Architecture & Design

How'd You Like to Escape In This Sweet Camper Van?

SoPo’s Abbee Hoyt makes #vanlife dreams a reality with a line of souped-up, stylish campers.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van converted by Salt Vans

From our Spring 2022 issue

Abbee Hoyt became a champion of the Instagram-sexy trend #vanlife by accident. A South Portland single mother of five who telecommuted as a Silicon Valley consultant, Hoyt was experiencing pandemic burnout and looking for a change of scenery in the fall of 2020. She snagged a coveted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van from a local dealer and planned to retrofit it as a camper for trips with her youngest child, Jack, now 11. But when a New Yorker riding out the pandemic in her neighborhood spotted the van in her driveway, he offered to buy it at a premium and pay her to overhaul it. Hoyt’s wheels began to turn. “I thought, if there’s one guy who approached me, maybe there are more.”

Abbee Hoyt
Abbee Hoyt spent weeks mulling layouts for her 60-square-foot living space

Popular among social-media influencers for years, #vanlife has exploded during the pandemic, with retirees and working professionals using camper vans as second homes and mobile offices. Hoyt spent weeks mulling layouts for her 60-square-foot living space, heading out to her driveway to pantomime washing dishes at a tiny sink, working at a tiny desk, and lying on a tiny bed. She hired former boatbuilders to carry out her vision with jigsaw-puzzle efficiency, and collaborated with Gorham designer Erin Flett to outfit the interior with patterned rugs, pillows, totes, and toiletry bags. The first van sold to a pair from Pennsylvania after the New Yorker failed to follow up.

Abbee Hoyt spent weeks mulling layouts for her 60-square-foot living space

Hoyt officially launched her company, Salt Vans, last March. She operates full-time out of a Portland warehouse and contracts with a Mercedes-Benz dealer for Sprinters. She’s retrofitted four more vans like the original, which have a base price of $190,000, and expects to complete 15 to 20 more this year, most of which have already sold or will be offered to people on her waitlist. She also plans to offer an 85-square-foot van with space for a separate bath. (The smaller model has a toilet and pull-out shower hidden beneath a seat.) It’s been a whirlwind year, Hoyt admits, with one bittersweet consequence: “I still don’t have a van,” she says, laughing. “But I’m having so much fun building them for other people.”