By Sue Moore
Vicksburg’s Old Car Festival points with pride each year to the hundreds of cars on display the second Saturday of June. This year will be a bit different: a Spartan Imperial Mansion, a 1956 vintage travel trailer, standing tall at the corner of Main and East Prairie Streets from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The owner of the 42-foot trailer, Sondra Phillips, has performed miracles with its renovation. She and her partner have a lot of elbow grease involved in what was a derelict trailer purchased for $900 from a yard near Colon.
It was completely gutted. They found a bee hive 18 inches long when the trailer was disassembled and a raccoon skeleton and skull inside. It was reassembled once the interior was painted. A new ceiling was installed, wiring was redone and wood cabinets were cleaned and refinished. “We kept the original layout which includes a kitchen, rear bedroom with queen size bed with the back wall lined with built-in closets that are original. There is a full bathroom and living-dining area with a huge observation window at the front,” Phillips said. “The camper feels spacious at 315 square feet, smaller than most ‘tiny homes’ which range from 400-600 square feet.” The challenge was to make the most of the small space and create an efficient environment. Turns out Phillips likes to have her creature comforts when camping, she said.
“I consider the revamped trailer a marketing attraction and mobile showroom. It is the perfect way to engage with people,” said Phillips. She hauled it to the Gilmore Car Museum last year and will have it on display at a KOA Campground in Covert this summer. After that it goes to the J. Petter Gallery in Saugatuck for a wine and cheese festivity.
Phillips’ everyday job is as an interior designer. She founded SKP Interiors in 1996 in Kalamazoo. Her expertise has helped with the trailer design too, featuring orange chairs and orange refrigerator from the 1950s repainted in her favorite color – orange. “I love vintage things. The fun is in following tips that people give me and hunting them down.”
The first camper she remodeled was a Go-Tag-Along she found on Craig’s List about three years ago. That one was featured in the magazine Vintage Camper Trailer January 2019 issue. She showed the camper at the Vicksburg Old Car Festival two years ago. Now she’s back with the ultra-comfortable Spartan Imperial Mansion which lists for sale on the internet for $59,000. She has seven more campers in one condition or another that are on tap for renovation. A version of the Spartan camper listed for $3,670 in 1948. It would cost $33,747 in today’s dollars, Phillips said.
Phillips said SKP is the only firm in Kalamazoo with a focus on interior design. She began her career after graduating from University of Michigan, starting in Chicago at the Merchandise Mart. She came back to her home town of Kalamazoo to work for an architecture firm. She started SKP in 1996 and cites her work on the interior of the Kalamazoo Airport, the Girl Scout Training Center in Kalamazoo, Biggby Coffee’s Lansing headquarters and many of its coffee shops. She designed the original interiors on the Vault in Vicksburg when it first opened under Clint Powell in 2014 – mostly in orange, of course.