Designing is in Sam Thompson’s DNA, thanks to his dad Colin, who is a brilliant DIY’er. So it was no surprise that he made a career out of his talent.
He’s also made it his hobby, tackling everything from remodelling his own property to restoring a beach buggy and turning a shipping container into a workshop for a friend.
His latest project, converting a cattle trailer into a camper, caught the eye of Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces and Sam and Col made their debut on the latest series, which ends next Thursday.
“I studied product design at university and for the last 10 years I’ve worked for a healthcare company, which I enjoy but I also love working on my own projects in my spare time,” says Sam, 30, from Mirfield.
The cattle trailer conversion came about after he and his girlfriend, Jess, decided that they wanted something warmer and more comfortable than a tent to sleep in when they went camping.
“We thought of getting a vintage Volkswagen camper van but the problem with that is that if you want to go out for the day you lose your pitch on the campsite. I wanted something I could tow but I didn’t want a caravan because I like something a bit different. That’s when I came up with the cattle trailer plan. They are the right size and they are capable of taking a heavy load.”
He found a 4m by 2m tri-axle trailer for sale near Bath for £4,500 and while he and his dad were towing it back to Yorkshire, the Amazing Spaces team contacted him to ask if he had any interesting projects in mind. It was serendipity. “I’d applied to be on the show eight years ago and they’d kept my details. It was perfect timing,” says Sam.
The filming schedule added pressure to the timescale and a deadline of just over three months to completion was set. Colin, a HGV driver, agreed to be the right-hand man and his home in Gomersal was cattle camper HQ. The first task was to seal the trailer to make it watertight. A rear wall, door and front window were made and set back to create a porch. The livestock ramp was replaced with a fold-down, decked patio.
Sam also had some custom-made glazed units made to cover the livestock breathing apertures in the sides of the trailer and had the fitted by Autoglass Leeds. He then lined the trailer with insulation used in caravans, along with a foil-backed product with a bubble layer to keep moisture out.
A wood-burning stove from Chilli Penguin brought extra warmth. They are used on canal boats and are screwed to the floor to that ensures they are secure when travelling.
“It also has a small oven in the top so we can warm a pie or pizza in it,” says Sam, a perfectionist who fitted the French oak parquet floor himself. “My dad went on holiday and my girlfriend was away for the weekend, so I was absolutely loving life taking my time to get the floor right and I’m really proud of it. It wasn’t easy.”
The walls are clad in tongue and groove and painted off-white to make the space feel lighter, though the trailer is also wired with twinkle lights and a strip light.
One of the most ingenious designs is the sofa bed. It cantilevers out to create a king-size bed. The space under the sofa bed houses a kitchenette, which slides out and includes cupboards and a fridge. A cantilevered dining table also pulls out and there’s extra storage accessed from the outside, where the rear of trailer has space for logs, deck chairs and a gas stove and bottle.
“We prefer to cook outside. I’m not a fan of filling a small space with the smell of bacon,” says Sam, who applies the same reasoning to toilets. “We use the campsite facilities or we’ll set up a toilet tent.”
His “cattle camper” cost £15,000 altogether and caused a few sleepless nights. “If there was a problem to solve I’d find myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it, but it was worth it and I couldn’t have done it without my dad. Part of the enjoyment was working with him. He is brilliant and has always been an inspiration to me,” says Sam, who is now busy making a bed for his house from old scaffolding poles.
Since the filming, he and Jess have enjoyed using the camper and intend to keep it, though he adds: “If someone made me an offer for it I might be tempted to sell because that would fund another project and I’ve got loads of ideas.”
*Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces, presented by architect George Clarke, explores the world of inspirational small builds. It is a TV ratings success story thanks to a host of quirky projects by talented DIYers. Series 7 is running at the moment and next airs on Thursday, February 8, when George meets Dai Saunders, who plans to lure his children away from their gadgets by getting them to help build a camouflaged crafting workshop at the end of the garden. In Derbyshire, 14-year-old architect Fran is using her savings to create a hangout den in an old horsebox. The episode featuring Sam Thompson and his cattle trailer can be found on Channel 4 On demand.