For many New Zealanders, caravans are the subject of both enjoyment and nostalgia for times gone by; Don and Marilyn Jessen have explored this to the fullest for the past 43 years and over 20,000 miles they have spent in vintage caravans. By combining this passion with their love of interior design and home renovation, the end result was Vintage and Retro Caravans Downunder, a homage to the world of vintage caravans and the people who share this hobby and lifestyle across New Zealand and Australia.
What was it that originally led you to becoming interested in vintage caravans?
Don was born into a caravanning family with his father starting Liteweight Caravans after the Second World War. Our journey with vintage caravans didn’t start until many years after; Don found a 1956 Liteweight 12-foot Kiwi caravan in a garden centre. It was mossy and smelled badly of the manure and seeds that had been stored in it. Marilyn was less than impressed! It turned out to be the last one Don’s father hand-built in the home garage before the business moved into a purpose-built factory. It didn’t take much restoration before Marilyn decided that there could be something interesting about vintage vanning, and added her canvas and sewing skills to Don’s construction skills.
Tell us a bit about your book. What made you decide to write it?
Don’s first book Retro Caravans – Vantastic Kiwi Collections was written when the New Zealand scene was just kicking off. We continued to collect stories and photos and attend vintage caravan rallies, and noticed the almost exponential growth in interest. Don had visited Australia a number of times in the past when working for Liteweight to research caravan trends so he was keen to see what the Aussies were doing in the vintage scene, and so a ‘Downunder’ book of vintage vans was born. The book was written for anyone with a passing interest in caravans right through to dedicated vintage vanners. There’s restoration stories, interior décor tips and over 90 caravans for readers to drool over!
Why do you think that vintage caravans have grown in popularity in recent years?
For many vintage vanners it’s a nostalgic trip back to when they were young and enjoyed holidaying as a family in caravans. For others it’s a logical extension to their ownership of a classic, vintage or hot rod car. And yet for others it’s the challenge of restoring and fitting out a vintage van. It’s about creating a nostalgic time capsule that screams ‘happy holidays!’
What are your top tips for interior decorating in a caravan?
Start with making the most of what you have, especially if you have furniture and Formica which is in good condition. You may have a special vintage piece which you can build your whole colour scheme and décor around. Checking out the décor of the time will ensure that it has an authentic retro look, or you can decide to theme your caravan with a beach, American diner, a girly or garage theme. The only rule is there are no rules!