It may have seemed, from the previous post, that I blithely started building my van without planning it out. But no. Maybe the electrics were a clue: as I had to run the right cables to the right places, obviously I had to know what was gonna go where right from the get go. But, in fact, I had spent quite a bit of time drawing out plans even before I bought a van. This post is about that process.
You can lay out a campervan in four different ways, at a very basic level.
- There are those that involve a dinette/bench-style seating arrangement that then converts, via a complexcushionjigsaw faff every night, into a bed. Rental and factory-made campers always seem to do this. I know we’re supposed to marvel at the ingenuity of it all, but it all feels to me like such a hassle to convert this to that, transformers-style, all the bloody time. Plus, that shit is ALWAYS made out of beige plastic-coated particleboard, and it looks so naff and cheap after the first five short minutes. Ugh, no. Besides, I’ve been on enough night trains to be entirely underwhelmed about convertible bunks. No, no, no);
- There are those that have a bed going lengthways, with either stuff running alongside it and/or some kind of fold-up system. I like this way of doing things a lot, and I toyed with this basic layout for a while on graph paper. But I think you get more bang for your buck (i.e. more useable space for your basic interior space) by going with the sideways bed. Plus, I’m fairly short (1.69m), so I have this option.
- And so, my preferred way: side-ways beds, where you sleep horizontally across the body of the van;
- And there are the oddities, with beds raised up in the air, or in roof hatches, or some other thing.
Obviously (as it’s what I chose), I prefer the horizontal bed layout. I confess that a lot of the reason for this is the following dreamy inspiration pics:
But I also like that by setting up a cross-van bed, you get useable space under the bed (that you can access from the rear of the vehicle) and you also get two distinct ‘rooms’ in your van: a bedroom and a kitchen/livingroom type space. Now, I know a van interior is tiny, but psychologically I think it helps to have a slight separation of church and state.
And so to the planning.
I drew out the basic footprint of the various vans I was initially looking at. (OK, I confess, I also made a little cardboard model of a van space, so I could move furniture items around and play with the layout in 3D, because I am Queen Of Nerdistan). And here’s what I ended up drawing as my layout:
In this diagram, the fridge and stacked water tanks are at either side of the van, under the bed. There’s a cupboard unit down the middle of the space, under the bed. And the kitchen worktop/unit sits in front of one of the opening side doors, so you can access its innards from the back (i.e. thru a side door). The water tanks then peep thru the side of the kitchen bench so that the plumbing is all in one place, and the gas sits under the same unit, to the side.
And this is more or less what I built, although I made some changes from this basic layout. I ended up switching the whole thing up so it ended up flipped, as a left/right mirror image, along the long axis of the van. This is because of weight distribution. I’ll normally be going alone, so the heaviest things in the van are: water tanks (55L each, so 55kg most of the time), kitchen unit (60kg or so?), and driver (more kg than I like to think about). With this layout as planned, all of these would be along the same side, which is not a great idea. So although I’m in Australia (where we have right-hand drive vehicles and we drive on the left), my van is actually laid out in the Euro/US-style, with the side entrance on what is actually the road side here. As I won’t often be accessing the back/side of the van from the road, this doesn’t matter much.
And so although I made some changes and adaptations here and there as I figured things out and solved problems, this is pretty much what I ended up building. Once the layout worked on paper, I got the specs for all the components — the fridge, battery, stovetop, sink, watertanks, etc– and bought all the major components more or less at once, so I would know exactly what I was working with and could build around things as I went. As I bought all this stuff online, it also meant that I wasn’t waiting around for stuff to arrive, as I bought it a week or two ahead of time.
And so my spare room began to fill up with stuff at the same time as I bought the van and then built the floor. I was still spending my evenings drawing things out and running out of graph paper, but I realised I was ready to actually start building stuff. How exciting!