How many van interiors do you think I've looked at? 100? 200? Who fucking knows, but its a lot. Peeping out other vans was definitely a source of inspiration and ideas. I mean you can only do so much with 60 sq ft...
So here is my take on it. There are some layout choices that are familiar and some ideas that I came up with on my own.
<This is all still very much a work in progress.>
Lets start with the man behind the cabinets; Bryan Dusenbury of Creative Woodworks. If you think putting soft close drawers into a van is easy you can go fuck yourself. Because its not. And despite my insistence on dubious carpentry ideas he came through again and again.
If you're in Western New York and looking for a skilled cabinetry guru/finish carpenter, he's your guy. Link above will get you in touch.
All of the cabinetry (and most everything else) in the van was built up with 80/20 first. The extruded aluminum is perfect for idiots like me that can neither weld nor work with wood properly. You just buy lengths of the stuff, cut it and attach it together. Sounds simple...
and sometimes it was.
Over several months I was able to cobble together the skeleton/frames of the cabinets and attach them to the inside of the van. I used Rivnuts to mount the assemblies to the walls, floor and ceiling. This was a huge pain in the ass but when it was finished the cabinets were rock solid. I was able to hang my entire body off the upper cabinets and could not get them to move even a tiny bit. Lets see a commercial RV maker do that!
Once the frames were assembled and mounted I was a little lost. I could've probably cobbled some cabinets together(poorly) but I want this thing to feel nice, so I took it to the pro (who also happens to be my cousin).
The galley design is pretty standard. Several pull out drawers and a big split level cupboard. The 80/20 really shit the bed here though. Trying to level drawer slides on 80/20 thats connected to a not-square van is a huge pain in the ass. Like punch a dog kinda frustrating. Obviously we won the battle. Look at those drawers!
The photo above shows the functional side of the galley. We had the good luck of being gifted the Corian countertop. Corian is a pretty ideal surface for a conversion. Its light, workable with wood tools, super durable, water does fuck all to it and you can resurface it with a bit of sandpaper. Looks nice too. I mounted the Corian to the 80/20 with just a bit of silicone around the edge and it hasnt moved in about 10,000 miles.
That cutting board is a sweet piece of work. Not only are the tolerances on it super tight, but its dead simple. The Corian was dado'd out along the sides to fit into the 80/20 profile slots. What does that mean? It means this thing works without hinges, slides or anything that can break.
Horizontal real estate in a van conversion is always lacking. Using your brain to add a bunch more with a minimal vertical footprint is a big deal.
Lets move on to the ceiling. I bought a shitload of this engineered hickory flooring (under protest from master carpenter). I figured it would be good for the floor, cabinets, ceiling. I wanted a uniform look to the interior since it was such a tiny space.
When I mentioned using this stuff for the ceiling I got an immediate: 'Fuck no' from Bryan.
But after a few weeks of banging my head against the wall with everything from fabric covered plywood to just plywood to some weird aerospace plastic stuff I kept coming back to the flooring. The planks looked cool up there and the consistency with the cabinets and(soon flooring) was going to look great.
Fuck it, lets go for it.
So I bought a bunch of black self tapping screws with washers integrated and we went for it.
Surprisingly, this was one of the easier, more satisfying projects. The screws set themselves nicely in the vans metal spars and work went pretty smoothly.
After 7000 or so miles there isn't a loose board up there, I cant hear any squeaking, and it looks fucking great!
There's a lot of stuff going on in the photo above. Here are the lights I used. They are warm white LED puck lights with a dimmer. I tried several and these won out for functionality and price. I have them wired into several zones (galley, under cabinets, bedroom, main ceiling) with separate remote dimmers for each zone. I also wired them into the main switch panel so I can easily turn them on/off and then fiddle with dimmers if the mood hits me.
It all about the lighting folks...
The paneling is also visible above. We decided on a nice 1/2" hickory veneer plywood for this. Easy to bend into shape and fix to the metal wall. First thoughts were to stain/dye the wall paneling a bright red or a muted grey. But after several experiments with several different stains/dyes we decided against it. The patterns and colors looked great natural. Clean and simple.
Didn't stop us from dying the fuck out of the rear door panels (see 2 photos up).
There's also a thermostat mounted on the wall. See it? Why am I pointing this out? Because the heater in this thing is fucking rad. That thermostat is an old school residential thermostat. That means you can set a temperature and the furnace will cycle to meet that temp. Its not just a dumb on/off heater.
It's a working thermostat hooked up to a furnace that I installed in what once was an empty cargo van... Don't lose perspective.
I'm not done yet. Let's take a look at folding bed v2.0. Version 1 was an original idea of mine and it worked just fine. But it was a bit of a pain in the ass. Considering we need to interact with this thing at least once a day it needed to be slick and easy.
Inspiration hit several months after v1.0 and I took a ride to EMS for some climbing rope and carabiners.
I decided to hang the bed instead of supporting it with latches. The latches were a drag to fiddle with and rarely went into the holes on the first try. With carabiners and rope it would just be a matter of reaching up and finding the eye hooks.
The eye hooks are dead simple 5/16 threads that mount directly into the 80/20 fasteners. This means I can slide the eye hooks up and down the underside of the cabinets to get a perfect fit. And remember how I was bragging about hanging off the cabinets and not seeing anything move...? Well now we're literally hanging off the cabinets every night.
Photo above shows the bed with the platform (couch backrest) swung up and the back cushion installed again. The back cushion (Custom Mary Mack upholstery!) foam depth was chosen with care.
Its the exact height of the Froli bed system we put under the main mattress. The Froli system is pretty great. The yachties use them as it promotes air circulation under the mattress (mold in a boat is a big deal) and creates a really comfortable mattress with a smaller vertical footprint than a boxspring.
All of that seemed to fit our situation perfectly so we went for it.
So now we have a much more comfortable mattress that will let all those farts out.
Photo above shows the bed up and smaller mattress piece (couch seat cushion) installed. You can see the mattress piece on top of the back cushion is the same height as the main mattress on top of the Froli. There was no need to have our feet resting on the Froli springs and it would have looked and felt really awful to have those plastic springs as a back rest when couch mode was in effect.
We have sheets (obviously not on) that we keep on the main bed at all times. When the bed swings up we just pull the sheets over the smaller mattress piece and it's good to go.
From couch mode to sleep mode, I would guess it takes 45-60 seconds. From sleep to couch it takes maybe 90 seconds. There are still some issues that need to be worked out.
- The carabiners are easy to attach, but a little tricky to detach. This is due to their shape. Im going to buy ovals and this should solve the problem.
- The rope and washers sometimes get caught up under the platform. I am going to solve this by creating a guide for the rope.
- Managing blankets when the bed is in couch mode is a bummer. Still gaming out ways to solve this
This is definitely a better bed design than the previous one. Its easier, looks better and kinda fun. After a few more kinks get worked out I'll be happy with it.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Pimp That Van.