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What to Expect From a Caravan Renovation

Publish date: February 2022

Does experience with renovating houses count for much when it comes to remodelling a caravan?

Victorian couple, Chloe and James, explore this theme as part of an insightful Q&A that retraces their first attempt at a van refurb.

Note: check out the video at the end!

Looks amazing! But it hasn't always been the case...

Tell us about your van…

It’s a 1978 Viscount Supreme called Dolly that we found for sale on our local Facebook Marketplace group.

We settled on this van because the size and layout were very appealing, and we could see it had great potential to be renovated.

We’re avid travellers and wanted something we could take on the road with our two boys, aged six and four.

Dolly in a previous life.

What inspired you to undertake a reno?

We had been inspired by other renovations and felt a restored van had so much character and soul and was the right path for us.

We love to travel and loved the idea of touring in something we had renovated ourselves to suit us and our boys.

She's got character. And she's practical.

Had you completed anything like this before?

No, Dolly was our first caravan renovation. However, we have undertaken renovations on houses previously, so we were confident in our abilities and vision for the project. 

Where to start?

What did the reno involve?

We tried to do it on a budget, so we decided to not completely ‘gut’ the van and work with what we had. That said, it was still a considerable job and nowhere near as easy as a house renovation.

We removed all the existing joinery and bed frames that we were not using, replacing it with aluminium tube-framed joinery. We crafted the timber work to create a warm, homely feel and combined this with a laminate flooring.

That homely feel.

All the wiring was replaced, and we installed a safety switch, bringing the wiring up to code.

We also removed the bunk space, replacing it with an ensuite that we finished with more timber work to tie it into the rest of the renovation.

We fitted our air-conditioning system and ran ducts throughout the van for comfort. Finally – along with waterproofing the roof, replacing vents, and recaulking windows –we painted the interior and exterior.

There was plenty to get on with.

How long did it take?

It took about 18 months before our first trip, but we are continually updating and upgrading bits and pieces to improve the feel and functionality.

Only recently, we added a pneumatic leg to our table to allow for an extra bed.


What was the toughest thing/s about the process?

The finishings can be fiddly and time consuming; these jobs often take twice as long to complete and cost more than expected.

Waterproofing is, in our opinion, one of the greatest challenges for any vintage caravan owner.

You've made your bed...

What was the easiest?

Deciding to buy the van and choosing our colour scheme. We knew what we wanted based on previous house renos we had done.

What surprised you?

That renovating a caravan is not like renovating a house. While it looks the same and many skills are transferable, there were so many unexpected complexities that create considerable challenges.

It was also a lot more expensive that we anticipated and took a lot longer than expected.

Colour scheme: nailed it.

What aspect/s are you most proud of?

Chloe: Redoing our front door panel was challenging. I’m so proud of James for making it look so great. The bunkbed ladder, I think, is a standout feature that James created, in addition to the timber work around the toilet.

James: I’m most proud of Chloe’s styling choices. Regardless of how nice the timber work is, it is the styling that brought everything together, creating the ‘Dolly’ brand.

Shiver me timbers – the finishes are spot on.

What did you learn along the way?

How to renovate a caravan! It sounds silly, but renovating a caravan is in a class of its own and there are so many things you pick up along the way just by doing them and speaking with others. 

Learnings pay dividends.

What would you do differently with time again?

The only consideration may have been to spend a little more time planning and researching the finishes, rather than having them evolve naturally. Particularly the ensuite area – we may have done a separate shower/toilet. But we are happy with how it all finished.

We think the shower and toilet have scrubbed up very nicely indeed.

Any handy hints for others?

We think these are some of the most important considerations for those considering a reno of their own:

  • Check the chassis for wear and tear
  • Check the electrical outlets are in working order
  • Check the windows for leaks, damage to seals, and other visible signs of damage
  • Check the van for signs of damage/impacts that may have eroded its structural integrity
  • Look for evidence of water damage on the ceiling or walls
  • If the van has been stationary, check the undercarriage for rust on the weather-facing side of the van
  • Expect that the reno will take longer than expected, and be ready for challenges

This takes time.

Any other renos planned?

You never know! We are tempted to start with a newer, off-grid van that we could follow a similar template with.

The aim would be to have an off-road van to travel Australia in, something that can go anywhere that has the character and soul of Dolly.

Time for a caravanning adventure? It starts with BIG4. Find a park here.

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