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How a young couple turned an old ‘shitty’ caravan into a luxurious family home | interiors

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men January 2021, Hannah and Dave Bullivant placed a flyer in every mailbox on the main road in their town. The note asked residents of Oare, in eastern Kent, if they could move their cars on a particular day to make way for a wide load that would travel through the town to a field behind their friends’ house.

“There were two or three incredibly tight corners with very, very old buildings on either side,” says Dave. “We knew it was going to be tight.” Moments after he landed the brochure, Dave’s cell phone started to ring. “It caused such a furor,” he recalls. “People were coming to their doors to express their concerns. It took all my de-escalation skills to calm everyone down and explain that everything is going to be okay.”

For Dave, Hannah and their children, Frankie, 10, and Auden, five, this was just the beginning of their downsizing process: a two-year plan that would allow them to drop their long-term lease and buy a second hand mobile home , transform it into a “luxury lodge” and ultimately save for a deposit on their first home together.

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Dave and Hannah outside their old “junk” trailer Photograph: Michael Franke/The Guardian

In 2020, the family received a six-month notice on their rental: a three-bedroom house in nearby Faversham. “At the time, we really couldn’t find anything more suitable,” says interior stylist Hannah. They were discussing their situation with friends who live nearby, on the edge of the Oare Nature Reserve. “We have camped a lot at his field over the summers,” says Hannah, “and we were kind of joking when we asked if we could have an extended camp at his field to save some money and think about our plans…”

As the conversation deepened, both families realized that they could make this a formal and mutually beneficial arrangement. Hannah and Dave would buy and renovate a static trailer and live rent-free on their friends’ land, during which time they hope to save up for a mortgage deposit. At the end of the two years, the Bullivants would move out and the lodge would become guest accommodation for visiting friends and family.

It was important to both families that the friendship remain intact, so they drew up a contract stating that the Bullivants would move in in 2023 and that the £20,000 budget would be split equally between the two families.

His first purchase was the caravan, which came from a junkyard in Sandwich. “It was £150 including delivery,” says Hannah. “Basically, it was a piece of shit. Our mission was to make it look nothing like a static caravan.”

It was moved into position 100 meters from the main house in late January 2021; Dave, a commercial music video director, had until May to make it livable. He would be doing most of the work himself: learning on the job, with the contribution of his friend (the owner of the field), who is from a family of builders. “We benefited a lot from his knowledge and knowledge of his power tools,” says Dave.

What started as a cosmetic repair job turned into a full-scale renovation when they discovered a leak in the bathroom that had damaged much of the floor (“it was soft, like Weetabix”) and some of the interior walls. They decided to gut the interior, which prompted the decision to add a bathroom extension. This created space for two bedrooms, a separate bathroom, a utility closet, and a “deluxe composting toilet,” along with a living, dining, and kitchen area.

the dining room
The dining room leads to two bedrooms and a bathroom extension. Photograph: Michael Franke/The Guardian

While Dave went about the physical work of the renovation, Hannah procured the materials. “Once word got out that we were doing this project on a tight budget, friends and acquaintances reached out to offer us stuff,” Hannah recalls. Kitchen cabinets, double-glazed units, and scrap wood were donated. Other stuff was sourced locally through the Facebook Marketplace.

At the same time, Hannah was responsible for drastically tidying up her rental house. “We had to get rid of half our possessions, so we came up with a rating system,” she recalls. “It was pretty brutal. If an item didn’t get a score of 10, we had to get rid of it.” Hannah, who also teaches online courses on home cleaning and decorating, reveled in the task. “There were some things that I was sad to part with, but I couldn’t tell you what they are now.” What didn’t sell was either donated to a local swap community or left in boxes outside the front door for passers-by to rummage through and relocate. “It feels very freeing not to have a lot of things,” says Hannah. “Plus, we can clean and tidy the whole place in about an hour – I love that.”

Most of his furniture has been sold, along with a few prized pieces: a Rambert Ballet poster, a small chest of drawers, and a couple of antique lamps that are temporarily stored in Dave’s sister’s attic. “We brought very little with us: just a few small pieces of art, a bench, a stepladder and the children’s bunk beds,” says Hannah.

Canny storage features throughout. In Hannah and Dave’s bedroom, the bed has been raised to create space for deep storage boxes. These have been hidden behind a repurposed linen table runner. Raising the bed had the added benefit of bringing them closer to the view of the Oare swamps: “The sun comes up right behind those oak trees,” says Hannah.

In the children’s room, the space has been cleverly divided in two, with each child choosing a favorite color for their bunk bed. Built-in shelving, cork boards, hooks, and a stuffed hammock allow them to hold on tight enough to whatever they’re doing, and moss-green curtains enclose each bunk, giving them alone time when they need it.

The light-filled space of the living room, dining room and kitchen is in soft pastel tones that connect with the colors of the exterior. Again, Hannah has been clever with storage by raising the legs of the corner sofa to create space for toy boxes to slide in and out. There are also small concessions to luxury throughout: an engineered oak floor; William Morris wallpaper in the outhouse, a small wood-burning stove and a boiling water tap.

The extension of the bathroom with shower and freestanding bathtub.
The bathroom extension has a freestanding luxury bathtub. Photograph: Michael Franke/The Guardian

“There’s enough separation and space between us that we never feel like we’re living on top of each other,” says Hannah. “But we can live in community: we grow vegetables and we garden together, we eat together a couple of times a week at her house or in the field. The children go to school together, so we share a nursery and school elevators. In summer there are many children running around the field that overlooks the sea and the swamp. It’s idyllic, really.”

On the outside, the flimsy outer shell has been heavily insulated and clad with wood so it no longer shifts when gusts of wind blow through the exposed estuary. The wood turns silver little by little and disappears into the landscape that surrounds them. “We feel so lucky to live here,” says Hannah, who is already looking forward to a summer of play dates under wide, pink skies.

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