Family

Well, Here’s a Somewhat Baffling Apartment Therapy Piece About a Large Family That Lives in a Chic Little School Bus

Photo collage of a fantasy school bus.
What could go wrong?
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Unsplash.

Most interior-decorating coverage takes as its premise the notion that the reader would enjoy living in the featured home, or at least enjoy daydreaming about it. There’s an altogether different kind of pleasure that comes from paging or clicking through photos of a home that seems like a nightmare to inhabit. Which brings me to the family of six living in a renovated school bus.

Until last year, Gabriel and Debbie Mayes lived in a 5,000-square-foot house. Now, they live with their children in a 250-square-foot “skoolie” based in Redding, California. According to a recent “house” tour featured on Apartment Therapy, this 4,750-foot loss of personal space has been sheer bliss. Debbie writes on the family’s—excuse me, the “team’s”—blog that they decided to move into the bus because “We had gotten to a place where we were miserable, frustrated, disconnected and we knew that we needed change in every area of our life.”

Another possible story is that they did it for Instagram, where the family has 30,000 followers and a very active presence. It’s good Instagram! The bus is a very photogenic 2000 Thomas High Top with a roof deck, a full kitchen, and room for eight people to sleep. The couple says they’re inspired by Scandinavian modernism; the palette is glossy white, black, and natural wood. The plants look healthy. The place is immaculate. The children seem to dress exclusively in black, white, and shades of gray, with occasional pops of denim.

But there’s a long way from “photogenic bus” to comfortable family living. Many questions remain unanswered in the 25-photo slideshow and brief accompanying text. What do the parents do for work? (Their blog mentions a “new business”?) Where do they park the bus at night? How do they keep the place so clean and spare? Where are the toys and the clothes and high chairs and old art projects and plastic dinosaurs and other accoutrements of 21st-century American childhood? They say they store their folded laundry in the bathtub but that doesn’t begin to answer my storage questions. Yes, there are cabinets, but I have only one child and somehow my household still includes two xylophones.

One confusing journalistic decision on the part of Apartment Therapy: The headline announces that the bus houses a “family of 7.” By most definitions, however, the Mayeses are a family of six. “Though their roving home might seem like a tight squeeze for some, it’s turning out to be just the right fit for Gabriel, Debbie, Gracen, Darby, Deacon, Jovey and Gideon in heaven,” the writer reports, in strangely breezy fashion.

It’s not unusual for a family who has lost a child to continue to refer to them as part of the family. (This method of mourning is fairly common among evangelical Christians, and with children named Gracen and Deacon and references to “major heart work,” it was not surprising when some light Googling turned up Gabriel’s stint as a pastor at an equally Instagram-friendly church in Illinois.) In some cases, families refer even to early miscarriages by name and, say, continue to mark the anniversary of those losses. But it does feel misleading for Apartment Therapy itself to tout the ability of a “family of 7” to cram into a 250-square-foot bus when the bus is currently being asked to accommodate only six bodies.

Oh, well. If we’ve learned anything from this slideshow of six perfectly attired people living in a bus with one bathroom and no laundry, it’s that life is a rich tapestry. But there’s definitely no room for tapestries on this bus.