Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Restoring an old caravan

My husband's parents wanted us to go on a caravan trip with them. The plan was that we would be staying in their caravan with them (and two other family members). We decided that it'd be easier to have our own space and began talking about the possibility of purchasing our own caravan. While I was online one day I noticed a well priced caravan pop up on a local buy and sell page. We went and had a look at it and were so happy with it that we made the purchase the following morning. And so, on the 8th of June, Milly - our 1980's Millard caravan came home with us.

The before photos:

As soon as we got home, my husband ripped everything out of the caravan. The caravan had been lived in, on and off, for the past 20 years, so we both agreed that we'd be happier to start fresh. I didn't take any photos of the van without the ceiling or walls (you can still see the old walls in the photos below). The walls and ceiling were replaced with white caravan ply. Do your research on this - we found some places to be significantly cheaper than others. My husband also started playing around with the size of the boy's bunks so that I could decide on the layout of the van - we wanted to utilise the space and make sure that no bit of floor space was wasted.

I threw ideas for the main bed backwards and forward, but just wasn't 100% happy until I saw a picture on Pinterest and got a new idea. We built a bedhead for our bed (which is unusual in a caravan) for aesthetics and to double as storage down the track.

You can still see the old kitchen in the photo below.

The new floors and ceilings made such a difference to the look of the inside of the caravan - all of a sudden the caravan felt and looked bigger and it was easier to think about where I wanted everything to go.

We purchased the timber look alike vinyl for the floor from Bunnings and secured it in place before we started building anything.

The structure for the boy's bunks, our bed and the seating went up really quickly - my husband spent every hour after work on the caravan, often coming inside well after midnight. He built everything from scratch himself and I just chipped in along the way with all the design ideas/plans. If something seemed impossible, I'd do the research to find a way that we could get it done - stopping at nothing.

The main bed was made queen length (my husband is tall), but double bed size in width. We purchased foam mattresses and cut them down ourselves because it was ridiculously expensive to get a company to make the foam to size for us.

The kitchen design was one of my favourite things to plan. We had to incorporate our oven and fridge and the range-hood needed to be in front of the existing ventilation. We had a small area of space left next to the fridge so my husband used it to build our wine rack and I loved it. Who doesn't need lots of wine when they are camping?!

I love 'shaker style' doors and knew that I wanted them in our caravan - much to the disgust of my poor husband. After a bit of researching (thanks to Pinterest and the world wide web) we found the most effective way for him to make the doors. Before long a production line of cupboard doors was happening from our garage. We saved a fortune doing all the work ourselves. If you want to do your own doors - have a look at Pinterest. It is full of DIY instructions with plenty of different options for you to try.

The day the benches arrived was a happy day! We ordered the same bench tops as the ones we have in our home kitchen - 180fx carrara. Keep an eye on the weight of your caravan as you build. We actually ended up with our caravan 40kg lighter then it was when we bought it, even though these bench tops were installed (and they weren't light). I was super impressed that Tim managed to do that.

The exterior painting was a very long process. Thankfully our brother in law is a professional spray painter and he did the painting for us. It took a very long time for my husband to get the van sanded and prepared and it didn't look very pretty once undercoated.

Each colour had to be painted on separately and then it had to sit for a few days before the next colour could be done. This meant that the entire van had to be taped up for each colour - a massive job. White went on first. We decided to paint the front and back of the caravan white so that the van didn't look too busy (we thought panting the stripes all the way around would be a bit much).

 Next was the cream..

and then the blue and coral.

One of my favourite things in the van was the custom upholstery we had made. It is hospital grade and it looked stunning. The seating, curtains and upholstery are the three things we outsourced to professionals and we think it was well worth it.

It took me a while to find a suitable light for the caravan. I knew I wanted a pendant, but we had to consider the swaying while driving. We found this metal pendant from Bunnings and made sure to hang it at a height that meant that it couldn't hit anything while driving.

We bought brand new white walled tyres to suit the theme - they were very cool!

Inside I kept the linen simple. All the linen was from Pillow Talk. 

I wanted silver knobs for the cupboards, not standard caravan locks. They did have to be able to be locked (for travelling) so we installed magnetic baby locks to all the cupboards. They remained locked while driving, but we could unlock them when we arrived at our holiday destination. The curtains and sheers were purchased from Spotlight. The curtain colour is charcoal.

Tim installed a 12 volt socket next to our bed so that I could charge my phone at night and still have access to it if needed. The fire blanket also lived by our bed (and next to the kitchen) so that it would be easy to grab if we needed it in a hurry. A fire extinguisher was also a requirement for our roadworthy.

The fridge we purchased was a 3 way fridge. Most caravan fridges seem to come with a timber front on them, which I wasn't a fan of for our van, so Tim replaced it with a white piece of caravan ply.

We made sure there was plenty of room for seating. We could sit 4 people (2 on each side) at the table and another 3 along the bench (without access to table space). The bench started at the door and was perfect for us to sit down at and put our shoes on before we left the caravan each morning.

The boy's both had a window above their bunks. They were existing on the van (we just worked with the existing exterior and windows when designing the inside).

The base of our youngest's bed touched ours. This was very handy in the morning as he would shuffle up our bed and join us for morning cuddles.

Our eldest son had access to a cupboard from the top of his bed. We thought it would be handy for him to store a water bottle in it so that he could reach it easily during the night when everyone was asleep. Deeper in that cupboard were his clothes. When he woke up in the morning he'd reach in and get dressed before any of us even woke up. He loved being able to be independent.

We chose to put the sink on the right hand side of the bench because that was the closest to the door. We could wash our hands before meals, without having to walk through the van if we were eating outside.

And here is another picture of that glorious wine rack! I'm so glad we used the small space for something that sparked joy, rather than for more storage - because we already had an incredible amount of storage built in.

Other than the 16 (!!) cupboards along the top of the caravan, here are some more storage spots we built in. You all know how much I love storage!

Our bedhead was perfect to store the kids camping chairs along with other tall bits and pieces.

Under all the seating was storage.

The small bench's storage was used as a toy box.

Under H's bed we stored the Weber Q, outdoor games, a big umbrella and picnic rugs (with plenty more space left over).

Beneath our whole bed was storage too - it was a huge space.

We had a few things we had to outsource -  one being the gas compliance work and certificate. New vents had to be installed and we had to ensure that everything was legal and safe. That (very important) job was obviously outsourced to a professional. We also had to pay to get the caravan roadworthied (is that a word?).

Now onto the finer details and the questions we are often asked.

How much did we spend? Out of respect to the new owners who purchased our caravan, we aren't going to disclose a total amount - but we spent approximately $6000+ on the renovations plus the price of the caravan itself on top of that (remembering that Tim did ALL the labour - paying someone to do the building/painting would raise this total considerably).

How long did it take? We purchased the caravan at the beginning of June and went on the holiday mid September. We used every inch of spare time that we had working on the van. It was down to the wire to get it finished - to the point that we had the road worthy completed the day before we left and the number plates installed the day we left! It was a close call! During those 14 weeks Tim worked on the van every free minute he had after work. Towards the end of the renovation, he wasn't coming inside until 2am. I can't say the exact amount of hours, but I'd estimate 700+ hours.

It was a fun project and one we enjoyed doing (most of the time). I loved the design aspect and Tim was just incredible with all the work he did! We haven't ruled out doing up another caravan down the track. We learnt so much the first time round.


  1. Love this, would love some links to places you actually used for upholstery etc, because it's a minefield out there on google!

  2. What an awesome space you have created for your family. Absolutely love it! I would love a caravan - well done. Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. This is really great! My husband would never want to go on a caravan trip unless he was styling in something like this :) Thanks for sharing!

  4. I cannot believe you sold it Leanne!! You'll definitely have to do it again x

  5. This is gorgeous, I can't believe you sold it. Did you not enjoy caravaning? Love it.

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  7. What a great article! You have done extremely well. We have just bought an old 21' dual axle van and have similar plans to do it up, including modifying it to include a shower cubicle and WC. I imagine this will be a fair bit more work. I plan do document the reno too. Have done a couple of rentals but never a caravan. Great inspiration and again, well done!

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