Creating a Recliner-Storage Area Between the Front Seats of Your Van.

by | Apr 13, 2014 | 68 comments

Creating a Recliner-Storage Area Between the Front Seats of Your Van.

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I stumbled on an outstanding way to add a very comfortable recliner to your van and a storge area a well.

I stumbled on an great way to add a very comfortable recliner to your van and a storage area as well.

I’ve been vandwelling for a long time now and one of the questions I get pretty often is, “Can a couple live in a van?” And I’ve got to be honest with you I’ve always been skeptical of that idea. I’ve known a few couples who lived in Class Bs and seemed to do well with it, but that is a very different situation than a regular van. I can only remember one couple who was able to do it long term in a regular van, and that was in an Astro mini-van of all the crazy things!!
But that is all about to change! Judy and I have been planning to go to Alaska but we are both pretty overwhelmed by the cost of driving both our vans. We finally decided the best possible solution was to take just one van and split the cost of gas in half. At first we thought that idea was just too silly to consider because we aren’t just a couple, we’re a couple with an 80 pound dog named Homer! Where would we all fit? Alaska has a lot of bad weather and how could the three of us possibly be stuck in the van for days at a time with each other?
It didn’t seem feasible but we really needed to make it work so we could afford the trip. We’ve been kicking around different ideas for a while now and we think we have it all figured out. So over the next few months I’ll be doing posts on how we converted her van from a home for a single person to a home for three! The first thing I want to talk about is something I’ve never seen before and yet is something I think every vandweller should consider doing.
This is the bed I made for Homer in my van. That is a Rubbermaid 24 quart ActionPacker and it fits perfectly between the seats of my 2001 Chevy Express van.

This is the bed I made for Homer in my van. That is a Rubbermaid 24 quart ActionPacker and it fits perfectly between the seats of my 2001 Chevy Express van. It’s so tall that it’s difficult to get in back, so we built a shorter one for Judy. 

Building a Recliner/Storage Area Between the Seats of the Van

There are three things you must have to live in a van:

  1. A comfortable bed.
  2. A comfortable place to sit and lounge.
  3. Storage and organization

We could easily build a new bed (more about that in a later post) but finding a place for the three of us to sit and lounge inside at the same time was tough! Judy is comfortable lounging on the bed and I thought I could sit in the front seat, but where would Homer go? He couldn’t just lie in the middle of the floor because he’s so big we’d constantly be stepping on or over him. In my van I had put a box between the two front seats that made a bed for him. It was about the right height to be even with the top of the seats and I laid a piece of foam and an old sleeping bag over it and it makes a perfect bed for him.

We built the box as a triangle to fit in the area and the height to allow a Rubermaid tote to slide in and out. It's also low enough that Judy can step on it to get in and of the back and it is also doesn't block access into the glove box on the dog house.

We built the box as a triangle to fit in the area and the height to allow a Rubermaid tote to slide in and out. It’s also low enough that Judy can step on it to get in and of the back and it is also doesn’t block access into the glove box on the dog house.

So I decided that I would do the same thing for us in Judy’s van by building a box that would sit between the front seats. She wanted to be able to go back and forth from the front seat to the back so it needed to be pretty low but it had to be high enough to use for storage underneath it. I had a Rubbermaid tote that fit perfectly so we built it tall enough to let it slide easily in or out. My good friend Wayne helped me build a new bed in the back and we got to talking about the box and we figured out the design you see in these pictures. We had left-over ¾ inch plywood so we used it along with L braces to build the very simple box. After we built the bed we bought a new mattress for Judy’s bed and that left her with extra foam that she used to make a pad for Homer and it turned into a great bed for him. He can ride up front with us while we drive and see outside (and I get to pet him which is one of my favorite things in the world!). And when we parked he could sleep up there very well. We all loved it!
Judy has a 4-drawer unit behind her drivers seat so the box had to be short and not block access into the drawers. So to make room for Homer to sleep on, and us to recline on we put a milk crate at the end of the box. It just happened to be the perfect height!

Judy has a 4-drawer unit behind her drivers seat so the box had to be short and not block access into the drawers. So to make room for Homer to sleep on, and us to recline on, we put a milk crate at the end of the box. It just happened to be the perfect height!

But that still left the question of where I was going to sit. Because we were going to be together all the time in such a small space we both thought it would be best if we could get some distance from each other. One possible solution was to install a swivel base under the passenger seat. But they are expensive and hard to find and with the box there it wouldn’t allow the seat to swivel. A cheaper and easier option is to turn the passenger seat around so it becomes a lounger But we are going to drive 6000 miles and I wanted to be seat-belted in and I did not want to drive the whole way backwards!! Even worse, it would block the drivers view out the side window and in most states be illegal. Turning the seat around wasn’t an option.
We bought a new mattress for her bed and this was a leftover scrap from the old one. It's very comfortable!

We bought a new mattress for her new bed and this was a leftover scrap from the old one. It’s very comfortable!

My next thought was maybe I could just sit in the front seat and work on the computer. To test that out I went over one day and just sat in the passenger seat and worked on the computer. I added extra pillows under my butt and tried to build up a foot rest in the floorboards and it was okay, but I didn’t think I could spend all my time that way. I need to be able to elevate my legs and feet so I get better circulation and that just isn’t possible in a van. We needed a better solution.
While I was sitting there working Judy came up to visit with me and sat on the box beside me with her back leaning against the van dashboard. I said, “Grab a pillow to lean against so you can be comfortable.” At that moment the light bulb went off in both our minds and we realized that the box could become a perfect lounger/recliner with just the addition of some pillows. We had stumbled on the perfect place for me to sit!
Judy cut up some left-over foam to use as a pad and a backrest and it has become a wonderful addition to her home. I’m including enough pictures so that you can make your own storage-recliner if it looks like something you would like.
Judy enjoying her new recliner. She loves it!

Judy enjoying her new recliner. She loves it!

To make a back rest we just fill in with pillows. You can adjust it's firmness and angle by adding or removing different density of pillows. It's remarkably comfortable and has an abundance of light and draft!

To make a back rest we just fill in with pillows. We adjust it’s firmness and angle by adding or removing different density of pillows. It’s remarkably comfortable and has an abundance of light and ventilation if we want it. Or we can cover the windows with Refletix and be just as happy. Notice the arm rests are perfect for the recliner!

It's short so that we can reach into the glove box on the dog house. The foam brings it up up to about level with the seats bit it's easy to pull the foam over and get into the glove box.

It’s short so that we can reach into the glove box on the dog house. The foam brings it up up to about level with the seats bit it’s easy to pull the foam over and get into the glove box.

Here you can see how we built the box.  We cut a 3/4 inch piece of plywood to fit in the space available and cut three pieces of the same plywood as legs. We screwed down into the legs and alo used "L" brackets for extra strength.

Here you can see how we built the box. We cut a 3/4 inch piece of plywood to fit in the space available and cut three pieces out of the same plywood as legs. We screwed down into the legs and also used “L” brackets for extra strength.

Previous Converting a Van from Wal-Mart & Thrift Stores with Plastic Totes, Drawers & Build-it-yourself Furniture
Next Easy Van Conversion

68 Comments

  1. Calvin R

    Using that space became bllindingly obvious as soon as you showed it to me. Thanks! This is one of those ideas that is so simple most of us would never discover it on their own.

    • Bob

      Love for my Homer dog is very motivating!
      Bob

  2. Susan

    My partner and I are getting closer to living the van life…well…I am ready now but he is still discovering if it is going to work in our $1000+ a month rental situation (That is rent and utilities.) I am way over and done with it. But, I am waiting for him to get there too. Anyhow, we had planned to buy a E150 or a Sprinter to live in together. We also have Domino, our border collie/blue heeler mix. You had commented that two people living in a van would be very difficult however. We want to get the sprinter but they are so expensive that we will most likely get the E150. I guess I would like your perspective on why it could be a problem. Thanks Bob! =)

    • Bob

      Susan I guess the bottom line is it is a teeny tiny space, either 6×10 or 6×12; 60 or 72 square feet. The bathroom in your house could be as big as a van! Imagine everything in your house that you need to live in being forced into the space of your bathroom. Now imagine that it is raining for a week at a time and you the and the hubby have to live in the bathroom together and you are never more than 8 feet away from each other.
      You cook, clean, work, bathe, pee, poop, relax, read and every other thing in your life within sight of and less than 8 feet away. You better really like each other! Every little bad and annoying habit (and we all have them) will be magnified by the tiny space.
      I think we can do it for a few months. But if we decided to continue in one rig after the trip I think I would get a travel trailer or slide-in camper. But who knows, maybe this will work great. It’s all a big experiment, so we shall see!
      Bob

      • Susan

        Yes, we are definitely aware of the tiny space situation. I guess right now we tend to live in our bedroom in our huge 3 bedroom house. I think we should do fine however, we have both lived in our cars, his tiny toyota truck and my tiny celica, a E150 van especially with a raised roof will feel like a palace. As you mentioned in your article, a comfortable bed is mandatory because even now that is where we spend most of our time when we are home. We intend to bolt a flat panel tv above the foot end of the bed, so when we feel like entertainment we can just watch a movie. But we too may end up hauling a trailer behind us. God, sometimes I wish I could just fast forward to the point that I am doing this…been in Cincinnati 3 years and I am so homesick for the west coast. Going home for a couple months this summer to work…then back here for the rest of the year and then I am gone. My partner is tired of it here too cause we haven’t gotten ahead, just maintained, but before he leaves he wants to see that this lifestyle can be lived successfully so I will be going it on my own starting next summer…then he will move back out to the west coast with me…I hope. All I know is I am tired of seeing hordes of people and so much trash…I pick it up sometimes but I really wish people would pack it out if they pack it in. Sometimes I see a pile of garbage around an empty trash bin…it really makes me wonder about people…Here I am going on a rant…off subject. Anyhow, I would love to hear about you and your partners experience with living in one van after you have been doing it awhile. Thank you Bob! You have been such an inspiration to me. =)

        • Bob

          Susan, I’m glad to have helped in some small way. It sounds to me like you are a natural-born vandweller and the best times are still ahead of you!! When you get out west, my camp is always open to you!
          Bob

          • Susan

            Thank You Bob. I am sure our paths will definitely cross at some point. I am not sure they haven’t already. Did you ever camp out on Hwy 1 in California slight south of Big Sur? When I had to live in my car I met someone very like you. I used to camp next to him when I could because for some reason I didn’t fear him like I did some others down there…I knew he would help me if someone gave me trouble. Anyhow, thanks again and keep doing what your doing… =)

          • Bob

            Susan, sorry, that wasn’t me. I’m drawn to the Pacific coast but the traffic and crowds keep me away. I like my solitude. But I’m really glad there was someone there for you to make you feel more comfortable
            Bob

  3. breid1903

    trapezoid or rhomboid. triangles have 3 sides. it could and appears to have more definitions. depends on the saw person. i’m kidding here. i was a double math major in school. who cares.
    i pack so i’m not going through canuckland. they didn’t search me the last two times i crossed but from the questioning i knew that they knew. they didn’t question anyone else. be aware.
    peaceup raz

    • Bob

      peacup raz, The last time I drove through Canada was in 2006 and then it was no big deal. I’ve even done it many times and once even with a shotgun i got a permit for. But I guess you never know anymore they may randomly want to tear the van apart.
      I’m just going with the attitude that it’s nothing but a minor price to pay to live the perfect life!! If they tear it apart we’ll put it back togehter better than it was before!!
      Bob

  4. Rob

    This is great idea, I liked it!
    As I looked at Judy in the recliner with the computer in her lap I thought of the front table in a VW Westie camper.
    http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/album_page.php?pic_id=266784
    It rests on a curved pole and swivels to where you want it. The pole comes out of the bracket & the table comes off the pole for storage if that’s what you want.
    If nothing else it’s another idea…

    • Bob

      That’ a good idea Rob, thanks for sharing it!
      Bob

  5. Al Christensen

    When I set up my van, I made the commitment to being totally solo. I removed the passenger seat and installed a cabinet in that space. And the fridge is where your recliner is. If I ever found love on the road (or, rather, if it found me, because I’m not looking for it) there would be major adjustments to be made — both to the van and to myself.

  6. Wayne (Wirs)

    Excellent post Bob. One of the big problems this solves is carrying a passenger, something those of us with aging parents have to deal with once in awhile. When I’m back in FL to help with the folks, I’ll put the passenger seat back in (I have a lazy boy there now) and do your recliner thing while stealth camping in town.
    Posts like this are what make you the GoToGuy for van dwellers! 🙂

    • Bob

      Thanks Wayne, glad to help!
      Bob

  7. CAE

    Simply brilliant! Keep the ideas flowing!!
    I’ve also thought about various hammock arrangements as they are very small to pack away and set-up in seconds. Just have hooks attached in different places around the van for quick connections.

    • Bob

      CAE, I know there are some remarkably comfortable hammocks and many backpackers swear by them, but they have never caught on in vans and I don’t know why. If you try one out, write something for me and you can do a post.
      Bob

      • LaVonne

        Bob, as you recall, I started out with a hammock in my GMC Safari last fall. I was really committed to it because it was so comfortable, but I finally had to give up on the idea for two reasons:
        1) My hammock is (I still have it in case I decide to try again) very large and deep. Getting out for midnight pee breaks was difficult and led to some catastrophic results.
        2) I was not able to solve the problem of keeping warm on cold nights. No matter what padding you use, it compresses when you lie on it, which eliminates the insulating factor of air pockets. An ‘underquilt’, which hangs below the hammock, would solve the problem but setting it up every night in such a small space was such an ordeal I procrastinated and found myself falling asleep sitting up on my backseat ‘couch’ more often than not, and finally just leaned over and used it as a bed.
        Eventually, I came to realize that sleeping on my little couch, even though it’s narrow and short, was quite comfortable and definitely preferable to bothering with the hammock.

        • Bob

          LaVonne, I remember your hammock very well! Thanks for your feed back on the hammock, you probably helped someone make a decision!
          Bob

      • CAE

        Good idea. Actually, a post about clever uses of space and alternative seats/sleeping set-ups would be really interesting as the usual lay-out of a van has been pretty much talked to death.

        • Bob

          That’s a good idea CAE. Now all we need is some creative ideas!
          Bob

  8. breid1903

    susan
    i ask my family “what do you want to do”? if they answer with whatever or i don’t care, whoppee i do as i want. they just told me they didn’t care. they can come or not. i don’t care. mostly they sit and watch tv. i don’t. i don’t even have one.
    ask pard to look at vans or whatever. if he comes good if not good. just go. figure out what makes YOU happy. do it. if he is into it he will be there. if he dosen’t take part buy what YOU want to fulfill YOUR DREAM. the way you post reads is if there are 2 in the van, he will not be one of them.
    it’s better to figure this out now, not on the road. do what you want. do what you want. do what you want.
    most relationships last due to inertia.
    peaceup raz

    • Susan

      Raz,
      Thank you for your support. I also believe in following my dreams. Right now I am setting in motion plans to do just that. I cannot do it immediately due to obligations to my clients (I have a private practice and I cannot just leave people I am taking care of, who have bought packages and gift certificates.) But by this time next year I should be ready to take off on my great adventures…with or without my partner. I truly believe he will join me, especially if he sees me being happy and successful. But the successful part requires careful planning. I have lived in my car before and it is very scary living with no food, $50 in my bank account, and a quarter tank of gas. I want my van to be like a mobile studio apartment. The comforts of home, the security of 4 solid steel walls, and whatever part of the earth I decide to live on waking up to in the morning. Paradise. =)

  9. Gloria Brooks

    Brilliant work! I love it! Gosh, if I find love on the road, (or as Al says, “if it finds me”….though I have to admit, I am looking), I’m hoping we can pull a Casita. Then we can each have our own space when we need it! But, who knows, maybe I’ll luck out and find someone so absolutely compatible we could actually handle living cooperatively in such a small space. Amazing! I wish you both the very best this summer! I”m sure it will be mostly great with some interesting moments. You three are wonderful! Oh, where does Homer go when you’re in the recliner and Judy’s on the bed? The floor after all?

    • Bob

      Gloria, that special someone is waiting for you out there somewhere! She will be very one very lucky lady! I just wish my plumbing worked for you! You certainly have the perfect van to tow a Cassita!
      We’re going to see if he can sit in the seat beside me, but I doubt it. I may try to run a piece of plywood from the seat to high on the floorboard and then fill that in with pillows so he has more place to lay down. Otherwise he will be forced onto the floor. Of course at night he will sleep up on his bed and that is the main thing. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night and stepping on the dog is a bad thing!
      I love you!
      Bob

      • Ming

        that scenario reminds me of when my partner and I and our dobie tried to sleep in a Honda Fit. The dog was on the passenger seat and we were in the back, and we had to put our food and cook gear in our friend’s car for the night because there was no more room!
        The car top tent improved things vastly, but I still need a vehicle I can cook and eat and hang out in.

        • Bob

          Ming, I agree totally! When people tell me they want to boondock in their car i always remind them about long periods of bad weather and ask how they will do in the car for that long. I think a minivan would be better than a car because they get decent mpg and you can stand to be in them for a week at a time.
          In a city it isn’t as bad because you can spend your time in libraries, cafes bookstores etc. so cars work better.
          Bob

          • Ming

            yes, I did that once, had to sit out a storm inside the car for half a night. It was too strong for even the expedition tent. I could not imagine doing it for days or a week at a time!

          • Bob

            Ming, no doubt about it, sometimes you are stuck inside–better to be prepared so you are comfortable.
            Bob

  10. Myddy

    This is a great idea! My collie is getting older and has trouble getting up and down from rough surfaces due to her hips deteriorating. This is the perfect solution for a bed for her!

    • Bob

      thanks Myddy, Homer loves his little spot up front with me. I guess I should admit that I am a junkie, I’m hopelessly addicted to petting that dog; and this puts his head right there!! He has very well scratched ears!
      Bob

      • Myddy

        I bet he is one of the happiest dogs alive for it! I know my girls have both thrived after I changed lifestyles. The forests and camping out in the middle of no where have benefited their health so much. Their vet agrees too!
        Most people wouldn’t agree with having them both because two in a small space is very taxing and I have had people say that it isn’t good for their health. But, they seem happy to me, and it was either this or sitting in a dog pound for months on end, and due to their age probably being put down. I’d say we are all happier traveling together now.

        • Bob

          Myddy, dogs are pack animals and in nature often live in small dens so being in small spaces but free to run in the forest is 1000 times better than living in a house but being left alone 12 hours a day or even worse left chained up alone 24/7. Now that is torturing an animal!
          Bob

          • Myddy

            I have always thought that! My work situation is so good for mine, I park 50 feet from the shack that I sit in all day. And I am alone and unsupervised the entire 8 hours I am there. Much better than someone who crates 12 hours and makes their dog not get to potty all that time!

          • Bob

            That’s good for both of you Myddy. I know from your blog what you do, is it something you can write a blog post for me about?
            Bob

          • Myddy

            I could definitely write a blog post. I would have to leave out the name of the employer and the area though. They wouldn’t want that sort of publicity. But I could describe the living situation and such, and how I make use of the free commodities there.

          • Bob

            Myddy, I was looking more for general ideas about being a security guard and less about your specific situation. Is being a security guard (SG) a good mesh with vandwelling and what do you need to do to be a SG? How do you find the jobs? That kind of thing. If it isn’t something you know about I will understand.
            Bob

  11. jonthebru

    I really like how you consider Homers well being in all this. I bet you discuss it verbally with him as you plan. And I’ll bet he looks back at you with an agreeable look on his snout.

    • Bob

      jonthebru, that goes without saying!! After all, Homer is the brains of the outfit! I just can’t figure out why he got all the good-looks too!?!?
      When I got Homer, I swore I would live my life to make him as happy as I could. It just turns out that it also made me as happy as I could be. Hmmm, does that mean I’m just a big dog?
      Bob

      • Hunter Hollingsworth

        No it doesn’t mean you are a big dog. It means that happiness is found in serving God and others, not ourselves.

        • Bob

          Thanks Hunter.
          Bob

  12. Linda Sand

    Such a creative solution! I love stumbling upon those.

    • Bob

      Linda, it really was a stumble! But it works super well.
      Bob

  13. Ming

    Bob, nice creative solution!
    How you can live with 2 people in a tiny van sized space will make a great post once you’ve done the trip. It would be good to see guest posts on this subject too, I’d love to see how others do it. It’s one of the things I’m trying to figure out – what to do when you can’t live outside because of bad weather or urban camping.

    • Bob

      Ming, I’m very happy inside all my rigs even for long periods of time as long as I can see outside. Preferably I can have the door open, but if I can’t I’m still happy with the windows. I can’t explain it but I love tiny spaces.
      I’ve know very few couples in a van who did it long term. That’s one reason why I’m excited to go with Judy just so I can experinece it.
      Bob

  14. Calvin R

    It occurs to me that either this setup or a hammock would contribute to stealth for solo vandwellers who need it because they’re so easy to take down. (The box for the recliner could be left there to look industrial.) On top of that, these would make a great increase in space. Thus, a person who needed it could set up an office or work space and leave it up overnight as needed. I’m sure others can suggest other creative uses for that space as well.

    • Bob

      Great ideas Calvin!
      Bob

  15. Linda Barton

    I am looking forward to your trip to Alaska.I cant wait to see the post and pictures I was inspired by Judy’s 4 drawer chest when I saw it in Q So I bought one this very weekend. I am working on putting together my conversion Van. I can only dream of Alaska for now, it will happen someday. I admire both you and Judy for giving this trip your all. I don’t think I could be as brave as you three in sharing such a small space. Homer is a lucky dog to have two people who are committed to his comfort. Oh grab a deck of cards for the rainy days. Looking forward to more of your adventures as always.

    • Bob

      Linda, we have two of the 4-drawer units and they are the key to us thinking we can live together in her van. They give us maximum use of the space available.
      No worries about rainy days! I’m addicted to my laptop and we will fill up our Kindle Fire with books for Judy.
      Hope to see you again in january in your new van!
      Bob

  16. stan watkins

    May I suggest bug screens. Just take screen material and fold over front door windows and staple together around edges xturn inside out and cut off excess,essentially making a big pouch over the Windows. I know how much you hate getting bitten and you are heading to mosquito central.

    • Al Christensen

      Maybe a beekeeper suit would do the trick. 😉

      • Bob

        LOL!! For Alaska I’m going to coat my clothes with permithin–a bug killer the Army uses for its troops in Malaria country.
        Bob

    • Bob

      Stan, that’s a great idea and something we will definitely do!
      Bob

  17. Dean

    For flying bugs, how about No-See-Um Mosquito Netting?

    • Bob

      Great idea Dean!
      Bob

  18. Vickie (VanFan)

    What some of you may not realize is that this discovery was made just for my husband and me! Yep. I’m sure of it. My husband and I travel very comfortably in a low top van, though I’ll admit our longest stretch to date was 21 days.
    He is tall, so width-wise sleeping is not a multi-night option, and he very much prefers to sleep at floor level. To those ends, we use a full-size shikibuton, which is a foam tri-fold bed. Folded, it makes a decent day lounge–for one. (Opened part way, it makes a nice low sofa for two.)
    We used to have a DIY foam cushion bed set up that created two lounges. While the shikibuton is better overall, I’ve seriously missed having a second place to stretch out. A passenger seat swivel has not been a practical option for us, either.
    We use a large ice chest that slides between the front seats at night when the bed is folded out. I sit on it too, and was getting ready to buy a Crazy Creek type chair to provide back support, which I may still do.
    Enter the “Bob Lounge”! Placing one of the old 4″ thick, 24″ wide by 36″ long cushions on top of the ice chest between the seats with the back bend up toward the dash is almost perfect. Add the 5-gallon loo bucket for the feet, and we’re there. An obvious advantage is the social orientation which facilitates conversation.
    But that’s not all! Being exposed to the shift in thinking about the space between the seats made me reconsider the cab space in its entirety. By again sliding the cooler between the seats and placing the Bob Lounge cushion across it and the passenger seat with the back angled up to the passenger side window, and very comfortable side-ways version is achieved. Feet go in the driver’s seat. An advantage is the private orientation, which can be enhanced by closing the cab curtains, pouting, and staring out the window.
    Taking this one step further, if the cushion is laid flat across the passenger seat and cooler, then supplemented with another cushion or pillows, a very comfy twin sleeping area is created. We’ve had a couple of nights when we were just too pooped to make out the bed, and having options is great.
    The cushion can be stored on top of the cooler (added insulation), in the big side window between the sill and raised blinds (added insulation), or any number of other spots.
    So, you see, Bob and Judy worked this out just for us (LOL)! Many thanks!
    Vickie

    • Bob

      I’m delighted to have helped!! It’s surprising how such little things can make a really big difference!
      Bob

  19. Mike Goad

    Hi Bob,
    I’m exploring different RVing and camping related sites and blogs looking for inspiration and neat stuff I can share on my blog and site. I’ve found a couple here already, such as “Reflectix; 10 foot roll (to cover windows)” and “Extreme 5 Day Cooler.” I’ve noted those for later incorporation somewhere.
    I must say, van camping is nothing we ever considered. We did consider full-timing briefly after I retired, but, after a couple of long RVing trips, we compromised. She wants to keep the stick house, I want to travel, so now were are part-timers or some-timers. I could probably do what you’re doing, but there’s no way Karen would unless it was a necessity.
    One of the reasons I’m leaving this comment is it looks like some of your links are broke or not working correctly. For example, on http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/how-can-i-be-so-busy/ the link at the end of the post for going to the next post called “Camp Is Growing–Being Interviewed” actually goes to http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/206/ . I think I had a problem something like that a year or two ago. It involved the WordPress permalinks. I ended up changing it to the default, saving that and then changing it back to what I hat it previously set at, “Post name,” and then saving that. I had my problem occur two different time and both times, as I recall, that was the fix. I don’t know if that’s the issue on yours and I’m by no means a computer whiz. Just thought I’d let you know.

    • Bob

      Hi Mike, thanks for pointing that out. I changed servers last year and I’ve been fixing broken links every since. I hope you and your wife get everything worked out!
      Bob

  20. cathy

    Wow ,im barking on an adventure, sold our trailor home in nc to our pullbehind camper!

    • Bob

      Good for you cathy for following your dreams. Have a wonderful time!
      Bob

  21. Frank28

    I lived in a VW fifty years ago, and as soon as I can get an $800 van on a super deal from heaven, I’ll be getting one. (Craigslist, watch out.) Now, I’m in a little 700 sq ft house in a cheap area of town, and I’ve been minimizing everything. I’ve cooled in deep southern heat with a tiny AC that is only 5,000 BTU’s by covering all the windows with tin foil. No heat ever gets in and this little gem does four rooms on only 470 watts or less. It’s such a cheap Shangri La I hate to hit the road. Besides it’s paid for. BTW, talk about cheap. I used to spend all summer by the snow line in the Rockies sleeping in a pup tent and eating squirrels and fish. Those were great times. To get there I slept in a pup tent and drove my VW. Laters.

    • Bob

      Frank28, I think the good life misses you and is calling you back to it! You should listen and get that van!
      Bob

  22. Jan

    Hi, I’m thinking of buying a used Honda Odyssey for me and my small dog to travel in. I have so many questions but the first one is. Do you think my choice of vehicle is good? Trying to find something I can afford and that is good on gas.
    Thanks for being here.

    • Bob

      Jan, I think it is a good choice. I know several people living in them and they are very happy with them. Of course it has Hondas legendary reliability and the floor folding flat is great. But the MPG is only mediocre isn’t it? Would you be better off with a Honda minivan? Of course they may be much more expensive.
      You can never go wrong with a Honda!
      Bob

  23. Genie

    Nice and unique idea. I am really impressed to read this article on recliner storage area front seats van. Thanks BOB

  24. Martin

    An interesting idea, but I think that it will be harder to realize it than it seems. This is a great budget option, thanks for guide

  25. Chairsadvisor

    Recliner chair needs a large space. Your tricks for recliner storage are really helpful and awesome. I appreciate your advice. Thank you very much.

Table of Contents

68 Comments

  1. Calvin R

    Using that space became bllindingly obvious as soon as you showed it to me. Thanks! This is one of those ideas that is so simple most of us would never discover it on their own.

    • Bob

      Love for my Homer dog is very motivating!
      Bob

  2. Susan

    My partner and I are getting closer to living the van life…well…I am ready now but he is still discovering if it is going to work in our $1000+ a month rental situation (That is rent and utilities.) I am way over and done with it. But, I am waiting for him to get there too. Anyhow, we had planned to buy a E150 or a Sprinter to live in together. We also have Domino, our border collie/blue heeler mix. You had commented that two people living in a van would be very difficult however. We want to get the sprinter but they are so expensive that we will most likely get the E150. I guess I would like your perspective on why it could be a problem. Thanks Bob! =)

    • Bob

      Susan I guess the bottom line is it is a teeny tiny space, either 6×10 or 6×12; 60 or 72 square feet. The bathroom in your house could be as big as a van! Imagine everything in your house that you need to live in being forced into the space of your bathroom. Now imagine that it is raining for a week at a time and you the and the hubby have to live in the bathroom together and you are never more than 8 feet away from each other.
      You cook, clean, work, bathe, pee, poop, relax, read and every other thing in your life within sight of and less than 8 feet away. You better really like each other! Every little bad and annoying habit (and we all have them) will be magnified by the tiny space.
      I think we can do it for a few months. But if we decided to continue in one rig after the trip I think I would get a travel trailer or slide-in camper. But who knows, maybe this will work great. It’s all a big experiment, so we shall see!
      Bob

      • Susan

        Yes, we are definitely aware of the tiny space situation. I guess right now we tend to live in our bedroom in our huge 3 bedroom house. I think we should do fine however, we have both lived in our cars, his tiny toyota truck and my tiny celica, a E150 van especially with a raised roof will feel like a palace. As you mentioned in your article, a comfortable bed is mandatory because even now that is where we spend most of our time when we are home. We intend to bolt a flat panel tv above the foot end of the bed, so when we feel like entertainment we can just watch a movie. But we too may end up hauling a trailer behind us. God, sometimes I wish I could just fast forward to the point that I am doing this…been in Cincinnati 3 years and I am so homesick for the west coast. Going home for a couple months this summer to work…then back here for the rest of the year and then I am gone. My partner is tired of it here too cause we haven’t gotten ahead, just maintained, but before he leaves he wants to see that this lifestyle can be lived successfully so I will be going it on my own starting next summer…then he will move back out to the west coast with me…I hope. All I know is I am tired of seeing hordes of people and so much trash…I pick it up sometimes but I really wish people would pack it out if they pack it in. Sometimes I see a pile of garbage around an empty trash bin…it really makes me wonder about people…Here I am going on a rant…off subject. Anyhow, I would love to hear about you and your partners experience with living in one van after you have been doing it awhile. Thank you Bob! You have been such an inspiration to me. =)

        • Bob

          Susan, I’m glad to have helped in some small way. It sounds to me like you are a natural-born vandweller and the best times are still ahead of you!! When you get out west, my camp is always open to you!
          Bob

          • Susan

            Thank You Bob. I am sure our paths will definitely cross at some point. I am not sure they haven’t already. Did you ever camp out on Hwy 1 in California slight south of Big Sur? When I had to live in my car I met someone very like you. I used to camp next to him when I could because for some reason I didn’t fear him like I did some others down there…I knew he would help me if someone gave me trouble. Anyhow, thanks again and keep doing what your doing… =)

          • Bob

            Susan, sorry, that wasn’t me. I’m drawn to the Pacific coast but the traffic and crowds keep me away. I like my solitude. But I’m really glad there was someone there for you to make you feel more comfortable
            Bob

  3. breid1903

    trapezoid or rhomboid. triangles have 3 sides. it could and appears to have more definitions. depends on the saw person. i’m kidding here. i was a double math major in school. who cares.
    i pack so i’m not going through canuckland. they didn’t search me the last two times i crossed but from the questioning i knew that they knew. they didn’t question anyone else. be aware.
    peaceup raz

    • Bob

      peacup raz, The last time I drove through Canada was in 2006 and then it was no big deal. I’ve even done it many times and once even with a shotgun i got a permit for. But I guess you never know anymore they may randomly want to tear the van apart.
      I’m just going with the attitude that it’s nothing but a minor price to pay to live the perfect life!! If they tear it apart we’ll put it back togehter better than it was before!!
      Bob

  4. Rob

    This is great idea, I liked it!
    As I looked at Judy in the recliner with the computer in her lap I thought of the front table in a VW Westie camper.
    http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/album_page.php?pic_id=266784
    It rests on a curved pole and swivels to where you want it. The pole comes out of the bracket & the table comes off the pole for storage if that’s what you want.
    If nothing else it’s another idea…

    • Bob

      That’ a good idea Rob, thanks for sharing it!
      Bob

  5. Al Christensen

    When I set up my van, I made the commitment to being totally solo. I removed the passenger seat and installed a cabinet in that space. And the fridge is where your recliner is. If I ever found love on the road (or, rather, if it found me, because I’m not looking for it) there would be major adjustments to be made — both to the van and to myself.

  6. Wayne (Wirs)

    Excellent post Bob. One of the big problems this solves is carrying a passenger, something those of us with aging parents have to deal with once in awhile. When I’m back in FL to help with the folks, I’ll put the passenger seat back in (I have a lazy boy there now) and do your recliner thing while stealth camping in town.
    Posts like this are what make you the GoToGuy for van dwellers! 🙂

    • Bob

      Thanks Wayne, glad to help!
      Bob

  7. CAE

    Simply brilliant! Keep the ideas flowing!!
    I’ve also thought about various hammock arrangements as they are very small to pack away and set-up in seconds. Just have hooks attached in different places around the van for quick connections.

    • Bob

      CAE, I know there are some remarkably comfortable hammocks and many backpackers swear by them, but they have never caught on in vans and I don’t know why. If you try one out, write something for me and you can do a post.
      Bob

      • LaVonne

        Bob, as you recall, I started out with a hammock in my GMC Safari last fall. I was really committed to it because it was so comfortable, but I finally had to give up on the idea for two reasons:
        1) My hammock is (I still have it in case I decide to try again) very large and deep. Getting out for midnight pee breaks was difficult and led to some catastrophic results.
        2) I was not able to solve the problem of keeping warm on cold nights. No matter what padding you use, it compresses when you lie on it, which eliminates the insulating factor of air pockets. An ‘underquilt’, which hangs below the hammock, would solve the problem but setting it up every night in such a small space was such an ordeal I procrastinated and found myself falling asleep sitting up on my backseat ‘couch’ more often than not, and finally just leaned over and used it as a bed.
        Eventually, I came to realize that sleeping on my little couch, even though it’s narrow and short, was quite comfortable and definitely preferable to bothering with the hammock.

        • Bob

          LaVonne, I remember your hammock very well! Thanks for your feed back on the hammock, you probably helped someone make a decision!
          Bob

      • CAE

        Good idea. Actually, a post about clever uses of space and alternative seats/sleeping set-ups would be really interesting as the usual lay-out of a van has been pretty much talked to death.

        • Bob

          That’s a good idea CAE. Now all we need is some creative ideas!
          Bob

  8. breid1903

    susan
    i ask my family “what do you want to do”? if they answer with whatever or i don’t care, whoppee i do as i want. they just told me they didn’t care. they can come or not. i don’t care. mostly they sit and watch tv. i don’t. i don’t even have one.
    ask pard to look at vans or whatever. if he comes good if not good. just go. figure out what makes YOU happy. do it. if he is into it he will be there. if he dosen’t take part buy what YOU want to fulfill YOUR DREAM. the way you post reads is if there are 2 in the van, he will not be one of them.
    it’s better to figure this out now, not on the road. do what you want. do what you want. do what you want.
    most relationships last due to inertia.
    peaceup raz

    • Susan

      Raz,
      Thank you for your support. I also believe in following my dreams. Right now I am setting in motion plans to do just that. I cannot do it immediately due to obligations to my clients (I have a private practice and I cannot just leave people I am taking care of, who have bought packages and gift certificates.) But by this time next year I should be ready to take off on my great adventures…with or without my partner. I truly believe he will join me, especially if he sees me being happy and successful. But the successful part requires careful planning. I have lived in my car before and it is very scary living with no food, $50 in my bank account, and a quarter tank of gas. I want my van to be like a mobile studio apartment. The comforts of home, the security of 4 solid steel walls, and whatever part of the earth I decide to live on waking up to in the morning. Paradise. =)

  9. Gloria Brooks

    Brilliant work! I love it! Gosh, if I find love on the road, (or as Al says, “if it finds me”….though I have to admit, I am looking), I’m hoping we can pull a Casita. Then we can each have our own space when we need it! But, who knows, maybe I’ll luck out and find someone so absolutely compatible we could actually handle living cooperatively in such a small space. Amazing! I wish you both the very best this summer! I”m sure it will be mostly great with some interesting moments. You three are wonderful! Oh, where does Homer go when you’re in the recliner and Judy’s on the bed? The floor after all?

    • Bob

      Gloria, that special someone is waiting for you out there somewhere! She will be very one very lucky lady! I just wish my plumbing worked for you! You certainly have the perfect van to tow a Cassita!
      We’re going to see if he can sit in the seat beside me, but I doubt it. I may try to run a piece of plywood from the seat to high on the floorboard and then fill that in with pillows so he has more place to lay down. Otherwise he will be forced onto the floor. Of course at night he will sleep up on his bed and that is the main thing. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night and stepping on the dog is a bad thing!
      I love you!
      Bob

      • Ming

        that scenario reminds me of when my partner and I and our dobie tried to sleep in a Honda Fit. The dog was on the passenger seat and we were in the back, and we had to put our food and cook gear in our friend’s car for the night because there was no more room!
        The car top tent improved things vastly, but I still need a vehicle I can cook and eat and hang out in.

        • Bob

          Ming, I agree totally! When people tell me they want to boondock in their car i always remind them about long periods of bad weather and ask how they will do in the car for that long. I think a minivan would be better than a car because they get decent mpg and you can stand to be in them for a week at a time.
          In a city it isn’t as bad because you can spend your time in libraries, cafes bookstores etc. so cars work better.
          Bob

          • Ming

            yes, I did that once, had to sit out a storm inside the car for half a night. It was too strong for even the expedition tent. I could not imagine doing it for days or a week at a time!

          • Bob

            Ming, no doubt about it, sometimes you are stuck inside–better to be prepared so you are comfortable.
            Bob

  10. Myddy

    This is a great idea! My collie is getting older and has trouble getting up and down from rough surfaces due to her hips deteriorating. This is the perfect solution for a bed for her!

    • Bob

      thanks Myddy, Homer loves his little spot up front with me. I guess I should admit that I am a junkie, I’m hopelessly addicted to petting that dog; and this puts his head right there!! He has very well scratched ears!
      Bob

      • Myddy

        I bet he is one of the happiest dogs alive for it! I know my girls have both thrived after I changed lifestyles. The forests and camping out in the middle of no where have benefited their health so much. Their vet agrees too!
        Most people wouldn’t agree with having them both because two in a small space is very taxing and I have had people say that it isn’t good for their health. But, they seem happy to me, and it was either this or sitting in a dog pound for months on end, and due to their age probably being put down. I’d say we are all happier traveling together now.

        • Bob

          Myddy, dogs are pack animals and in nature often live in small dens so being in small spaces but free to run in the forest is 1000 times better than living in a house but being left alone 12 hours a day or even worse left chained up alone 24/7. Now that is torturing an animal!
          Bob

          • Myddy

            I have always thought that! My work situation is so good for mine, I park 50 feet from the shack that I sit in all day. And I am alone and unsupervised the entire 8 hours I am there. Much better than someone who crates 12 hours and makes their dog not get to potty all that time!

          • Bob

            That’s good for both of you Myddy. I know from your blog what you do, is it something you can write a blog post for me about?
            Bob

          • Myddy

            I could definitely write a blog post. I would have to leave out the name of the employer and the area though. They wouldn’t want that sort of publicity. But I could describe the living situation and such, and how I make use of the free commodities there.

          • Bob

            Myddy, I was looking more for general ideas about being a security guard and less about your specific situation. Is being a security guard (SG) a good mesh with vandwelling and what do you need to do to be a SG? How do you find the jobs? That kind of thing. If it isn’t something you know about I will understand.
            Bob

  11. jonthebru

    I really like how you consider Homers well being in all this. I bet you discuss it verbally with him as you plan. And I’ll bet he looks back at you with an agreeable look on his snout.

    • Bob

      jonthebru, that goes without saying!! After all, Homer is the brains of the outfit! I just can’t figure out why he got all the good-looks too!?!?
      When I got Homer, I swore I would live my life to make him as happy as I could. It just turns out that it also made me as happy as I could be. Hmmm, does that mean I’m just a big dog?
      Bob

      • Hunter Hollingsworth

        No it doesn’t mean you are a big dog. It means that happiness is found in serving God and others, not ourselves.

        • Bob

          Thanks Hunter.
          Bob

  12. Linda Sand

    Such a creative solution! I love stumbling upon those.

    • Bob

      Linda, it really was a stumble! But it works super well.
      Bob

  13. Ming

    Bob, nice creative solution!
    How you can live with 2 people in a tiny van sized space will make a great post once you’ve done the trip. It would be good to see guest posts on this subject too, I’d love to see how others do it. It’s one of the things I’m trying to figure out – what to do when you can’t live outside because of bad weather or urban camping.

    • Bob

      Ming, I’m very happy inside all my rigs even for long periods of time as long as I can see outside. Preferably I can have the door open, but if I can’t I’m still happy with the windows. I can’t explain it but I love tiny spaces.
      I’ve know very few couples in a van who did it long term. That’s one reason why I’m excited to go with Judy just so I can experinece it.
      Bob

  14. Calvin R

    It occurs to me that either this setup or a hammock would contribute to stealth for solo vandwellers who need it because they’re so easy to take down. (The box for the recliner could be left there to look industrial.) On top of that, these would make a great increase in space. Thus, a person who needed it could set up an office or work space and leave it up overnight as needed. I’m sure others can suggest other creative uses for that space as well.

    • Bob

      Great ideas Calvin!
      Bob

  15. Linda Barton

    I am looking forward to your trip to Alaska.I cant wait to see the post and pictures I was inspired by Judy’s 4 drawer chest when I saw it in Q So I bought one this very weekend. I am working on putting together my conversion Van. I can only dream of Alaska for now, it will happen someday. I admire both you and Judy for giving this trip your all. I don’t think I could be as brave as you three in sharing such a small space. Homer is a lucky dog to have two people who are committed to his comfort. Oh grab a deck of cards for the rainy days. Looking forward to more of your adventures as always.

    • Bob

      Linda, we have two of the 4-drawer units and they are the key to us thinking we can live together in her van. They give us maximum use of the space available.
      No worries about rainy days! I’m addicted to my laptop and we will fill up our Kindle Fire with books for Judy.
      Hope to see you again in january in your new van!
      Bob

  16. stan watkins

    May I suggest bug screens. Just take screen material and fold over front door windows and staple together around edges xturn inside out and cut off excess,essentially making a big pouch over the Windows. I know how much you hate getting bitten and you are heading to mosquito central.

    • Al Christensen

      Maybe a beekeeper suit would do the trick. 😉

      • Bob

        LOL!! For Alaska I’m going to coat my clothes with permithin–a bug killer the Army uses for its troops in Malaria country.
        Bob

    • Bob

      Stan, that’s a great idea and something we will definitely do!
      Bob

  17. Dean

    For flying bugs, how about No-See-Um Mosquito Netting?

    • Bob

      Great idea Dean!
      Bob

  18. Vickie (VanFan)

    What some of you may not realize is that this discovery was made just for my husband and me! Yep. I’m sure of it. My husband and I travel very comfortably in a low top van, though I’ll admit our longest stretch to date was 21 days.
    He is tall, so width-wise sleeping is not a multi-night option, and he very much prefers to sleep at floor level. To those ends, we use a full-size shikibuton, which is a foam tri-fold bed. Folded, it makes a decent day lounge–for one. (Opened part way, it makes a nice low sofa for two.)
    We used to have a DIY foam cushion bed set up that created two lounges. While the shikibuton is better overall, I’ve seriously missed having a second place to stretch out. A passenger seat swivel has not been a practical option for us, either.
    We use a large ice chest that slides between the front seats at night when the bed is folded out. I sit on it too, and was getting ready to buy a Crazy Creek type chair to provide back support, which I may still do.
    Enter the “Bob Lounge”! Placing one of the old 4″ thick, 24″ wide by 36″ long cushions on top of the ice chest between the seats with the back bend up toward the dash is almost perfect. Add the 5-gallon loo bucket for the feet, and we’re there. An obvious advantage is the social orientation which facilitates conversation.
    But that’s not all! Being exposed to the shift in thinking about the space between the seats made me reconsider the cab space in its entirety. By again sliding the cooler between the seats and placing the Bob Lounge cushion across it and the passenger seat with the back angled up to the passenger side window, and very comfortable side-ways version is achieved. Feet go in the driver’s seat. An advantage is the private orientation, which can be enhanced by closing the cab curtains, pouting, and staring out the window.
    Taking this one step further, if the cushion is laid flat across the passenger seat and cooler, then supplemented with another cushion or pillows, a very comfy twin sleeping area is created. We’ve had a couple of nights when we were just too pooped to make out the bed, and having options is great.
    The cushion can be stored on top of the cooler (added insulation), in the big side window between the sill and raised blinds (added insulation), or any number of other spots.
    So, you see, Bob and Judy worked this out just for us (LOL)! Many thanks!
    Vickie

    • Bob

      I’m delighted to have helped!! It’s surprising how such little things can make a really big difference!
      Bob

  19. Mike Goad

    Hi Bob,
    I’m exploring different RVing and camping related sites and blogs looking for inspiration and neat stuff I can share on my blog and site. I’ve found a couple here already, such as “Reflectix; 10 foot roll (to cover windows)” and “Extreme 5 Day Cooler.” I’ve noted those for later incorporation somewhere.
    I must say, van camping is nothing we ever considered. We did consider full-timing briefly after I retired, but, after a couple of long RVing trips, we compromised. She wants to keep the stick house, I want to travel, so now were are part-timers or some-timers. I could probably do what you’re doing, but there’s no way Karen would unless it was a necessity.
    One of the reasons I’m leaving this comment is it looks like some of your links are broke or not working correctly. For example, on http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/how-can-i-be-so-busy/ the link at the end of the post for going to the next post called “Camp Is Growing–Being Interviewed” actually goes to http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/206/ . I think I had a problem something like that a year or two ago. It involved the WordPress permalinks. I ended up changing it to the default, saving that and then changing it back to what I hat it previously set at, “Post name,” and then saving that. I had my problem occur two different time and both times, as I recall, that was the fix. I don’t know if that’s the issue on yours and I’m by no means a computer whiz. Just thought I’d let you know.

    • Bob

      Hi Mike, thanks for pointing that out. I changed servers last year and I’ve been fixing broken links every since. I hope you and your wife get everything worked out!
      Bob

  20. cathy

    Wow ,im barking on an adventure, sold our trailor home in nc to our pullbehind camper!

    • Bob

      Good for you cathy for following your dreams. Have a wonderful time!
      Bob

  21. Frank28

    I lived in a VW fifty years ago, and as soon as I can get an $800 van on a super deal from heaven, I’ll be getting one. (Craigslist, watch out.) Now, I’m in a little 700 sq ft house in a cheap area of town, and I’ve been minimizing everything. I’ve cooled in deep southern heat with a tiny AC that is only 5,000 BTU’s by covering all the windows with tin foil. No heat ever gets in and this little gem does four rooms on only 470 watts or less. It’s such a cheap Shangri La I hate to hit the road. Besides it’s paid for. BTW, talk about cheap. I used to spend all summer by the snow line in the Rockies sleeping in a pup tent and eating squirrels and fish. Those were great times. To get there I slept in a pup tent and drove my VW. Laters.

    • Bob

      Frank28, I think the good life misses you and is calling you back to it! You should listen and get that van!
      Bob

  22. Jan

    Hi, I’m thinking of buying a used Honda Odyssey for me and my small dog to travel in. I have so many questions but the first one is. Do you think my choice of vehicle is good? Trying to find something I can afford and that is good on gas.
    Thanks for being here.

    • Bob

      Jan, I think it is a good choice. I know several people living in them and they are very happy with them. Of course it has Hondas legendary reliability and the floor folding flat is great. But the MPG is only mediocre isn’t it? Would you be better off with a Honda minivan? Of course they may be much more expensive.
      You can never go wrong with a Honda!
      Bob

  23. Genie

    Nice and unique idea. I am really impressed to read this article on recliner storage area front seats van. Thanks BOB

  24. Martin

    An interesting idea, but I think that it will be harder to realize it than it seems. This is a great budget option, thanks for guide

  25. Chairsadvisor

    Recliner chair needs a large space. Your tricks for recliner storage are really helpful and awesome. I appreciate your advice. Thank you very much.