My latest project is doing up an old caravan.
I’ve been off this blog for a while now. Not only am I madly overworked (and recently for the first time in years, actually turned a bit of work away as I just couldn’t fit it in), I’ve also been engrossed in a new project – doing up an old caravan.
I say ‘old’ rather than ‘vintage’ because I think I’d be flattering myself a bit to call her that. Greta, as I’ve named her, after a friend’s child, is a 1986-ish CI Sprite Alpine with polycarbonate windows. I do think it’s the old glass windows that make a caravan look really retro, but Greta was available locally, was the right price at 125 euros, and seemed to drop fortuitously into my lap at just the right moment.
I looked for a caravan back in the summer to use as my ‘den’ in the garden. The DH tolerates this foible but really wants nothing to do with it, feeling caravans are pikey beyond belief. Although his family was working class, they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps a bit and holidayed in B&Bs, which were well beyond my family’s purse. Caravan holidays are something I grew up with and he didn’t, is the upshot, so our attitudes are different.
Last summer I had no luck at all finding a van. The French like new stuff, not old stuff, and you’re more likely to find a 65,000 euro camping-car here than a 500 euro van. So reluctantly, I gave up on the idea until an issue raised its head when we found the location for our next film shoot.
The house is perfect, both in style and configuration, but there is only one entrance, which means that when we’re filming in the hallway, no-one can go in or out of the kitchen or living room. The first day, we’ll be filming at the ‘kitchen’ end of the kitchen too, so that’s a hot set – no-one can make a cup of tea, etc.
Catering has proved something of an ‘issue’ with our last two films, with some people bringing food, others assuming it was laid on, people having to share their meagre resources and our producer, Clare, ending up seriously out of pocket. This time we have lined up both a budget and a caterer, Pauline, but she does need somewhere to heat the food up when she arrives on set. Enter the idea of a ‘green room’, which will also function as a place for cast or crew to hang out when not required on set.
The caravan I’ve chosen (on account of I could afford it) was advertised as a 2-3 berther, but the guy I bought it from had obtained it as a shell, and actually I think it’s a four-berther. It’s about 14ft long and is identical to a 1986 Sprite I saw advertised, with the same configuration of windows but inside, the toilet cabinet had been removed, and the banquettes had been installed by the previous owner. He’s put in a good, hard laminate floor, and the banquettes are made of chipboard. We haven’t tested the cooker yet, but if it doesn’t work, we’ll use a camping gas stove, and my friend G has found a caravan table he had stored in his workshop, which we hope will fit the clip at the end.
My first job was to start stripping off the acres of mid-brown wood-effect Fablon that covered every surface, which I did at great cost to my nails. Sadly, there are no true ‘before’ photos of this, as the DH took some pix and then found there was no memory card in the camera, but here is how it looked after G, who is a chippie, set to and knocked out the massive cupboard situated halfway down that was blocking all the light. He has built me a banquette extension instead, so we can seat an extra person (there could be up to 14 crew and the van will seat up to 11, or 10 with the table in situ).
I am a decorator, not DIY-er, so I am not aiming to really treat the damp in this caravan. After the wettest winter for God knows how long, there is a bit of water ingress, but not as bad as it might be, so I won’t be stripping panelling and refitting ply, etc. Apart from it not being worth it for a hundred-quid van, and the fact that she won’t really be going anywhere, or be slept in, we don’t have time, as I only have three free weekends before we start shooting. So Greta has had a sanding down (the previous owner had rubbed a coat of white paint over the interior ply, which has provided a good key), a scrub with washing soda and this is how she looked after her first coat of paint.
I fancied the yellow (Crown Soleil, which I happened to have knocking around in the basement) but decided once it was up that it wasn’t relaxing enough (I mean, given my druthers, this van would be pink and floral, with sequins, but I do have to think of other people here…), so I then top-coated it in green. This is a hand-mixed colour based on Soleil, but with some white, black and blue universal stainer mixed in and I’ve dragged it over the yellow to get a watercolour effect on the walls.
This is because the fabrics I’ve chosen for the banquette covers all have a watercolour look. Once again, my budget is basically zero, so I’ve just used what I had in. Yellow and orange fabrics, Le Spot by Prestigious Fabrics, were something I bought from John Lewis at £2.50 a metre about 17 years ago. The yellow was once our curtains, and the orange was never used. I also have a patterned fabric called Central Park by Fairford Mills, which was a gift from a friend. I’m aiming to dye the existing curtains dark green for now, and my sister is sending me her old kitchen curtains in Jane Churchill’s wonderfully retro Picture Book, which I will make into new curtains when I have time. I am also thinking of throw cushions in Sanderson’s Spring Flowers – a sunny yellow covered in bright primroses.
The original covers are hideous, but well-made purple Dralon jobbies. However, they’re not the correct cushions for the van, and have some strange contouring to go around curves that aren’t there, as well as complicated profiling from front to back and end to end. Consequently, I decided not to make ‘proper’ covers with piping, etc, but to simply wrap and pin the new covers over the old ones, at least for the time being. I’ve also had a couple of bits of foam cut to fill in the gaps.
When it came to accessories, I could afford to spend a little money, as these can always be reused in another van at a later date. I tracked down melamine bowls at our local discount store, Noz, along with orange and blue spotty beakers. My friend K furnished an orange daisy jug with daisy beakers, and pink floral melamine plates, while my sister will send me, as a late Christmas present, the money for these lovely butterfly plates, which I’ve bought in four colours. I’ve also bought a bunch of coloured paper napkins, paper cups etc but since 14 crew could go through about 45 cups a day, this seems a very un-eco option and long-term I’d like to get enamel mugs instead.
I have also bought Greta a little crochet throw, without which no caravan is complete.
It is fun planning this little interior. Being a caravan, and separate from the main house, there is no need to tie in with any sort of theme, and it can be as kitschy and fun as I like – hence the use of orange, which is a colour I’m not sure I could fit into our real house, which is aqua, lemon, white and pink, and features a lot of chintz. A van also comes together pretty quickly – a coat of paint on all the walls takes only about two and a half hours and you get a finished product very quickly.
There is more still to do, which I will post at a later date – new Fablon on the cupboard, decorative bits and bobs such as bunting, a big plastic mirror to go up to increase the light levels, and possibly a bit of laminate for the floor – and then, of course, the exterior – but I’m very pleased so far with how it’s coming along. Watch this space.