The finest vintage

16:00, Dec 28 2014
RETRO MOMENT: Jo Nixson-Sparkes and husband Paul love all things vintage.

On the table of Jo-Nixon Sparkes' caravan stands a Hawaiian dancing girl doll with long, lustrous hair and a green grass skirt. Previously, she lived on the mantelpiece in Jo's home, but when the quakes hit, the mantelpiece came down. 

The hula dancer survived intact among the rubble and she now looks right at home in this sympathetically refurbished 1954 Auckland Caravan Club caravan.

Jo and husband Paul are into all things retro - the Beckenham couple sing in a rock-a-billy band and Jo occasionally writes for vintage magazine Glory Days - so when it came to a caravan, they probably weren't going to go modern. 

They bought "Kitty" from a retro caravan dealer in Northland last December. "We bought it because it's totally us," Jo says. Like so many good things, the caravan was a Trade Me purchase and once they had clicked "buy" they had to arrange the practicalities of collecting it. The dealer agreed to deliver it to a ferry in Wellington and Paul collected it from Picton.

Their first trip, up to Waikuku, was planned for just two days after the caravan arrived in Christchurch. Trying to get a head start on the interior design, Jo was calling Paul as he drove it back from Picton, asking him for the measurements of shelves. She wanted to cut liner to the right size before the caravan was even in the driveway. 

And, fortunately, pretty much all the other interior details were ready to go. "A lot of the stuff we already had. Before we bought it, we trawled around the op shops," Jo says. As a result, there are interesting knick knacks everywhere: a little flock of china swans, a pink transistor radio, and a cake stand made from old vinyl records. Tucked away in a cupboard is another op shop find: peppermint-green Tupperware containers that stack like Russian dolls.

Floral carpet and floral curtains add to the old-world feel, and the caravan itself retains all its original light fittings, cabinets and roller blinds with their cute little fringe. There is even the original gas bottle, although this is more aesthetic than practical - Jo is quick to point out they don't use it. 

Jo has loved all things vintage since she was a teenager. So what's the big appeal? "It's the style; there's more attention to detail, there was better workmanship," she says, pointing out the pleasingly curved edges of the table, the solid nature of the cabinetry and the lines of the tap. "You have to pump it to get hot water ... so it's not labour-saving, but it's beautiful."

Kitty might be pretty, but she also gets out on the road. Jo and Paul have childhood memories of caravan holidays with their families and part of buying Kitty was the desire to recapture some of those halcyon days. To create "some happy memories away from screens and wi-fi" for their own children, Pierre, 14, and Willamina, 11. They have so far managed several trips away, even including their two little poodles, which are "part of the family".