Photography by Cait Miers

Published on April 29, 2021

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In 2017, designers and seasoned campers Carlene and Michael Duffy decided to trade in their tent for a vintage caravan they sourced on Gumtree. For the pair, who together run the interior design firm Cedar & Suede, the upgrade meant being able to navigate the coasts of South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales (their favorite spots to holiday in their native Australia) and stretch out at the end of the day. For their kids, Stella (now 9) and Paddy (12), it meant freedom. “They love what it represents,” says Carlene of their laid-back trips. If they’re not at the beach, you’ll find them skateboarding or scootering around the campground or playing Monopoly Deal or SkipBo. 

The couple wasn’t prepared to spend thousands on a brand-new RV, so they went old school. Plus “as renovators, we never would have been satisfied with what we got anyway,” Carlene points out. Since that very first fixer-upper-on-wheels, they’ve had three more, one of which is dipped head to toe in the dreamiest shade of blue and big enough (22 feet long, to be exact) to sleep their whole crew comfortably. “I took cues from 1960s- and ’70s-style vehicles and those cool gelato colors you associate with the beach,” she says. After some much-needed demo and savvy construction to carve out space for everyone, their biggest caravan reno to date is a treat when it comes time to hit the road. 

Lighten the Load

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Conceiving a functional layout was the first challenge. The Duffys not only needed to fit a queen-size bed for themselves (it was a nonnegotiable) but a bunk bed with two standard single mattresses on the opposite side for Paddy and Stella. “I take my sleep seriously,” Carlene says with a laugh. Michael, a skilled carpenter, created the fixed ladder and railing for the kids’ nook, using brass plumbing fittings to hold the wood dowels together. 

Carlene’s top tip when it comes to construction? Don’t drag yourself down. “You have to be conscious to only use lightweight materials,” she explains. Hardwood flooring, stone, and even a significant use of tile were therefore off the table. (That’s why in the kitchen, the Duffys lined the backsplash with stick-on rectangles scored on eBay that only look ceramic.)

Channel Positive Vibes With Color

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The pair dubbed this van Dolly in honor of Dolly Everett, an Australian 14-year-old who succumbed to persistent cyberbullying and took her own life at the beginning of 2018. As parents bringing up children in a world of social media, the news hit close to home for the couple. “Her favorite color was blue,” says Carlene; it inspired the soft pastel shade (Taubmans’s Crashing Waves) she used all over, from the kitchen cabinets to the exterior. “I wanted the outcome to feel calm.” 

Make Every Space a Flex One

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Dolly is the first caravan in which the Duffys tested out having a collapsible dining table (all the other ones they’ve renovated had fixed setups). “I love that we can move in and out easily,” says Carlene. To make it look totally seamless when it’s propped up inside, they covered the surface in the same marble laminate that’s on the kitchen counters—that way it almost appears like an island. 

Keep Your (Lighting) Options Open

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Also helping everyone rest easy on their coastal getaways: having multiple lighting options. Mom and Dad can flip on a task lamp so they can stay up and read in bed when the kids go to sleep. The skylights and hatches have also proven handy for bringing in the sunshine during the day, as well as circulating fresh air while they’re cooking. 

Go Places—Clutter-Free

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Aside from catching quality z’s, the family also prioritized ample storage. Luckily, the van had a lot of cabinets already, which the designers revamped by replacing the old amber glass doors with brass mesh panels. “I love that I can see what’s in the cupboard without having to open it,” says Carlene. Another trick to keeping the tiny space tidy is putting anything from shoes to board games away as they go because “it can quickly become chaotic.” It also helps that the main bed and the bottom bunk lift up via gas struts, so the family is able to hide bulkier essentials like body boards, extra tables, and outdoor chairs below until they’re ready to bring them out. “We love the atmosphere of campgrounds and easy access to the ocean,” says Carlene. “It’s such a simple, unpretentious holiday that never gets old.” Half the fun is hanging out inside.

Photography by Cait Miers

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