Joining us this month is Chris, with his business Retro Retrims. Previously from Birmingham, Chris has fallen in love with a local lass and relocated to Somerset where he has set up his workshop alongside us here in our sunny cider orchard here on the Somerset Levels.
Chris will be working on his own vehicle upholstery projects for his own clients – including Volkswagens, Minis and other post war classic vehicles – and also working on some of our projects too. He has already made a glamorous gold padded cocktail bar for the Dubai Airstream and will also be working on a very exciting new venture which we are launching later this year – watch this space for more details!
At present Chris has his own space at the back of one of our workshops but this is all set to change as we are constructing a new workshop especially for him alongside our current workspace.
You can find out more about Retro Retrims on Chris’ website: www.retroretrims.co.uk
In the workshop today – ARC is an family-run business and here we can see Darren’s son Luke is a chip off the old block as he helps polish this Airstream.
James and Steve are ARC’s talented upholsterers they are busy creating another seating area for an Airstream interior. They have just finished an exciting project for Kensington Palace!
This is Terry the American Retro caravans electrician. He has been working for the company since it started and has known Darren for years. Terry does all the electrical jobs on the caravans and really enjoys the work as the Airstreams are something different from the norm. He gets to work with several different types of power supply and he finds the work very interesting.
“You get to do things in these caravans that you don’t do in normal household electrics….my favourite part of the job is when they’re finished and we can switch it all on and see it working.”
Before coming to work at ARC, Terry was in the Royal Navy for 24 years working mainly on helicopters. He is fully qualified to carry out all types of electrical installations in portable commercial or domestic units and is registered with Elexa. His favourite colour is green.
Pictured above – Kathy and Darren, owners of American Retro Caravans. Today we meet Darren:
“My apprenticeship was in sheet metal work many years ago. Having completed my course and worked in this industry for a while I decided that I wanted to be more creative and work with wood instead. So I went to college to study carpentry and then worked in a joinery workshop for the next few years learning the skill of cabinetry and furniture making. I then went on to run my own business working for private clients and businesses for 25 years as well as running small to medium building projects.
Our Airstream business has given me the opportunity to combine all my skills I have learnt over the years into one. Renovating Airstreams is a time consuming and complicated business. Nothing is ever square or straight and the Airstream can change width constantly from one end to another! Fitting handmade kitchens into old cottages has been very good experience for this type of work!
My favourite part of my job here at Arc is sourcing and fitting new and exciting products to use in our airstreams and the variety of work I deal with. I am a workaholic so my day usually starts at about 4.30am and goes on till about 6pm. My days are always varied as I can be fitting a bathroom in the morning to making a leather clad cocktail cabinet in the evening and no day is ever the same! Every project is different and each has its own challenges but they are all really interesting to do.
My favourite colour is blue!”
Pictured above are Kathy and Darren, the owners of American Retro Caravans, in action. Darren’s blog piece coming soon – today we meet Kathy:
“From a very young age I have always been obsessed with Art and Design and have never wanted to do anything else. Having gained a first class BA in Textiles at Manchester University, I began my career in the fashion industry, designing prints for high street stores. Following this I went on to work as a freelance designer for an agent in the UK, selling my work to Benetton, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.
After having my three children I settled in Somerset, teaching art at a local private school and selling my botanical flower paintings.
I first became interested in Airstreams after seeing them in Cornwall whilst on holiday. After researching the Vintage Airstream I became fascinated in their history and style. This fascination quickly developed into a business idea. My life now is a mixture of juggling parenting, running the business and walking my dog and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
My favourite part of the business is meeting our clients and creating an interior personal to them. I spend much time sending clients mood boards, design ideas and samples of fabric etc and photographs of their project. Many of our clients collect the photos together to make an album of their project and make regular visits to the workshop.
My favourite colour is purple!”
Next up: Meet Darren
At age 12 I saw my first bow top caravan, and wished with all my heart that I lived in one. By 16 I had earned enough to buy an old shepherds hut and an old wooden farm cart on which to build a bow top. Having no idea exactly how I might do that, I found work at a local furniture making company where I served a five year apprenticeship learning how to design and make furniture and shop fittings, and keep the bookwork up to date. Although our workshop was in the west country we were often in London, fitting the Mulberry concession in Fortnum and Masons, and their then flagship store in Christopher’s Place, and building the most fabulous panelled room to showcase fine tapestries in Jermyn Street.
I then worked as a Journeyman carpenter both on building sites and in workshops throughout Somerset, and working to commission for clients designing and building their furniture and interiors. My designs had always been quite classical following accepted rules of furniture making until I took a year out to go to circus school. It made me realise that as long as it was still practical a piece of furniture could still be a flight of fancy, something different.
The spaces in which I found myself working became larger and larger, but my fascination still lay with what could be achieved in the small and tidy spaces of the last 100 years of caravans. They are often quirky or aspirational. There is something in the smallness of space that speaks volumes of the period they were made in. Now, finally, in the neat circularity of things I find myself working in these treasures of travelling spaces…and it’s great!
Selena has been working at American Retro Caravans since January
“I only came to help for a month as a stop-gap but I’m still here!”
Selena finds working for ARC very exciting because the work is so varied and she finds herself doing something different every day – from speaking to clients on the phone, preparing quotes, doing bookwork to fitting aluminium trim. She describes herself as a ‘general dogsbody’ – in a hectic position within the company but says it’s nice because it’s never dull.
“I’m not sure if the riveter is mightier than the biro, but last month I swapped office for workshop for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed a day on the tools….the following day….. I ached all over! ”
Originally trained as a furniture maker, Selena now spends 2 days a week in the workshop and really enjoys the work. She has been working with wood since she was sixteen and has also spent some time working as a postie and a year learning circus skills.
“That’s when I learned to juggle, which has come in really useful with multi-tasking in the ARC office”
Selena’s favourite bit of her job is working with the boys in the ARC workshop. Her original trade saw her working as part of a team on building sites and after taking time out to become a mum she really missed working with a gang of blokes.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie and I love learning new things – I learn something new every day.”
Favourite colour: Selena doesn’t have a particular favourite colour, she says it depends on the day – and she loves being upside down.
Will is the newest member of the ARC team and started at the end of June. He has just graduated from Somerset College of Technology with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Will’s work at American Retro Caravans varies but is mainly focussed on fabrication and repairs. He loves working with his hands:
“Anything to do with working with metal really and I’m happy. I like getting my hands dirty”
Will is enthusiastic about working with old vehicles – in his spare time he has been rebuilding a classic Mini and he also likes taking motorbikes to bits. There is usually some kind of restoration project on the go at home in his workshop and so he really enjoys restoring and repairing the Airstreams.
His favourite part about work at ARC is the variation of the work. The job involves working on several different restoration projects at once and there is always something different to do on each Airstream.
Will’s favourite colour is blue.
Dave has been working at American Retro Caravans since April. He has been working for himself as a carpenter since he was 18, building kitchens, cabinets and various other bespoke woodwork projects.
Since joining the team at ARC, Dave has taken the position of ‘King Laminator’ laminating the interior of the Airstreams, alongside other carpentry and cabinet making tasks. Everything in the Airstreams is hand built and made to order – nothing is from the shelf – so Dave’s skills are in demand as he helps to create and fit made to measure furniture in each one.
What else does Dave do at ARC?
“I keep the workforce on their toes with my banter. I also teach English to our Polish staff member . I’ve been teaching him Mockney. I’m from Kent originally.”
Dave’s favourite colour is green and his favourite thing about working at American Retro Caravans is the good working atmosphere:
“We all have a good laugh together and still get on with our work at the same time.”
Interests: Dave used to do a lot of kick boxing and downhill biking until his knees complained and he now prefers to do canoeing and a bit of squash.