CARAVANNING

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‘Accidentally’ renovating a caravan

A van reno was never on the radar for Adelaide-based couple, Lauren and Chad.

But a chance encounter with a tired-looking caravan eventually led to an incredible makeover.

In this insightful Q&A, the creative couple – and parents to two young children – detail their inspiring story.

And just wait until you see the results...

Meet the family. Oh, and Marlow.

Tell us about your van…

Marlow is a 17ft, 1970s Majestic caravan on a single axle.

We came across the van while we were giving a family shack a mini-makeover. It was on the property, and over the years it was used as an extra sleeping space for visitors.

At the time that we found it, it had been used more as a storage place, with old mattresses and other unwanted goods thrown in from the shack.

We definitely weren’t looking to renovate a caravan. It wasn’t even something we ever spoke about. But when we saw it, we thought it might be a good time to try a renovation project before eventually buying and renovating an old home. 

Marlow in her previous life. Very retro.

Marlow had been on the family property for 30-plus years and hadn’t moved an inch since it was placed there. It was out in the weather its whole life, and this created a lot of water damage and other issues.

It probably wouldn’t have been the caravan we would have picked if we were looking to buy one privately, as it was in very bad condition. But it was a no-brainer to renovate because of the sentimental value. 

It's been a tough few decades. Time for a makeover.

What drew you to tackle this project?

We had always spoken about buying and renovating an old home. Since we had no renovation experience, we thought it would be a good entry-level project to complete and to see whether we would still be interested in attempting a larger reno one day.

The fact that it was in the family for many years also greatly appealed to us.

It was also becoming very clear that we wouldn’t be getting on a plane anytime soon because of COVID-19 (a major issue at the time), so we took advantage of the opportunity while we could. 

And it begins...

What did the reno involve?

A lot of initial research, which was ongoing throughout the entire build.

We pretty much built Marlow back from the chassis up. This included:

  • Insulation
  • New floors
  • New walls
  • All new kitchen cabinetry
  • Hot and cold water
  • Solar
  • Reverse-cycle air conditioning
  • New electrical
  • Upholstery
  • Replaced damaged cladding
  • New paint job, inside and out
  • New benchtops

The list goes on and on.

Oh, wow! What a difference.

How long did it take?

We got Marlow in January 2020, just before COVID-19 hit. We completed her in March 2022.

We estimate that we spent more than 1000 hours renovating Marlow.

What was most challenging about the process?

We honestly found most tasks challenging.

We quickly realised that rebuilding a caravan is nothing like working on a home. Even the ‘easiest’ tasks presented challenges.

We were probably the most nervous when it came to painting the exterior of the caravan.

Chad and I had put so much effort into the interior that we just wanted to make sure we did a good job on the outside as well.

We discussed whether we would try it ourselves, but our cousin Simon offered to help us paint it with proper automotive 2k paint. So, we jumped at the opportunity, and it turned out fantastically. 

Beauty radiates inside and out.

And how did it go with two kids in tow? And a dog?!

Having a young family and trying to complete the build was very difficult. Marlow doesn’t live on our property, so we were constantly going back and forth to get it done.

We relied on family a lot to help with the kids, but we had to sacrifice quite a lot of family time over the last year or so to get her finished.

Thankfully, Chad’s stepdad, Tim, was an amazing help throughout the entire build and spent almost every Saturday with Chad trying to knock off as many jobs as they could. 

Cute, but not quite ready to do the electricals.

What was the easiest and/or most rewarding aspect?

I don’t know whether there was an easy part in the build. Some jobs were less challenging than others, but nothing seemed easy.

We felt as though the exterior paint job was the most transformative time in the build. Afterwards, it looked like a brand-new caravan. It was a great feeling.

I would like to think that the most rewarding moment was the day we drove Marlow out of the shed and into the sunlight.

We got her all washed and ready for her decal. It was the first time in over two years she had seen daylight, and it was an awesome feeling. 

What surprised you?

We didn’t really know how long this build was going to take. Initially, we thought we would have had it done sooner.

COVID-19 definitely threw a spanner in the works, and since Marlow wasn’t on our property, we weren’t able to work on it during lockdowns, etc.

A huge positive, and something I found incredibly surprising, is how lovely the RV and caravan community are.

Since starting our Instagram account, we have developed some really beautiful relationships with other renovators and caravanners or even people who just love following along.

It’s been such a pleasant surprise, and I’m really thankful that we have been able to connect with so many likeminded people from all over the world.

You made your bed...

What aspect/s are you most proud of?

For the most part I’m really proud of us for giving it a go and trying something new.

I’m proud of how dedicated we were to the build and pushing through.

There were a few times where we lost motivation and it all seemed too hard, especially working through the dirty jobs at the beginning of the build.

Ultimately, I think we’re just incredibly proud of how it all came together. 

Proud? You should be.

What did you learn along the way?

We learnt so much. Chad developed so many new and different skills from researching on blogs and YouTube videos.

What would you do differently with time again?

At this stage, we wouldn’t change a thing.

Although the build took us two years or so, a positive is that we were able to thoroughly research every aspect.

I knew I didn’t need to rush any decisions, so everything took a lot of thought, and we didn’t buy anything unless we were 100% sold on it.

I feel I may have answered this question differently if we had completed Marlow sooner than we did or rushed through parts of the build. 

Less rushing, more to love.

Any handy hints for others?

Our top tips are:

  • Try to find a caravan with ‘good bones’ and minimal water damage.
  • Try to build skills and do as much of the build yourself if you can. This will save you a lot of money.
  • Create the space you love. Pick those colours that make you happy.
  • Put effort into design and preparation so you know where you’re heading once you’re presented with any challenges.
  • Learn from others online. Lean on the community, as they are usually more than happy to give you tips and tricks.

Everything has been thought of.

Does your dog come along with you?

We plan on taking Pablo (a Hungarian vizsla) on trips in the future, but we have not yet taken him with us.

We have designed a ‘dog nook’ for him. It’s a hidden door under the queen bed, which he can access while on the road with us.

Looking for pet-friendly parks? We have you covered.

How often do you get away?

We try to squeeze in a getaway every 4-6 weeks.

We usually holiday for four nights or so: Leave on a Thursday and get back in time for work and kindy the next week. 

The ideal family traveller.

What’s been the most memorable trip away in the van?

We loved visiting Port Hughes on the Yorke Peninsula.

We had great weather and we were able to squeeze in a bit of fishing and paddleboarding with the kids. 

What place is on your travel radar?

We are hoping to plan a long trip in 2023 – hopefully, the east coast of Australia.

We have never been to Byron Bay, so that’s definitely on our list. Hopefully, we could even get as far as Port Douglas someday soon. 

Port Douglas. We can see the appeal. 

Follow the family’s adventures on Instagram: @marlowthemajestic.

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