Goodbye, shag; hello, fab! Fresh white paint and cheery fabric turn an original mobile camper into a bright and airy vacation home.
Bill and Cathy Johnson love camping. The architect and Realtor have been camping since they began dating at age 15. Now married for 34 years, they jumped at the chance to buy and restore a 1970s Avion camper that they could turn into a mobile summer home for canoeing and fishing trips around Tennessee.
Here the camper sits at Piney River Escape, a former farm outside of Dixon, Tennessee, west of Nashville. The Johnsons parked their camper in this spot all this summer. From the banks they can launch their canoe and travel downstream for the afternoon. A shuttle service drives them back to the campsite, along with their canoe, at the end of the day.
The previous owner, a former client of Bill’s, had kept the camper in pristine condition, even developing a homemade manual that detailed special care and maintenance considerations for preserving the plumbing and mechanical lines during winter. The aluminum exterior paneling, naturally corrosive resistant, was still in good condition. All the Johnsons had to do was give it a good washing.
BEFORE: But that isn’t to say the camper looked new. Nothing had been updated in the interiors; they still sported a 1970s aesthetic, with dark brown cabinetry, mustard-yellow surfaces and orange and brown shag carpet. “Not one thing had been done since it rolled off the lot,” says Bill.
AFTER: The Johnsons wanted the interior to have a brighter vibe, building on the wraparound bank of windows at the front of the camper. So they removed all the original finishes, painted the cabinets white and added new vinyl flooring. “We wanted to try and create the most open and airy feel possible,” Bill says.
They then replaced the upholstery with a durable outdoor fabric and changed out the hardware and drapes.The original crystal chandelier over the dining table is one of the Johnsons’ favorite touches. The other light is a surface-mounted incandescent fixture. The table collapses so the front area can turn into a full-size bed.
The layout didn’t change. Everything remained in its original place, including the cook top, stove and refrigerator.
BEFORE: Here you can see how the original dark wood cabinets and fabric made the space feel almost claustrophobic.
AFTER: White paint and a new plastic laminate counter brightened things up. “It’s like having a full house, with a fully functional kitchen, stove, oven, fridge, sink — gosh, we can cook biscuits in here,” Bill says.
BEFORE: Here you can see some of the original shag carpeting.
AFTER: New flooring and fabric continue in the bedroom, where the Johnsons sleep on two twin beds. Fabric wainscoting around the perimeter adds a bit of style.
They like to keep the camper fully stocked with towels and blankets in case guests show up or they themselves want to spend some time there on the spur of the moment. “That way it feels almost like a furnished weekend home,” Bill says. “You don’t have to think about a lot; you just bring your clothes.”
Of course, the point is to be enjoying the great outdoors, which they do most of the time they’re out there — either relaxing under the awning or canoeing downstream to their favorite fishing spots. But should it rain, the camper makes for a great spot in which to spend the day reading together.
The most difficult part was understanding the mechanical workings so Bill would be able to shut down the camper in winter and water in the lines wouldn’t freeze. Plus, they had to keep in mind that anything they added to the camper would at some point be barreling down the interstate at a high speed. “You can’t do anything too frail,” he says. “Everything has to hold up to the rigors of being on the road.” They did have to replace a couple of mechanical items, but surprisingly not much. “A camper this age rarely makes it this far,” Bill says. “This one was really well taken care of.”
For the winter they’ll shut down the camper and store it in a barn onsite. Come springtime they’ll head back to the farm and set it up again. Bill estimates that they spent about $10,000 on renovations to the camper. “It’s our version of a vacation house,” he says.
By Mitchell Parker Houzz editorial staff