Travelling Europe in a campervan was a long-held dream for Tom Lane and Caitlin Green but with motorhomes costing a small fortune, they decided to DIY. “We are both keen rock climbers and mountaineers and the plan was to spend a year in Europe enjoying our hobby,” says Caitlin.
The couple, both 30, bought a 2009 Transit that had started life as a DHL delivery van before being sold to builders who had used it for two years. With 186,000 miles on the clock, it had taken a battering and had certainly seen better days but at £2,100, the price was right.
So, design engineer Tom and child protection officer Caitlin began the conversion project in July 2019 . Tom had learned building skills and attention to detail via his job and Caitlin had made tree houses with wood from her dad’s workshop and enjoyed sewing and crafts, which were all helpful but did not fully equip them for the task in hand. YouTube videos of other DIY van conversions proved most helpful and the couple also came up with plenty of their own ideas.
“Our main aim was to keep it simple so there was less to go wrong,” says Tom. The first job was to remove the rust with an angle grinder and fix the holes in the bodywork before painting the vehicle with yellow Hammerite. They also created a window in the roof and another in the side of the van to bring in natural light.
Next, the interior walls and floor were insulated, lined and clad. “We tried to be as eco-friendly as possible so we reused the old wood racking the builders had left in the van to help clad and insulate the floor.” says Caitlin, who topped it with some Altro vinyl flooring she found for £12 on Gumtree.
Tom designed the layout and all the fitted furniture on a computer aided design tool and his mission was to create as much storage space as possible The furniture is made from birch ply while worktops are in a hard-wearing oak veneer.
The sofa bed base was initially made from an old table tennis table but the couple soon realised that this was an issue as the mattress got damp from body heat due to a lack of ventilation. The ping pong table was soon ditched in favour of a slatted base and, after testing it out at a UK festival, they made another alteration. Tom was slightly too tall for the bed and had to relocate it while adding to the length.
To cut costs and save the planet, the memory foam mattress was from Freecycle and the couple cut it to fit and covered it in fabric from a charity shop. The fridge freezer and the bike rack they adapted to suit were from Gumtree.
Tom and Caitlin spent four months working on their project in the evenings and on weekends, a task made much more difficult because they were living in Manchester at the time. “We’d have to do the work with the van on the side of the road and if it was raining we had to rig up a tarpaulin over it,” says Caitlin, who was born and raised in rural California.
After giving up work to finish the project off and prepare for their European tour, the couple moved to Yorkshire to live with Tom’s parents. Here, they spent two months solid working on the vehicle with the help of Tom’s father. Their campervan now has a kitchenette and a living/sleeping area and a host of very clever storage solutions, along with
solar panels on the roof to generate electricity, which also helps power their outdoor solar shower.
Altogether, they spent £2,100 on the conversion, bringing the total cost of their campervan to £4,200. Estimates show that the vehicle is now worth about £15,000, which could bring a £10,800 profit.
Able to live their dream at a cut-price, they set off in January last year visiting Croatia, Greece, Italy and France, where they enjoyed climbing mountains and rocky outcrops and swimming in lakes and rivers, while spending as little money as possible. “We had £3,000 each to live on and that went on diesel and food. We didn’t stay at a single campsite and we budgeted 10 euros a day for food, though we allowed ourselves one meal out per country as a treat,” says Caitlin.
Their year-long trip was cut three months short by the pandemic, but it was far from a wasted journey. Along with great memories, they came back home to Yorkshire with a fantastic idea. Having tested and worked out how to refine some of the built-in furniture they had designed and made, they decided to start their own business.
The couple are now based in Horton in Ribblesdale, where they run Contour Campers, designing, making and fitting bespoke campervan furniture. Prices start from £3,000 to £4,000. They also rent out two camper vans, including their original one that is out on hire until January next year.
The furniture is designed and made bespoke for each individual van. It can be flat-packed and delivered to clients to fit themselves or customers can leave their campervan with Tom and Caitlin for a week and they will fit it for them. “We had a year living in our van and we learned all there is to know about the importance of a well designed interior with easily accessible storage,” says Caitlin, who recalls another happy memory: “We came up with the idea and the name for the business on a beach in Greece.”
For more details of Caitlin and Tom’s business, contact Contour Campers, which is based in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, near Settle, visit their website at
www.contourcampers.co.uk. You can email them at [email protected]
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