Brett Lewis Turns Vans into Custom Tiny Homes on Magnolia Network’s “Van Go”
The Chewy Design Co. owner customizes vans for their owners’ needs — and becomes a TV star in the process
By Amanda Eyre Ward
Photos by Brittany Dawn Short
The 1958 Winnebago parked in front of a warehouse on East Cesar Chavez is the first clue that I’ve reached my destination, Chewy Design Company. I’m greeted by two dogs, Bobby and Tito, and Brett Lewis, a bearded carpenter and the star of “Van Go,” a Magnolia Network television show about Brett’s work converting vans into tiny homes on the road, innovating creative solutions and tackling the many challenges that come with custom outfitting each vehicle for his clients’ lifestyles.
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The show was developed by Austin company Rabbit Foot Production Studios. “Van Go” marks Rabbit Foot’s first foray into television after creating commercial content for Texas cult brands like YETI, Shiner Beer, Frost Bank and Whataburger.
Brett, who grew up in Austin, got hooked on van life years ago when he turned his first 1983 Vanagon into a fully functioning home on wheels. I’m able to peek into Chewy, Brett’s company namesake, which is as brown as Chewbacca in Star Wars. Brett has outfitted Chewy with handmade wooden tables that slide out and an area for sleeping.
“I got Chewy off Craigslist, and it was in rough shape. I wanted to live in a van, so I bought this and made it a bit nicer, hoping that I would live in it,” says Brett, who wears jeans and tortoiseshell glasses. When he advertised his customization services, he says, “I drove around for two or three years building these out on the road in Chicago and Boulder and Reno.”
In the pilot episode of “Van Go,” Chef Rolando Garza III, who makes vegan Mexican tacos at his food truck Cool Beans, challenges Brett to help him transform the truck (formerly a mail van, currently a “hot tin can,” according to Brett) into a restaurant on the outside and livable home on the inside.
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Brett, who calls himself an artist and earns the title more and more with each episode, raises the floor and adds a slide-out kitchen, an overhead awning (and an external salsa shelf) and an interior that’s more lovely than most new Austinites’ first apartments.
Brett was working in Austin when his friend, Chad Werner, called from Los Angeles and asked Brett if he’d be willing to make a “sizzle reel” to pitch.
“I didn’t even know what a sizzle reel was,” says Brett. (It’s a short promotional video.) “So Chad flew down that night and came and filmed me. I figured, we’ll see what happens. I mean, I feel like most things don’t actually work when you’re trying to make a TV show.”
Brett laughs and shrugs. He gestures to his new, large warehouse with a big grin.
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“Yeah. And then he called me like two months later, saying, ‘We’re going to film a pilot.’ So that was a crazy time because then of course I was building vans out of my car in people’s driveways. I was like, I gotta get a little more legit! So I got a shop. And then we started the show. It’s been wild.”