Vans pack lots of functionality into a very small space, so efficient design is critical. With a little research, math and measured creativity your layout will come to life more easily than you think. After building (and adventuring in) vans with a few different layouts, these are our key design tips straight from the shop floor:
1. Inspiration is everywhere – you’ve probably got this one covered, but there is a wealth of information available online. Van life is an open source community where you can absorb design/build ideas, challenges and innovations. Take note of layouts that catch your eye and learn from the work mistakes of others. Instagram is a good place to start. BEWARE! There is a rabbit hole ahead!
2. Living style and versatility –
a. Consider if you want to live in the van for prolonged periods or use it primarily for shorter adventures. This decision informs the capacity of the solar, electrical and water systems. If you’re out longer, you need more, which can result in trade-offs between space and cost.
b. If you’re planning to use your van as a work space, identify key requirements for power, lighting and space upfront.
c. Do you need flexibility to haul people or stuff on your non-adventure days? Smart design can increase the versatility of your van and make it your daily driver.
3. Sleep direction – bed placement is either East-West (sleeping with head and toes pointing to the sides of the van) or North-South (sleeping with head and toes pointing to the rear door and front seats). East-West takes up less space on the van length but may require side flares to accommodate taller travelers. The North-South advantage means person 1 doesn’t climb over person 2, but for many, the loss of space with this orientation is the bigger compromise.
4. Got gear? – bikes, paddleboards, skis …. it all needs to come along. Exterior and interior storage needs can impact cost and design, so consider this early on. For example, interior bike storage means the bed must be high enough to accommodate bike height. Or a side ladder with mounts is just a genius way to transport a board!
5. Draw it out! – for the keeners, find your inner artist and draw your design to scale using actual van and accessory measurements. Better yet, grab some masking tape and mark it up on the floor for a real-world sense of the space in your desired layout—it’s probably less than you think. You don’t even need a van, just floor space and tape.
6. Budget – see point #1. Calculate your minimum build cost by tallying up the major components you’re interested in. And remember that the whole build doesn’t have to be finished at once. We can help you sequence and pace your van conversion in a way that works for you.
7. M-a-x-i-m-i-z-e space – accessories and design options like seat swivels, roof racks (aka patio!) and convertible beds are all great options to increase your living area.
So, there you have it, Pura Vida’s points to ponder to get a head start on your design.
Share your ideas with us and we’ll help bring your van to life.