VW Rialta Motorhome Makeover: Tips and Ideas for Customizing your RV

Last updated Jul 13, 2021 | Published on Jul 4, 2020

After my husband Daniel and I purchased our 2000 Winnebago Rialta 22HD in May 2020, we spent the following month turning it into a home. We were about to embark on our great America (socially distant) roadtrip in our Rialta motorhome and wanted it to feel homey inside.

Although they are very functional, Winnebagos are famous for having a bland interior design. We wanted to feel comfortable inside of the VW Rialta and also make the space livable for long-term use.

So, after sorting out title transfer issues due to purchasing a motorhome on Craigslist and reading all the manuals, we set about turning the Rialta motorhome into our home. For another perspective on this project, be sure to check out Daniel’s blog post: Our new pirate ship – The 2000 Rialta 22HD.

If you’d like more details about any of the that items we purchased for our Rialta motorhome, check out the Product Information section at the bottom of the page.

But first… a little more about our hew home away from home.

What is a VW Rialta Motorhome?

Volkswagen Rialtas are compact 21 foot-long motorhomes that are built on a Volkswagen Eurovan chassis. Winnebago manufactured these motorhomes from 1995 to 2005 so they are becoming a bit of a rarity these days. Recently, Rialtas have developed somewhat of a cult following for their innovative design – especially with regards to the telescoping bathroom that folds away when not in use.

While we love our VW Rialta motorhome, they aren’t for everyone. They have an exceedingly low weight capacity and it’s easy to overload them. It can be challenging to find a mechanic that will work on Rialtas when things go wrong (and trust me, they *will* go wrong). Parts are becoming harder to come by since they haven’t been manufactured for over 15 years.

But they are so cute and easy to drive! It’s hard not to love a VW Rialta motorhome.

We love ours so much that we took many inspiring Winnebago Rialta photos from our year-long road trip.

The Rialta motorhome is parked in in front of a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks

Here’s our VW Rialta motorhome parked on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

Personalizing the Rugs and Dinette Seat Covers

Our first order of business was to choose throw rugs. The interior was covered with grey carpeting when we purchased it, but we wanted to protect the carpets and also add some visual interest with some throw rugs. My favorite rug is the colorful 6 foot Persian-style runner in the back. It was hard to find one that was just the right size and this fits perfectly. We also got a smaller matching Persian-style rug to protect the carpet in the walkway by the kitchen.

I also added covers to the dinette seats for when we are not using the area as a bed. The covers add a nice pop of color and also protect the seats from food and debris. Eventually we hope to reupholster the seats, but that’s a project for another time.

 

img_20200622_121126783378237446029422.jpg

New covers for the dinette seats

Customizing the Bedding and Mattress Topper

After choosing rugs for our VW Rialta motorhome, we moved onto the bedding. At 48″ by 80″, the bed is not exactly a standard size. We ended up buying Full XL sheets and a twin comforter – neither of which fits exactly but they were as close as we could get. Shopping for a duvet cover was fun and I *love* the llama-themed duvet cover that we ended up with. Plus it’s made from microfiber and is super soft.

img_20200704_1332477020989234622853332.jpg

The bed setup in the rear of the RV

The bed was not comfortable on its own so we also added a 3″ memory foam topper to go on top. We had to cut down our old queen-sized topper with a box cutter to fit the space. I sewed a cover to fit around the topper because we wanted to protect it and because it was shedding little bits of foam all over the place. We roll up the bedding with bungee cords and store it on the back window area when we want to use the dinette seats.

I’ll be honest – after travelling for a few months we found the bed still wasn’t comfortable even with the memory foam topper. We could feel the metal structure from inside the dinette seats even through all that memory foam. We would love to get the seats re-upholstered and replace all the worn out stuffing inside someday. That would solve the problem.

But in the meantime, we added an air mattress underneath of the memory foam topper and that solved the problem. Our bed is *super* comfy now. Plus it’s pretty easy to put up the air mattress and topper any time we want to use the dinette sitting area.

img_20200613_1548582201067866107241575.jpg

Memory foam topper with new cover sewn from bed sheets

Installing Curtains and Door Pulls to our Rialta Motorhome

My favorite VW Rialta makeover addition is the privacy curtains that we placed in the back of the RV. This separates the bed from the rest of the motorhome – which is important as Daniel and I have different sleeping schedules.

The curtain was originally too long to fit into the space so I customized it with my sewing machine. I originally just planned to take up the bottom of the curtain, but we really liked the fabric along the bottom. So I ended up removing about 10″ of fabric from the middle of the curtain. It was a lot of extra work but it was well worth the effort. I absolutely adore the results.

We hung the curtain with an adjustable tension shower curtain rod which fits between the upper cabinetry in the back. I originally planned to position the rod against the walls, but the wall curves just under the ceiling and it kept falling down.

img_20200625_1845381592990112335743118.jpg

Privacy curtains

We also ditched the faux gold door pulls on the cabinetry and added nice new chrome handles instead. It’s amazing how such a small change can make such a big visual difference.

img_20200623_071309~23628356285647320648..jpg

New door pulls

Internet and TV

As travel bloggers, having a dependable Internet connection is an important consideration for Daniel and me. After talking to some other full-time RVers, we purchased a Verizon hotspot jetpack device which provides wifi for our devices while on the road. The hotspot usage data is capped at a certain point, however, so we have devised other strategies to keep our internet usage down.

Daniel purchased a wifi extender which enables us to amplify faint or distant wifi signals. This is especially helpful when we are in certain campgrounds.

We also decided to bring along an old iPhone and download tons of movies and tv shows onto it. This way we don’t have to stream content when we want to watch television. We bought a super lightweight TV which connects to our DC power supply with a cigarette lighter plug. The TV connects to the iPhone with an Apple digital AV adaptor and an HDMI cord and easily stores in the closet while we are driving.

Daniel and I purchased a DC 12 volt 14-foot extension cord – this plugs into the cigarette lighter up front and runs all the way to the back. This way we can set the TV on top of the refrigerator and watch it in the back. We also added a 3 socket cigarette lighter adapter that also has 4 USB ports to the extension cord. This enables us to charge our phones in bed at night when we aren’t hooked up to electrical power.

After traveling in the RV for months now, I’m very happy with this setup. The TV only weighs 7 lbs! We use the TV all the time and even bring it with us when we stay in AirBnBs that don’t have televisions (we have an adaptor so it can plug into the wall).

img_20200704_1316162236773132815189031.jpg

Our new TV! This only weighs 7 lbs. It feels like a toy.

Storage Solutions for our Rialta Motorhome

Daniel and I also spent quite a bit of time measuring all the nooks and crannies in the Rialta motorhome so that we could organize the space. Given the small amount of storage available in the Rialta, we wanted to use the available space as intelligently as possible.

img_20200704_1316472812266041932100933.jpg

Organizing the closet

img_20200704_131932924749086976295950.jpg

Organizing the refrigerator

For the closet, we added 3 stacking drawers to make better use of the space. You could probably add a fourth drawer there if you wanted to. For the Norcold 3-way refrigerator, we bought an assortment of storage containers for our food. We found the Ziplock large rectangle, medium square and small square sizes work the best.

We also bought stackable bamboo shelves to help organize the space under the kitchen sink and in the cabinet to the right of the microwave. It took some time to find ones with the right dimensions but these shelves fit pretty well. We also brought a variety of organizers such as this one which we use for our knives and large utensils. Clear plastic caddies adhere to the bathroom wall to the left of the stove and make great spice organizers. We replaced the sink cover with bamboo cutting boards so we can also use them for food prep.

Daniel and I store our clothing in the cabinets above the bed. We each have one for our own personal use and we use these small felt storage baskets to help organize our clothes. They are great because we can easily carry our clothing outside the RV if we decide to stay in a hotel or AirBnB for a while.

As far as garbage cans go, it took us awhile to find the right garbage solution for our Rialta but we are happy with our set up. We have two garbage receptacles in the RV. Our main garbage option is actually just a stainless steel trash bag holder that hangs outside of the cabinet door under the sink. We use shopping bags to hold our garbage and empty them every day. We also have a tiny garbage can that’s just the right size to fit between the toilet and the wall on the bathroom floor.

img_20200626_1555383956569067149839120.jpg

The shoe organizer

The item which took the most time to install was our shoe organizer. The shoe rack fits along the outside of the refrigerator so that we can easily access our shoes as we enter and exit. It took some time to find an organizer that would fit the space, and when it arrived I had to make several alterations as most of the shoe slots were too small to fit our shoes.

Painting the Door of our VW Rialta Motorhome Blue

The most visible change that we’ve made to the VW Rialta motorhome is the bathroom door. After 20 years, the door was yellowing from age and didn’t look very nice so we decided to paint it. We originally considered painting the door a grey color to match the rest of the interior, but eventually decided to go with a more fun blue color.

To paint the door blue, we removed the door from its hinges and brought it outside. Daniel used a blue spray paint to cover the door, let it dry, and then applied a second coat.

img_20200626_1605476867601349675792715.jpg

The blue door

img_20200625_1500597505553753611364659.jpg

Painting the door

img_20200625_1755058884013537234008352.jpg

Daniel is a lot taller than the door… at least he can stand up all the way under the skylight!

The Outdoor Setup

Although most motorhomes come with an attached awning for extra shade and privacy, our VW Rialta motorhome does not. Daniel and I have decided to put off installing one for now, due to the cost and also the added weight to the vehicle. Instead, we’ve purchased a lightweight outdoor shelter that stands independently and also comes with bug netting. This awning paired together with camping chairs and our outdoor rug makes a nice outdoor space for relaxing outside the Rialta.

img_20200623_1612189072761597247434984.jpg

Outdoor canopy with camp chairs, rug, and compact table

Weighing our Rialta Motorhome

A common problem that many Rialta owners face is overweighting the motorhome. Rialtas have a notoriously low load capacity (which is probably why they have so little storage space). Our Rialta only has a 500 lb capacity (after taking our weight into account) – and this includes water, gas, propane and food. Daniel and I are no strangers to traveling light but this is taking it to the next level.

This point was really driven home to us last week when we weighed the Rialta at a truck stop. Daniel and I packed up the motorhome with everything we planned to take on our trip and filled up the gas tank – only to find that we were 200 lbs overweight. And this was before we had added food or water to the vehicle! Yikes!

We then went through a major exercise to ditch every possible thing we could think of – from tools and clothes to armrests and even the third seat up front. We got rid of about 100 lbs. When we re-weighed the Rialta the following day, however, we found that we were 240 lbs underweight. This was great news – but it didn’t make much sense at first.

We eventually figured out the discrepancy. When we first weighed the Rialta, Daniel was standing off of the platform so he could speak to the weighmaster on the intercom. We assumed his weight wasn’t included so we manually added it into the total weight after the fact. Turns out, his weight was included after all and we were underweight the whole time!

Now that we’ve removed the third chair and the armrests, we’ve decided we like it that way. So we’ve added an additional shag carpet which covers the spot where the bucket chair used to be. We’ve also purchased a small folding chair for use if we ever want a third seat up front (when we’re stationary, of course). Now we can bring along a full tank of water and lots of food without worrying about going over carrying capacity.

img_20200628_1437308390253611109657069.jpg

Daniel removes the third seat

img_20200704_1310204829239262442557212.jpg

Look at all that extra room up front!

img_20200704_1313364430114138271655671.jpg

Front setup with lightweight camping chair

Before and After Videos of our Rialta Motorhome

I took the following video of the Rialta’s interior before we had a chance to make any modifications:

This video shows what the Rialta looks like now:

Product Information for our VW Rialta Motorhome

Rugs and Dinette Seat Covers

Bedding and Mattress Topper

Curtains and Door Pulls

Internet and TV

Storage Solutions

Painting the Bathroom Door Blue

The Outdoor Setup

Other Essential RV Supplies


Like this article? Pin it!

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something. While clicking these links won’t cost you anything, they will help me to keep this site up and running!

Subscribe to A Rambling Unicorn

Sign up to receive the latest news and updates straight to your inbox.
 

Archive of Previous Posts

Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!

12 Comments

  1. Papa Joe

    Love your sweet hobo van! ❤
    Congratulations!
    Hope you have loads of enjoyment in your travels.
    We’re still in Green Valley at Casa de Luna for a while. If you are ever in SoCal please feel free to come by if you can.
    When we move to Washington we’ll have a van dwellers area set up on the property so you’ll have to stop by there eventually.
    Happy 4th!
    P.S. love the blue door!

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Hey Papa Joe! So nice to hear from you ☺️. We will eventually make it down to SoCal for sure! Just not exactly sure when yet. I’ll definitely be in touch when we head your way.

      Reply
  2. Adele

    Wow fantastic! I envy your freedom, we love motorhoming and would love to do it full-time one day.

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks Adele! It’s a great way to travel right now due to the pandemic. I hope you get a chance to do it full time one day too! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Jo

    We have been waiting eight months for our Rialto and expect to pick it up next week. I have jotted down your recommendations and suggestions. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Right months! Wow that’s a long time. How exciting that you’ll be picking it up this week. Good luck and happy camping!!

      Reply
  4. Jen Leppert

    I just bought a 95 Rialta and need to do some updating. What kind of paint did you use on your bathroom door? Did you have to prep it before you painted it?

    Reply
  5. Rialta Curious

    Fascinating story. I’ve been interested in the Volkswagen Eurovan based Winnebago Rialta motorhome since they first hit the motorhome market back in the 90s. One question I have with regard renovation and upgrades. Is there anything that can be done mechanically? Say if you currently have a VR6 gasoline engine, and you want to have a TDI Turbo Diesel engine installed. Is that possible to do?

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Hi Rialta Curious, nice to hear from you. I’m not a mechanical expert so I’d refer you to the Rialta Owners of America Group on Facebook. The people running that group have deep experience with every aspect of Rialtas and are very passionate about them. It’s a great resource. That being said, they only allow membership to people who own Rialta’s or who are actively shopping for one. I did a quick search of the Group archives and found a discussion about conversion of gas to diesel engine. It has been done but it’s not a common mod. According to one of the group members, “it requires it’s own transmission as well- lots more torque. Lot of effort and $$$, and parts sourcing.” I hope that’s helpful.

      Reply
  6. Car Nut Tacoma

    They all sound like good things to do to upgrade your VW Winnebago Rialta RV. Any ideas for mechanical upgrades?

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks! I’d highly recommend a transmission cooler if the Rialta doesn’t come with one. A cooler was previously installed before we purchased our Rialta so thankfully we didn’t have to worry about it. Even with a transmission cooler, we have to watch the transmission temp with our ScanGauge and occasionally pull over to let it cool down on big hills. I’m not a mechanical expert though. For other suggestions I recommend checking with the Rialta Owners of America Facebook group – its an excellent resource for all things Rialta-related (although you have to own a Rialta or be actively purchasing one to be admitted as a member).

      Reply
      • Car Nut Tacoma

        I’m not a mechanic or a technician either. There are some upgrades that seem like good ideas.

I want to hear from you! Leave your comment below:

%d bloggers like this: