Sweet Digs Australia: What It’s Really Like To Live & Travel In A Retro Van

Welcome to Sweet Digs Australia, where we take a look inside the sometimes small, sometimes spacious, and always unique homes of women and gender-diverse people across the country. This week, we tour the retro minimalist van home of Will & Bear's founders and avid travellers, Lauren and Alex.
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On the quiet, tranquil shores of the Mornington Peninsula, we meet Lauren and Alex, the founders of Australian hat label Will & Bear, in their holiday home — a quaint and calming space that fulfils all their needs when it comes to work, relaxation and simple living. "And fun fact, it's also our car!" Alex exclaims.
Lauren and Alex are a true testament to both the romanticisation and pragmatism of van life, having spent the past several years travelling across Australia as they please with their bed, office and kitchen in tow. It's a life that many of us have imagined and dreamt about; a nomadic existence that offers enough creature comforts to make life functional, but without the fuss that comes with needing a permanent fixture.
This is exactly the kind of life, and home, that Lauren and Alex have built together. They tell Refinery29 Australia that their label, Will & Bear, aims to inspire people to get outdoors and connect with the Australian landscape, "so we really wanted to live [that] ethos, which is why we ended up living in our van [while] travelling Australia," Lauren explains. These days, they split their time 50/50 between the van and another, more traditional home, making their time in the van now like a mini-vacation.
They purchased their 4-wheel drive for $19,000 a couple of years ago to replace the van they were living in at the time, which they say is relatively cheap for this kind of vehicle. Alex gutted it and refit the space to their exact needs and designs, ensuring a simple yet hyper-functional optimisation of space. Taking their renovation into account, as well as inflation and the economic effects of the pandemic, they confidently estimate the value of their sweet little digs to be worth between $60,000 and $70,000 today.
"When we were designing the van, we knew that it was obviously a really small space, so we made sure it was designed to transform into different spaces depending on what our need was," Lauren explains. Once they'd figured out what the primary functions of their space would be — to cook, chill out, work, sleep and drive — they could design the space to turn into all those "modes" quickly, with easy actions like flipping the car seats around to create a mini lounge room, unfolding tables to create a dining space or pushing the mini couch out to make a bed. Of course, their commitment to efficient yet stylish storage solutions makes the space feel so clear and tidy despite holding so much.
As for the interiors and home decor, the pair have really leaned into the seventies, (and dare we say it, groovy) retro vibe that seems to come naturally to van life. They opted for a neutral colour palette with beiges, browns and whites throughout, reupholstering the seats in a classic brown corduroy-like material, adding tan leather finishes to their walls, and rounding all the corners of every fixture in the van. Lauren and Alex are also really inspired by the Australian landscape, hence what Lauren refers to as the "dusty, outback kind of colour tones" you see inside and out.
As isolated as it can be — "being stuck in a van with your partner is the worst part of living in a van!" they jest — Alex and Lauren have made sure their space can accommodate their community, and they recall some of the fun dinner parties that have been hosted in the van. "[Living in a van] just makes you so creative," Alex notes. Despite the fact that it can be hard to strike a work/life balance, Lauren muses (it would be hard to pull out your laptop when the beach is on your doorstep!), the pair finds that the "roll with it", go-with-the-flow vibe of their space energises their work and living routines, ensuring they value practicality, patience and gratitude at all times.
"It puts a smile on people's faces when we roll into town, and I love that," Alex says.
Get the look of Lauren and Alex's van home below:
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