The chartreuse-colored Volkswagon Westphalia with the fuzzy steering wheel cover might be feeling a sense of smugness these days, knowing that van life was cool before it was officially cool. By now, many Coloradans have noticed the surge in vans cruising the two-lane highways around the state’s scenic landscapes, especially the retro vans’ shiny new cousin: the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The trend is understandable: With more people seeking a life of adventure, an increasing ability to work remotely, and a vehicle in which you can travel, cook and sleep comfortably, van life offers the irresistible allure of self-sufficient adventure on the open road with access to some of nature’s finest camp spots.
As local residents Andy Ward, a longtime builder of custom furniture, and his brother-in-law Jeff Lyga, a cabinet builder, observed the steadily growing trend over the years, a light bulb blinked to life. Feeling ready for a new venture, but one with which their skill sets would align, the pair decided to create a custom van build-out company.
High Road Vans, the result of their brainchild, was born a little over a year ago, and the two recently finished their first full build-out. The van, a four-wheel drive Sprinter, boasts a thoughtfully crafted interior designed to be both aesthetic and functional, a pleasing tiny home in which to hang out while also being able to take the bumps and knocks of rowdy back roads and daily life.
“We wanted to compliment the van’s features with a contemporary feel,” said Ward, High Road Vans co-owner, along with Lyga. “We added some nice woods and laminates in there, while keeping things durable and functional.”
With a focus on the high end of the custom van market, the company aims to offer both camper vans as both a finished product for purchase and a build-out service for clients who already have a van ready to be customized. The custom-built interiors are “essentially a house on wheels,” according to Ward, with the small space meticulously considered for maximal roominess. The design element of crafting custom furniture has proved useful, the eye for detail and the marriage of beauty and functionality providing a guiding force.
“When I built furniture, I tried to build the best furniture that I was capable of,” Ward said. “I’m taking that ethic into the van-building world as well. Everything needs to be really well thought out.”
For Lyga, who first moved to Telluride in a van in the late 1990s, the custom van venture feels aligned with both his love of camping and adventure, as well as his skills as a cabinet maker.
“I love camping and everything associated with it, like road trips,” he said, noting that his background in building and cabinetry has offered a lot of applicable parallel skills for building out vans.
Camper vans harbor a particular brand of that American dream magic, the pixie dust of the open road, a warm breeze tousling one’s hair through the rolled-down window and the siren call of adventure. For Lyga, that kind of magic can be summed up in a single word.
“Freedom,” he said. “You can move around as you wish, not be too tied down.”
“It’s a good starter home,” he added with a chuckle.
The company’s vans include the amenities needed for an extended road trip: kitchenette, refrigerator, foldaway bed and table, outdoor shower, hot water system, and a full solar electricity system for rechargeable off-grid power.
Finishing their first full van build-out, Lyga said, has been one of the biggest rewards so far.
“We feel it’s a pretty high-end, successful build,” he said.
The world of custom camper vans, while a growing industry, offers opportunities to innovate, create and dream as limitless at the horizons towards which the homes-on-wheels will roll. The duo are looking forward to the adventure of crafting custom vehicles perfect to carry adventurers off into the glowing sunset of their own dreams.
“We are excited to continue to innovate in the van world,” Ward said. “We’re doing something new and different and challenging, and that’s very rewarding.”