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

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.

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