What Lies Ahead Van Build Guide: The Kitchenette

Aside from our bed, the other major component of our van build is our kitchenette. This is also the most significant portion of the van build that has gone virtually unchanged since our initial departure in February 2021. In this post I will detail our drawers and pullout cutting board, our fresh and grey water tank system, and of course our famous salad bowl sink.

For those who don’t know, our stainless steel salad-bowl-turned-sink went absurdly viral on TikTok, racking up over 18 million views and single-handedly sending our modest account straight into the TikTok Creator Fund program. Check out that video here, and let’s get started!

The Sink and Countertop

This DIY hack has been kicking around the internet for many years, and it is a ridiculously easy way to save money in your build. Buying a pre-built sink (usually a small bar sink) can easily cost one or two hundred dollars. Alternatively… You can cut a hole in a stainless steel salad bowl!

The idea here is very simple. We found a stainless steel bowl at Home Goods for $4 and a basic drain assembly at Home Depot for about $10. Our van build uses a very small, six-gallon closed sink system powered manually by a foot pump. More robust kitchen builds may use an electric pump, go for a larger sink, and incorporate overflow drainage, but all we needed was a simple sink drain that wouldn’t leak. I used an ordinary drill bit to create a pilot hole in the bottom of the salad bowl, and using a 1 1/4″ hole saw, I carefully drilled a hole suitable for our drain assembly. It’s worth noting here that metal-on-metal friction can be dangerous – I highly advise going slow and wearing gloves and eye protection to avoid heat- or spark-based injuries.

Moving forward, the rim of the drain hole should be coated with a thin line of plumber’s putty, which will help prevent unwanted leaks. Your drain assembly should have a rubber gasket for each side of the hole as well, and with the gaskets and putty we have never experienced a leak coming from the sides of our drain assembly. To further seal the drain, you could also rim the drain top with silicone caulking.

To fit the sink snugly into our countertop, I placed it upside-down where we wanted it to rest within our chunk of wood and traced the exterior edge. Our bowl had roughly a 1/4″ lip around its rim, which meant that I needed to then measure and draw a smaller circle on our countertop 1/4″ in from the previous tracing. Then like with any interior cut, I drilled a starter hole in the center of my cutting area, placed my jigsaw blade within it, and cut toward my edge and around the circle between my two lines. When my hole was cut out, it was slightly smaller than my salad bowl’s rim which allowed it to sit nicely in place in the countertop. Some clear silicone caulking applied around the edge attached it firmly to the counter and prevented water dripping into the kitchenette from the countertop!

Our TikTok shows some of this and the water system at work.

The Water System

Our grey water and fresh water each live in a six gallon BPA-free plastic jug from Walmart. The rectangular shape of the two jugs allows them to snugly sit side-by-side under the counter, and having the fill/pour hole on top allows for easy gravity-fed drainage.

We use a Whale Gusher Galley foot pump to run our water. The setup here is dead simple: using vinyl beverage tubing with a 1/2″ interior diameter, the lower valve on the foot pump connects to your fresh water tank, and the upper valve connects to your faucet. This tubing is nothing special – we found it sold by the foot at our local True Value. The most important part of this setup is making sure you use hose clamps at every connection. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a few leaks I’m sure you’d like to avoid! Here’s a video of the pump in action:

The Drawers

We custom-built drawers to fit in the space remaining after spacing out the water tanks and foot pump. The build here was simple and off-the-cuff; I measured and cut three 1/2″ squares of plywood that fit the width and depth of the empty kitchenette space. The “walls” of the drawers were cut from 1/4″ plywood and run about 5″ tall. The top drawer of the four is actually a cutting board (which honestly doesn’t get much use because we can’t pull it out as far as we’d like)!

We also made veneers for our drawer fronts using flat pieces of moulding and mounted them in the kitchenette with standard drawer rollers. Almost all of the outward-facing wood we used in the van has been stained and varnished with the same semi-transparent cherry woodstain and semigloss lacquer.

Here’s a TikTok about our drawers!

The Dishwasher

That would be me.

– Noah

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