Floor-Plans and Bed Design for Van Conversions

This is probably the most common van layout among do-it-yourself builds. The bed across the back and either store bought or hand-built units along the rest of the walls.

This is probably the most common van layout among do-it-yourself builds. The bed across the back and either store bought or hand-built units along the rest of the walls.

This is going to be a bit of an unusual post because it’s mostly a reference page for anyone planning their van conversion. It began on my forum when one of the members, “Falcon” was planning his conversion and the first thing you have to do is lay out a floor plan for basically how you want to arrange everything.  He was a master of MS Excel so he used it to make floorplans that moved all the components around so that he could see which one gave the very best use of available space. You can read the whole thread here: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/Thread-FloorPlans-Layout-drafts-requesting-input

For tall people, this is your most likely option, the bed along the side and a storage shelf across from it. Another consideration is the side door. In the Floor plan you can see the two side doors and that nothing is in front of them.

For tall people, this is your most likely option, the bed along the drivers side and a storage shelf across from it. This is what I have in my van. Another consideration is the side door and deciding if you will use any of that space?  In this Floor plan you can see the two side doors and there’s nothing in front of them. Not putting anything in front of one of them gives you the least storage but the most open space.

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.

This floor plan is very similiar, but he has put a sorage unit in fron of one of the thee doors, increasing his storage and usable space. I think this is a good idea wherever you put the bed.

This floor plan is very similiar, but he has put a storage unit in front of one of the side doors, increasing his storage and but decreasing his open space. I think this is a good idea wherever you put the bed. Notice also he is putting the kitchen in front of the door and wants it to be a height he can use it inside or out. But, for some people, they are happier with more open space than with more storage. Be sure you know which is important to you.

So how high off the floor should your bed be? It’s a hard balancing act between two needs:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

This is a totally different option, to put the bed across the back and to leave the back few feet just for storage. This is best with an extended van but I have friends who did it with regular length van. By building a wall from the living area and the back, you get a lot more vertical storage and things yo want outside can go back there like tools, propane tanks and batteries

This is a totally different option, to put the bed across the back and to leave the back few feet just for storage, like a garage. This is best with an extended van but I have friends who did it with regular length van. By building a wall from the living area and the back, you get a lot more vertical storage and things you want outside can go back there like bicycles, tools, propane tanks and batteries. Or you can leave it open from the inside. With a wall, it can be packed pretty tight, greatly increasing your storage area.

Even if you’re too tall to sleep across the van you still have one more option. By making the bed extra wide you may be able to sleep on it at a diagonal. I made the bed in the shell of my pickup 48 inches  wide, which is the width of a piece of plywood so construction was simpler. I was easily able to sleep at a diagonal with plenty of foot and head room. My dog slept in one corner and I kept a duffel bag full of clothes in the other. Because I had a huge amount of storage room underneath the bed, which I organized with Rubbermaid Totes, I felt like that was the most efficient possible use of the space.

This one has the bed on the side, but this time it's on the passenger side. You'll need to measure your van to see if the bed will be long enough for you, or you'll have to cut into the space in front of the side door.

This one has the bed on the side, but this time it’s on the passenger side. You’ll need to measure your van to see if the bed will be long enough for you, or you’ll have to cut into the space in front of the side door. You could add a full-height storage shelf at the end of the bed and in front of the side door.

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.

This is kind of a Vanagon style build where the bed is in the middle with storage on both sides. The bed folds up in the middle to become the backseat. If you're a couple living in a van, the entire back of the van may be your bed also.

This is kind of a Vanagon style build where the bed is in the middle with storage on both sides. The bed folds up in the middle to become the backseat or to one side as a couch. If you’re a couple living in a van, the entire back of the van may be your bed also.

However, even if you can’t do the build yourself, you still have another option and that’s to have a handyman do the build.  Once you find the floorplan you want, the actual build is fairly basic carpentry that any good handyman can do. If you have pictures of the build, print those out and give them to him as a guide. All you have to do then is ask around your friends and co-workers if they have a handyman they can recommend.They may not be able to do the solar, 12 volt or even plumbing, but the basic build should be simple for them.

In this design he has a cabinet at the roof above the bed

In this design he has an over-head cabinet at the roof above the bed and has a dinette behind the drivers seat. Directly behind the drivers seat is a tall cabinet he stores his bike in with the front wheel off. A table folds down from the side and the end of the bed folds up to become a seat. He can then sit at the table to eat or work. Notice also he has the galley covering part of the side-door and has a drop down table at the end of it. 

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.

This is the floorplan he decided he would build and in this one he has a view from the side as well as from the top.

This is the floorplan he decided he would build and in this one he has a view from the side as well as from the top. What he actually built looks nothing like this!

Thanks for shopping Amazon.com from these links. I’ll make a little money on your purchase (even if you buy something else) and it won’t cost you a thing!

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

Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

31 comments on “Floor-Plans and Bed Design for Van Conversions
  1. Wayne (Wirs) says:

    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.
    Wayne (Wirs) recently posted…Pomodoro and PracticeMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      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!
      Bob

  2. Calvin R says:

    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.

  3. Linda Sand says:

    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.

  4. Cae says:

    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.
      Al Christensen recently posted…Third time’s the charmMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      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.
      Bob

      • Cae says:

        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. 🙂

        • Bob Bob says:

          Glad to give you some food for thought Cae, it sounds like a good plan!
          Bob

        • Linda Sand says:

          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.

          • Bob Bob says:

            Good tip Linda. I’d also think the seat cushion would crush over time and be thinner than the back cushions.
            Bob

  5. Carla says:

    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.

    Thanks!
    Carla recently posted…Frugal Preparedness Gifts – More Time Than MoneyMy Profile

  6. Ming says:

    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.

  7. FALCON says:

    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.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks much Falcon, all good ideas!!
      Bob

    • Tina says:

      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.

      Take care,

      Tina

      • Bob Bob says:

        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.
        Bob

  8. 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 Christensen recently posted…Go to bed with one plan, wake up with anotherMy Profile

  9. DougB says:

    Seems like once you start, the realizations start rolling in. I wonder what percentage of people wind up sticking closely to plan.
    DougB recently posted…It Hurts So Good Dept.My Profile

  10. Rob says:

    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.

  11. Meagan says:

    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.

  12. Bill says:

    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?

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