Converting our van – the hard part

The last few weeks have been a bit of whirlwind and things I’ve wanted to blog about I haven’t got round to doing. And then I realised that I haven’t written at all about our van and we have carried out so much work to it!

We bought the van in April and in just two short months it has gone from this…

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To this!

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Ignore the tape – the adhesive was drying!

From the beginning we have always wanted to do the work ourselves, and desperately wanted to avoid using standard VW conversion flat-packs. The one important thing for us was to optimise the use of space; I’m 5’10” and Sam is 6’3” and we didn’t want to feel over-sized as if we were sitting on/using children’s furniture! Pinterest has been a vital tool in our van conversion box. It is honestly amazing the amount of ideas you can get from that lil social platform, whether its space-saving tricks or different layout designs, it has it all. Plus a load of dreamy pictures of people on the road (us one day!)

I thought it might be helpful for those of you thinking of/in the process of converting a van if I broke down each step we have taken to get the van to the condition it is currently in.

Ripping it out

For those of you who have bought a van with an empty rear – great! For those of us that didn’t, there’s a two-day job in getting the back stripped out. For us, we had to remove the ply sideboards and floor, get rid of old and really worn glues and adhesives and take out the metal bulkhead separating it from the front cab. Once you’ve got down to the exposed metal, its time for the deep-clean. A bit of washing up liquid or car cleaner mixed with water works well on the inside, but be careful of any wires, plus the break-lights at the rear. FYI, even if your van doesn’t look like it needs a wash, it needs a wash.

Windows

Our van was a hard-grafter during its working life and had no windows in the back at all. When you are thinking about how you want to use the space, you really do need to take into account the amount of light. Some people only have windows in the sides at the back (whether that’s the front-section or all the way along the sides), but we have opted for windows in our barn doors too. Sam was a bit unsure about this as its not particularly common, but we are so glad we did it as it makes the space feel larger and like you are part of your surroundings when in the van.

Cutting the windows in is no mean feat, so if you are hopeless with anything technical then get a professional. I am terribly lucky in that Sam is an engineer and most at home with using power tools – one of the drawers in his garage is actually marked aggressive tools which basically means I should not go in there or I will hurt myself! We ordered the glass for the sides and back from CamperGlass, which is slightly tinted and offers some privacy. Because I am hopeless at explaining how he did it and with what, we filmed a video that you might find useful:

Insulation

Some people really go to town with their insulation, stuffing every tiny hole and using boards too. We took a ‘moderate’ approach and stuffed the walls and wheel arches, and then lined it with aluminium insulation roll and tape. We did the roof, and partially covered the floor too. This part can take quite long – its mainly sealing it all off with the tape that’s time consuming but stick with it.

Carpet

Once you’re insulated, its time to carpet! I will say from the beginning that this was a job neither of us looked forward to. The carpet is semi-stretchy and quite forgiving, but we had to watch several YouTube videos to understand how people were able to carpet an entire side of a van in one go. Once you’ve done one side though, it does make the rest easier. I do have a top tip: hold the carpet higher on the ceiling so you have equal amounts draping over the ceiling and the floor. As you start to glue it to the van, the massaging movements to get it into every nook and cranny can cause the carpet to start to fall, even though I was holding it as high as I could into the roof whilst Sam pushed it into the side of the van. You will need to use spray adhesive, and coat both the van and the carpet in it otherwise it will not stick that well.

We carpeted both sides of the van, the sliding door and the barn doors. So many people warned us against carpeting the doors, and especially up to the seal of the doors in case water leaks in, but we worked out a way round that. We have carpeted up to near-ish the seals, leaving a small 1cm gap. We made sure the cut in the carpet was straight and even so that it lines up nicely on the door. We have just bought a black strip seal, thinner than the one on the body of the van, which we will use to line the door. You can’t see the thin seal from the inside and it doesn’t prevent leaks either.

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We opted for a light cream/grey carpet as we want an airy feeling in the van. The most common (and maybe cheaper?) colour is dark charcoal grey but we didn’t fancy that. The marl white/grey is lovely, and its good quality.

Floor

Once the carpet was in we re-laid the ply floor (ours came with the van and was cut to fit). We then laid the flooring which we got from B&Q. It’s a wood-effect vinyl flooring but sticks down rather than being slotted together. Its so easy and also very durable and won’t move at all. I’m quite impressed with its quality as I am usually a stickler for using proper timber/untreated wood not laminate. So there you go!

Next steps

Now that the inside is as ready as it can be, we can start to build the bed and cabinets. Sam has just bought the wood from B&Q (costing £180) and will hopefully be hammering it all together in the next couple of weeks. We are going to be building the cabinets from cheaper ply, and then the work surfaces and doors will be made from old floor boards we already have to give it a sort of rustic look.

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The bed will go down the far side of the van opposite the sliding door. It will be a galley sofa essentially, and the bottom will slide out to form the double bed. We can then store the bedding underneath it during the day.

Best buys

It is so easy to spend a fortune when converting your van, but by doing most of the things ourselves we have saved so much money. Our friend has a van and has bought all the kits for it – he estimated he will have spent £11k plus the cost of purchasing the van by the time its done. Ours is on track to come in at £3k 🙂 Far more palatable!

Think about what is important to you and what you are like to use most, as well as how often you are likely to use the van. Its easy to spend £60 on a tap but ours is self-pumping (one push!) and that was £16. Instead of a £450 fridge we have an electric cool-box – same capacity for only £50 plus we can take it out for the day if we are going for a picnic. Savings can be made if you look into all of the options. I’ll post about these items and more once we have made some progress with the interior build.

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My dressing room(!) – project #2

Having recently moved from a 2-bedroom house to a 4-bedroom house, our priority was to ensure that we had as much storage space as possible from the get-go, so that we didn’t waste time and money having to sort things out further down the line.

I was getting quite frustrated with our storage solutions in our previous home; under-bed boxes for gym clothes, jeans and holiday wear, work wear rammed in with other dresses and coats in the wardrobe and a full to bursting chest of drawers with everything else. I felt I wasn’t using half of my things simply because I had to delve in/move boxes around/upend the entire room to get to something. So when we bought our current house I decided it was only fair that if Sam got a double garage that I should have the 4th bedroom as ‘my’ room. And my dressing room was born!

We could have got a pre-fab kit or got a company out to measure up, but we like to do things ourselves and get stuck in. I say ‘we’, Sam did most if not all of the work. I just ordered a chest of drawers and made it look pretty.

The first step was to rip up the floor (some old pink carpet) and lay down laminate wood flooring. It turned out to be pretty easy as the length of the room was exactly as long as two floor boards. Plus this made it really quick for Sam to cut, so the whole room was laid in 3 hours.

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After the floor was down work began on the wardrobe itself. We spent over 2 hours in B&Q buying timber and paint (though they do cut the timber to size for you so that saved Sam even more time).

I should say, probably quite obviously, that we had already designed the layout of the wardrobe and Sam had measured each section of it to within an inch of its life so we knew exactly how much we needed of each item.

I thought it best to have a bottom board to give the wardrobe more stability and also so that it would look more like a wardrobe as opposed to seeing the grey floor at the bottom of it. It worked quite well and has made it look more like a unit and a bit more professional.

Sam began work straight away once we got home, and within a couple of hours it was already mostly together.

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He finished it off the following day by putting the ‘roof’ on it and securing each joint with a corner clip before painting it.


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Though getting into the bottom boxes to paint is not easy when you’re 6’4″!

He’s pretty proud of his work though (as am I):

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And here it is in all of its finished glory:

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The wardrobe will be covered by a curtain (we’ve just attached the curtain rail), though I need to choose some material for it. I’m thinking mostly white with a grey print of some kind – perhaps a geometric print. I’m not sure though, its something I’ll only be able to decide once I see the fabric in person. The window will have a simple white-ish roman blind on it.

I’m in love with the room! I can’t believe how much the wardrobe holds. And the best part is its all built to our height and the lengths of my clothes. Sam has done a truly wonderful job; not just a pretty face is he! ❤

Project #1 dresser restoration

Pretty soon after we moved in I knew we needed somewhere to store some of our things; from the board games usually reserved to the under stairs cupboard to our wedding crockery. I searched the internet for a dresser, though finding one with glass doors proved quite hard and pretty much doubled the price. I also didn’t want anything too ‘fancy’ and intricate especially one that could be seen as old fashioned.

I’m quite new to the wonders of Facebook market place. We bought our dishwasher second hand from there so it was the first place I thought to look for a dresser. In the end though, a few weeks later, we found this one on Ebay for sale just up the road from us.

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The paint was sprayed on which gave it an odd effect up close, and whilst it looked white it was actually quite yellow. So we set about restoring it.

After dismantling it into sections and removing each shelf, the first step was to sand off the existing coat to give the paint something to ‘grab’ onto.

Then it was the most exciting part! Paint time! Though I have to say, I had not appreciated the amount of sides, inside and out, a dresser has. I’m pretty sure I developed RSI in my hand.

We did the top of the dresser first in Down Pipe Grey; a dark grey paint by Farrow & Ball. It took 3 coats top ensure the right depth of colour but I’m sure on other pieces of furniture 2 coats would be enough.

The cream came after; Winterbourne White by Farrow & Ball. This isn’t too white in colour, its an off-white without having yellow hues.

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The third and last step was to treat the wood. We sanded the surface to lightly remove the varnish before putting 2 washes of mahogany oil on it to bring out the colour.

The overall result is fantastic!

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& here is the before and after to show just how much went into the project:

I think the re-paint has given the dresser a new lease of life and suits our modern but comfortable family home.

The dresser is in the dining room, which we haven’t decorated yet. The floor will eventually be replaced with grey flagstone tiles with a light grey on the walls. Any guess what my favourite colour is?!

Sam & I absolutely love doing things to our home, but most of all we love doing things together. At the moment, we are redecorating my dressing room and Sam is in the process of building me a wardrobe from scratch. I’ll post about that as soon as its done – I’m super excited about it!

Creative spurt

Anyone who knows me knows that I often lack imagination and creativity, despite being a dab hand at art and crafts when I get going. Now that we’ve moved into our new home 🙂 I’m so keen to get on and starting making it our own.

Pinterest is a great platform to gain inspiration, and I often find that an idea I initially began with starts to grow and expand into something more pronounced and beautiful than what the confines of my own mind could imagine. For several years now I have had an obsession with pallet wood and all the natural and bohemian-type designs that can flow from working with such a basic, rustic material. Pinterest has truly helped me to develop my little ideas into something that will suit a grown up family home.

My tastes are quite simple: I love wood, plants and grey hues with preference for industrial-type designs that incorporate dark metal over the more ‘twee’ cottage styles. One thing has become quite apparent over the last couple of years, and that is my love of texture, especially when it comes to home furnishings. Thick and chunky and hard-wearing, not fragile and delicate to touch. With this in mind I’ve enrolled the help of my mother to teach me to knit. I’m starting off with medium wool but hope to be able to knit with my arms in the near future; I have visions of a massive chunky bed throw or blankets piled on wooden crates. Wish me luck – my foray into knitting is still in its early stages but its probably fair to say it doesn’t come that naturally to me given the amount of hand-eye co-ordination required!Arm Knitting 5

Having help around the house – not just with my ideas but also on a practical level, is lovely. My parents are very hands on and love to lend a helping hand. Admittedly this is mostly around the garden as neither Sam nor I are particularly green-fingered, but it also extends to painting and helping us lay the flooring in the house too. It is a good bonding exercise but also gets the job done a lot quicker! My mother has always been into interior design so I think I have definitely got the ‘bug’ from her.

DIY has moved on these days. It is not just about wielding a drill and changing a bulb but now includes all aspects of home improvement work. Whilst I could get someone in to lay my wood floor and paint my walls, I enjoy doing it myself. If gives me a sense of pride, and the little knocks and imperfections don’t bother me. I would consider my work to be of a pretty good standard though I am by no means an interior designer or professional painter, etc. Sam is also keen to do as much as possible so we have agreed that he is going to be my builder! Of the non-masonry sense. Sam has basic carpentry skills and has worked with metal since he was a boy, so we are going to make my dining table and benches, as well as a bookcase, over-the-bath unit and toilet roll holders. He’s going to have to get cracking soon as my list is getting quite long…

I plan to share our little creative journey with you and would appreciate any ideas that you guys have too! For now, I will leave you with the following pictures of the type of home we hope to make for ourselves: