Keith and Barbara Kendry have plenty of training in the art of dancing around each other in a tiny home: they both used to live on narrowboats. In fact, that’s how they met – on the Sharpness Canal. But what happened when they moved into a house? The wanderlust didn’t dull, but the projects started.
“We compensated for not living on a boat by doing up a Mazda Bongo,” says Barbara. “Once we’d finished, we decided that it was too small for us to holiday in, so we sold it on. But it wasn’t long before we started looking for something else to restore.”
Just under two years ago, they came across a dilapidated and unloved caravan sitting in a field, being used by children as a wendyhouse: “The van – which we’ve called ‘Abi’ – is an ABI Ace Award 12/2, from 1979. We don’t know much about its history, just that it was being wasted as a playhouse!”
It wasn’t in good shape, so Barbara and Keith managed to knock the owner down from £350 to £250. It didn’t cost much to buy, but there was a lot of work to do.
“There was a patch of damp by the door, a gash in the side panel and the floor needed replacing,” says Barbara. “We like a challenge, though. Keith is really good with the labour side of things, and I’m a perfectionist. Making sure everything was just right did take some time.”
A couple of floorboards were duly taken out, as well as an area of wall surrounding the door. Barbara set herself the task of covering the stained green flooring in carpet tiles, making sure that the pattern fitted perfectly.
“I have laid a chequerboard floor set on the diagonal, which makes the van seems larger; the tiles can also be easily replaced. Someone told me that blue is a receding colour and will make the space seem bigger, hence the Lulworth Blue cupboard doors. It took three days to cut and lay the carpet tiles, but they only cost £27.
“The gash in the side of the van turned out to be a quick fix: we simply fitted a sheet of aluminium over the top and sealed around it. This provided a great excuse to add some character, in the form of vinyl bunting. We then repainted the bottom part of the van blue.”
Despite the lack of maintenance over the years, the caravan wasn’t a beaten-up wreck.
“The hob and grill were both in working order, and the oven was like new – it still had the cellophane on, so had clearly never been used,” says Barbara. The fridge was another matter: it didn’t work. “Keith managed to tinker with the heater and get it operating, but we don’t need much else. We don’t even have electricity or a water pump.”
The van was fitted with a 12V leisure battery, but Keith and Barbara decided it wasn’t required for the touring that they planned to do: “We took out the strip lights on the ceiling because they ruined the lovely shape, and had to remove the gas light. We’ve replaced these with a 240V unit, and the rest of the illumination is via camping lanterns. We still have the switch for the awning light, but there’s nothing there. We quite like it because it’s a quirk!
“We kept the original wallpaper and sink in the toilet, because I liked them and they were in quite a good condition. We did ditch the brown synthetic curtain under the sink, though, and replaced it with white cotton.”
The caravan has a lovely drinks cabinet in pride of place by the door, and a built-in plastic plate rack to help keep the kitchen cupboards in order. Barbara and Keith found an awning of the same period on eBay, mainly to accommodate Bertie, their dog, and to create a seating area when the bed is out. Unfortunately it was a little too big for the dainty two-berth caravan but, being practical people, that was no problem: “We simply added darts to make it the right size. We also had to enlarge the skylight, because the original needed replacing and modern units are bigger than the older versions.”
Pretty much all of the kit was purchased secondhand or on eBay, including mudflaps and a steady. Amazingly, the caravan still has one of its original hubcaps; the other has been included in the baby-blue theme with a lick of paint.
There are lots of stylish touches inside, including a French kettle that they bought in Brittany. Barbara made the blue gingham curtains herself, but the cushions in the lounge haven’t yet been permanently re-upholstered.
“I am in the process of making a granny-square blanket – every retro caravan needs one!” says Barbara. “Our paint-job isn’t of the period, but we wanted her to look cheerful and clean. I like the fact that she’s not in pristine condition, because it shows that she’s been used.”
Living in the Forest of Dean gives the Kendrys plenty of opportunities for caravan holidays on their doorstep, but I met them in Cornwall, which was the furthest that they had travelled so far: “We intend to do a lot more. We’d love to take a trip to France, and we are already planning to go to Newbury and the New Forest, as well as taking the grandkids to a campsite in Woolaston, which isn’t too far from our home. We’ll certainly be on the road again in no time!”
They came across a dilapidated and unloved caravan sitting in a field, being used by children as a wendyhouse