Are you considering vanlife, buying a campervan or making renovations to an old campervan? In this article, we reflect upon the renovations that we made to our 2002 Miller Campervan in 2021 in Italy.
Within the month of July of 2021, we travelled from South Africa to Italy, found ourselves an old (2002) secondhand Campervan, named it Milli-VANilli and spent two weeks doing renovations and making modifications before starting the next chapter of our Nomadic life campervanning through Europe.
It was a crazy and busy month: navigating travel for the first time during the global COVID pandemic and searching for a campervan at the peak of the European summer season with a massive campervan shortage all across Europe. Just to make matters even more interesting, the campervan left us stranded on the highway on day one, but even this wasn't going to stop us!
It did lead us to making a few more renovations and modifications prior to our first campervan trip. After the fact, we are very happy with all of our hard work and think that these are the most noteworthy improvements that we have made so far...
Most FUNCTIONAL Campervan Improvements:
Most old campervans do not come with a pre-fitted mosquito/fly screen door. As we very quickly realised in 2018, this is an essential feature if you want to be able to enjoy the outdoors during the European summer! The easiest and most common installation consists of vertically hanging strips which one can simply walk through. Besides looking a little old fashioned, we find that this does not create a sufficient barrier for smaller bugs. In our Camper in 2018, we made a temporary solution by tucking in and overlapping two pieces of mosquito netting. This was very functional, but not that easy to open and close and didn’t look very neat. This time, we opted to customise and post-fit a magnetic closing mosquito netting which is by far the most functional improvement to the van!
When you’re 1.9m tall (like Andre is), then living in a small space comes with its own set of challenges! Firstly, this means that we only considered vehicles in which he can stand upright comfortably. One doesn’t always realise this, but a lot of the more modern vans with double floors have reduced headroom. Although Milli-VANilli has sufficient headroom, the permanent bed at the back of the van was far too short for Andre! In order to lengthen the bed to a very comfortable 2.1m, we raised the bed by 120mm which also gave us significantly more space in the garage under the bed.
Many modern campervans tend to reduce the sink size and provide only two gas burners in order to have some counter space for food preparation. In order to create this much needed additional counter space in Milli-VANilli, we make use of a perfectly sized wooden pizza board to place over the sink when it is not in use. In general, we do appreciate the large sink as it does make washing up easier. Although we don’t consider the large three-burner gas top necessary, we don’t plan on changing this immediately. Instead, we found a beautiful big bamboo board that covers the entire stovetop and doubles as additional counter space by placing it on flip-up support brackets (which we custom made) across the door opening. This works very well and we like the fact that both boards can be used anywhere, both inside and outside the van.
We have long since debated why almost all UK Campervans come with an oven when hardly any European vans do? While an oven may seem unnecessary for a summer vacation, it is a very useful addition when you are living in a Campervan full-time. We were really happy to find the perfectly sized convection oven which we fitted under the bed. Although we will only be able to use this when we are plugged into shore power, it has already proved its worth in making our traditional Friday pizza nights possible in the van!
The window blinds which come pre-installed with the windows are very functional but also somewhat delicate and susceptible to damage, especially along their edges. Having raised the bed, we also increased the likelihood of causing further damage to these blind edges. For this reason, we decided to make removable clear polycarbonate panels to protect the edges of the blinds, in particular for the windows over the bed. We have already found them so functional and unobtrusive that we added velcro such that they can be used at the window over the dinette area too.
This one is a bonus functional improvement, as it was done out of necessity when our kitchen tap sprung a leak and we had to replace it! The reason I want to mention it is that if you are doing a van build, it is a fairly inexpensive item that can add a lot of functionality. Having a flexible and adjustable kitchen tap makes washing dishes in the van so much easier and also allows for better access to the sink and converted counter space. The adjustable nozzle can also assist with water-saving.
Best ADDITIONS To Our Campervan:
This may well be our most expensive addition, but it is also our favourite and most useful addition - the Ecoflow River Pro Portable Power Station. We feel that this is a good investment as having sufficient power is critical to being able to power all our electronics and this remains a useful asset even if and when we change vehicles.
Campervan security is of the utmost importance to us. The installation of a secure lockable safe and physical anti-theft device help give us a bit more peace of mind when being away from the vehicle.
Keeping a campervan clean and tiny is always a challenge when one does so much outdoor living. We were in two minds as to how worthwhile it would be to have a vacuum cleaner in the van and which type of vacuum cleaner would be the most practical and functional. In the end, we opted for the Black & Decker Lithium-ion Flexi Dustbuster Handheld Vacuum (PD1820LF) and right from the very first moment we have been very happy with our choice! It is so small and lightweight while being very efficient and able to reach into small spaces easily.
Keeping in mind that our Campervan is not just a vehicle, but also our home, we feel that having the following monitoring systems are good additions both functionally and for added peace of mind: Tyre pressure monitoring system; Smoke alarm and Carbon Monoxide detector.
Seeing as the front cab of our vehicle does not have air-conditioning, we bought a USB fan. We made a few brackets such that we can use the fan in various places throughout the van and we have already found this very useful and a good addition to our living and driving space.
Favourite AESTHETIC Campervan Improvements:
The single biggest aesthetic improvement to our Campervan Milli-VANilli simply has to be redoing the outdated floral blue upholstery with a new clean grey look and together with that, redoing the old mustard coloured table with a patterned covering. We didn’t spend a fortune on having this done professionally and although they may not last forever, we are very happy with the overall result achieved from sewing new upholstery covers ourselves and simply adhering a covering over the existing tabletop. This really changes the whole look and feel of the Campervan from outdated 90’s stye to funky and modern!
One of the very first things that we did, was to put up two very large mirrors, one on the entire bathroom door and another on the bedroom wall. We did this so early on, that we have almost forgotten the dramatic effect that they have on the space! They bring in so much more light and make the entire living space in the van feel so much bigger. It’s the first thing that most people notice when entering the van and it was really cheap and easy to do - just don’t skimp on the mirror adhesive!
Initially opening the bathroom door left one blinded by yellow and gold and an overall feeling of cheap plastic finishes. Replacing bathroom finishes in an old campervan is not that simple, so we opted to replace the yellow plastic strips with aluminium where possible and then spraypaint all the remaining yellow plastic grey and the gold light trimmings white. We also added some tiled mosaic adhesive to the walls, grey rubber flooring and a grey shower curtain. These simple changes resulted in a dramatic aesthetic improvement to the entire bathroom space.
One of our favourite aspects of our Campervan is the ample amount of storage space. The only downside of this is the overwhelming “wooden cabin” feel which both darkens and dates the entire living space. We considered (and tried) various alternatives, but settled on spray painting the main cabinet panels white while leaving the wooden trim to blend in with the remainder of the van. This change not only gives the van a much more modern look, but it also makes the entire living space lighter and brighter.
A typical feature of older Campervans is the abundance of frilly floral curtains and old-school curtain rails! These are very functional and separate spaces such as the front cab and bedroom area, which can be most useful for family use. However, with us being the only inhabitants of our home on wheels, we immediately got rid of most of the curtains and rails. We prefer the bedroom to be part of the living area and replaced the other curtains with direct thermal window screens in the front cab, which result in a more open living space and we installed venetian blinds in the bathroom and kitchen, which allow us to easily regulate both privacy and light.
The conversion of all our lighting in the Campervan from fluorescent to LED, was not only a great aesthetical improvement but also a very functional improvement. The LED lights that we chose produce a cool but soft white light in contrast to the very warm yellow light of the original fluorescent bulbs. But most importantly, all the lights in the van combined now use less energy than a single light fitting previously did! This means we can happily camp for longer with vastly reduced energy consumption.
Initially we had planned to take Milli-VANille on a test trip without doing any renovations, but things never go according to plan now do they!
For a tour through our campervan, to see more of the before and after and to tell us what you think of our campervan renovations, visit our YouTube channel and subscribe so you don't miss out on the best which is still to come!