Creative and adventurous with more than her fair share of wanderlust, Lia Martinucci Peters is a woman who can… and if she can’t she’ll find out how to. There are many fine examples of this thanks to her previous work as an interior designer for the rich and famous but the best yet is her lockdown project, which involved turning an old transit van into a home on wheels. She tackled almost everything herself from design and fit-out to making the in-built seating and painting the murals.
Her remarkable camper van conversion project began when she was moving her former interiors business from York to her country home in Hudswell, near Richmond. After being quoted £1,500 by a removals firm, she decided to have a go herself and bought a 14-year-old Ford Transit van for £1,700.
“It took a few journeys to move everything but it made sense to do it that way rather than hire a removals firm plus I thought I could sell the van on afterwards,” says Lia, who was so enamoured with the capacious vehicle that she decided to keep it and put it to work as a fetcher and carrier when she created, www.myhappyplaceuk.com, a pop-up glamping site at her Hudswell home.
“I called the van Polly and she was an absolute workhorse for two years and a godsend because I was able to transport everything I needed for the glamping site. I decided to give her a new life when my grown-up children came back home to stay in lockdown. It was lovely to have them here but I missed having a special, peaceful place of my own so I had the idea of turning the transit into a camper van.”
With the glamping site and a holiday let out of action due to pandemic restrictions, Lia began researching online for advice before arming herself with an arsenal of tools. These included a couple of drills, a miter saw to ensure the wood she was cutting was perpendicular, a jigsaw and an upholstery compressor.
“I also joined the Self Build Camper Van group on Facebook and that was helpful in some ways but not in others as you can get lost in the detail rather than just getting on with it,” she says. “I know from my background in interior design that you have to start with the brief. I wanted the van to enhance my life and be a place of retreat. I also wanted the interior to be fantastical, rather than traditional camper van style.”
Lia began by stripping out the inside and lining the walls and roof with sound- deadening mats made from rubber and aluminium. She then added insulation made from recycled plastic bottles, followed by a moisture barrier topped with wood cladding.
“A lot of people use tongue and groove but I reused the old wood panels that I had taken out of the van because I wanted to upholster them and paint on them,” says Lia, who studied at the Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds after leaving school. The result is a series of stunning murals featuring Glastonbury Tor and seascapes.
The floor of the van was lined with ply, insulated and topped with wood-effect vinyl flooring. The electrics, which she got an electrician to do, and the gas bottle that fuels the gas hob is hidden in a tall cupboard, which also has hanging space and shelves for clothes.
There’s a sink with running water and a cupboard where the electric cool box and pans live. On top of this storage is a worktop and a kettle, while the open shelves above hold the crockery. Lia also designed and made the seating that turns into a bed.
The collapsible table is decorated with a map, glued on and topped with epoxy resin. Lia also invested in a portable loo and a diesel heater. “I don’t have a shower as campsites have those and I didn’t want a TV because I have books. I just have the gas hobs and a coolbox, rather than a full kitchen because I prefer to eat out as that’s part of the adventure,” she says.
The interiors are heavily influenced by her love of turquoise, which also reminds her of the Mediterranean and Mallorca, where she lived for 13 years. The tropical cloth for the seating and curtains is from Lee Mill Fabrics, with Lia doing the upholstering and her daughter Elkie helping out by sewing the curtains after her mum had cut them to size. The finishing touch was the van’s exterior which is decorated with the figure of a mermaid made from flower stickers with a portal window for her head.
The project took Lia a total of eight weeks working 10 to 12 hours a day. “It nearly finished me off but I love it so much,” she says. “Polly is my retreat when I am at home and I have lots of plans for travelling, including going to the Kendal Calling festival and taking my mum, the former DJ Wendy Peters, to Norfolk where our ancestors are from.
“I can’t wait. The conversion was hard work but well worth it.”
*Pictures by photographer and videographer Barnaby Fairley, www.northernscene.tv and barnaby_fairley on Instagram.
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