Last updated on 6 August, 2023
A pop top caravan makeover can easily be done DIY without spending excessive amounts of money or time. Let me show you how I did ours for under $500* and hopefully inspire you to revamp your caravan and have fun doing it.
* does not include the cost of a new pop top canvas sleeve.
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Pop Top Caravan Makeover | How do I update the interior of my caravan?
1. Let in More Light with a New Pop Top Vinyl Sleeve
Budget tip: sometimes it is worth spending money on one feature that will make a big impact.
Older pop top caravans like ours (or older) often still have their original grey or dark canvas sleeve. The pop top vinyl or canvas sleeve or skirt the bit that collapses when pulling down the roof.
The old grey canvas on our pop top caravan was dull and dreary, the fly mesh ripped in a couple of the windows, letting in the insects. It felt dated.
Yet we tolerated it, not really feeling up to the task of replacing the vinyl sleeve. That was until our pop top roof needed rebuilding to repair a leak. Compared to rebuilding a roof, replacing the vinyl sleeve no longer seemed so daunting. We ordered a new sleeve.
You know when you finally do something and when done you cannot believe you did not do it sooner? The difference the new white pop top caravan vinyl made was phenomenal. It allowed so much more light to flood the caravan interior, making it so much more inviting and spacious. It was honestly like chalk and cheese.
Our pop top caravan sleeve came from BagsnSwags who was helpful in giving instructions on how to measure, so we would get the right size. It took two weeks from paying to the pop top skirt arriving in the post (this was long before covid postal delays).
The new vinyl skirt has been fantastic with all the stitching still holding up to this day. Our only issue has been the pulls on some zips on the vinyl window flaps have broken.
The vinyl skirt at $590 (2019) is the most expensive purchase for our caravan revamp with everything else in total costing $500. Gee, though, it was worth the investment.
2. Replace Old Flooring
Budget tip: If you too are trying to keep your caravan renovation to a budget, ask flooring suppliers for off cuts or end of job leftovers. Most will have them and will sell them at a decent discount.
Carpet in a caravan is insane. Easily stained and impossible to keep clean in such a small area, the carpet on the floor in our caravan was disgusting. I hated it. Thankfully, the previous owners had removed it from the front kitchen dining area and put down floor vinyl, which was more tolerable and easier to keep clean. There was still carpet on the floor at the foot and sides of the bed.
Having two different floor materials, carpet and vinyl, in a small space was unsightly and because the carpet HAD to go, it made sense to remove the vinyl as well and redo the entire floor.
Vinyl is a great lightweight option and one we seriously considered. The option we went with was vinyl floor planks. When visiting a flooring supply store, they offered leftovers from big jobs they had completed at highly reduced prices. These leftovers were vinyl floor planks in a limited number of choices but we found something we liked.
Daryl removed the old carpet and vinyl and laid the new flooring. It took him a day as there was a fair bit of cutting and getting into tight spaces involved. The result looks so much better and he got a happy wife.
3. Replace and Update Old Window Coverings
Budget tip: roller blinds are a cheap easy way to give your caravan interior a new look.
Josephine had her original curtains when we bought her. Gaudy, worn and faded green pleated curtains and pelmets that dominated and dated her interior. The fact the curtains were not completely horrendous and functioned okay, is my excuse why I put up with them for as long as I did. Then one day, they had to go.
Replacing curtains with curtains is one idea. A great, very workable idea. It is also a fair bit of work to sew, alter or make curtains as there are none available off the shelf that will just fit. Me, I can sew, I lack interest more than I do the skills, so I looked for another option.
The other option was blinds. Sleek budget roller blinds bought off the shelf.
Our choice was to go with the stone colour blinds that matched most closely the wood vinyl of our caravan. Grey and charcoal were other colours we considered but we decided to go with a colour that blended in, and not stood out. For us, it was the right choice, as it has let other decorative features take centre stage.
I removed the old curtains and pelmets using a screw driver and pliers for pulling out some staples. Daryl installed the blinds. All up it took us a couple of hours to complete.
The downside of the blinds is they can fall on really rough roads. To prevent damage to the blinds if they fall, we make sure they are in the rolled up position when we are driving. Thankfully, they are also easy to put back up.
4. Give Different Areas Definition
Budget tip: self-adhesive vinyl is a very cheap simple way to add colour and patterns to flat areas such as walls and cupboard doors in your caravan.
Our 17′ caravan has 3 distinct interior areas – the kitchen, the dining and the bed. Despite this, the three areas can look like one, with no division because there are no dividing walls or partitions. This is fine but we are aiming with our caravan revamp to have a home on wheels that is stylish as well as practical.
Painting the inside of caravans, walls and cupboards, is popular with many caravan renovators. The most used colour is white which makes sense and usually looks a million bucks. White is great for brightening up small, dark spaces.
Not all of us want to do white. Plus painting is time-consuming and expensive, particularly if done right. To paint over caravan walls and cupboards which are usually a vinyl or laminate needs proper preparation, under coating and the correct paint. It is also best done when you are not living in your caravan, and we were (are).
Besides I may have had time to kill when we were stopped in Melbourne to do a simple caravan revamp. What I did not have the time, patience or money for was total interior repaint when I would rather be still doing things like a St Kilda Day Trip from Melbourne. Priorities people. Priorities.
An alternative, budget idea is self-adhesive vinyl. The vinyl comes in rolls and is available in almost endless colours, patterns and textures online. I found two suppliers to buy the stick on vinyl off the shelf – Kmart for $3 a roll and Bunnings $5.95 a roll. The choices however are very limited compared to what is available online.
Note too, self-adhesive vinyl is not the same as contact, the stuff used to cover school books. Contact is devil’s invention and terrible to use. The vinyl is much more friendly and nicer to use. Do not confuse the two.
For our caravan I chose three different vinyl pattern/colours from the Kmart range:
- Kitchen backsplash – I used the white with black dots vinyl. The area above the kitchen bench, sink and stove and under the upper cupboards was dark and hidden in shadows, the white helps to brighten the space and the dots are a fun feature.
- Exposed cupboard side – for some fun and practicality at the end of the kitchen area, I put up the blackboard vinyl. It works surprisingly really well as a blackboard. Now it is a creative space for chalk drawings, inspirational quotes and practical things like lists.
- The bed area – I put up a vinyl with a palm leaf pattern to give the bedroom area its own distinct look.
I am happy with the look of all options I chose. But some tips when using self-adhesive vinyl:
- Get yourself a good, sharp knife for cutting around window frames and other features.
- For pattern vinyls, buy at least one more roll than you need so you enough to match the pattern at the joins.
- Remove items like power points and lamps before putting up the vinyl. It is far easier to do the vinyling (I know, not an actual word) than it is to cut in around everything.
- Physically putting up the vinyl is a one-person job. The spaces in caravans are small and tight, trying to get two of you in said spaces plus the vinyl will mean getting in each other’s way and a lot of frustration.
- The vinyl peals off easily which is helpful when lying up patterns and the edges, just don’t peel it off too many times because it will stop sticking at all.
- The vinyl does not like heat, such as near a stove, and will peel off the wall, eventually. I fixed this by nailing in a few small furniture tacks in the black dots of the vinyl I used. The other option is to use an extra, more robust adhesive.
Most of all, have fun with patterns and colours. Do what you like, not necessarily what everyone else is doing. Your caravan is your space, let your personality and creativity shine.
5. Use a Colour Scheme
Budget tip: using colours, at least some, that already feature in your caravan, will help when deciding colours and to keep costs down as less things will need replacing or recovering.
A bonus budget tip: look for discounts at stores and search in op shops for budget friendly and unique items. For example, I paid $3 per metre discounted from $28/metre for grey material I used.
Josephine’s original colour scheme was walls and cupboards made from wooden vinyl, with some gold on the edges and handles. Blue, green and grey upholstery, pale green curtains and green bench tops.The new colour scheme did not venture far from the original.
Again, keeping things simple and practically needing to keep the walls , cupboards and benchtops the same, the new colour scheme was nearly the same as the old. I changed the blue to grey, used nicer shades of green, and added beige when choosing some decorative items.
Overall, it was enough to give the interior a fresh new look with:
- New grey upholstery (material) on the seating area cushions, bed head and large bed cushions.
- A new reversible quilt cover as well a throw and a croquet rug both bought at op shops and with these few items I can alter the look of the bed.
- An upcycled wooden dining table top with one with a gold stencil details, bringing more gold into the overall look.
- Decorative items that fitted with the new colour scheme (more on that below).
Best of luck deciding your colour scheme. For some it is an easy process, for others it is challenging. Go with what you like. Be as subtle or as bold as you want. Remember this is your caravan.
6. Reconfigure an Unused Space
Budget tip: keep costs to a minimum by shopping at op shops, looking for freebies and repurposing what you already own.
Do you have an area or space in your caravan that is not being used as intended? We did. A single chair that became a dumping ground for stuff and hardly ever used for sitting on.
Discussions were regularly entered into between Daryl and I with ideas on what we could replace the chair with:
- A cupboard – no, there is a window we do not want to cover up.
- A caravan toilet and maybe a shower – no, that would involve major construction work to the caravan. We have a portable toilet and use it an ensuite tent outside.
One day it dawned on me, we had another use of space problem. Our dog Chika was sleeping on her bed at night on the floor. Routinely we had to step over her or had to get her to move so we could open some cupboards and the fridge. Her sleeping on the floor was not very sensible. In addition, we were kicking over her water bowl often.
The solution to the Chika on the floor problem was get her (and her water bowl) off the floor. It was so obvious the unused chair was the solution, I cannot believe we did not think of it sooner.
It was such a simple solution to carry out. Daryl helped me to remove the chair cushions and he also helped me to make a wooden box with a lid that fitted her water bowl. Then we put down a rubber underlay was (just sits in place, not stuck down) then her bed, the box with her water bowl and in the box we now keep some of Chika’s dog camping gear – nail clippers, combs and monthly parasite prevention meds. Lastly, the bag of her dry dog food fits as well.
Admittedly, Chika does not use her bed every night. Sometimes she prefers the floor. It does, give us the option to tell her to get on her bed and out-of-the-way if needed.
Maybe you, too, have a space that could be better utilised without too much reconfiguring and fix another problem.
7. Add Some Creative Storage Ideas
Budget tip: if you are unable to buy what you need, get creative and make it yourself.
A bonus budget tip: collect tib bits – interesting shells, sticks, weed balls, feathers, tree nuts, coconut shells or whatever takes your fancy – as you travel that you can craft into unique free or low-cost pieces for your caravan.
Storage is never something there is too much of in any caravan. Mostly for us our caravan storage is adequate. Even so, we had few storage needs, so outside of cupboards, I added:
- A pair of matching baskets kept on the wheel arches, inside the caravan. One basket for storing knee blankets and the other for dirty clothes.
- I made hanging pocket storage from the grey material. Hung, one each at our bed to keep items easily at hand, that do not fit on our very small bedside tables – books, travel and gratitude journal and daily medications.
- I made a very basic fruit hammock. I got sick of fruit bruising as it bounced around in containers when towing our caravan. Plus, they make a cool decorative feature in a kitchen space. I used this video as a basis for instructions on how to make the hammock. There are lots of macramé and crochet patterns available for free on the internet if you want to try making one more involved than I did.
By the way, the fruit hammock works great. Have not had any fruit fall out of it, not even when we did our Flinders Ranges road trip on dirt roads. Also no more bruised fruit.
8. Add a Few Distinct Decorative Touches
Budget tip: upcycling items or things you already have or can get cheap or for free is a great way to save money on a caravan makeover and add unique pieces in your caravan.
Pop top caravans do not have a lot of room for accessories or decorative items. The general rule is everything should have at least two uses to warrant the precious space it takes.
Mostly I agree with the above mentioned rule. I also believe that a space, that is your home full-time or temporarily, should feel inviting and somewhere you enjoy being. Our caravan is our home so it feels more important.
Adding a few select pieces in your caravan that serve no other purpose than to make you feel happy is a perfectly reasonable and I would argue necessary thing to do. As someone who has and travels with generalised anxiety, I know how important it is to feel relaxed and at home in my caravan.
Ideas of what decorative accessories or features you could add is only limited by your vision, creativity or budget. For some inspiration, here is what I have done:
- Upcycled an old coffee table top – I scored a free coffee table, had the top removed from the base and cut to size by a friend of a friend we were staying with at the time. I made a stencil of a whale silhouette, sprayed painted on to the table top and the edges with gold paint.
- Put up fake plant / ivy – my preference would be real plants any day of the week but the practicalities of keeping plants in a caravan would be beyond my patience. So fake ivy it is. It looks good. Fake plants are better than they were in days gone by.
- Made a wall hanging – macrame or crochet wall hangings are in vogue and used in many vintage caravan revamps. I considered making a macrame wall hanging, instead I bought a crochet cushion cover at an op shop and upcycled it into a hanging. I used a small branch, some weed balls I found on a South Australian beach and leftover string I made the fruit hammock with and in 30 minutes the wall hanging completed. Oh there was a bit of sewing, the weed balls to cushion panels.
Undoubtedly, I will add more decorative features as time goes on. Decorating any home is an ongoing process as our tastes change, trends come and go and we find or make new things to add.
How Much Does It Cost To Renovate A Caravan
A caravan renovation that has major structural repairs or a rebuild can cost many thousands of dollars. Alternatively, a caravan makeover with only aesthetic updates could cost only a few hundred dollars.
Our pop top caravan makeover expenses were kept to a minimum as I wanted to keep everything, excluding the pop top vinyl replacement sleeve, under $500.
Here is a break down of caravan revamp costs (to the nearest whole dollar):
- Flooring $75
- Vinyl floor planks $55
- Metal edging strips $10
- Screws $10
- Roller blinds (4) $65
- Self adhesive vinyl $15
- 6 rolls x $3 each
- Chalk for blackboard vinyl $3
- Recover chairs, hanging pocket storage and large pillow cover $25
- Material $3 per metre
- Furniture tacks $4
- Bedding $37
- New reversible quilt cover $22
- Throw rug $8
- Crochet blanket $7
- Upcycled Table Top $20
- Table top $0
- Sandpaper $3
- Gold spray paint $5
- Spray clear sealant $12
- Chika’s bed space $19
- Wooden box and lid $15
- New dog bowl $4
- Storage baskets $44
- Plastic baskets 2 x $22
- Fruit hammock $6
- Ball of twine $3
- Hooks for hanging $3
- Fake ivy plant $10
- Wall hanging $3
- Crochet cushion cover $3
- Pop Top Vinyl Skirt Replacement $590
TOTAL WITH VINYL REPLACEMENT $909
Everything else we already owned – tools and sewing stuff like threads and needles.
Hopefully I have shown you, a pop top caravan makeover can be done tastefully without spending too much time or money. Have fun doing yours!
Oh and do not be surprised if you get some choices wrong along the way. I did. That is another post for another day.