bigger, that we could stand in and as well work inside," said El Kotni, who noted that they needed a desk space for Brink's work as an artist. 

The couple said they spent €3,000, or around $3,400, on materials to renovate the four-meter-long living space themselves.
Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink converting their van into a home themselves over a two month period.
Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink converted their van into a home themselves over a two-month period.

They told Insider it took them two months to renovate the van, beginning in September 2019 and finishing in November 2019. They said they were delayed by not having a proper workspace and having to work outdoors in the cold weather.

El Kotni added that she was between jobs at the time and able to dedicate her time to the project.

They said they tried to use as many sustainable resources as possible, with 90% of the van being made from recycled materials.
A handmade desk in Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van conversion.
A handmade desk in Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van conversion.

In both New Zealand and France, they said they frequented art shops and secondhand markets to ensure they had a "lower impact on the environment."

Its unique look was an added bonus, they said, adding: "It was a challenge to work with what you find, but we liked the creativity that came out of it."

A priority for the couple was designing the van to be very livable so that if they wanted to stay in it full-time, they could.
A view of the read of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van, including a desk, stove, and bed.
A view of the rear of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van, including a desk, stove, and bed.

El Kotni told Insider they were keen to have a fixed bed rather than a sofa bed so they didn't have to fold it away every morning. 

They said they wanted to be able to take longer trips and not feel limited by their home. "We built it thinking, 'Okay, we want to take big trips and be comfortable so if we end up wanting to live full-time in it we won't have to make any compromises,'" El Kotni said. 

The van has a kitchen with an oven, a tap and 80-liter pump, a lounge and dining area, a bed, and a painting workshop with a desk.
A wide view of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van interior.
A wide view of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van interior.

El Kotni and Brink brought their love of cooking to the van — they said they ensured it had a large cooking bench and a secondhand oven that allowed them to bake bread and become "more self-sufficient." 

It was also important for them to have a tap and pump that could hold enough water for a few days at a time, they said, and have an 80-liter pump that lasts three to four days before needing a refill.

They didn't want their shower to become "a glorified cupboard" for their possessions, so kept their showering system basic.
The entrance to Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's mobile home.
The entrance to Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's mobile home.

"We had a little 12-volt cigarette lighter shower head, pump, and a bucket of water," Brink said of their shower setup.

"Because we were on the road we could stop at a public shower, or public service station and use the toilet facilities there," he added.

For power, the couple switch between using a 100-watt solar panel and connecting to the alternator in their van.
Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van has a lot of windows allowing for natural night.
Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van has a lot of windows allowing for natural night.

When they're traveling they rely on the automobile's alternator, as this recharges itself while they're driving. "If we're sitting still for a day or two, we've got the solar panel," said Brink.

El Kotni added that they also have a power converter that takes the 12-volt of their battery and converts it into 40 volts so they can charge electrical devices.

The couple said they didn't struggle with storage space as much as others in the community as they were already "minimalistic."
A corner nook and a view of the kitchen in Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van.
A corner nook and a view of the kitchen in Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van.

"In the end, we probably had more storage space than we needed," said Brink. They said they had the added benefit of not needing to empty a whole apartment as they had swapped over from another mobile home.

The couple added that they already had their bulkier belongings in storage from their travels around New Zealand.

While the process of converting a van was enjoyable, the couple said it was not without its challenges.
A view of the desk, refrigerator, and entrance of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van.
A view of the desk, refrigerator, and entrance of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van.

Brink said that they were initially overwhelmed by France's rules on van conversions. "There's a book of like 200 pages of different norms and regulations that need to be abided by," he said. 

According to Euro Campings, these include some height and weight restrictions, as well as specific speed limits depending on the weather and the camper van's weight.

Another challenge was the lack of heat in their van. "If we had to add something in the van, we'd probably add a heater," El Kotni said. She added that they were lucky to have only traveled to warm places so far, but ideally it could be cozier. 

After completing their van, they were ready to hit the road. Their first journey was a three-month trip across France, Spain, and Portugal.
René Brink using the work desk they built into the van for his artwork.
René Brink using the work desk they built into the van for his artwork.

The couple said that it's hard to pin down a specific, favorite destination from their travels, as "each spot is unique and everything has its own charm." 

While they acknowledge that van life isn't for everyone, they said it provides their community with a lot of freedom.
Yasmine El Kotni sat beside the plants she keeps in her mobile home.
Yasmine El Kotni sat beside the plants she keeps in her mobile home.

"It gives that freedom of the open road and you don't have to be committed to being anywhere anytime," said Brink, noting that they can be more flexible with travel plans rather than rushing.

El Kotni said the slow, laidback lifestyle allows them to be in touch with nature and have "changing views every second of the day."

The couple used their skills to build van conversions for their friends, and have now started a business called Recycle Inn.
A photo of the Recycle Inn van that was custom made for Vanessa Berthet and Xeno Veiga.
A photo of the Recycle Inn van that was custom made for Vanessa Berthet and Xeno Veiga.

The business began with a conversion for a French friend who was living in New Zealand and wanted to travel in a van in 2017, they said. In 2020, this friend became a client and hired them to convert a larger van.

"I was in between jobs after lockdown and we couldn't go really anywhere but we had access to workshops," said El Kotni. "We built her van up and then things kind of escalated and we had a few people asking us to build vans."

The couple added that they used this as an opportunity to leave behind their apartment in Paris and head to the countryside, where they had enough space to take on conversion work.

In 2021, the couple built a total of five vans, with a focus on using upcycled materials for different clients.
A view from Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van.
A view from Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van.

As the designs are custom and depend on which sustainable materials they can source, there is no fixed price for a Recycle Inn van conversion, but El Kotni said they work closely with a client's budget and wishes in mind.

In November, the couple finished a van for a couple who embarked on a three-year trip with an end-goal destination of Japan. Vanessa Berthet and Xeno Veiga's journey began in Europe and El Kotni said they are currently in Italy documenting their travels on a new Instagram page.

Helping people to achieve their travel ambitions is a key motivation for Recycle Inn, they said.

Their biggest piece of advice to clients and people considering mobile living is to try renting before you commit to buying.
An exterior view of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van driving in the hills.
An exterior view of Yasmine El Kotni and René Brink's van driving in the hills.

El Kotni said there are a lot of "glorified videos" about the freedoms of van life but it's not for everyone. 

"I think if you can get your hands on a friend that has a van to try it out or to just rent one for a week or two and see actually if you enjoy it first," she advised.

The couple thinks people should try small trips first, and remember that it does not have to be a lifelong commitment.

Read the original article on Insider








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