From behind a screen to behind the wheel.
It was a short course in furniture making that inspired stop-motion animator Joe Woodland, to trade in full-time office life for a life of full-time van converting, and eventually start up The Campervan Craftsman.
Joe was living in the UK, England at the time and after he completed the course, took a chance and bought an empty van. He drove it straight to his Dad’s place in Ireland, where they spent the next few months fitting out the van together. Once it was finished, Joe sold off the van. Then he bought another empty van, converted that and sold it off. He repeated this until the commissions started knocking on his van’s door.
Starting out was tough as there was a lot to learn, but it didn’t take long until Joe’s business started to take off. Joe made the move halfway across the globe from England to New Zealand to set up shop in Golden Bay. For the last 5 years, Joe’s business, The Campervan Craftsman, has been thriving. He’s been converting vans full-time and has four new conversions in the pipeline.
During this time, Joe has converted a wide range of vans including a recent project on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. At the start of the Sprinter project, like any project, Joe kicks off the design process by asking his clients a couple of questions: How do you see the van functioning? What types of environments will you use the van in? What materials or styles do you like? In exchange, Joe offers insight into his personal experiences owning and living in campervans, “I’ve learnt a lot about making the space functional from experience”, he says.
With the Sprinter project, the client’s brief was very clear: to create a light and spacious environment, with a “pine and white” inspired palette. After both Joe and the client agree on the van's direction, Joe produces a digital to scale design of the van. Making final design decisions is tough, especially when it’s for your home (that in this case is on wheels). That’s why discussions between Joe and his clients can extend over a few weeks or even months until they both reach that ‘a-ha’ moment.
As a designer and builder, Joe says the Sprinter as his favourite van to work on, “they offer the best in quality”, he says. The high roof makes it easier to fit in more amenities and for people to stand up in comfortably. The high load capacity is ideal for handling fit-outs that are timber heavy - which Joe is a massive fan of. And finally, the Sprinter’s powerful V6 engine has the necessary grunt needed to take on all that NZ’s roads have to offer.
As a carpenter, Joe says converting vans is “all about pairing unique craftsmanship with practical features”. Most of what you’d see inside the Sprinter van has been built by Joe including all of the carpentry. The van also features several stained glass pieces. Joe customised the glass bulkhead piece to represent the valley the van-owners live in. Other features include a custom archway which creates a divide between the kitchen and bedroom space, a two bench seat that converts into a child’s bed, skylights that fill the van with copious amounts of natural light and bedside storage cubbies.
Life on the road doesn’t get much more luxurious than travelling around in this Sprinter. There’s a heating system that can be controlled from the comfort of the full king size bed, a fully equipped kitchen with a Voyager cooker unit and Waeco CRX 80 fridge. Plus the entire van is insulated with NZ sheep’s wool as protection from the elements.
While Joe especially loved working on the Sprinter van, he’s just happy that he can be a Campervan Craftsman every day of the week: “I feel very lucky to be able to work doing something I love so much”, he says. Check out more of Joe’s unique campervan conversion work @campervancraftsman