Tips for decorating a caravan | Painting and wallpapering the interior

I regularly receive emails from fellow caravan enthusiasts with questions about Dolly 1 and, more recently, Dolly 2. Very often, they’ve stumbled across my blog posts — or Pinterest pins — and ask for tips on decorating a caravan.

I’m asked what kind of paint we used on the walls and cupboards and what we used to hang the wallpaper.

So finally, I’ve decided to make a little list of tips for decorating a caravan interior.

It’s super simple and the look that can be achieved is fabulous.

I’m going to split the content into various posts — painting and wallpapering the interior, then all the fiddly bits like sinks and fittings, the upholstery and, finally, revamping the exterior.

There’s way too much content for one post — and there’s also a LOT of photos!!

So here goes…

Decorating a Caravan » Part 1

Painting Woodwork and Veneer Covered Walls:

In most older caravans — and even bright shiny new ones — the interior seems to be a sea of brown (or worse, orange) wood.

In some cases it’s real. In a lot of cases it’s chipboard; covered in a plastic wooden-look coating. The doors in both our vans have been solid wood but the surrounds have been constructed from a veneered MDF.

Either way, it can all easily be given a fresh, clean look with paint.

1. Firstly, we always take all of the doors off their hinges. This is not strictly necessary but makes them much easier to paint.

Top Tip: Make a note of which door goes where!

2. Give them a light sanding with medium grade sandpaper.

3. Prime using a cupboard makeover paint undercoat or primer. This is the perfect stuff for giving melamine, MDF, wood, wood veneers and acrylic bath panels a new lease of life.

5. Once you’ve primed with a suitable cupboard makeover undercoat paint, give them a topcoat.

The tins always advise to use the corresponding cupboard makeover paint but I haven’t in all cases. I’ve found that a topcoat in standard eggshell works just as well. Which is great as it means you can get bespoke colours mixed up to suit.

Annie Sloan chalk paint would also probably work well if you were after a flat, matt finish. Especially as it seems to cover most surfaces without the need for priming. That said, although I’ve used it on furniture I’ve not tried it myself on a caravan, so don’t quote me on that!

Painting The Walls and Ceilings:

We used the same cupboard makeover paint on the walls — and ceiling — of Dolly 1.

But for Dolly 2 we decided to try a different approach and although we used the cupboard makeover primer to undercoat the walls and ceiling — we did the second coat in standard white emulsion.

This was a triumph.

It saved us quite a lot of money and looks amazing — especially on the ceiling. It gives a lovely matt finish.

You’d expect it to flake or crack but  a couple of years on and it still looks fabulous. I’m so delighted with the finish.

We painted all the plastic struts with the cupboard makeover paint first then went over the whole lot with the emulsion paint and a roller.

Caravan Chaos

Now, there will be a point — probably when you’re half way though the renovation — that a sense of panic will begin to set in.

Don’t worry!!! This is perfectly normal!!!

Decorating a caravan is fun but can be a bit of a messy job. Particularly as you’ll be working in a very tight space.

Plus it doesn’t help matters if you’re a bit of a chaotic worker (like me) and don’t do things in order. I always start with the very best of intentions but invariably things start to look like a total bombsite; as I don’t work in a logical sequence. It drives Mr D nuts.

Opening the door to chaos can be a bit overwhelming but — trust me — just work through it. Keep painting. It will look amazing eventually.

To give you a little spoiler alert — these are the kind of scenes that you may be faced with when you’re midway through decorating a caravan.

Not pretty.

And definitely alarming.

When you’ve spent a substantial amount of money on purchasing the van in the first place, it’s a slightly scary prospect to see looking like this.

But stick with it.

Give everything a couple of coats of paint and — bit by bit — the sea of orange wood will begin to diminish.

Eventually you’ll have painted every surface. Apart from the ones that you plan to wallpaper (if you’re going down that route).

Wallpapering a Caravan Interior:

We’ve wallpapered both of our vans. Not sure what made me think that wallpapering a caravan was a good idea but it is.

It totally works.

I went for a shabby-chic feel for Dolly 1. It has been said (on more than one occasion) that it looked like Cath Kidston had thrown up on her. But I take that as a compliment.

Here’s how she looked before her makeover.

our cool caravan

And after a little bit of elbow grease — a lot of paint — and one roll of wallpaper, she looked like this.

kitchen

living

Traditional or Modern?

I went for a more graphic Orla Keily-esque look with Dolly 2 and used a range by  Layla Faye from Wallpaper Direct.

Pop and have a look at the original post for more info.

Wallpapering a caravan follows the same process as papering anything else to be honest.

I used standard tools — ruler, scalpel, brush, sponge and a papering table. And on both occasions I used a standard wallpaper paste; Polycell Maximum Strength, if memory serves.

The trickiest thing about wallpapering the interior of a caravan is trying to cut around tricky angles. But apart from that it’s no different from wallpapering a room in a house.

I wallpapered the ceiling in one of our bedrooms a couple of year’s ago so it’s something I’m quite confident doing. I also quite like working on small surfaces — as opposed to large rooms — so in some respects I find it easier than wallpapering a house.

 

A few little pointers for you.

Make sure the walls are grease free. Caravan walls can sometimes get a little greasy, due to cooking in such a tiny space, so making sure you give the surfaces a good wash down with sugar soap is always a good idea.

Paste both the wall and the paper; I always hang the paper from the top edge and trim the overhang at the bottom. Make sure you smooth the paper down well and buff out with a dry wallpaper brush to get rid of any bubbles. It can look a little bit alarming when the paper is wet but the bubbles tend to settle down and disappear when the paste is dry.

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

I remember feeling so nervous when I wallpapered Dolly 1.

Would it be a waste of a £30 roll of paper? Will the paper stick? Would it last?

I had visions of the opening her up after the first winter to find the wallpaper hanging off the walls and peeling paint everywhere but that never happened.

We had Dolly 1 for almost 7 years and the paper and paint looked as good when we sold her as the day it was put on.

So there we have it! A few tips on decorating a caravan. Next time I’ll talk about painting a caravan exterior.

Thanks so much to everyone who’s got in contact about Dolly 1 and Dolly 2. I love receiving your emails and would be thrilled to see how you get on with your own van makeovers.

Please do drop me a line with any before and after photos! Caro xx

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Tips on Decorating a Caravan by The Twinkle Diaries

About Caro Davies

Caro Davies art directed fashion and interiors before leaving the world of design to pursue a career in social media. She can now be found chasing the light — and two small twin boys.

61 thoughts on “Tips for decorating a caravan | Painting and wallpapering the interior

  1. Dolly Too is A-mazing! We have just bought a caravan, and it’s interior is very much like your before pictures. It’s pretty dismal, so I’d like to give it a make-over. I was wondering if you have ever wallpapered onto a textured surface in a van? All of our walls seem to have a slight raised pattern to them so I’m wondering if wall papering would work or whether I should maybe stick to painting.

    1. Hi Olivia! YES! I did — both times — with Dolly 1 and Dolly 2! Much, much cheaper than getting them professionally done. A proper upholsterer would probably have a fit if they saw how I’d done it but it’s fine for our needs. They look fab — if you don’t look too closely!! ;) I have pictures of how I did it and will do a post when I have time, but essentially I did it almost like wrapping a parcel. With velcro on one side so they can be removed for washing. Cx

    1. Thanks so much Lone! And thank you for stopping by!! :) The primer and eggshell I used were both water based. You could use oil based paint if you wanted though, I don’t think it would make any difference :) Hope this helps! x

  2. Hi, we’d just started renovating our first caravan and I happened to stumble across your post. Our van is the same model as yours but a two birth. I’ve found the information you’ve shared incredibly useful but wondered how you did the rest of your van E.g light fittings, taps, the bathroom and exterior. I know it’s a massive amount of information for you to recall but any advice would be amazing! 😊

  3. I want to do this with My caravan we bought one just like your colours inside . Got it in September want to update it . Where is that pink green flower wallpaper from I’m thinking that will go with my green curtains etc.

  4. Hi There
    We have been inspired by you too! My other half is worried about wear though, we have two boys, (4 & 2) and he’s worried that the paint will mark and we’ll be forever touching it up, how did Dolly fair? thanks Fi

    1. Hi Fi!! Aah that’s lovely, thank you! Our twin boys turned 5 this week, so lots of rough and tumble but both Dolly 1 and Dolly 2 have seemed to wear pretty well.

      The paint has marked around the door but that’s not down to the boys — that’s more to do with us dragging furniture and caravan supplies in and out at the start/end of each journey.

      To be honest, I don’t mind touching up here and there, as it’s infinitely better than it was to begin with. I’d much rather have to touch up scuff-marks — as and when they appear — than put up with the sea of brown that we had to begin with :) Good luck with whatever you decide! xx

  5. Hi there. Both your Dolly’s are fantastic! We are away to start decorating our “Daisy” and while we are not nearly at this stage yet we were wondering if you painted the exterior of your vans and if so what method and paint did you use plz? Thank you. X

    1. Hello Gill!! Thanks so much for your lovely message :) Yes — I painted the exterior of both vans. I’ve got a blog post in drafts, explaining the kind of paint I used and how I did it. It’s not quite ready to publish yet but watch this space!! ;) xx

      1. Hi Caro, we are about to take charge of our first caravan in a couple of weeks. It is abut 15 years old and I am buying it from a friend. I can see from the pics she has sent me that it would really benefit from a make over as it is coming in its original form.. I am terrified at the prospect of prettying it , though ! Wondering about starting with the exterior first so looking forward to reading your post on this. And thank you for sharing your tips with such honesty!

        1. Hi Rona!! Aaah don’t be terrified! Look upon it as an exciting project!! I would start with the interior first — there’s less pressure, as you can start small (and people can’t see what you’re doing!!!). I plan to publish my exterior post before the summer is out, so watch this space! x

  6. Hello
    My partner has taken down the original plastic type wallpaper down, he wants to paint over the left paper but I’m wondering if he needs to cover it with paper first and what paint we should use thanks x

    1. Hi Charlotte! So sorry, your message was caught in the spam — I’m so sorry for the late reply! I wouldn’t have bothered taking the original paper down, I think I’d have probably just painted or papered straight over it.

      If there are remnants of old paper left, it might be wise either wallpapering over it, or putting lining paper up if you’d prefer a painted finish. I know from experience that if you’ve not got a nice clean finish, paint doesn’t sometimes work too well. Let me know how you get on!! Apologies again for the delayed reply!

  7. Hi i have just bought a rapido folding caravan its in really good condition can i paint the interior walls.

    1. Hi Beverley, Congratulations on your purchase! Exciting times ahead and lots of adventures :) I would imagine it would work, on principle, if the unit is watertight and built like a traditional caravan? But as I’ve never painted one myself, I wouldn’t like to say 100%.

      If you were keen to do it, you could paint a small unobtrusive section — then leave it over a few months (preferably over the winter) — to see how it withstood time and atmospheric conditions.

      The painted surfaces in both our touring vans has never peeled and lasted well over years but as I’ve no experience of folding caravans I just wouldn’t like to say. I’m really sorry! But if you do it, let me know how you get on!! I’d love to know :)

  8. Hi Caro, we have just bought a 3 bed static caravan in Spain. It’s in good condition but has the horrible fake wood type cupboards and walls so I am absolutely delighted to find your blog on renovating the caravan. Looking forward to doing ours and looking forward to your finishing touches blog. Anne x

    1. Hi Anne! Aaah I’m so delighted you found my blog! And yes — I stayed at my parents’ static caravan last weekend and was itching to get my paints and brushes out on their cupboards and walls too!!! Good luck :) Let me know how you get on!

  9. Oh this is great … I have recently bought a rather old and battered motorhome and I was considering “prettying” her up a wee bit inside…. I have saved this post for tips when I decide to do it! Thanks for the tips and inspiration!

  10. Hi. Absolutely love both your caravans. I’ve just bought myself a 2 berth 1990s caravan as a project and have just reached the overwhelming chaos phase of the renovation. Its so nice to see the journey you went through with your vans and comforting to know this mess isn’t forever! 😊

    1. Stick with it Ami!! The chaos bit is really disconcerting — with both vans I’ve reached a stage where I’ve suddenly regretted starting!! But keep going and — all of a sudden — things begin to take shape and start to look much better!!

  11. Hiya, I’ve recently finished a renovation on an old caravan and it looks fabulous, however, after a bout of hot weather the wallpaper is lifting at the edges? Any ideas? Thanks so much x

    1. Hi Vicky, did you paper both the walls and the paper? I always tend to use lots of paste on the edges of the paper, to make sure they really stick down well. Also, did you wash the walls down before you started? It may be that they were a little greasy?

      If I were you, I’d use a scalpel and gently peel back the paper, then add more paste to the wall — and the paper — and stick it back down again, using a decorating brush to smooth it down well. Good luck! :)

  12. hi caro just started my project ha,wish me luck its a 2 birth abbey 1996 shes a lovely old lady but needed brightening up stumbled on your site and so glad i have as its given me the confidence to go for it as your make overs are amazing.gone for a shabby chic look so fingers crossed

  13. I have also been inspired, I am buying my first caravan (v old 5 berth 1994 van and it needs a total revamp)

    My question is did you bother to paint inside cupboards or only outside and doors etc???

    1. Hi Ed! Brilliant — old caravans are the best kind!! It’s so nice being able to revamp them and turn them into something lovely :) And in answer to your question — no!! I painted both sides of the cupboard doors — but not the inside of the actual cupboards. You definitely could though — if you could be bothered. But in my case, it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ Good luck!

  14. Love love love what you’ve done with both Dollies.we bought a 2 berth last year and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her!!! The other half objected as he said it would devalue or make it problematic if /when we come to sell her. I feel it would be easier to sell as not all of us want hideous fabric and brown brown brown!
    Did you find it easy selling the original Dolly ?
    Mel X

    1. Aaah thank you SO much Melanie! And YES!!! I could have sold Dolly 1 a hundred times over — she was SO popular I had people fighting over her and we eventually sold her for almost £1K more than we bought her for.

      I suspect that if you have a new van, you’d be pitching to the wrong audience — the staunch ‘caravaners’ love the shiny beigeness of new caravans.

      But if you’ve got a tired old van (like both Dollies), a makeover is only going to increase the value as they’re not worth very much in the first place. People are drawn to the quirkiness of them! And the fact that they look so homely. We’ve had offers on Dolly 2 — even though we don’t plan to sell her on just yet. But I know that when we do, we’ll make a profit again, just as we did with Dolly 1. Hope that helps!! Good luck with your makeover! xx

  15. I totally fell in love with your caravans a couple of years ago and they are the only reason I agreed to buy a caravan in the first place!! Two years later and we’re finally ready to get started. A couple of questions- did you spray your plug sockets, plastics grills etc? And if so, what paint did you use? And also, did you paint the inside of the main door? Ours is a shiny plastic finish and I was just wondering what paint you used for that. Thanks in advance! Can’t wait to get started now!

    1. Hi Elizabeth!! Aaah what a lovely message to read first thing in a morning! Thanks so much. I have a post outlining all of this info. Along with what I use to paint the exteriors too. Once the summer’s out of the way, and the twins have gone back to school, I’ll post it on the blog! :)

  16. Hi Caro, I absolutely love your caravan restorations. I have just bought a 1991 Sprite who despite her age is in pretty good condition but in need of a revamp!
    I plan to paint and use wallpaper, so I can’t wait to see your post on that because I’ve never used wallpaper before!
    I’m interested to know how long it took you to complete your project from start to finish?

    1. Thanks so much Emma!! That’s so lovely of you :)

      Dolly 1 took just a couple weekends from start to finish! We didn’t have children then so it was a lot easier to just crack on and finish the job!!

      Dolly 2 took maybe 6 weekends… but we were trying to juggle childcare with decorating the van!!

      It’s been spread out over time too. We finished the interior before starting on the exterior on another weekend. Weirdly, Dolly 2 (even though it took longer, cumulatively) felt quicker to complete, as we knew what we were doing!! Good luck with your van makeover!!!! :)xx

      1. Hi, love the finished look and a definitely going to redecorate my van, so glad I stumbled across your blog! Can you tell me though, what you used fo flooring? Thanks

      2. This is a great post but can i just check, would you recommend using cupboard primer to paint all walls and ceiling then put paper on top? We have recently purchased a static caravan and i need to remove the dressing table from the bedroon to create enough space for a cot so im going to need to redecorate the room as id imagine it will mark the wall, thank you x

        1. Hi Claire, You can almost treat it as you would a house. Fill and sand anywhere that needs it first — if there are holes left by the dressing table etc.

          I painted every surface of our van with cupboard makeover paint, then emulsioned over the top with a roller, or wallpapered. Good luck! Let me know how you get on! :)

  17. Thank you so much for your posts. Love your Dolly makeovers. I am revamping a 1981 Windsor caravan that I live in at my daughters, so it’s The Castle…..
    All the brown & orange has gone, now cream & green with red touches. Have recovered seats, made new curtains, remade roller blinds, but I am wondering what to do about the orange fridge door. Any suggestions? It is metallic.

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely message Louise! Could you send me a pic of the fridge door?? I cant visualise what you mean — it would be easier to give advice if I could actually see it :)

  18. I am renovating a 70 s sprite and as it’s going to be a glamping van on our site wether I could varnish over the paper to give a washable surface on changeover days. I would value you input.

    1. I’d definitely give that a go Lizzie. I’ve varnished wallpaper before — but on a box not a wall! I used Polyvine Decorators Varnish — it’s great as it doesn’t yellow over time. If you’re nervous about painting directly on the wall, varnish a piece of spare paper first, to see if you’re happy with the finish. Let me know how you get on!

  19. Hello:) I’m so glad I came across this page!! I recently brought the same transfer as you and currently doing it up… while struggling 🤣 can I ask you how you have your bathroom/ wardrobe room as mine is just a shell at the moment 🤣
    Thank you:)

    1. Hi Jess, I’ve wallpapered the loo/bathroom — we got rid of the shower and the horrible sink unit. But the wardrobe is very separate — they’re not integral? Has yours been knocked through? C

  20. I’ve cleaned the walls and used wallpaper however it’s come off after a few months. I’ve got 10 damp traps in various places and they are all dry…. What should I use to put the wallpaper back up with?

    1. Hi Louise, for both of our caravan makeovers I washed the walls down first, then used wallpaper paste — and pasted both the paper and the walls, before putting up the paper. Both vans were kept outdoors during the winter months and the paper hasn’t peeled in either case. Is it peeling just at the edges? Or is it coming off in entire sheets?

  21. Hi Caro, it’s coming off in entire sheets. I made the paste thicker than the instructions said. When I realised what was happening I tried using PVA and that’s come off too.
    Thanks!

    1. Oh bless you Louise!! What a nightmare! If this was me, I’d get the whole lot off and start again. I’d strip the paper off and clean the walls thoroughly; so they’re totally free of any glue or paste. Then I’d give the walls a light sand — wash them down again — and start again.

      If you don’t want to waste money on another roll of wallpaper, it might be worth buying a roll of lining paper and trying a section with that, first.

      Just to make sure that it adheres to the walls properly and you’re not going to have the same issue again.

      Personally, if I was happy that the lining paper was firmly stuck down — after a couple of week’s or so — I’d then wallpaper over the top of it. If it began to peel then I’d probably just paint the walls instead.

      I’m so sorry that you’re having such a nightmare!! That’s the exact scenario that I worried may happen, when I papered our first van, but happily, it’s not happened yet with any of the vans I’ve renovated.

      Good luck Louise — please let me know how you get on!! xx

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