DIY tips on how to personalise a mobile home

By: Lisa Jansen, Photography by: Lisa Jansen


My new Van DIY tips on how to personalise a mobile home My new Van
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Full-time life-on-the-roader Lisa Jansen sharesher DIY tips on how to personalise a mobile home

Last month, I moved into my new home on wheels. Having sold my first van in April, I was stoked with the new one. After five months of working and house-sitting in Auckland, it was time to hit the road again. But first, I had to make myself at home.

I’m one of those people who would love to do a full custom van conversion; a one-of-a-kind mobile home designed and built to suit my style and requirements. Unfortunately, I lack the tools, time, space and skills to do so, which meant settling for another factory-built van.

But – as I did with my first van – I wanted to give the new one some personal creative touches to take it from just another "out of the box" campervan to my home. I’m sharing some of my ideas as they may provide inspiration. All are projects almost anyone can do without advanced skills, special tools or big budgets. And all of them can be easily removed so there are no permanent marks in the van.

Custom cushion covers

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The first thing I did was create cushion covers. There are several businesses in  New Zealand that print images on pillowcases. All you need is an image file. I had mine printed by Digitees (digitees.co.nz) as it prints on cotton covers, not polyester, and also had a natural colour option (all others do just white).

I created my designs in Photoshop, but you can use Canva, which is free, or any other image-editing tool. Or you can take one of your photos and print it on the cover as is. At $39 per cushion, this is an affordable way to add some personal touches to your mobile home.

My map of New Zealand

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My map with notes of places I want to visit

This is an idea I got from fellow travellers Sue and Pete, who I wrote about in the September issue. They had a map of New Zealand on which they noted not only where they had been, but also any places others recommended to them. I like that idea, especially the second part.

I often hear about amazing places I want to visit, but then I forget about them when I’m in the area. So I decided to get a big map to keep track. Finding a place for a large map in a motorhome or caravan can be a bit of a challenge – probably why Sue and Pete keep theirs in a drawer.

But I wanted mine where I could see it. I ended up putting it on the bathroom door as that was the only area big enough. To secure the map, I first glued it onto a corkboard (I bought two from Kmart and cut them to size).

I then glued magnets to the back of the corkboard and used washers on the inside of the bathroom door to hold the map in place. It slides down a bit sometimes when I’m driving, but I just move it back into place. I was pretty impressed with myself for coming up with that idea.

A shelf for my work stuff and the sand collection

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My collection of little bottles of sand

This is probably the one feature in my van that gets the most comments from visitors. Ever since I started living on the road, I’ve been collecting sand in little glass bottles from the beaches I visit. My old van had shelves hanging under the cupboard over the couches where these bottles fitted perfectly.

In the new van, there was no obvious place for the bottles, so I had to get creative. Since I also wanted an area to store my laptop, magazines, books, pens and other work-related things, I decided to combine the two.

I had a free area opposite the kitchen, so I decided to build a shelf to fit the space and my needs. For this, I had some help from a friend with tools and skills. He built the actual shelf, but the part on the side for the sand bottles is my creation.

Not having the time, tools and skills to make such a mini-shelf from scratch and attach it to the bookshelf, I had the idea of using bamboo cutlery trays, which I got from Kmart. All I had to do was saw off a piece at the end to make them fit and then use liquid nails to glue them to the bookshelf. And in case you’re wondering how the bottles don’t fall off, the answer is Blu Tack.

Colourful couches

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My colourful couch covers give my van real character

I know some people like their mobile homes elegant, minimalistic and modern. I prefer bright, cosy and with lots of character. The neutral couch squabs in my new van didn’t suit, but new covers are expensive.

I also know that my style is not to everyone’s taste, and if I want to sell the van again, something less colourful will probably be a better option. I found a simple solution. I bought bright fabric from Spotlight and wrapped it around the foam squabs, which are still in their original neutral covers.

The material was on sale, so I only paid about $50 for 4 meters. The result is a colourful, cosy look that can be turned back into elegant and minimalistic in seconds. And as a bonus, it makes cleaning the covers so much easier.

It pays to organise that passenger seat

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Clever storage upfront

This is a tip for my fellow solo-travellers (or those who have a spare seat for other reasons). I used to have a very messy passenger seat because all the things I wanted to have handy while driving would be left lying there.

Sunglasses, water bottle, tissues, sunscreen, pieces of paper with directions, fuel cards, and all those other things you might need. I found a solution in a seat organiser that I bought from Trade Me for a few dollars. They are meant for the back of the seat but work just as well at the front.

Photos and memorabilia

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My walls and cupboards decorated with photos and other memorabilia

I like having photos of my loved ones around me, as well as other colourful pictures and memorabilia. For me, it’s an essential aspect of making a space my home. In a house, you would just put a nail in the wall to hang pictures or stand them up on shelves. In a mobile home, you have to get a bit more creative. In my old van, I used Blu Tack to put photos up on the cupboard doors above the seating area.

In the new van, I have an area above the benches in the back that is covered with fabric and, it turns out, the hook side of hook-and-loop fasteners attaches perfectly to that. I glue them to little pegs and use those to hold photos, inspiring quotes and more.

Soft lighting that doesn’t draw power

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The lights in my new van are bright, which is great when cooking, reading or doing other things requiring good lighting. But when you’re just having a relaxing cup of tea in the evening, it can be a bit bright. Fairy seed lights to the rescue.

I got mine from The Warehouse (less than $10 a string). They are on a wire so bend easily and stay in place. I used 3M removable hooks to attach them to the ceiling, where I didn’t have anything to tie them to. And they are battery-powered, so a great option when your house battery is running low.

Starry skies every night

The only thing better than sleeping in my campervan is sleeping under the stars. I’ve always wanted a campervan with a skylight. Since that’s not within my current budget, I came up with another way to have a starry view each night. I got glow-in-the-dark star stickers ($9.99 from Whitcoulls) and attached them above my sleeping area. I’m sure they’d be a hit if you’re travelling with kids.

Find out more about Lisa’s travels at lifedonedifferently.com

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