PROFILE 1: ROB
AGE: 50 LIVES: ALLAMBIE HEIGHTS, NSW NATIONALITY: ENGLISH FAVOURITE CARAVAN: MILLARD
Born in England, Rob moved to Sydney 20 years ago and has spent most of his career in the media — initially as a magazine journalist and then in a business role within television.
His introduction to renovating caravans came in quite a circuitous route.
“I was always a fan of op shops — I used to collect secondhand and antiquated books, and old vinyl records,” he said. “That then extended into retro ornaments and art; I just liked the feel of old things. Eventually I bought a cheap mid-century chest of drawers and repaired them, and I was hooked on restoration.”
One Christmas, Rob decided he was going to try and avoid the mall for a year and only make things or buy secondhand items as gifts — partly to break his shopping addiction, and partly as a reaction to consumer culture.
“I just realised that shopping had become a leisure pursuit and I wanted to start doing something myself,” he explained. “Making and repairing more stuff, and generally being more aware of the environment.
“My Dad was always somebody who mended and repaired things, rather than bought new — like a lot of his generation. I also started following Pinterest and began to upcycle things and make my own furniture. I’d buy reclaimed wood from the local tip and turn it into something original.”
Having coffee with a friend one Saturday morning they hit upon an idea to buy a caravan and renovate it.
“We were talking about tiny living and how it was taking off, and my friend said he’d been thinking about getting a caravan,” Rob said.
“A week later he phoned me on the way home from work and said he’d found one for $2000 that needed doing up. He asked if I wanted to put $1000 in and do it together.”
That was the start of the love affair with vans, and since then Rob has done two more with his mate.
“We restored an old Viscount to start with, then a second one, and then more recently we worked on a Millard”
“We restored an old Viscount to start with, then a second one, and then more recently we worked on a Millard. Neither of us was keen on the style of the Millards initially, but they’ve really grown on us – and they have loads of room inside.”
Rob tries to work in a sustainable way whenever possible and uses repurposed wood and materials.
“Obviously there are things like paint and adhesives that have to be bought, but we look to keep as much of the original vans as possible,” he said. “We sand and fill damaged walls and doors, and bring them back to life. Polish up old clocks and handles and fittings.
“We also buy some of the wood and furniture from op shops and the tip. There is some modernisation to be done, but you can create a great vintage feel from using old things in keeping with the van’s style.”
The vans tend to take around three months to restore, just working on Saturdays. And as Rob explains, it’s a welcome relief from sitting at a desk all week.
“It’s almost like a form of meditation,” he said. “We’re both office workers and at the weekends we unleash our ‘inner tradie’. We get the radio on, put on scruffy clothes and have fun doing creative, physical work.”
Next up, Rob has his sights set on even bigger projects.
“We’d love to turn a caravan into an old English pub!” he laughed. “Bar, chairs, tables and dartboard. Park it in the backyard and have our own home away from home.”
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Starting from scratch; ripping up the old lino; adding new flooring in; for less than 200 bucks you can bring the van to life