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Transformation in Transit

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Kevin Haggarthy
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“I hate people saying something can’t be done. Years ago I bought a pair of shoes that didn’t fit well, so I took them to a shoe repairer and asked him if he could correct them for me. He said it couldn’t be done. I went home and undid the entire shoe on the table, remade it, and took it back to him to show it can be done. If you look at something long enough, you can work out how to make it work.”

Starting early

That’s Tania Shwartz; she has no time for the word can’t. Trained as a silversmith by her father from the age of 12, and beginning her silversmith apprenticeship at the age of 16, she has used her acquired practical skills, love of art and design, and can-do approach to transform a rather dismal looking 2004 Ford transit van into a unique and imaginative mobile home.

“I rather like the fact that it looks like a knackered old van. It’s often illegal to stop overnight in a camper van in some places, but with this no one notices. I had thought about painting it, but decided not to in the end. What’s more I love the reaction on people’s faces when I open the door; they just say ‘wow!’”

From a very early age Tania – who now teaches silversmithing and experimental sculpture in her spare time – has always loved doing things with her hands. It is born of fond memories of learning the art of silversmithing from her father. A passion for crafting things, and her practical approach to creating solutions are at the heart of this rather unique project. Yet the motivation is also aligned to her love of travel. “Travel is a big thing in our family, it’s in our DNA. I travel a lot with my 14-year-old son Joss and we don’t like booking places ahead as it constrains our freedom. We’ll only book maybe the first night and the rest is an open agenda. On one occasion Joss asked me if we could go to Paris, which is his favourite city. It was 900 miles off-route, but we just said ‘why not?’ and off to Paris we went. That’s the freedom having the van creates.”

Yet the conversion of the van wasn’t the result of carefully worked-through or themed design; Tania says it just grew organically. “I had no idea what it was going to look like. I knew where the cooker and bed had to be, everything else just evolved as we went along… but I do know that I wanted it to be magical. I had already seen quite a few really good van conversions at Chris Evan’s Carfest show one year, but fine as they were, to me they lacked charm.”

Mix’n’match

“The project began with the oak floor, which I trimmed and fitted myself. Outside of that Chris [her partner] and I knew how we wanted it to be. Chris worked on the frame, ceiling and kitchen area and I developed the look and feel from there. I wanted unusual tiling which I found at a shop in Muswell Hill, and then I found the sink. I bought some handle-less mugs and wooden frames for them to sit in. For the dinner plates I made the shelves and the wooden straps to keep them secure. The door handles for the cupboards are made of copper piping that I got from a plumber I saw in the street, and I got the clips for the cupboard doors from a plumbers’ yard.” Additional seating took the form of an old converted ladder Tania had for years in the back garden.

The whole project took Tania about two years on and off, but she reckons if it was privately commissioned, she could do it in two-three months. “Oh yes, I’d love to do it again, mainly because it uses all my skills, and each one would of course be totally unique and individual.”

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