WORDS George Clark and Jane Field-Lewis PHOTOS Richard Maxted
Adam Collier-Woods is a carpenter by trade, with a passion for surfing. He had an old caravan, but he was looking for a more permanent solution to going on surfing holidays with his kids and staying somewhere affordable, self-contained and comfortable.
He came to the idea of the Big Green Bus in his own charming but idiosyncratic style. That is, he believes that if you think about things too much, you run the risk of over-thinking the idea and end up not doing it at all. He prefers a more youthful approach; after all, kids seem able to do anything because they don’t over analyse things – they just do them!
Adam’s first thought was to buy a run-down property, but even tiny houses without a roof were well out of his price range. When the bus concept occurred to him, he launched right in. Adam’s character and practical skills, and the fact that he didn’t have to mortgage his house to give this a go, meant there was just a chance that it might work out. By following his instincts and applying good practical knowledge, this step-by-step free-form approach seemed like an adventure that might have spectacular and life-changing results.
Having confidence, combined with a will not to embarrass yourself, means that you can achieve a great deal, albeit by default. Adam had talked the talk with his friends, telling them that he was going to carry out a high-quality conversion.
However, as soon as he started the work he realised that he had set himself high standards and the renovation would have to be as good as he’d told everyone it was going to be. As he says, “I’m a tradesman as well, so I knew how to do everything, and there was no point in asking anyone else to help. Also, it was my project. I couldn’t expect others to share my level of enthusiasm.”
In design terms, the upper deck was simple. Adam just wanted a dedicated relaxation area, and “to squeeze in as many double beds as possible, and I wanted them to be proper beds – that was important. I designed it on a scrap of paper, which I’ve since lost.” He retained a lot of the old signage, including “Mind Your Head” and, of course, the classic, relatively steep staircase. He even kept the old cigarette burns and titbits of etched graffiti, which he views as “the scars of life”.
The design of the lower deck was dictated by practicalities and, principally, by three factors: the need to keep the added weight on the lower level, the even distribution of that weight, and what Adam could change and what couldn’t be altered, such as the engine and wheel arches. As well as the original driver’s cab and staircase, there’s a boiler, bathroom, long open kitchen, woodburning stove and two more rows of lengthways-facing seating.
Upstairs Adam created separate bedrooms by removing the original seats and building simple stud walls. Because the bus moves and has a life of its own, he felt it best that the walls should have a flexible finish, so rather than use a traditional plaster finish he used tongue-and-groove panelling. He investigated what insulation the bus came with, but on removing the inner skin he realised there wasn’t any. He installed modern sheet insulation and then re-clad the interior surfaces with wooden panelling.
Figuring out where to place the kitchen was informed by the existing layout of the downstairs area. The driver’s cab and entrance were at one end, and the natural width at the back of the bus where there is bench seating across the whole area was kept as a sitting/dining area, although all the seating was re-upholstered and re-covered. Now, as Adam says, “It’s a lot comfier than the normal back seat of a bus.”
The natural place for the kitchen was opposite the bottom of the stairs. Adam opted to use off-the-shelf simple kitchen units because although he was a carpenter and could have made them himself, time was running out to do it from scratch.
This is an excerpt from George Clarke’s More Amazing Spaces by George Clarke and Jane Field-Lewis (published by Quadrille Publishing, distributed by Pan Macmillan South Africa). Catch season 2 of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces on BBC Lifestyle (DStv channel 174). For more information about the show, visit channel4.com. The book is available at all leading bookstores.