Inspired by a childhood camping trip through the western United States, Maddie turned her father’s retro pop up camper into a gorgeous space with a vintage feel.
This next reader feature really pulls at my heartstrings. Nostalgic for her childhood pop up camping days, Maddie was inspired to get a camper of her own and take her kids out for adventures. Everytime we hit the road in our pop up camper, I secretly hope we are making the kind of memories that will inspire my kids to do the same with their families some day. That’s why this story is so sweet to me.
Maddie grew up camping in a 26′ travel trailer, and when she was 11 years old, her parents took the family on an epic adventure throughout the Western United States. Her dad wanted something a little easier to tow, so he purchased an old pop up that needed some TLC. The pop up was cheap, but Maddie’s mom did some sewing and cleaning to get it ready for their big trip.
Maddie fell in love with pop up camping that summer, and she was pretty bummed when her parents sold that camper just two summers later and returned to the 26-footer. Maddie vowed she would grow up and get a pop up someday so she could take her own kids on grand adventures. What a great story, right?
Twenty plus years later, it became a regular habit of Maddie’s to look at Craigslist ads in the hopes of finding a used pop up that was in great condition, but also in her budget. Maddie became a bit jaded, and she started to think that those simply didn’t exist. However, while she was in the midst of a search one day, she stumbled upon a local pop up for sale that had been completely renovated and was just beautiful. The listing touted the fact that the makeover had been featured on the The Pop Up Princess blog. That listing, Rose’s Pop Up Camper Makeover, inspired Maddie. She discovered the Reader Features here on the blog, and soon she was making plans to find a well loved pop up camper of her own.
It just so happens that Maddie’s dad has a fairly extensive and eclectic classic car collection. As part of that collection, he had acquired a 1969 Wheel Camper Ranchwagon pop up camper about 10 years ago. Maddie’s recollection of it was that the musty mildew smell was so strong she could hardly breathe. Maddie knew that her parents’ advancing age meant there was a good likelihood they would never be camping in it again. In fact, Maddie had figured the camper was a lost cause until she discovered this blog.
So Maddie asked her dad if he would consider selling the camper to her and allowing her the freedom to remove some of its original features. It was a painful thing to ask of someone obsessed with classic cars, but he agreed. Maddie paid him $300 and got to work right away.
The good? The camper had been stored inside its entire life, so its bones were in excellent shape for its age. The bad? The canvas was moldy, patched with duct tape, and had long rips along the bunk ends. The beds and cushions came with that musty smell, dust, and stains that come from 48 years of use and storage. Maddie immediately removed everything in the camper that was canvas, fabric, or foam. She packed up the original canvas in a giant box and shipped it off to Bear Creek Canvas. They were able to use it as a pattern to create a new and improved version of the tenting.
To keep her expenses down, Maddie ripped the zippers out of the original cushions and gave them a good deep clean so she could reuse them. Then she found some outdoor fabric that, although modern, had a vintage feel and picked up the avocado and aqua tones in the camper. Maddie was very much a beginner level seamstress, but her mom is an expert. She gave Maddie a quick tutorial on how to sew the cushion covers, and Maddie sewed the eight cushion covers whenever she had time over the course of about two months.
Maddie removed the plastic tabs from the original curtains so she could reuse them. Because the camper had been sitting for so long, it took her about two months of experimentation with various cleaning methods just to get the musty smell out of the plastic. Once they no longer smelled of mildew (thanks to a lot of bleach), she was able to easily sew them back into her new curtains with her sewing machine and a heavy-duty needle. For the actual curtains, Maddie kept her costs down by using clearance drop cloths from Lowes. She happened upon some striped outdoor fabric on Fabric.com that was a perfect compliment to her cushions. She ordered just enought to use as an accent strip on each curtain, voila! Super cute curtains for less than $19 total! 😀
Unlike most modern pop up campers, Maddie’s camper beds do not slide out, they flip up and fold in. The mattresses come off of the beds in two pieces and are stored on top of the lowered dinette while in transit. Custom mattresses were a must, and since they needed new foam for the seat cushions anyway, Maddie and her husband ordered large sheets of high density foam in bulk from the Foam Factory. They cut it all themselves to custom fit the beds and the seats. They also added interlocking foam floor mats to the bed platforms for some extra cushion. For more tips on how to sleep comfortably in your pop up camper, make sure to check out this post.
During the winter months, Maddie worked on those sewing projects for her camper. Once summer hit, she started on the painting and flooring. The table and counter trim was caked with dirt, and the fridge was filled with mold. Maddie started off by giving every surface a very deep clean with an old tooth brush, a wire brush, and some steel wool. Then she used a TSP substitute to clean the faux wood cabinets, filled all of the chipped areas with wood filler, and primed it with an oil-based Zinsser primer. (Want more details on painting your camper? Check out our post here.) Three coats of Dutch Boy cabinet paint later, Maddie had beautiful white cabinetry.
For the flooring, she went with a luxury vinyl peel-and-stick plank from Lowe’s. Despite some tricky cuts, Maddie says it was pretty easy to install. One box was enough to do the whole camper, and she even had a few pieces left over. The original door panels were held in place with masking tape, so Maddie took them apart and applied some chalkboard contact paper. She says her husband used some form of magic and figured out how to reinstall them into their original grooves. 😆
By this point, the new canvas had arrived. Maddie and her husband installed it themselves, which they say was far easier than one would think. They were also highly impressed with the quality of the replacement they received from Bear Creek Canvas. Maddie says she would recommend them to anyone needing a replacement canvas.
She splurged on the duvet cover from IKEA. The yellow was a perfect match to everything else in the camper, and made it made her smile. She followed the tips in our tutorial to make her beds more comfy. She says it’s the most comfortably she’s ever slept while camping. She doesn’t even miss her bed at home. Maddie’s three little girls sleep on the other end in their pink sleeping bags. They did not get fancy duvets or memory foam toppers, but they seem just fine with that.
Maddie kept the original tables and countertops, the sink, the lighting, the hardware, and the avocado fridge. The camper did come with an avocado stove that could be used inside or out, but it was in very rough shape. Maddie decided to remove it and use the extra piece of countertop that goes in its place. The goal for Maddie was for the camper to maintain its vintage feel, while still giving it a bright and modern look. Didn’t she do an amazing job achieving that?
Maddie and her husband have had the chance to take their kids camping a handful of times. They’ve even been able to show off the camper at a classic car and trailer show, and it got rave reviews. Maddie can’t wait for the adventures ahead, and she hopes her girls will have fond memories of their time in the pop up, just like she did. Maybe someday, they’ll end up with a retro pop up camper of their own. 😉