Cat Ovejas has gotten used to the reactions of onlookers when she drives her converted school bus around Long Island. People point. Gawk. She has even seen diners in restaurants stop eating and rush to the window to take pictures.
"It catches a lot of people's eyes," says Ovejas, a Lindenhurst resident.
It is easy to see why when you board the mint-blue "skoolie," or tiny home on wheels, and view its interior, which includes wood floors, heat and air-conditioning, a kitchen, dining area, living room, a bathroom with a shower and a rear lounge area complete with a flat-screen TV. The home on wheels comes equipped with a generator and solar panels on top, along with a roof deck accessible by a rear ladder. All packed into 225 square feet.
Most people are fascinated by the roof deck, especially children, who always ask her: "Why can't our school bus look like this?"
Ovejas, a digital marketing professional and designer, decided to begin working on the vehicle last February as a "passion project" after seeing other skoolies on social media. She bought a 2001 bus in New Jersey, drove it home to Lindenhurst and laid out the interior with a builder friend, Jose Rivera, who did most of the physical labor for the conversion during the next four months.
The tab was around $36,000, which includes $4,000 for the used bus, she says.
Raised in Queens, Ovejas christened it "Apt 84" for an urban ambience. The numbers are the ages of her 8-year-old daughter, Taini Votaw, and 4-year-old son, Cree Votaw, both of whom helped with the painting.
Some skoolie creators build them to live in (most are found in the Midwest or the West Coast), but her idea was to rent it out as a retail pop-up shop or for "glamping" in the wild. So far, it has been used for personal parties, as a backdrop in fashion photo shoots and as a showcase for restaurant tastings by the Foodcaster, a food blogger.
The fee is $200 to $300 a day depending on the season.
Although she was proud of her work when it was finished, she didn't expect much after entering it in the Maker Faire last September in Queens, an event sponsored by Make magazine to celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science and do-it-yourself projects. Not only did it win an "Editor's Choice" award, it generated a constant line of people during the two-day affair who waited in line for hours to tour it.
"People's jaws were dropping," says Ovejas. "They would come on board and say, 'Wow, Is this really a school bus? Can I stay here? Can I buy it?' They didn't want to leave. It was exhausting."
The buzz generated by the magazine honor also resulted in an article about her project in Popular Science and a social media award from HGTV.
When not in use, she parks the bus in front of her Lindenhurst home with a view of the Great South Bay. That was exactly what she had in mind.
"I wanted it to be almost a beach apartment on wheels," she says.
Initially some friends thought the project was crazy, she says. That's to be expected with something like this.
"You've got to have the vision to see it through," she says. "And it's going to get messy and it's going to get ugly before it gets beautiful."