The grand design of this rather special vintage caravan grew out of interior designer Jane Ashton’s love of the French resort Saint-Tropez. After years of staying in static caravans, last summer she noticed a quiet campsite next door, and decided that it was where she wanted to stay.
But first she and husband Richie needed a caravan, and Jane decided to take a more glamorous and unique route to finding their perfect model: “I love the relaxed outdoor living that caravanning offers, but I have never been enticed by any van designs that I have seen. So I decided to create my own.”
The humble campsite is in a prime location off Pampelonne Beach, but you won’t find it advertised anywhere – it operates by word of mouth.
“It was the natural beauty rubbing shoulders with superyachts that really grabbed me,” says Jane, “so we started scouring eBay for a caravan that we could make our own. I know that a lot of people like to keep true to the original, but that’s not for me. It was my pet project; I’ve done up plenty of properties over the years.”
Having recently completed a farmhouse renovation, it was the perfect time for the next piece of inspiration to strike, so Jane started planning: “I saw a photo of Brigitte Bardot at her house, ‘La Madrague’, which I thought epitomised the feel of Saint-Tropez. I wanted to recreate the fresh tropical bohemian chic of the interior; however, hanging plants from the ceiling of a caravan is completely impractical! That’s why I decided on the tropical print to recreate the look.”
The lucky caravan to receive a makeover was a 1974 Abbey bought for just £250 from eBay. Jane and Richie went into it blindly, with no way to check the condition of the van while they were bidding, but were relieved to find it looked quite solid. The chassis didn’t need any work, but they soon found some panels that were suffering from damp: “She needed TLC in places; some areas of damp were stripped out and replaced, but overall she was in pretty good order.”
Richard and Lyn of the English Caravan Company carried out the stripping and fitting of all the necessities; they were close enough to Jane’s Hertfordshire home that she was able to keep up to date with progress. The caravan was then returned to Jane for the rest of the renovation, which her dad helped with.
“Once the van was sealed and dry we put in the shower and toilet unit, water heater, battery charger, gas supply for the fridge and cooker and renewed the electric wiring,” she says. “The battery, water heater and so on were stored under a fixed bed at the rear, and the window that had been at the back was moved to the side so the bed would have a headboard. Next came the building of the kitchen and vanity unit, then it was just a case of painting, including the laminate units over the dining area.”
Then came the fun part for Jane: the design aspects that would create a relaxed, chilled-out paradise for her and Richie to spend their holidays in. The most striking is definitely the wrap around the caravan’s exterior: “I approached car-wrapping companies to see whether any would take on the project, and we finally found It’s a Wrap UK, which is based in Worthing. We did all the preparation ourselves, including filling in the rails and sanding down the roof.
“I worked with Sian Zeng who designed the print, called ‘summer tropical bloom’, and re-sized it for the wrap company. We then had a hand putting up the wallpaper! We covered the new foam cushions in linen, which I had digitally printed with the same design as the wallpaper by The Silk Bureau.
“I’d also been searching for the perfect wicker lampshade, which I eventually found on one of my antique fair missions for only £8.”
Bearing in mind that many of Brigitte’s outings (what else would she name her van?!) would be in sunny Saint-Tropez, an awning was necessary. Jane found a picture of an awning design that she liked and took it to the specialists at Threadform, who created it from scratch.
The transformation took less than six months and Brigitte, Jane and Richie are embracing the caravanning dream, pitched in Saint-Tropez. It’s certainly an eye-catching van, and is towed by their trusty old Mercedes-Benz ML: “I almost got the car wrapped in the same design, but my husband drew the line there.”
As well as the annual pilgrimage to the south of France, Brigitte will be doing the festival rounds. It will definitely be fair-weather touring, though: she’ll be given a break over the winter.
Despite the project costing about the same as a brand-new caravan (around £20,000), Jane is very happy with it: “Brigitte has a lovely vintage shape, and retains original features such as proper glass windows, but has all-new fixtures and fittings. Best of all, she is unique.
“The response has been amazing – everyone loves her! My friends and family are bowled over, and I have been overwhelmed by the reaction. I think that when they heard me talk of the idea, they thought: ‘Really? You, in a caravan?’ But they get it now.”
It is definitely something to add to her resumé, and Jane is keen to work with clients who want their own purpose-designed caravan. Prices start from £15,000 – head online to find out more.
I almost got the car wrapped in the same design, but my husband drew the line there