Pro Van Converters Share Their Design Approach—and #Vanlife Tips for DIYers

Nomadic duo CarpenterIngram launched their van conversion business after falling in love with life on the road.

Shortly after meeting in school and collaborating on a photography project, Harriet Carpenter and Dan Ingram started their nomadic life together. "We were unified by a desire to experience the world, and once I left school we jumped straight into traveling," says Carpenter.

The husband-and-wife van converters, located in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, United Kingdom, felt the call of the open road and embraced van life. In 2016 the couple built out a camper and traveled around Australia for a year, driving from coast to coast.

In 2016 Carpenter and Ingram traveled across Australia in a caravan they converted together.

"Once our visas were about to expire, we sold our beloved first home and flew back to the UK," says Carpenter. 

Inspired by their epic Australian journey, in 2018 the couple started CarpenterIngram, a custom van conversion company. They were encouraged by a fellow van converter back in Australia, and decided to turn their newfound hobby into a dream business.

"Seeing our van, [he] said that we should do conversions professionally," says Carpenter. "We didn’t think much of it at first, but we heard that same thing more and more—and eventually we listened."

The van-converting couple can soup up an array of different makes and models.

Inquiries started trickling in when Carpenter and Ingram began posting photos of their projects on Instagram, and now they are doing conversions full-time and are booked well into 2020.

Self-taught through their own camper projects, the couple equips all makes and models of caravans for life on the road. We chatted with the UK-based couple to hear about how they approach designing vans for the wayfaring lifestyle. 

All conversion projects are custom, tailored to the client and their specific needs for life on the road.

What kind of vans do you convert?

We convert any and all van types, chosen by our customers. Generally our customers already own a base vehicle, or they ask for advice about what van would be best for them and then they go out and buy it themselves.

This way they get to pick the exact engine size, wheelbase, and color, and we get to just do the part that we love—the interior. We aren’t mechanics, and although we can advise for/against certain vehicles, we can’t guarantee any van will be faultless, so we always recommend our customers get any vans they like thoroughly checked out before taking the leap.

This van’s chassis features materials that you’d find in a traditional residence, such as wood and tile.

How do you price out your conversions, and what kind of amenities do customers ask for?

Everything is completely custom, meaning we don’t have a standard package or price. How much our customers know about camper vans varies greatly, and this affects how we work through to a quote.

Generally, we select brands/sizes of appliances based on what we think will suit our customers best, but occasionally people already have certain elements in mind, which is fine too. Once we get a feel for what our customers are looking for, we can suggest add-ons that we think would suit them. We also sometimes recommend elements to remove, if we think they’ll be unnecessary. 

Some caravans include fully plumbed and electrified kitchens.

How do you approach new projects?

First, we ask for a generalized list of features that someone is looking for, along with what base vehicle they have, and then we make a rough quote. Once all that boring stuff is out of the way we move on to layout and interior design.

The most important thing to find out when starting new projects is what our customers have in mind for the finished product. We try to get to know our customers’ wants as well as we can by having them send us Pinterest boards and photos of inspirational vans they’ve found on the web.

Once we have a style thread to run on, we make every decision together in advance of them bringing the van to our workshop. When the van is dropped off, we go through all of their decisions again, and generally have a good laugh before they head home and we get to work. Throughout the build, we send our customers updates so they can see the process, and to keep them as involved as we can.

CarpenterIngram can equip van kitchens with a mini fridge, sink, and a gas burner stovetop.

Is every van you convert different? Or do they all have a similar/unifying aesthetic?

There are certain unifying qualities, like the way we build things and the cladded walls. There are also certain standards that we work to; if a customer wants us to cut corners or provide an inferior finish, we will say no. Apart from this, every van is completely different.

A cozy living area includes banquette seating. An adjacent sleeping berth is lofted, with storage tucked underneath.

Some have white walls and dark ceilings, with rustic painted cupboards and no pine-colored wood to be seen. Others are almost completely pine-colored, with only accents stained. Some people love extra shelves and storage all over, while others want to keep it light and airy. Layouts are absolutely different for each van, down to the width of worktops and the height of seats. In our conversions, not a single element is bulk produced—and we will keep it this way! 

Narrow storage bins are smartly incorporated on the wood-clad walls.

Can you share some #vanlife pro tips for folks who are attempting to DIY their own van and live on the road?

Pro tips are difficult for something as complex as a lifestyle, but there are definitely a few we can think of: 

  1. All you really need for a van build is a drill, a jigsaw, and an orbital sander. Anything else is a plus!
  2. Tape your layout onto the floor of your van before you build anything—that way you can get a feel for the space.
  3. Free camp when you can. It’s cheaper (obviously!) and generally more scenic. The Wiki Camps app is great to find spots in Australia, and Park4Night is good in the UK.
  4. Try to get to your camp spot before nightfall. It’s much easier to get a feel for the best place when you can see properly! 
  5. Use cafes to charge your laptops and phones. This means you can keep your electrical system simple, and your batteries topped up.

Wood walls add a homey warmth to CarpenterIngram's caravan conversion projects.



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