Floor-Plans and Bed Design for Van Conversions
When converting a van, the first and most important decision you have to make is where will the bed go, across the back of the van in front of the back doors, or along the sidewall. Sometimes the decision is easy because you’re too tall to fit across the back so it’s not an option. Most vans are 6 feet across, but many vans have plastic trim work that take up a lot of room inside the van and nearly all vans curve in from the floor so that they are much narrower at the roof than they are at the floor. The only way to know if your specific van will allow you to sleep across the van is to decide how high you want the bed to be off the floor and measure it to know it’s exact width.
So how high off the floor should your bed be? It’s a hard balancing act between two needs:
- You must be able to sit on the bed without hitting your head on the roof, that gets old really fast! If you have a high-top it’s not an issue, but if it’s a regular low-top, it’s a really big deal! When you’re deciding how much headroom you need, be sure to take into account the thickness of your mattress. Some people get 8-10 inch thick mattresses but I have to wonder if that’s wise, a good quality 4-6 inch pad should be all you need and save a lot of space.
- Next, you need to balance headroom with a desire to have the most under-bed storage you can get. Preferably, your bed will be high enough to get at least a 5 gallon bucket under it and ideally a Rubbermaid or Sterelite plastic Tote. They make it easy to organize your things and then slide them in and out from under the bed.
When deciding the height of the bed, be aware that if you have windows they are almost always the widest point so you may want to build the bed high enough so you are sleeping level with the windows–but be careful you don’t hit your head!
A word about constructing your bed. Nearly anyone can figure out how to build a bed out of 2x4s and plywood. Almost all hardware stores will cut the 3/4 inch plywood to the dimensions you need for your van. All you need to do next is to cut 2x4s the length you want the bed off the ground and use 2 1/2 inch deck screws to screw down through the plywood into the 2x4s. Be generous with the legs and put some as support in the middle of the bed as well. If you don’t have a circular saw, the hardware store will cut them for you, but they may charge. You can also get a hand saw and cut them by hand.
Once you know the location of the bed, everything else can start to fall into place. What you do next will depend mostly on your carpentry skill level. The best possible use of the space is to build your own custom design like Falcon is doing. That way everything can be exactly what and where you want it. But I know many of us simply can’t build our own because we either don’t have the skills, time, money or tools to do so. Fortunately, you still have some good, cheap and easy options:
- Plastic totes and drawers. If you can’t build your own these are an excellent choice. They are light, usually cheap and greatly help to organize you. Highly recommended!
- Used furniture is another great choice! Items that work really well are desks, dressers (I have a friend who used dressers as the base for his bed) book or display cases, kitchen or bathroom bases and many other kinds of used furniture. Once your bed is in the van and you know the size of the space the furniture has to fit into, start searching thrift stores, garage sales and used furniture stores for just the right things.
As you’re designing your van I encourage you to make use of vertical space. Many conversions I see have nothing higher than 2-3 feet and they lose a lot of space they could have gotten back by finding or building taller units. You have to find a balance in this that works for you. If you use all the vertical wall space you might start to fell claustrophobic and closed in,especially if you cover over the windows. But then you might not–we’re all different. What feels terribly confining to one person, might feel cozy and pleasant to another. Build to suit yourself!
Ultimately, the best way to design your van is to study different pictures and videos of them on the internet until you find the one that grabs you and you’re sure it’s what you want. At the top of the page on my website are menu buttons, one of them is “Van Conversions” pull it down and I have many different examples there.If you have the time, skill and tools you can then build your own. Because no two vans are exactly the same, you’ll have to make some slight modifications as you build.
The floorplan below is what he decided would be the one he used. In a future post I’ll show you the actual build he did of his van and you’ll see it looks very little like this! I think there is an important lesson in that: balance is required in everything. It’s important we have plans for how we’ll build the van but there also has to be some flexibility as we actually do the build. Just like there are two sides of the brain, the logical, reasoned, engineering side (this is a perfect example of that) and the artistic, intuitive, touchy-feely side. Both should be involved in your design as much as possible.
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Here are some thing I use and recommend to vandwellers:
RV Patio Matts: Reversible RV Patio Mat Multi-color/Brown 9′ x 12′
Hnad Pump to put in a Sink: Hand Pump for a Sink
Coleman One Burner Stove I Use: Coleman One-Burner Propane Stove
My floor plan is slightly different from the ones you have above—my bed along the side is moved forward to just behind the driver’s seat (see http://waynewirs.com/2013/nissan-nv-stealth-camper-floor-plan/ )—and this gives what I see as two big benefits:
1. A more open interior space. The open area above the bed is now up front in your “living room” providing a more spacious feel.
2. The back can now be a full wall of storage (if you so desire).
As you see, I used dressers for all my furniture and even the “legs” of my bed.
The only mods to the diagram linked to above were I turned the (now dead Whynter fridge) 90 degrees, no folding step behind the bed, and the cooktop is on top of the cabinet in the back.
For those interested, my build can be viewed following this series of posts: http://waynewirs.com/category/vandwelling/?order=ASC
Hope to finally make this years RTR Bob. See you then.
Thanks Wayne, those are all very good tips! So your Wynte died, sorry to hear that–that was a pretty poor experience for you. Mine is still going strong, knock on wood!
Be great to see you at the RTR!
How about a floor plan where the kitchen or counters are behind the front seats (Explor..Bros..)or even a floorplan that puts a door type design directly behind the seats? Thx for your site Bob
This is a good discussion of the engineering approach to design. You go through the layout possibilities and give a sound discussion.
Of course, many individual factors come into play. For example, if I want to sit on the bed, I have to take into account that my legs are unusually short. If I’m “cut off at the knees,” that will get old quickly. I also know that I will somehow acquire a folding bicycle partly to avoid that storage issue. Those are a beginning. Others may have few or none of my issues but will have their own.
Because of all that, I recommend people study not only the vans under the “van conversions” button but also the “other conversions” (unless they’ve already chosen a vehicle for certain) and, as they narrow their options, the forums for whatever vehicles they are considering.
You’re right Calvin, no one plan will work for everyone, they all need some adjustments. They are all just food for thought!
Here’s my most recent van plan: http://sandcastle.sandsys.org/2012/05/new-rv-floor-plan/ Of course, it didn’t get built that way. The desk moved to the other end of the bed when I realized putting it over the wheel well left me no place for feet. And the hanging closet and tall cupboard with shelves swapped uses when I realized my shirts dragged the floor in the one under the microwave. And the pull out pantry turned into just shelves when it became a bit wider space than originally planned. The cupboard in front of the side door opened from both inside and outside making it a pass-through for storing my water and electrical hookup stuff which I really appreciated. That 5″ space behind the bathroom was a real bonus! My folding chair, folding table, sun umbrella, mop, and vacuum all fit in that space with two bungie cords to hold them upright.
Thanks Linda, it’s very nice. Here it is:
I really like the last layout. Your comment about vertical space got me thinking about putting the bed on stilts above everything. Kinda like a loft. Also, a hammock would really make a rig versitile.
Be sure to leave room so that your body isn’t right up against the roof, unless you’re the type that never moves around in bed. Also, a bed can double as a sitting surface. Get it too close to the roof and you lose that ability and would need to have somewhere else to sit, taking away room from something else.
Good point Al.
Cae, stilts would be interesting, but most of us use the bed as a chair as well. Like Al said, be sure you want a tall bed.
I tell you my reasoning is that on my boat I have a dinette style table…two bench seats facing each other with a table between them. I also have this in my trailer. I really like this set-up. But it’s a bit of space hog. I could just have the center table be lower-able so that the whole thing turns into a bed at night. Not too bad if I get a special cushion for the table top and store it somewhere. Or maybe have it double as a seat cushion on some other chair? Ok, that what I’ll do. See this planning thing really works. Thanks. 🙂
Glad to give you some food for thought Cae, it sounds like a good plan!
It’s typical for the seat back cushions to go onto the table at bedtime. Be sure to make them the same depth, though. We had one set where the back cushions were too thick making a hump in the middle of the bed.
Good tip Linda. I’d also think the seat cushion would crush over time and be thinner than the back cushions.
These are so much easier to see and compare in this format than on the forum thread. I won’t be re-doing my van any time soon, but eventually I want the bed along the passenger wall for side-to-side weight balance and length so this will be great to come back to for looking at all the components.
Carla, Falcon did all the work so my thanks to him as well!
nice! I love these design exercises. I’m waiting to see what he built. In my own truck, I’ve had to widen the beds, raise one higher since I put it together, endless tweaking happens but it’s fun.
Ming, it’s endless trial and error!
I’m glad that my layouts were useful for this blog post!
The thing I would add here is that once you have layout ideas in mind, it is VERY beneficial to mock them up inside the van in real life. I did this using empty boxes to occupy all the volumes that the bed and storage sections would occupy. Doing this allows you to see what the space is like in real life, and then you can answer questions you should have such as “will it be comfortable moving around?”, “Are the surface heights correct for ergonomic use?”, “does it feel comfortable and as spacious as I want?”
My van has windows all around and in order to retain the spacious feeling that the windows can provide, I ended up choosing a design that blocks very few windows. I put the full height storage in an area where the vertical view was already blocked by the front driver’s seat and the B Pillar. That was something that I didn’t think about much while making the drawings, but that was evident very quickly when doing mocked layouts. Making the drawings was very helpful for me because it gave me time to think of different ideas and a quick and clear way to capture them.
Thanks much Falcon, all good ideas!!
Thanks Bob and Falcon! I had not seen some of these layouts so gives me some food for thought on other ways to setup my future van. Also am thinking I would prefer to have some windows to look outside.
Tina, windows are a very individual thing, and we all have different needs. The very first thing I did when I bought my cargo trailer was to search for and find some windows and vents because I won’t live in a cave! But my cargo van has very few windows, just on the back doors and up front and that’s okay with me because nearly all day the doors are open and at night there’s nothing to see outside anyway.
Our goal isn’t to be hermits or to suffer, it’s to be happier. Figure out what you need and make sure you get it.
Although I had several plans on paper, it wasn’t until I started putting things in the actual space that I learned what would and wouldn’t work. (Oh yeah, the walls are curved. Oh yeah, there’s the bump from the gas filler neck. Oh look, that would fit in that nook perfectly.) If I’d had the van sooner before I’d sold the house and needed to hit the road, I would have done some mock-ups with boxes and cardboard. But it all works well now.
Al, that’s a common problem, you really have to have the van in front of you to get it.
Your van turned out great!!
Seems like once you start, the realizations start rolling in. I wonder what percentage of people wind up sticking closely to plan.
Doug, just a guess, but I’d say few are 100% faithful but a fair number are close.
I’m in a ford van & just redid the insides for the 4th time (I was able to sleep sideways in a ’90 GMC but I am not in this ’87 Ford).
The way the VW Westie is set up in a Vanagon is a good one, my last change went to something like that.
It seems a little odd, but I’m glad it worked for you.
The blueprints are great for the visual people out there. I really like this design. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas on van conversions.
Thanks Meagan, glad it helped!
I’m 6’2″. I like the setup with the bed in the back of the van but would I have enough room with the 48″ wide bed that you mentioned?
I am 67 yrs old and just starting to put my van together. I have watched many of your Utube posts and am very excited to get on the road. I have a 2007 town and country that I am converting. I would very much appreciate any input from you or any of your followers concerning possible floor plans for the van. Also, any suggestions on how to communicate with other van dwellers would be very much appreciated. I am somewhat nervous about this whole idea but I do want to be free. You are my inspiration and I hope to meet you one day. Thanks for the encouragement.
You sound like how I feel. I am about 8/9 years older and female and quite cautious.
I’m 66 1/2 and am just getting my first van this week!!! I’m in the same situation as you, watching videos, planning, dreaming…..I feel excited mostly.
It seems like the possibilities are endless. I haven’t felt this enthusiastic for a while now!!
These are so great with all the cautions/considerations a person doesn’t think about. I am at the beginning stages with nothing to convert yet. Will be watching and rewatching videos to make my choice there as well. I am thinking about getting an older vehicle though because of financial constraints.
My latest and greatest floorplan for a Ford Transit High Top Long body is a twin murphy bed from side-to-side (I’m 5’6″)
This give me a pass-through from the back door, and an option to extend a small raised patio from under the floor (using rails, etc.)
When the twin murphy is raised there is soft foam seating on each side.
If I had not thought of this I would have had to put the bathroom in the rear so as to still have a walk-through out the rear doors.
I was looking for plans / layouts for minivans but didn’t notice any. Did I overlook them? Do you have any ideas for minivans?
I next to never see a kitchen in the back and I’ve been looking at furniture that transforms. I found a desk that hides a Murphy bed. Why do van conversions not include more creative furniture?
There are three reasons that I know of that cause plans to change one you start the actual build-
1. Vans are generally not straight or square in any dimension. This can be hard to measure, what looks good on paper when the van is approximated with straight lines and square angles may not work in actuality.
2. It is hard to capture 3d space on 2d paper. What looks good on paper may not feel right in 3d space. Sometime the right solution isn’t obvious until you see it in 3d.
3. It is easy to fudge on paper, for example by ignoring the thickness of materials etc.
I would love to see some floor plans for smaller vans such as the Transit Connect & Promaster City
Hello! bob I just purchased a gmc conversion van with what looks like a lid on top what is that type of hightop called do you have any idea? thank you so much for you site it is great. Kind regards Jinty
Hey, you guys still active? I’ve watched hours of videos of van conversions. Can’t afford the van I want, so I’m exploring what I can get. Thinking about the Chevy Astro 4WD I drove for work when I lived in Anchorage. I enjoyed driving it. My background in RVing is camping around the US with an Apache Eagle tent camper towed by a Mazda RX3 back before I got married. Switched to travel trailer from there. I’m looking for something cheap I don’t have to hitch up, because I’m well into retirement.