Seattle U Student Builds Tiny House from School Bus

Megan Bobilin, Staff Reporter

Matthew Esselstrom is building a tiny house on wheels—the ultimate DIY project for a college student.

For the past few months, many students have been buzzing with curiosity about the mysterious painted school bus parked outside of Chardin Hall.

Esselstrom is a second-year biochemistry major from Bellevue, Washington. He bought the bus over winter break and has been slowly remodeling it into a tiny house.

Esselstrom plans to drive it up to Camp Orkila on Orcas Island where he has worked the past two summers.

“I thought it’d be really cool if I could bring my own living space there,” Esselstrom said. “Living at camp, although fun, gets a little old sharing a room with 12 other people, most of them being children.”


Matthew Esselstrom in the midst of remodeling an ordinary school bus into his house on wheels.

Building a tiny house has always been Esselstrom’s dream. The bus, though not as spacious, will have all the amenities of a regular home: a bed, closet, couch, kitchen cabinets, pantry, sink, wood-burning stove, and solar powered electricity.

“I used to watch a lot of YouTube videos about tiny homes, but ever since I realized I wanted to remodel a school bus, I watched skoolie videos which is just the same idea but with school busses specifically,” Esselstrom said.

Before starting this project, Esselstrom had little to no experience with remodeling or building homes. Thanks to the continuous support from Esselstrom’s family, friends, and the internet, his dream is becoming a reality.

Esselstrom named the bus Ahote, which is a Native American name meaning “restless one.”

“I have ADHD, so I’m very restless, and I’m also Native American. I’m incorporating that into the interior design of the bus, mostly through fabric,” Esselstrom said. “Both the comforter for the bed and the upholstery for the couch and the seat is going to be fabric with native designs.”
Because Esselstrom needed a lot of help with the design and construction process, many of his close friends became involved.

“I think it’s really cool how passionate Esselstrom is about his bus and how much he’s learned–and by proxy, I’ve learned. It’s fun to be around. It’s exciting,” Esselstrom’s partner, a third-year interdisciplinary arts major and business minor, Hollis Noonan said.

Noonan was the main consultant for the color scheme of the bus’ exterior. They picked neutral, outdoorsy hues of blue, grey, and forest green to suit Esselstrom’s personality. Noonan also plans to paint a landscape mural on the back of the bus to match the natural, earthy tones.

“He has everything thought out. It’s very intentional. He’s been wanting to do this for so long.”

Esselstrom’s roommate Andie Carroll, a second-year biology major and LGBTQ studies minor, has been hearing about the bus for almost as long as they’ve known Esselstrom and has been involved in the construction process as well.

“I’ve painted pieces of wood for the inside, I spray painted the outside,” Carroll said. “All of the stuff that has gone or is going into the bus has to have some time in our room usually. The most interaction I have with the bus is the stuff that gets stored in our apartment before it goes into the bus.”

With all these moving pieces, this has been no small task. Esselstrom’s friend Lauren Campbell, a second- year biochemistry major, said she does not think she would recommend this type of project to the average Seattle U student.

“He has everything thought out. It’s very intentional. He’s been wanting to do this for so long,” Campbell said. “If you don’t have that initial drive that really sets you forward with the intention, with the calculations, with all the reasoning behind every single action that you do…I feel like if you’re not like that, it won’t be successful.”

Carroll agreed that this is no small feat for one person. “There are few people who have the stamina that he has had in this project—working on it all day, multiple days a week,” Carroll said. “I just don’t think many college students would have the time, or the energy, or just the sheer power of will to get up at eight a.m. on a Saturday and work on the bus for 12 hours.”

Although it has been a time-consuming project, Esselstrom sees this project as a practical solution to create his own affordable housing. He also plans to live in it next school year and potentially take it traveling abroad after graduating.

“You can’t be a homeowner when you’re 20, especially in Seattle, because a house costs a million dollars,” Esselstrom said. “I do plan to maybe live in this when I come back from my study abroad fall quarter. Not in this parking lot, but I’ll hopefully find a house with my friends and park in the driveway.”

To keep up with Esselstrom’s school bus journey, follow @matthewsbupdates on Instagram for more news about his project.

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