How We Designed Our Van Build, Part 1 – The Bed and Seating

When it comes to figuring out what you want in your van home, you truly have a blank canvas to work with, and the internet is absolutely filled with incredible vanlife inspiration. Unfortunately, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the limitless build options, and you can never quite tell how elements of your build work out until you’ve already installed it, which can be especially difficult if you don’t have a background in carpentry and have a hard time adjusting and rebuilding. There’s no such thing as too much planning, so let me break down how we designed our build, and what changed in the finished product.

The Bed

This was easily the focal point of our conversion, as I imagine it is with most vanlifers’ conversions. I believe the setup of the bed directly impacts your day-to-day vanlife experience more than any other element of the conversion for a few key reasons:

First, especially in our setup, it dictates how much storage space you have and how easily accessible said storage is. Any belongings of ours that aren’t food or day-to-day clothing go under our bed, which includes all of our camping gear, music and art equipment, our fridge, our toilet, and our off-season clothes.

Second, the sheer size of the bed can dominate your walking space, especially in a shorter van like our Nissan NV2500.

Third, if you go with a non-stationary bed (for example, a bed that converts into a seating area during the day), then rearranging your bed becomes a significant part of your morning and evening routines.

We went with a raised stationary bed. We didn’t want to worry about converting the bed to and from a seating area every day, and we felt strongly that storage access is king. Our raised bed has multiple drawers and cabinet doors used for accessing storage beneath our mattress, and our larger “basement” area can be accessed via the back door. So far, we’ve had no issue loading all of our belongings into storage, including additions we’ve picked up on our journey like an inflatable kayak!

That being said, building a bed that converts to a table and benches is a very popular choice. It allows for much more walking room, which is especially useful for vanlife couples who can certainly use the extra space, but it cuts down on rear storage space significantly.

Seating

This element is much simpler to decide on.

As you can see in the picture above, our bed frame is attached directly to the seating frame, for one key reason… More storage! If there is one lesson in van design I want all readers to take away from our experience, it’s this: everything in your van should have more than one use.

For our bed and our seating, having more than one use is simple – they both double as storage. Shortly after framing out the seats, we walled off the outer rim of the seats with 1/4″ plywood, and the tops of the seats have chest-like hinges on them and can flip open. Our two seats have enough space between them for virtually all of our daily clothing.

Seating alternatives we’ve seen online include transforming, storable seats that may flip up into the wall, and we’ve also seen vanlifers convert their front driver and passenger seats into swiveling captain’s chairs. Builds in smaller vans may forgo chairs entirely and simply rely on the bed for lounging, or larger vans with convertible beds might use the rest of the cabin for just counter space! Like with the bed, we think your choice of seating depends mostly on your storage needs.

Keep an eye out for Friday’s post, where I’ll be detailing the rest of our cabin’s design! See you soon!

Noah

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