Loving an old caravan back to life can be a challenge, but for Sharon Molyneux-Birch vintage caravan restoration projects are a joy — and a business

“My business started off as an experiment, really,” recalls Sharon Molyneux-Birch. “I bought an old Crown caravan; it was solid and dry but in a poor state. Then I set about working my magic to get her ready for our holiday.”

It was just a few years ago that Sharon – who lives in Lancashire – purchased the Crown; since then she’s revamped countless vans, naming every one. 

When we caught up she was working on Mona the ABI Monza. The van has received the full beauty treatment, complete with vintage lace curtains and mint-green polka-dot seating cushions, all made on Sharon’s sewing machine. Mona’s shell, meanwhile, has been transformed from grey and brown to attractive cream and lemon. 

Other ‘ladies’ who have checked into Sharon’s caravan spa include Bryony, a 1970s Sprite Alpine, and Sally, another Sprite. All have gone on to live with happy caravanners around the UK; one even works as a tea van in Northern Ireland. 

Sharon started a blog called 'The Happy Caravan', which began as a scrapbook documenting her projects, and it’s particularly popular with those who renovate vintage vans. She also connects with other vintage aficionados, including Ada Bea, who sells retro wallpaper. Some of Ada's wallpaper has gone on to decorate the walls and doors of Sharon’s favourite vans.

When we spoke, Sharon was looking for a new tourer. “I’m on the hunt for one that we can use as a family. In the past we owned a 1992 Marden. It was our first family van, but it wasn’t quite to my taste and we didn’t keep it long.”

A Viking stole her heart

She went caravanning with her parents as a child, but took a break from it as a teenager. It wasn’t until her own children, James and Amelia, were born that her passion for holidays on wheels was reignited, and it was a quaint old Viking Fibreline that stole her heart. This endearing old tourer turned her off new vans and on to vintage ones. 

Then there was that Crown, originally bought for a family holiday. After revamping the van, Sharon took her to a village fair to show her off. “I got such an overwhelming reaction that I put her on eBay and she sold straight away. I had to get another van for our holiday pretty quickly!”

Working from her home, Sharon has two van projects on the go at any one time; if her understanding friends allow, she can stow extras in a barn. It's a real family business: husband Dave helps out with the electrics, as does dad Keith, who was once an engineer working for a major caravan manufacturer. Sharon’s mum, Linda, taught her to sew as a girl. 

If you’re considering buying a used caravan and doing up a vintage van yourself, Sharon has the following advice: “Think about how you use the space and live in it. Take up the carpets and replace with tiles, paint the walls with emulsion and make use of throws for the sofas.” 

Five tips for vintage caravan DIY

Sharon shares some tips to help you bring your vintage caravan back to life.

  1. Wash the caravan walls down with sugar soap
  2. Use one coat of emulsion and wait for it to dry
  3. Be prepared to apply several coats of paint
  4. Patience is key. If you want fast results, only paint the interior walls
  5. Oil-based eggshell paint works well on woodwork
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