Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thoughts on Van Design.

I have a friend(really) that is going through the process of designing a van home and several questions have come up in our conversations that have inspired this blog. This friend who I will refer to as "James", has never lived in a van but has done tons of research.

The build James is planning is based on a basic passenger van with the goal of making it a full-time live in capable vehicle. This brings up the first step of designing the van. You can't really make any concrete design choices until you know what the realistic end use will be. Once that decision has been made, focus shifts to what the priorities are associated with that use. Recording all of the choices and decisions on paper or computer will help the process greatly. Making and adjusting a scale floor-plan will also really help to visualize your decisions.

Start by making a list of things that you feel you must have and prioritize them. The highest priority items get first assignment of the space available. For example the sleeping area. If you are able to figure out realistically how much space you will need for sleeping, where that area is and remaining available space is no longer as big of a question. There likely will be more than one configuration that will work within that space so the floor-plan is not necessarily set in stone at this point. It is important to keep in mind you are working with 3 dimensional space too which is easy to forget when illustrating your ideas into a flat drawing.

After all the "must haves" are processed, the "would like to have" list comes into play. Same basic method; prioritize, consider available logical space, record it. Finally the "would be nice to have" list is left to consider. While going through this basic listing system, James asked "how much space should be set aside for storage?". Well, this is a question that has a couple answers. It has everything to do with the overall use and what design features are a priority. For example, if you intend on doing much cooking rather than eating fast food etc, there will need to be storage for food, pots, dishes and other related gear. While designing, determine if there is associated storage for the various features you are wanting to incorporate and allow for it at that time. When all is said and done, every available inch that is not in use already is "storage". This available space may be dual use as well, for example, you may have things that can be conveniently stored inside the microwave when not in use.

I have been having a lot of fun helping James with the design of his van. It is surprising how much entertainment one can have trying to squeeze all the things a person would want in their home into the available space we have! Companies like Roadtrek and Coachman etc really are great examples to follow. In the end, you really can have most everything you could want and definitely everything you need with a lot of thought and creative engineering. This design phase of the build is where to experiment! Consider again the sleeping area, there is always more than one way to get to the same end. Ideas like hammocks, murphy beds, futons etc are all possibilities and could even be mocked up and tested outside the van before a single hole is drilled.

If you are planning your own build, keep your mind open and consider every idea you come across. Inspiration is everywhere! James's van is going to be quite a work of art when done! It will be interesting and comfortable and most of all, it will be his idea of perfection.

Final note, even with a prebuilt B like Taj, these same methods are all useful for making modifications and re-engineering. If you have any off the wall ideas for anything van design related, please feel free to comment about them here. I am sure James will appreciate reading them!


  1. mike-
    I read stuff you've written like a zillion times, moatly in emails and posts. I gotta say though that I never realized what an excellent writer you are. This is an excellent article, and I am very impressed!

  2. and furthermore, you should put a link to this on VD and post it when the newbs ask that inevitable question...

  3. That was really nice to read Kate, Thank You! Hope your having fun on the road these days!


  4. Indeed, design is everything. Saves a lot of time, money and headache. Measure twice, cut once.


  5. Great reading. Can you suggest any photos/drawingings online for beds? I am trying to figure out how to put a bed into an ford E-150 length ways, 48"wide (max) that would fold up.

  6. i clicked on anonymous because I am not familiar with the others. Now my interest. It was nice to see the pots and pans on the floor; however, it would be nice to see them in the cabinet.How do you pack the bins in the closet so that they
    do not wrinkle the clothing or do you just wear jeans and no iron shirts. Where are the placemats, towels, books, dvd's,crafts,water bucket, surge protector, hoses, appliances (toaster, mixer etc) give us the whole scoop.

  7. Anonymous #1 Sorry to have missed your question. I will see if I can find something relevant for you and reply. You can email me if you like as well.

    Anonymous #2 The pans are the floor are shown in the cabinet in the picture above. That is the same stack, the handles are just pointed back inside out of view. As for the clothes, I am going to do another blog with our other closet which is for things that hang. Those bins are full of both short and long sleeve shirts that are folded flat, there are also socks and underwear etc in different bins. The jeans, pants and shirts that need hanging are in the other closet. the rest of the packing and details will be in future blogs. There is really too much to be covered in just one.

    Thanks to you both for the comments and questions!