(Cover photo courtesy of Instagram.com/sowewent)
So you went ahead and did it: the van that’s going to be your home is yours!
But what now?
While van shopping, it’s easy to have a dreamy, Pinterest-inspired idea of what your build will be like. But once the van is bought, scrubbed down, and stripped, it can feel more than a little overwhelming.
For a lot of us, coming up with campervan interior ideas is harder than choosing the right vehicle!
So how can you get started with your van layout if you’re feeling lost?
Here are our top 10 tips to walk you through building a DIY campervan.
1) Figure Out What’s Important for your Campervan Interior
As enticing as it sounds to just dive in and start sketching out daydream doodles of your dream campervan interior, start by making a clear list of everything that isn’t negotiable in your build.
- Want a table or desk for working?
- What size bed do you need?
- How much storage space is essential?
- What type of cooking will you do?
- Do you really need a bathroom?
- Where will you take a shower?
Write down every single thing that matters to you and that you can’t live without once you move into your campervan.
Once you have these things all outlined on paper (or a spreadsheet, if you’re the organized type), it’s time for planning out your dream DIY interior for your campervan.
2) Plan Your Campervan Interior with Climate in Mind
Where you plan to travel is a big part of planning what you’ll need in your campervan interior.
Here are some things to think about.
- Living in Colorado, I knew we needed a way to keep our campervan interior warm. For me, our Atwood heater in our Econoline campervan was essential when it was 0 °F outside.
- If you’re spending most of your time in a hot climate, you’ll need some kind of A/C or a large enough roof vent and fan to at least keep you from overheating
- If you live somewhere it never gets far below freezing, then you can have pipes and greywater tanks (or even surplus freshwater) on the undercarriage of the van.
- But if you live in the north or in the mountains, all your plumbing has to stay inside. (Something I learned the hard way in my truck camper two Colorado winters in a row.)
Think about where you’ll be spending most of your time in your campervan and plan your DIY interior accordingly.
3) Decide on Wiring and Piping for your Campervan Interior
As you get a clear list of your wants and needs, and before you really start drawing out the details or building that campervan bed frame just yet, think about how your wiring and piping will come together.
The layout of your wires, outlets, and plumbing can change your entire campervan layout.
Consider your water needs in your campervan
When it comes to plumbing, your entire situation hinges on how complicated your needs are.
If you’re like my husband and me, our DIY campervan build included just a simple sink.
But if you crave a shower in your van, you’ll need both a freshwater and a greywater tank.
Think about how much you’ll use, how much you drink, and your hygiene needs, and make sure you have the space to run as much piping as you’ll need to make it a reality.
Electrical considerations for your campervan layout
The final thing to consider before you’re ready for the fun part of laying out all the good stuff?
If you plan on having a space heater, fan, lights, water pump, or charging station, you need to know your battery situation, how you’ll wire it, where you’ll place outlets, and how large of a storage space you’ll need for batteries in your campervan interior.
Whew. Sound like a lot?
Just go one step at a time, and remember, if you plug away at it, you make all your wildest van dreams come true.
For example, we use one battery and two solar panels. With that, we can use a masticating juicer, an immersion blender, charge our devices, and power our lights and two fans.
Our old setup let us use our A/C (within reason), an induction cookstove, and a portable fridge, but took up almost the entire cabinet beneath our sink, leaving only enough room for a one-gallon freshwater tank (yikes).
Keeping all of these basics in mind will inform your campervan interior build and guide you as you get into the fun part.
4) Decide on a Kitchen Setup for your Campervan Interior Design
My favorite part of any home, a van kitchen serves a million purposes.
It’s where we brush our teeth and wash our face, as well as cook our meals and wash the dishes. The kitchen part of your campervan interior also serves as storage for just about everything (food, pans, spices, cleaning supplies – you name it).
When you plan your campervan interior’s kitchen, try doodling a few different layouts:
- Along the wall separating the cab from the rest of the van
- A slide out from the back door
- An L-shape separating the back “bedroom” from the front
- Along one wall behind the driver or passenger’s seat
It’s also important to consider exactly what you want in your kitchen:
- A cutting board that covers the sink
- A water filter
- A stovetop or an oven
- Folding counter space
- A place to store knives and utensils
- A spice rack
- Storage for appliances
If you love to cook half as much as I do, make sure you include space for all the things you need to make your favorite meals, like an oven.
Some people inlay their simple Coleman camping stoves into their countertops, making for a solution that saves them from more complicated campervan interior builds.
Just make sure you’re doing it in a way that allows for ample ventilation and no fire hazards. The level of involvement is up to you!
Also, no kitchen is complete without a fridge.
Over the years, we’ve upgraded from an old styrofoam cooler covered in a quilt, to a dorm-sized mini-fridge that ran on our battery, to a fridge/freezer combo that runs on propane.
Check out this post on the best 12-volt refrigerators for a campervan.
If all else fails, that campervan interior with the old, free cooler fed me through some of my happiest days on the road with my husband. Just make sure you have a quilt and ice to keep it cool.
Learn how to build your own van with this detailed van build sourcebook. While the title reflects Sprinter vans, the concepts can be used on any DIY campervan conversion. You'll learn design considerations, how to plumb your van, choosing solar panels, installing water tanks and electrical and wiring systems. A great resource!
5) How Much Storage Space Do You Want in Your Campervan Interior?
Storage, storage, storage. Even back in those simple days of a bed platform and cold brew made in a gallon pickle jar (and before that, even in our very first van with a nest of blankets and no bed frame at all), we knew that storage in our campervan interior was key.
If you’re just moving into a van and think it’ll be easy because you’re a minimalist, think again.
Think creatively about where to stash those extra storage bins and cupboards inside your campervan’s interior.
- Where will you put your shoes?
- How about cleaning supplies?
- What’s your spice rack situation?
- What’s your plan for stashing mail and important documents?
Rhody and I hung a shoe rack on one of our doors, which doubled as a place for our umbrella and other small items.
For surplus storage, we found whatever and wherever we could store things was a bonus.
Our most genius move?
Repurposing inbox trays from IKEA and installing them as hanging baskets beneath all of our cabinets. We have five of these, which are essential storage for:
- My notebooks (writer problems)
- Water bottles and mugs
- 35mm camera and film
- Exernal hard drives
- Card games
6) Plan Your Campervan Bed
Ah, the biggest question. The bed situation inside your DIY campervan interior has many options, and there’s no right answer.
The most common campervan bed layout is a raised platform with storage below it.
For some though, it’s less than ideal to have half of your home turned into a bed. Maybe it’s the idea of having company, or wanting to eat somewhere without getting crumbs on the sheets.
For me, I just wanted to feel like I had a little more space, so we repurposed an IKEA pullout sofa (I know, I’m obsessed), giving me a few square feet of floor.
Some other diverse sleeping solutions include:
- A lattice-style couch that pulls out to a bed – think a more space-economical futon.
- This wild pulley-based futon
- A platform with storage underneath
- A dinette that folds down into a bed
- A hammock bed
What you’re looking for in your van conversion interior really depends on how much support your back needs, how much extra space you’d like to have, and what is important to you.
For some, the biggest issue is simplifying your night routine.
If that’s you, then a campervan platform bed or the pulley-based futon may work best. This saves you from having to rearrange too many cushions each night.
If you work from home as I do, a dinette that provides a space to work may be ideal.
The hammock, however, is the most versatile option I’ve seen inside a conversion van interior. Check out this photo from Van Dog Traveller:
Below your hammock (which you could stash to the side during the day), you could have space to do yoga inside your campervan, keep a low-lying table (seated on cushions around the floor), access extra storage more easily, or store your bike safely.
The options are really endless, but in exchange, you’d have to be comfortable sleeping in a hammock night after night.
Whatever you choose, make sure you keep the weight as evenly distributed as possible throughout the campervan.
Check out some awesome campervan mattress ideas in this post: Best Campervan Mattress: What Should You Choose For Van Camping?
7) Consider Structural Changes in Your Campervan
One last thing to consider in your campervan interior is what you will do to the van frame itself- if anything – meaning cutting holes to the outside.
The most common modification is an RV roof vent or a fan, which requires a 14×14 hole in your roof.
Most campers need one, and it’s a necessity if you’re using propane for heating or cooking.
But thinking beyond just a fan, consider if you plan on having skylights inside your campervan interior.
My husband and I have an emergency exit above our bed, which we crack open each night, and it’s my favorite part of living in our current camper.
But it’s not just about the roof: for any propane or power needs, you’ll need hatches and vents in the sides of your walls.
Propane and car batteries can’t be placed inside; it’s life-threatening.
If you’d like shore power, you need to figure out where you’d position a plug to connect to your campervan’s interior. Knowing how you’ll deal with these things safely is crucial before you actually dive into designing your van layout.
8) Finally! Design Your Campervan Interior
Now that you know exactly what you’d like to put in your campervan interior, and what your power, water, and propane needs are, you’re finally ready to start laying it all out.
There are many different ways to do this, but it’s always a smart decision to begin by sketching out your campervan layout on paper.
Let yourself think pretty liberally in these first stages – there’s no wrong way to brainstorm! Just keep any hurdles like wheel wells or windows in mind, as well as your dimensions in mind (and remember, most van walls are curved).
No matter how you plan to lay out your campervan interior, make sure your weight is evenly distributed.
In listing all the items you plan to put in your van, jot down rough weight estimates. This helps you figure out where to position everything in your campervan.
Your new home is also a vehicle, and the brakes, tires, and frame all need to be taken care of while these massive renovations are going on inside.
Keeping it organized and balanced keeps you safe and helps your van run smoothly for a long time.
Creating a digital design of your campervan interior
Once you have a rough sketch, consider using a free software program like SketchUp, which lets you create 3D layouts.
These can help you get a more detailed look at your campervan interior’s layout – although I’ve read there’s a steep learning curve for getting comfortable with the software.
Use a stencil to create your campervan interior design
If digital rendering isn’t your thing, you can just go analog from the get-go and create a stencil of your entire floor.
Red rosin paper is a great option, and what I used when I did my own van build.
Your campervan’s furniture dimensions
Once you have a stencil of your floorplan, figure out the dimensions of the furniture you’ll have in your DIY van conversion interior.
Draw these out in charcoal or pencil. Stenciling is a powerful way to see exactly how much (or how little) space your new home will have, and helps you find out whether you can actually pull off all your goals, or if you maybe need to opt for a smaller sink or scrap your whole bed plan and start over.
While stenciling, keep in mind the depth of your finished walls, look out for how a curved body may change your interior dimensions, and factor in window positions.
Use faux furniture to test your campervan layout
Although this may seem a little over the top, one way to be sure of your campervan layout is to make cardboard replicas of your furniture, then rearrange them in your van to see what works.
No matter the way you design your campervan interior, remember to keep in mind a solution that brings you joy and works for you.
How does your own size and ability fit into your layout? This is your home, not an Instagram influencer’s, and you deserve to be comfortable in a home that shines with your unique body, ability, and needs.
Don’t forget about the exterior! Here are the best campervan awnings we could find to extend your living space.
9) Get inspired by other campervan interiors
Look over all our other van articles at The Wayward Home for more inspiration on campervan layouts that work for your budget, ability, and space.
What build are you thinking of?
What are some things you can’t seem to figure out how to fit?
I’d love to hear about your campervan interior struggles, brainstorms, and progress below!
Check out more van build stories below:
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In 2015, Nikita and her husband traveled for several months across the country in Bonnie, a 2004 E-250, bathing in nature, exploring sleepy towns, and selling herbal body products at the flea market. In 2017, they renovated Bonnie on a budget and lived in her full-time for five months before upgrading to Doug, their truck camper, where they’ve lived since January 2018. When she isn’t writing articles, Nikita can be found working on her novel, exploring, taking film photos, or cooking up a storm. She also writes for ethical.net.