How to Make a Family Camper Van the Ultimate Home on the Road
A family of 5 takes to the road in a VW camper van, that nostalgic symbol of the American road trip
July 2, 2018
| Updated May 27, 2020
Thomas J. Story
1 of 5
Thomas J. Story
Van Life, Family-Style
It was a longtime dream for Bob and Kris Galmarini of San Anselmo, California, to own a vintage Volkswagen Westfalia. No matter that the 1976 model they found online sported a rusted exterior, or that it required a tow from its previous home in Minnesota. With the goal of preserving as much of its retro charm as possible, the couple slowly invested in a renovation.
While additional seat belts and a rack were par for the course, the couple also splurged on a few key items, including a removable solar panel so they could power up off the grid. Still, “we deliberately did not restore the van to perfection,” says Bob, senior creative director at software company Zendesk. “If it were perfect, we would never want to use it.”
From the start, Bob couldn’t shake the idea of pairing the new soft-gray exterior with baseball glove-leather interior upholstery. “Sand brushes off easily, and spills are simple to clean,” he says. “This is so much better than the standard factory-issue plaid fabric.” The roof rack-mounted solar shower is also handy after a trip to the beach.
A new bamboo shelf near the passenger seat functions as a charging station. “It was crucial for us to have outlets all over the bus so we could stay connected,” says Bob. “The power is sourced from our alternate battery, so we never have to worry about draining the engine.” Speaking of engines, the bus can be quite loud, so the couple added sound-absorbing cork flooring that’s sustainable, flexible, and durable. “Having something that wears well and can take a beating is important,” advises Bob.
“It turns out the engineers at Volkswagen were pretty darn good at optimizing the space,” says Bob, explaining why he and Kris opted to hang on to most of the existing configuration. But their primary reason for letting the vintage built-ins go untouched? “It’s less stressful to worry about furniture that’s already scratched and beat up a bit.” Playing off the palette, Kris, who designs ethically made clothing under the label Neve & Hawk, layered on color. Alternating between vintage fringed African mud cloth and dyed shibori samples from her studio, she sewed narrow rod pockets and draped the fabric from wire to form curtains.
Who needs screen time? Join the kids in road trip-friendly crafts like this DIY tic-tac-toe set, as well as easy sun prints, marbled journals, a nature-inspired memory game, and more camping-inspired crafts.