Author, editor and television executive Rob Pegley has always been creative. But it’s only recently that he started tinkering with tools, restoring furniture and renovating caravans.
“I sit at a desk all week and so it’s good to indulge my ‘inner tradie’ at the weekends,” says Rob from his home on the North Beaches of Sydney.
“I hope it’s not too pretentious, but I think of it as physical creativity,” explains the father of three teenagers. “I’ve written books and edited magazines, and I find upcycling art and furniture, or renovating caravans, every bit as creative.
"It’s about having a vision, planning that out and then making it. Having fun with materials, colours, light and design.
“I like the physical nature of it, too – getting sweaty while you work. I get so sucked in that I skip meals when I’m working on a project.”
Rob, who migrated from England 20 years ago, says his passion for working with his hands developed slowly in recent years. “I’d always loved books and pop culture and used to collect retro things from Op Shops. Then about three years ago I started framing old book covers and selling them at markets.
"That then led to bigger things such as restoring mid-century furniture. Then I started making my own punky, retro furniture out of crates and signs and reclaimed wood.
“I’m mostly self-taught and improvise – I’ve learnt by my own mistakes. And ridiculous though it sounds, I take a lot of my building principles from Lego! A lot of my structural principles and spatial awareness comes from that.
“I like working with wood, Perspex, paint, even Christmas tree lights. Having fun, like a kid does with Lego, but with different materials.”
Rob’s inventive recent caravan renovation has been a big hit with the Workshop community, enjoying over 5000 views in the first week it was posted. Inspired by the iconic Penguin Classic range of books and beat generation tome On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the 70s Millard van was cleverly transformed over the recent festive season.
It was the first caravan Rob had renovated on his own, after doing three others throughout 2017 with a mate. Rob got the reno bug after chatting with a friend who runs his own painting and decorating business.
“We were talking about doing a project together,” Rob says. “He’s a professional and highly skilled at decorating. I have my design tastes and project management skills. We were thinking about how to combine those.
“We were also talking about the tiny living phenomenon, and it was born out of that. We went halves on a caravan in February last year, chipping in $1000 each – and by the end of the year we’d done three together. He’s taught me so much about painting and renovating – taken me to a level I didn’t expect.”
“Kerouac” is Rob’s favourite project to date and he feels as if “three years’ worth of experience and ideas all came together at once”. “I used the classic Penguin orange and white colours throughout, and matched all themes to that. I hope the family that bought it love it as much as I did creating it.”
In addition to his creative endeavours, Rob spends weekends volunteering at a homeless shelter as well as ferrying his active kids around Sydney. He jokes that he has plenty of time on his hands since giving up drinking nearly a decade ago. He’s now brainstorming ideas for the next themed caravan projects to tackle.
“I’d then love to get enough money to import a silver Airstream van from America to renovate. I love the idea of trying a shipping container home down the track, too.”
Drawn to the Workshop community for inspiration, Rob says he is always interested to see what other members are working on. “I’m always looking for the next project – especially ones that other ordinary people do.”
He also draws inspiration from regular Bunnings visits. “There are three-or-four areas (of the store) I spend a lot of time in,” he says. “I love wood, and I like looking at that for inspiration. I like the aisle with door handles and caster wheels – they make a huge difference to the finish of something and need some thought.
"I also like looking at the shades of paint. And I’m a sucker for lighting – vintage bulbs, different sorts of lamps, and I’ve used rope light in a few of my creations.”
Rob’s workshop at home is a double garage, which contains a modest selection of tools but a lot of (mainly salvaged) materials.
“I’ve got a fairly basic set of tools – electric screwdriver, sander and jigsaw which are musts. Then the usual screwdrivers, ratchets, adjustable spanners, hammer. I have loads of materials and bits and pieces stored though. Wood, Perspex, signs, crates, old drawers, picture frames, pallets, and door handles…
When asked about his favourite tool, Rob says he couldn’t live without the cordless screwdriver which he uses “relentlessly for drilling and screwing”. “Not sure it counts as a tool, but I’m also a massive fan of No More Gaps in a gapping gun. When you’re renovating an old caravan, you get through a hell of a lot of gapping trying to seal everything up and make it solid.”
When he hits a snag on a project, Rob confesses that he “swears a lot”. “Then I go and have a big drink of fizzy water, maybe watch a bit of Fox Sports and try to settle down.
“With caravans, the impressive stuff is largely easy. Painting is time consuming, but simple. It’s fixing fiddly window catches and door locks that is the hardest. Often you have to improvise and fabricate a part out of plastic and metal yourself.”
His advice to fellow renovators is “You can do anything with paint”. “Truly, paint is amazing stuff. When buying a caravan to renovate, don’t worry about how it looks – two coats of undercoat and a couple of coats of full gloss will turn anything around.
"Just make sure that the windows work, the electricity works and it’s structurally sound. Cosmetic stuff is easier than fixing things.”
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