How to make a cozy, woodless, LED spangled ceiling!

I've always loved the look of reclaimed wood. Before I started this project, I fell deeply in love with the idea of using it to give my van a cozy, cabin/beach cottage feel. I felt that by mixing textures and wood grain patterns I could give my tiny home on wheels more of an authentic vibe.

This desire presented me with a bit of an oxymoron in motivation. I'm not a carpenter, so the idea of learning to do professional looking woodwork in my two-month conversion window was incredibly intimidating. Despite my love for the look of wood, I wanted to avoid it at all costs. 

Beachy and cozy, don't you think?! This is the tapestry I picked out for my ceiling.

Beachy and cozy, don't you think?! This is the tapestry I picked out for my ceiling.

I needed to find a way to compromise. I would have to think outside the box and come up with something new...

I absolutely love the round shape of these lights. I'm sure I would have repeatedly gotten my hair caught if I had gone with traditional pointy Christmas lights! They look much more polished this way also.

I absolutely love the round shape of these lights. I'm sure I would have repeatedly gotten my hair caught if I had gone with traditional pointy Christmas lights! They look much more polished this way also.

Enter, Society6. I absolutely love this website. It gives artists, designers, and photographers like myself the opportunity to upload their work and turn it into tangible products. Before I even took the van home, I did a little shopping and picked out this wood texture tapestry to use as a panel to cover my headliner. (There are a ton of other great tapestries on the site in addition to home-art pieces like throw blankets and pillows, so be sure to play around with the search tool and try different keywords.)

From the start, I knew I wanted christmas lights strewn up across the roof. Because I am using a Goal Zero Yeti 400 for my portable power source, I knew I would have to find an LED, energy efficient strand. After a ton of digging, I finally bought these ones. I immediately fell in love with them. This 100 bulb strand only draws 9.6 watts, so it barely puts a dent in my power supply. On top of that, the bulbs cast a warm-yet-bright, cozy glow unlike most other LEDs on the market.

The Velcro idea was a total bust... I pulled it all off, wadded it up, and tossed it in the trash. Such a waste, but thankfully I found a better solution!

The Velcro idea was a total bust... I pulled it all off, wadded it up, and tossed it in the trash. Such a waste, but thankfully I found a better solution!

I wasn't sure how I would get everything to stay up, though. I originally tried to use fabric tape and velcro to get my tapestry to stick to the headliner. I figured I could just do the same with the lights. But after spending the better part of a day applying strips of sticky stuff and positioning the tapestry just right, the whole thing peeled off within hours. The adhesive also had a brutal stink which would have been a constant curse in such a small space.

 

Back to the drawing board.

A few days prior, I had pulled the headliner off to install a Reflectix Radiant Barrier between the liner and my roof. I was shocked at how hard it was to pull out the retainer tabs holding the headliner in place. Even though they were just cheap pieces of plastic, those things were solid. So I figured I could get some short, screw in headliner retainers tabs like these ones to fasten the lights and the tapestry to the liner.

I had a really tough time pulling the headliner off so I could put the Reflectix on top of it. I'm glad I had previously I taken this step, otherwise I probably wouldn't have come up with my idea for holding the tapestry and lights in place! 

I had a really tough time pulling the headliner off so I could put the Reflectix on top of it. I'm glad I had previously I taken this step, otherwise I probably wouldn't have come up with my idea for holding the tapestry and lights in place! 

I had originally planned to string the lights up on top of the tapestry. Over my morning cup of coffee on the day I began working on it, I had a thought: what if I put the lights underneath the tapestry to hide the wires, and just cut slits in it for the bulbs to poke through? This would hide the wires (exposed wires = a pet peeve) while also providing a bit of protection to keep the tabs from digging into the cords. Two birds, one thought.

The camera is on the floor looking directly at the ceiling here. I zigzagged the lights up first to get them properly arranged, then unscrewed the retainer tabs and used the same holes to hold the tapestry in place. 

The camera is on the floor looking directly at the ceiling here. I zigzagged the lights up first to get them properly arranged, then unscrewed the retainer tabs and used the same holes to hold the tapestry in place. 

...It was a bit awkward and tedious trying to get everything up, especially with a freshly torn MCL.

...It was a bit awkward and tedious trying to get everything up, especially with a freshly torn MCL.

It was one of the better last-minute ideas I've come up with. This honestly couldn't have worked any better. I'm still amazed at how well the whole thing turned out. 

Finally, I did some finishing detail work. I used bronze and gold metallic sharpies to paint over the black tabs. The tabs now roughly match the tones in the wood and they reflect the light in a really neat way when LEDs are turned on!

Just starting to color in the tabs in this picture. It was tough to find comfortable positions to color in but so worth the effort!

Just starting to color in the tabs in this picture. It was tough to find comfortable positions to color in but so worth the effort!

The whole process took 2 full days and was definitely a bit tedious, but I couldn't be happier with the result!

I hadn't painted the tabs yet here, but you get the idea!

I hadn't painted the tabs yet here, but you get the idea!

When the light goes off outside, the lights now go on inside!

When the light goes off outside, the lights now go on inside!

Throughout the conversion process so far, I've constantly encountered situations where I've had to augment my original approach just like this one. Each time, the result has come out even better than my original plan. This is the reality of van conversions: having a idea at the start is great, but being flexible in your approach is just just as important! :)