Let’s Talk RV Design with Interior Designer Renee Gillis

Renee would be considered a veteran in the RV world, having spent the last 30 years working in the industry. She began her career as a college design intern, and now does RV design in the interiors of some of the most popular towable fifth wheels, travel trailers and toy haulers on the market. In a continuously evolving market, no year is the same and Renee is constantly challenged to take the ideas and hot new trends, and create many new looks that satisfy both dealer and retail needs – and make each model stand out from the competitors.

For inspiration, Renee is always looking for details that catch her attention – whether it be at hotels, restaurants, on TV or the infinite sites on the internet. “Anyone can Google ideas, but the real trick is having the ability to sort through all of the cool concepts and decipher what is feasible to create in RV design while staying within budgets and deadlines,” shares Renee. “The key is to be able to “RV-lize” these ideas and concepts.”

A photo of a stylish woman, Renee Gillis, in the Heartland Design Center.

Where do you get your RV design inspiration?

Renee: I’m always on the lookout for inspiration, both in-person as well as on the internet. Sometimes the creative spark ignites from one of my off-the-wall napkin sketches, which I transition to a revised version of what I can realistically achieve from that notion. Or maybe someone else brings a picture and we collaborate from there. Other times, I might be motivated by a certain geometric shape or pattern or even a texture.  Believe it or not, all of these can be the start of the process for a particular interior scheme. Just like at home, if you have a painting or focal point that will be used in the room, you build the room around that one item.

Flooring and fabric samples for RV interiors in the Heartland Design Center.

What inspired the 2021 interiors?

Renee: I took a good hard look at where we have been in the last few years and where I wanted to see us go. Our team pulled inspiration from studying the residential world, taking into account dealer and retailer requests. We've taken new leaps with high-contrast wood colors and some pops of strong pattern here and there. These updates have received positive feedback from the previews. All in all, this year’s interior updates came from a combination of customer feedback, the need for change, and watching the residential market. And like all design, RV design continues through time, so I've already pulled together next year’s plan.

Different colors and finishes of cabinet doors leaning against the wall.

What is one of your favorite elements or material to use?

Renee: This year, I love the woven flooring that's going into every single Heartland RV brand. It replaces the carpet, resists mildew and is easy to clean.

A close up photo of the woven marine flooring that will be in every Heartland unit going forward.

What will attract RVers to the new 2021 interiors?

Renee: Years ago, we used to say that the RV interiors lagged several years behind the residential market. The internet has bridged that gap closer together. RV interiors have more similarities to “home looks” than in the past years. With all that being said, customers and dealers will love how the new 2021 interiors resemble and have more similar characteristics to their homes. Think high contrast with lighter and brighter interiors, and of course, no carpet.


A wide view of the Heartland Cyclone interior, showing off a kitchen and living space.

With so many brands, how do you differentiate and make each one of them their own?

Renee: That is the fun challenge I have each year. It takes a lot of planning and forethought to ensure we have unique features displayed in each brand. No single person makes all of this happen. We work together as a team to brainstorm numerous concepts and start the process of narrowing down to what makes sense for that particular brand’s budget and customer.  Of course, I also make sure we are implementing designs and elements that are smart decisions for the company.  There is a lot of time involved in making sure we develop interiors for each brand with some distinct individuality. Many departments have input to ensure we are producing great looking, competitively priced and dependable units.

Fabric samples andd fixtures piled on a desk for review.

Where do you see interior design for RVs going in the future?

Renee: As far as appearance, we have been lightening the wood color for the past two years and are pushing that even further this year by incorporating complementary accent colors. However, everything has a threshold, including design. We will hit thresholds and eventually need to start warming up the units. It’s a continuous cycle, but the cycle never repeats itself in exactly the same way.

A view of the Heartland Big Country interior, showing off a kitchen and living space.

How do you feel about the big trend of RV renovations, tiny homes, etc.?

Renee: The RV renovation projects shown on TV and customers that post before and after photos from their own personal RV facelifts make interesting content. Whether people purchase from a local store or order items off of the internet, that world stands apart from my design world. They are producing what we would refer to as “one-offs” and I design for mass production that has set budgets and codes – such as fire codes and weight limits, but every year we are trying to push the limits.  “We have some exciting things happening here at Heartland.”