By Mike Gast
When he marched out of Purdue University 38 years ago with a fresh degree in interior design, Joe Kalil had no idea his life’s work would travel millions of miles each year.
Kalil is the director of interior design for Keystone RV Company, the largest manufacturer of RVs in North America.
He and his team spend their days pouring through consumer research, visiting furniture and home décor stores to watch consumer behavior, and adding just the right touches to make each RV feel just like home.
Kalil says that “just like home” feel is no accident.
“We design each RV for a lifestyle, because that’s what we’re really selling,” he said. “Most buyers want all of the amenities they have at home, but scaled to fit in their RV. That is a big challenge.”
His three decades of RV design — first at Coachman, then Winnebago and Monaco before arriving at Keystone — give him the experience to keep ahead of consumer trends. He broke into the business after a home design job for an RV executive led to a consulting gig with the company.
“We’re always looking for the trends in what people are putting in their own houses,” he said. “A few years ago, it was hickory wood cabinets. It’s a very heavy wood, but we did it in RVs and we had to account for that weight.”
He said the latest trend in RV interior design is full-size furniture and appliances.
“The furniture all has to be multi functional, and now the trend is for large, cushy leather-look couches and chairs. Small size isn’t what they have in their homes, and isn’t what they want in their RV.” He said campers now want full-size residential refrigerators in their units, and added amenities like dishwashers.
Keeping ahead of consumers is a challenge, thanks to cable TV channels like HGTV and the Internet.
“Consumers are very aware these days,” Kalil said. “They come shopping very prepared to look for what they want. That’s why you’ll see our RVs with high-end countertops, dish washers, flat screen TVs and every other home luxury.”
That can be a challenge when you’re limited by weight, budget and mult-functionality. The next challenge? Toy haulers and ultra light trailers.
“Toy haulers started as ‘man caves’ with ramps,” he said. “They have evolved now into a nice, deluxe living space with an attached space for big toys. It’s again a reflection of what people are buying for their homes. We even have toy hauler units with theater seating and power recliners.”
So the next time you visit an RV show or your local dealer’s lot, take a moment to catch the design details in your favorite rig. After all, it’s likely more than 30 years of experience went into making it “just right.”