Our step-by-step guide from start to end of how we decorated our van, including all of the trials and errors in between. We’ve included the cost of all materials used to give an idea of what to expect when considering converting your own van.
Spraying the dashboard:
We wanted something a little different than 'minibus grey' for the interior, so we picked up a can of flexible Vinyl spray from Halfords (and then another one and then one more). However it was all in the prep when it came to spraying, which we learned the hard way. First it’s best to clean the plastic with warm soapy water to remove any dirt, and then rub it over with some acetone to remove any residual grease and ensure the paint will stick. Don’t skip this part like we did… Then it was a lot of masking tape and newspaper before finally the spraying could begin, using long quick strokes and avoiding stopping in any one place for too long or else the paint would blotch. We sprayed the dashboard, door panels, handles and just about any other panel we could remove.
3 x cans of flexible vinyl paint from Halfords, £10.99 each
Total cost: £30.97
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Carpeting & soundproofing the cab:
One of the first bits of maintenance we undertook was to remove the seats from the cab and strip the nasty old floor out, which was rubbery and spongy and absolutely soaking. There would have been no way of getting it dry, and we never liked it anyway. Unfortunately when we came to start soundproofing the cab we noticed two massive puddles in each of the foot wells, which we needed to fix before we could go any further.
Once that was sorted and we had a dry(ish) cab, we began the soundproofing starting with mass loaded vinyl and spray adhesive around the entire cab floor, and bitumen tape to stop bits rattling. We also stuck some open cell foam under the bonnet to reduce engine noise. We don’t want to end up deaf at the end of our trip, shouting at each other over the roar of the LDV.
We decided to go ahead and carpet the cab to try and hide the worst of the rust and bodged repair jobs- unfortunately neither of us had ever laid a carpet down before. We used a roll of cheap autocarpet we got for around a tenner from eBay, which we would only recommend as a budget option as it’s not particularly hard-wearing and feels more like felt than carpet- we’ll need to put some mats down to stop it from wearing out too soon.
We then reattached all the seat mounts, seats, seatbelts and the handbrake and gear stick covers which luckily helped to cover up our poor job on the carpet.
Bitumen tape 10m from eBay - £7.99
Mass-loaded vinyl from eBay - £19.99
Open cell foam 1m from eBay - £17.82
Black autocarpet from eBay - £10
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Sewing the curtains:
Sewing and hanging our curtains was a three part trilogy of impracticality, mishaps and melting glue.
The first set of curtains we sewed went fairly well; we ordered a length of fabric all the way from Thailand because you just know when you’ve found the right one, as well as 25 metres of hook and loop tape (aka Velcro) and equal amounts of curtain lining. At this point we had never made curtains before in our lives. After several failed attempts to borrow a sewing machine from friends Lucy gave in and decided to hand stitch them as neither of us had a clue how to use one anyway. It only took a few hours sitting in the sun in the garden til they were done. She measured the windows, added a two inch hem onto the length, cut the material and the curtain lining, then used an iron and some pins to make a hem she could sew. She sewed the curtains inside out, stitching three sides of them and then turning them inside out before sewing the final side to create an invisible stitch. She then used Copydex (latex glue) to “sew” the Velcro onto the back of the curtains (it’s the cheat’s way of sewing, great for turning up trousers etc- you can see why we’ve never needed to sew anything before) then joined the hook and loop tape together and used the adhesive side to stick the curtains around the windows of the van. This was great for a long time, the entire first trip in fact, but the Velcro itself was stronger than the adhesive that stuck it to the van, and after a while our lovely curtains started peeling off.
When we returned we decided to replace the velcro with magnets, thinking they would work better by sticking onto the metal of the van. But after just a few days they refused to stick anymore, leaving us to come up with plan C - plastic curtain rails. This was our last resort as, after having lived in a caravan, we thought the plastic rails would look ugly and tacky. But actually they worked so much better than any of our other failed attempts. It was just a case of sewing curtain tape onto the backs of them to give the little plastic hooks something to hook onto, then three screws and the rail was up. We used this same technique on our side door window, bed window and to hang the tapestry for our back door window.
Now, any van owner will know the joys of a constant battle with condensation. It’s inevitable, unavoidable, but there are certain things you can do to make it a lot easier to manage.
Sadly, our lovely handmade curtains were ruined by mould caused by the constant damp on the windows. So we came up with a way to make the curtains waterproof, so that condensation could be easily wiped from them. The secret: clear PVC, or oilcloth, that stuff your parents used to put on the table when you were a kid to stop you getting paint and food everywhere.
As we also needed new backing material, we opted for blackout lining this time. Lucy unstitched all the old curtains, keeping the nice elephant pattern material as this hadn’t been affected by the damp. She used these shapes to trace around the new blackout lining and the PVC cloth with a pen, then cut them out.
The tricky part was remembering which order the fabric needed to be layered in to create the “pockets” she’d made last time, so that three sides of the stitching would be hidden inside the curtain. This was a lot harder with three layers; the blackout lining had to go on the bottom, then the PVC in the middle, and finally the pattern fabric, inside out, on the top (see photo). When three of the sides were sewn, she then pulled the fabric from the inside out so that it would be the right way round, with the pattern on the front (now the right way round), the PVC on the back, and the blackout lining sandwiched in the middle, and stitched up the remaining side. This gave our old curtains a new lease of life, and has seriously helped our problems with condensation.
The next curtain to mention is our cab divider curtain, which we always seem to get a lot of compliments on. This was a tapestry Ben had brought back from India a few years ago, and we transformed it into a curtain by sewing a loop in the fabric at the top. We then slid it onto a normal extendable curtain rail which is suspended from the ceiling. It doesn’t do much in the way of keeping warmth in, but it does give us a nice bit of privacy.
Finally the newest additions were our mandala tapestry and our bed divider curtain; the former was bought on eBay for £10. To the tapestry we sewed more of the same PVC and thermal blackout lining, which has the additional bonus of keeping heat in / out. The bed curtain we hung from a thin net curtain pole which we cut to size, and helps to keep some of the heat in the bed area.
- Curtain material from eBay - £34
- Ivory blackout lining 1.3m x 3.65m from eBay - £11.96
- Clear PVC material (also known as oilcoth) from eBay -£11.55
- Hook & loop tape from eBay - £18
- Magnetic strip 10m £6.96 from eBay
- Plastic curtain rail from The Range - £10
- Needle, thread, scissors & pins
- Tapestries - £25
- Copydex - £5
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Painting the bed:
We wanted something to liven up the otherwise dull side of the bed, something that would make our van look colourful and unique. Lucy’s friend, a local artist, came up with a design that reflected the Indian theme of the van, incorporating Mandala style elements. We painted the plywood cream to give her a good base to work on. She first copied it from a sketch using pencil, then painted in bits here and there with red and blue wall paint (tester pots are brilliant for things like this), and finally went over it with a black Sharpie. We later added in some glow in the dark paint for fun.
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After Ben spent a traumatic first night back in Cornwall during which the violent Cornish winds ripped our solar panel off the roof, we needed to fix it back on urgently. We set about reattaching the solar panel, pop riveting and sikaflexing the bugger down so securely that the only way the panel will come off again is if the wind takes the entire roof with it. Whilst we were up on the roof, we decided to remove our leaking roof fan, a fairly pointless feature that is common among LDVs. We used a knife to cut around the old seal (which did basically nothing anyway), undid the security screws, disconnected the one wire that powered the extractor fan and pulled the whole thing out. Once removed, we fitted a blue sheet of Perspex we had lying around and sikaflexed it in place. This would eventually make a really cool circular skylight inside, but we needed something to decorate it with.
We took a backseat on this one, leaving the work up to Lucy’s dad who is a metalsmith, armourer and all round brilliant craftsman. In just two hours he transformed a stainless steel dinner plate into a porthole to fit around our skylight and finish the edges off.
We showed him our ideas, drew up a few designs, and took some measurements of the external and internal diameters and depth of the skylight, then marked this all out on a stainless steel plate which happened to be just the right size.
Then we watched as he began to transform it, first cutting out a hole in the middle and some slots with an angle grinder, then bending and hammering these to create the internal ring that would fill the gap between the cladding and the skylight where the fan used to sit. He polished it to a high shine, then tempered it using a blowtorch to create a brass effect (and some funky blues and purples here and there too).
He bent a strip of stainless steel to create an inner lip and riveted this in place using a hammer. Then it was down to us to screw it up in place using some brass effect mirror screws to give the appearance of pop rivets. These work by fixing the screws using a flat bladed screwdriver, then screwing a rounded head into a small hole in the head of the main screw. Our van was looking ship shape and ready to set sail.
Stainless steel dinner plate (pre-owned) - £0
Blue perspex (pre-owned) - £0
Mirror screws from B&Q - £3.02
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One thing we learnt travelling in the van was that if it ain’t tied down to the floor with 15m of rope, a ton of glue or at gun point, then it’s going to fly around like there’s no tomorrow every time you want to move on to a new destination or even head to the shops. With that being said, we had an idea to revamp an old ottoman we found for free on Gumtree to store some of our belongings in, the added bonus being that it would double up as a sofa for visitors as well as somewhere to hide Lucy’s annoyingly large and ever-growing shell collection.
We picked it up from a very nice old lady who spotted the large van and tried giving us more unwanted furniture. We declined and made a hasty exit before we ended up with a three piece sofa suite crammed into the van too.
The build was dead simple. We cut down some old pallet wood and sanded it until it was clean and smooth. A bag of rusty nails later and the pallet wood was secured to the sides of the ottoman and looking pretty funky.
Next we grabbed an old coffee sack (because we’re cool like that), and filled it with old pillow material. Finally we stapled it neatly in place on the lid.
The whole thing only took a couple of hours from start to finish and what a difference it has made. It gives us tons more added storage space in the van and ample seating for two.
Secondhand vintage ottoman - Free
Two pallets - Free
Burlap coffee sack - Free
2 old pillows - Free
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Making our fairy lights:
With all our cool white LED lighting installed in the van we wanted something to add a warm, cosy feel for those long winter nights. Lucy had her heart set on a trio of vintage hanging Edison bulbs, but not only would these have been hugely impractical to run, they would’ve also swung around as we were driving and most likely smashed.
So we had to come up with an alternative solution if we wanted our warm winter fairy lights, and then we spotted these bulb-shaped drinking glasses in The Range. They were lightweight with removable metal lids but also made of a reinforced glass that wouldn’t smash if they fell on the floor (we hope).
Installing them was a little trickier than we thought, and took a bit of tinkering. We were going to attach the bulbs to the roof cladding with a screw and a washer using the holes already in them where the straws originally went. This however meant that that hole would be blocked, leaving no entry point for the fairy lights.To get around this we drilled a 4mm hole in the side of each lid through which we could insert the lights. Once the lids were attached to the roof, we were able to feed the fairy lights through them one by one. Finally we screwed the glass bulbs in place, arranging the LEDs inside in a swirling pattern, and used a strip of velcro to secure the battery box in place.
Our Edison bulbs were done! And for only £6 for the lot. Now we have some incredibly bright yet low energy warm lighting above our bed to make it super cosy at night.
3 x light bulb-shaped drinks glasses, £1 each from The Range
2m thin-wired warm LED fairy lights, £2.95 from eBay
Various screws & washers
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Tiling the sink:
During the first trip in our van our kitchen area was relatively uncreative. We’d simply got some plastic self-adhesive tiles and stuck them on behind the sink to create a splash area, and while these looked nice and did the job we felt an urge to upgrade them once we got back to the UK.
During our two months spent travelling around Portugal we couldn’t help but admire the ornately tiled buildings everywhere we went, so we wanted to bring a little bit of Portugal with us on our next trip.
We bought some beautifully ornate azulejo tiles from a man in Portugal on eBay. It seemed like a lot of money for three tiles but this was about the going rate when we were in Portugal for secondhand ones.
Now, if you’re a fully grown adult who has lived in a house then odds are you’ll know how to tile a wall. But if you’re young van dwellers like us then hopefully this guide will be of use to you as we didn’t have a clue what to do when we started:
Firstly we needed to cut some plain white tiles to fill in the gaps between and underneath the azulejo ones. Luckily we already had a tile cutter available, but you can pick one up for about £10-20. These work by scratching the glass surface of the tile in a straight line and then applying slight pressure to crack the ceramic underneath. It might take a few tries to get a straight edge, so have a few spare tiles handy.
Once we’d stripped all the old adhesive plastic tiles, the hard part was cutting a circular hole around the base of the tap. We cut one tile in half, dry fitted it in place to get a rough position of the tap, and traced the circle onto the new tiles using the shape from the old ones, which we had originally used a compass to cut out the correct diameter hole to allow the tiles to fit neatly around it. Then we used a handheld diamond cutter to scratch approximately the right shape onto the surface of the tile, then carefully “munched” the circle away with a thick pair of pliers. The scratches on the surface prevented the ceramic from crumbling away any further than the shape, although it could easily be done with a little more pressure.
Then it was just a case of grouting, pressing and squishing the tiles in place, and holding them up with some tape while they dried.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t end here. The tape we used to hold the tiles up while they dried ended up ripping off the designs of the tiles when we removed it- it turned out we’d paid a lot of money for fake tiles with plastic transfers. We were devastated. Not only that but they hadn’t stuck either, and here we learned the important difference between tile adhesive and tile grout.
So it was back to the drawing board. On one of our excursions to Wickes we stumbled across some beautiful slate tiles which reminded us of the slate cliffs of Cornwall. We felt this would be a nice way to take a bit of Cornwall with us where we went. They were £15 for a pack of 8 tiles, and each tile was quite heavy but we were determined to get them up. After our first failed attempt with tile grout we switched to tile adhesive (the clue is in the name), but this also let go after just a couple of days of bumping around on the road. We wanted to stick these up once and for all, and applied liberal amounts of sikaflex to both the tiles and the wall, and so far they haven’t fallen down again.
3 x Portuguese azulejo tiles from eBay - £5.29 each plus postage
1 box of slate tiles from Wickes - £15
Tile grout and adhesive
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