A Couple in a Van: Building the Bed

This is the bed laid out for sleeping. Notice that it is blocking the bottom two drawers from opening.

This is the bed laid out for sleeping. Notice that it is blocking the bottom two drawers from opening.

This will be the final post on how we converted Judy’s van for two people and I’m going to cover how we built the bed. But first I’m going to remind you about the recliner we built for it because I consider it to be indispensable for a couple in a van. Today, I’m just going to briefly touch it because I already did a full post on it here: https://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/creating-recliner-storage-area-front-seats-van/.

We originally palnned this as a place to give us more storage and a place for Homer to ride while we drove...

We originally planned this as a place to give us more storage and a place for Homer to ride while we drove…

making it was very simple. We had some scrap 3/4 inch plywood from the bed so cut out the  pieces. The legs are attached with screws driven down from the top and "L" bracket to keep them steady.

Making it was very simple. We had some scrap 3/4 inch plywood from the bed so we cut out the 4 pieces (tops, front leg and two back legs). The legs are attached with screws driven down from the top and “L” bracket to keep them steady. It’s very strong!

If we were going to be comfortable with two people, we each needed a place to lounge. She was already comfortable on the bed so we needed a place for me. We had previously decided we had to be able to use the space between the seats and built a shelf unit to fit that space. Totally by accident we realized it would make a very comfortable recliner! By pure chance we had made it the exact same height as a milk crate so we added one to the end of the shelf unit, covered it with foam and added pillows as a backrest. And that was it, a great recliner. We found it a little bit of a hassle to have to move the milk crate to get into the bottom drawers of the shelf unit, but we adapted to it.

But we soon realized that with 1) a milk crate for our feet 2) pillow as a backrest 3) and a foam pad, it could be an excellent place to lounge.

But we soon realized that with 1) a milk crate for our feet 2) pillow as a backrest 3) and a foam pad, it could be an excellent place to lounge.

It turned out to be absolutely crucial to our living together! It allowed me to get out of her way when she needed to move around and vice versa. Plus, I was able to keep all the things I used every day within arm’s reach of one place and she could do the same near the bed. We had many days of rain when we were stuck inside together and having a different place where I could go and she could go made it bearable. It wasn’t genuine privacy, but it was a close second. Now let’s look at how we built the bed.

The process of building the bed.

The process of building the bed.

Neither of us are very tall but we simply could not figure out how to make the bed long enough for us to stretch out. The two drawer units came back so far we couldn’t sleep stretched out the length of the van. We could have built the bed as an “L” and cut it out around the drawers, but that would mean losing the use of at least one drawer, and probably two. That wasn’t acceptable.

The bed done.

The bed done.

You may be wondering why not sleep across the van from side-to-side? Because it is a Chevy Express passenger van. For some reason, Chevy made the Express to have very swept in walls, I assume for better aerodynamics (it worked, Judy can pretty easily get 18 mpg out it). Plus, they have very thick plastic walls that make it very comfortable for passengers riding in the van but it takes up so much room you can’t sleep across it. Had it been a cargo van or had we been alone we probably could have slept at a diagonal but not with two people.

Here you can see how we had to cut the plywood around the elaborate plastic on the walls of the Chevy Express. It wasted so much we couldn't sleep side-to-side.

Here you can see how we had to cut the plywood around the elaborate plastic on the walls of the Chevy Express. It wasted so much we couldn’t sleep side-to-side.

Two years before I had known a couple at the RTR in a Roadtrek Class B camper van and they had this same exact problem. He was too tall to sleep across the van in back on the bed, but it wasn’t long enough to sleep the length of the van. They had found a solution by putting a Rubbermaid Tote in-between the front seats and at night they slid it back in front of the bed and put a pillow over it. That way they slept the length of the van but the Tote added the length he needed. They both had to sleep at a slight diagonal but neither found that to be a problem. In the morning they threw the pillow up on the bed and they slid the Tote up between the seats where they found it very handy for holding maps and drinks. I suggested we do the exact same thing!

This is a quick diagram I made to give you a visual idea of what we did. It's not to scale.

This is a quick diagram I made to give you a visual idea of what we did. It’s not to scale.

This shot is from when I was living in her van. On the left is the my Dometic 12 volt fridge, in the middle is the toilet and the right is the 4-Drawer. It looks crowded but we both slept very comfortably together.

This shot is from when I was living in her van. On the left is the my Dometic 12 volt fridge, in the middle is the toilet and the right is the 4-Drawer. It looks crowded but we both slept very comfortably together.

But instead of a tote we would use Judy’s 5 gallon bucket with Luggable Lou seat that was our toilet. We already needed a place to store it and this would be perfect. We built the bed so it fit snuggly underneath it and so during the day we could slide it under the bed and at night we slid it out to be the support for our feet. Rather than use a pillow we cut an “L” out of the 3 inch memory foam pad we were using a mattress. We had bought the Memory foam at Costco for a very good price and had found it to be very comfortable. We also found it to be very flexible and would let us fold it back underneath itself so the part that extended past the plywood bed could be turned under and disappear during the day but at night we just pull it out and sat it on top of the 5-gallon bucket and it gave us all the support and extra length we needed.

I took these photos after I moved into my vanso my fridge is gone also. With the bed folded out to sleep it is almost 7 feet and very comfortable.

I took these photos after I moved into my van so my fridge is gone also. With the bed folded out to sleep it is almost 7 feet and very comfortable.

I am addicted to cold Diet Pepsi so I needed a place to carry my 17 quart Dometic 12 volt compressor fridge. Because it is so small, we found it fit quite well at the foot of the bed in front of the door—it only blocked a small part of the door, we got in and out no problem. It was slightly too tall but not so much as to be a problem. We both had to sleep at a slight diagonal with our feet meeting at a V in the middle of the van but it was plenty wide enough so we weren’t kicking or interfering with each other. If one of us had to get up in the middle of the night we got so used to just coming very slightly awake and moving our feet over that I don’t think either of us lost any sleep because of it.

The three inch memory foam mattress from Costco is very comfortable. Plus, it can just be folded under itself during the day. With me and the fridge gone Judy puts the milk crate from the recliner at the end of the bed. It in't quite high enough so she puts a pillow on it and it fits perfectly.

The three inch memory foam mattress from Costco is very comfortable. Plus, it can just be folded under itself during the day. With me and the fridge gone Judy puts the milk crate from the recliner at the end of the bed. It isn’t quite high enough so she puts a pillow on it and it fits perfectly.

The bed was large enough to give us lots of storage underneath it. One thing we didn’t like was that we had made the bed low so we would have plenty of headroom above it. We never bumped our head on the roof! It made getting under the bed to reach things a little more difficult, but it was a necessary trade-off.

Now all the drawers can be opened without any problem.

Now all the drawers can be opened without any problem.

Overall, I think we were both very pleased with the way it turned out. We spent a lot of time in the van together and even though we did have some tense moments, it wasn’t because the van was so small it was just the stress of traveling that far, that fast (I’ll tell you more about that later). I believe the van was as comfortable as a van could possibly be for two people and gave us a huge amount of storage and organization!

This is Judy's van before we remodeled it. We both think it was a big improvement!

This is Judy’s van before the 4-Drawer units and we remodeled it. We both think the remodel was a big improvement!

But here is the highest praise and testimony she can give: now that I’m moved out of her van and back into mine, she still loves all the changes we made to her van as a single person!

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!

33 comments on “A Couple in a Van: Building the Bed
  1. Tom says:

    You both are real troopers

  2. I had imagined you had used the two bottom drawers, pulled out, to support an extra piece of plywood. Or that you slid the between-seat “lounge” back to the bed. But I was wrong.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Computer’s eye viewMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Al, I don’t think the plastic drawers could support the weight. Remember when we crawled in and out of the bed all our weight is on that corner. The recliner was too low and too awkward. The 5-gallon toilet was the perfect height, very strong and easy to move around. It worked perfectly.
      Bob

  3. Ming says:

    love the van makeover! I can’t wait to try some of these ideas some day on a vehicle of mine.

  4. Openspaceman says:

    Bob_

    It’s all about what your used to. If a family packed into a covered wagon traveling cross country with no roads in the 19th century pulled up next to you drinking an ice cold Pepsi surfing the internet with your solar power they would think you were in the lap of luxury.

    *Congrats to both of you for making it work on your trip…being a self described loner myself and being 6’4″ 250lbs my van is like a metal tent for me. But you give me hope that two people who are used to a lot of solitude could spend that much time together…especially with all the rain.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Openspaceman, you are so right. Our van home is better than probably better than 80% of the population of the earth today who can only dream about solar power and refrigeration!
      Bob

  5. Peggy says:

    Being of the tall persuasion myself, you still give me hope that two people living in a van without killing each other can be done. We have two big dogs and my guy is claustrophobic so it would be more challenging still. Thanks for the detailed description and pictures!
    Peggy recently posted…19th Annual Sleepy Hollow Show ‘n ShineMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Peggy, no doubt that would be a full van!! I gotta be honest and say that only a very few people could make it work, Whether you are one of them or not I have no idea!
      Bob

  6. Calvin R says:

    Thank you for the example of flexible, multi-purpose design. In my case, you used items I already have or plan to use, which makes it even better.

  7. judy says:

    Luggable Loo, which is a black lid, does not have a gasket and that is not the brand of can lid pictured. Mine is green & is listed on Amazon as “Tote-able toilet seat and lid”. It does have a gasket in the lid and snaps firmly onto the bucket.
    At $15 it costs $9 less than the Luggable Loo. It is a bit flimsy at it’s hinge design & eventually broke, but that doesn’t affect it’s use.

    • Ming says:

      thanks for this detail! It’s good to know before you buy. Mind you, in my recent experiment with a home made composting toilet, I found that the loo did not smell at all once the “deposits” were covered over with coconut coir. The design separates out the urine, so you could go longer between emptying out the solids than you would in a normal porta-potti.

  8. Bob, as you may recall from the RTR, I sleep on the back seat of my GMC Safari and can’t stretch out because the van is too narrow. Other than that, it’s very comfy. I’ve tried using the Luggable Loo bucket for my feet… it’s the right height and quite comfortable, but I worry about knocking the bucket over in my sleep, so I don’t use it. Now you’ve made me think about ways to secure it so I can use it after all. Thanks!
    LaVonne Ellis recently posted…Robin Williams, Rest in PeaceMy Profile

  9. Ming says:

    what do you do about middle of the night bathroom needs if the potti is part of your bed?

    • judy says:

      I’d scoot the potti out from under the end & the mattress would sag a bit is all. Part of the mattress was still supported by the fridge. Middle of the night excursions to the potti were incredibly few. The mattress over hang is only 12 inches.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ming, the Loo is only for solids, liquids go in a pee-pot. Middle of the night poops are pretty rare for us.
      Bob

  10. Marlin says:

    Bob, Are you and Judy a couple?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Marlin, I gotta be honest and say I thought that was obvious but you’re right, we could just be friends. Yes, we are a couple.
      Bob

  11. Gosh, I think it’s a fantastic and comfy looking conversion!

  12. Dan says:

    Bob:

    Looks like you did what you needed to do with creativity and imagination, and ended up with good practical results. For a trip to Alaska, that small space of just one van for two people would be challenging, but you’ve shown that it can be made to work.

    But for longer periods of time, it’s clear that your approach with the one ton cargo VAN towing the 6×12 cargo trailer best, with the additional space of the converted cargo trailer to stretch out and have the space to get “alone” time as necessary to maintain sanity and to keep a positive attitude, as well as the space to store those things you need, but won’t fit in the van. As you know sanity and a positive attitude are important factors in a relationship, and you can get a serviceable 6×12 trailer for less than $2 grand.

    That seems like a cheap price for sanity and a positive attitude. Thanks for the good post on how to adapt to small spaces and make it all work out if you need to join forces with someone else for the cost sharing of the fuel expense associated with a long trip when gas is at $4/gallon.

    regards,
    dan

    • Bob Bob says:

      Dan, yeah we wanted to take my 6×10 trailer for comfort but it would have nearly doubled the cost, worked the van very hard with a the long hills, and made finding a camping spot much harder.

      We averaged 17 MPG with that split by two people, so the loss of comfort was well worth it to us!!
      Bob

  13. Ming says:

    on an unrelated note, I wanted to share a link to some free photography books for those of us interested in reading about how to improve our pictures:

    http://lifehacker.com/grab-over-40-free-photography-ebooks-and-improve-your-c-1621631496/all

    enjoy!

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