How to convert a vintage caravan into a shop

One of the most common questions that made it’s way into my inbox, was ‘So I just bought a vintage caravan and want to convert it into a shop and wondering if you had any tips?’

So I thought writing a bit of a post about my experience in converting a vintage caravan into a shop, would be helpful to everyone out there thinking of doing it themselves!

Here in this photo album, documents the whole transformation of my vintage bubble shaped 1970 Franklin Caravan, into my travelling vintage shop. It took months of full on labour and love, many tears and happiness and lots of $$.
You will find the pretty and the ugly here, including the dreaded wood rot, silicone, and more. But also the exciting changes made to create my dream store! Enjoy!

Converting the vintage caravan shop

So here are my tips.

1 – Well and truly, no matter how much you budget for it, and how much work you anticipate it to be, times it by 10 and you’ll have a realistic expectation.

2 – Expect to be doing a lot of manual work.  I went through two vintage caravans before finally deciding to convert my third and final one.  My first one was so far gone I couldn’t do much with it unless I were employing someone and paying them a ton of money.  It’s shell was fibreglass was covered in holes, and so of course water had almost demolished everything that was timber.  It needed a serious overhaul.   That leads to my next tip…

Converting the vintage caravan shop

3 – Buy a vintage caravan in really good condition.  Easier said than done, but the less preparation work you have to do, the more chance you have of a really good shop in the end.  If you have a good base and frame, you have a solid space to begin work.

4 – Spend time planning and designing the interior.  The more time and care you spend on this, the more likely you will have your dream vintage shop!  Installing a few racks is easy, but what are you going to do in the other places?  How are you going to hid the wheel covers, replace walls, build shelving, install lighting, sound etc.

5 – Remember that when you pull things out of the caravan, you have to repair and replace.  What are you going to use to do about all the exposed internal walls that is left when you took the chairs and beds out?  What are you going to do about the wood rot that you have discovered?

Trish Hunter Caravan - First photo shoot at pretty hill

6 – Consider weight at all times. Caravans are already heavy before you fill it with stock and have to tow it half way across the state or country.  You might think that a bit of mdf timber here and there won’t matter, but it really really does.  When we made my caravan shop, we made all of our shelving hollow using thin sheets of marine ply.  They were strong and sturdy yet still really light.  It took a lot more skill, and time to do, but was worth it in the end.

7 – Little things add up in price.  Locks, display windows, skirting boards, lighting (We used all LED lighting custom built in to best highlight our stock) Music players, speakers, keys cut, door handles, clothing racks, shelving, timber, glue, flooring, glue stripper, sandpaper, wiring, light switches, paint, scrapers, sealers like silicone, etc.

Trish Hunter Caravan - First photo shoot at pretty hill

8 – My Dad is a builder and it took us nearly a month of long days and nights building this.
If you aren’t handy, if you don’t have machine tools and a talent in the tool shed, consider what it costs to pay someone to do this.

9 – Vintage caravans aren’t straight or square.  Well the one we bought wasn’t.  Everything had to be custom cut as nothing was even, straight, square or normal.  Over time it all must have moved as well.  There was a lot of putting something in place, then taking a millimetre off, then putting it in place, then taking a millimetre off etc until it fit perfectly.

10 – We used vinyl decals to detail the outside of our caravan.  It was the best way to sign-write our van.  It cost a bit, but it meant I didn’t have to prime and paint the van, I could change it regularly if I wanted to, when I sold it they could just be pealed off, and I could design and print out exactly the design I wanted!

Converting the vintage caravan shop

11 – This probably should have been an earlier point, but did you know that our fridge doesn’t fit through our windows or door? So we had to build a makeshift crane to lift it out of the skylight. Yep. It felt like everything that had to be done was of that sort of difficult.  Nothing at all was easy.

Converting the vintage caravan shop

12 – Expect blood (lots of blood) sweat, and tears (Yeah there were lots of them too!)

13 – My vintage caravan cost me a bomb before I’d even done anything to it.  It was an eBay buy, and I spent a bomb on it because it appeared to be in really good condition.  (I have posted articles on how to buy a vintage caravan too!) But even still there was stuff wrong.  When we started to gut it, we found wood rot and lots of problems.  So be prepared.  You might not be able to see what is in store for you.

14 – Consider things like parking permits, public liability insurance, normal insurance, stall fees, stock costs, and anything else on top of the cost it takes to convert it.

15 – GOODLUCK!! Once the hard parts are done and you get to start loading in your stock and doing the ‘pretty’ stuff, you’ll think it was all worth it.

Trish Hunter
Trish Hunter - Founder of The Vintage Post, mid-century design collector, passionate about history, dog lover, excessive !!! user and smiler.
Trish Hunter


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Trish Hunter
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