Welcome to the first floor entertainment plaza: the van living space. It’s a Swiss-army of a living area that includes a kitchen, bedroom, office, storage, lounge and sometimes bathroom.
Above the two cabin seats we have a large storage area with hinged doors. These are held together with RV push button latches. These locks are low profile and look suave, although pretty finicky to install and adjust. I certainly wouldn’t use them in a situation with less budget constraints. We wrapped the ring in vinyl to match the interior. Bulky storage stuffed to the brim. Jackets, boots, and gloves all fit in here. This is probably the place to talk about the bed. I wanted some mattress ventilation as it will help keep the cabin from getting stuffy. Most van conversions we saw placed a flat mattress on plywood or some other solid surface. New mattresses are getting better at ventilating through the sides, but nothing beats having a slatted base to keep fresh air moving. It’s a full queen sized slatted base from Ikea topped off with a low profile memory foam mattress. The whole setup has a moderate-firm support and is amazingly comfortable. The entire stack takes about as much space as a standard mattress on a flat platform. And it’s all rounded out with a lovely polka-dot duvet set. Not sure if we’re going to leave the skillet and coffee press hanging, but they give a cowboy campfire vibe for the glamor pics. Left side storage is where we fit Ian’s clothes, kitchen supplies, towels and a few other odds and ends. We’re using 13″ storage bins from Target to keep things organized while still having quick access. Behold the butane cooking stove. We had been recommended to use this over propane because there is less carbon monoxide expelled. I’m not sure how true that is but the fuel is quite cheap and the stove is pretty easy to use. We spent quite a bit of time figuring out the refrigeration system. Folks living out of vans have plenty of different solutions to keeping fresh food, so we had to prioritize based on our own preferences. In the end, we bought a Norcold Tek II fridge off of craigslist for pretty cheap, which can’t be bought new anymore but uses the same layout and motor as a Dometic 12v fridge. We wanted the benefits of not needing to buy and change cooler ice and keep more consistent temps. I’ll talk more about why I like this fridge in a later post, but it is highly efficient and won’t drain our solar because it is a chest style (less cold air lost due to opening a front door fridge), it’s 12v (less energy lost due to running off a 110v converter), and has more insulation than a household fridge. Due to all of this, it can run a few days on just the batteries and indefinitely with solar. This functional and inexpensive collapsible ottoman from Amazon doubles as a trash can. We saw this idea on one of the van blogs and blatantly commandeered it because it seemed so useful. The ottoman is easily strong enough to stand on, comfortable to sit on and fits extra trash bags inside of it. The right side of the under bed storage is where Kate has a few bins. We also have some extra overflow room in case we need to add something our journey: food, more cleaning supplies, souvenirs, something called “vibrant culture” that we’re supposed to find in all of the towns, etc. Nestled toward the doorway is our 1500 watt power inverter. This thing is only turned on when we’re using 110v AC as it will have a slight power drain just by being used. It’s plenty enough for all of the household appliances to run and has an extra USB port for charging as well. See that little lock on the shelf there? Laptop storage! It’s not incredibly secure in that someone with a screw driver could work their way in but it will be less likely to become victim to a quick break in. Personal bedside items are all thrown in these side boxes that accent our van living space. They are deep and deceivingly spacious and keep all the little trinkets that we want quick access to. I’m hoping to get Kate to play cribbage with me on the trip if I can hide from her all of the math involved. This little setup we hadn’t seen done before but due to the amount of people making vans I hesitate to call it original. In this picture, it’s a retaining cover for our door storage. It can then be locked in place using the same bungees that we have in the back of the van. Opened up, you can see our kitchen and water boiling supplies tucked away. The tabletop is made out of a bamboo cutting board and mounted to locking hinges. A quick squeeze of the fingers releases the shelf and it swings back down out of the way. These are going to be really handy as food prep surfaces as well as general work spaces. Kate can drink coffee from her orange raccoon mug that we’ve made in the Jetboil. I got to pack a bunch of my vehicle tools so Kate, in turn, packed some of her more bulky grooming tools. Above the hairdryer is a bedside storage caddy that we just screwed to the wall. The caddies stick out a little further than we’d like so we might replace them in the future. We’ve got washcloths and spare bungees in them right now. Hidden in the corner under the bed comes this plastic suitcase looking thing. Perhaps the head of an ATST? It’s the right color… Emergency commode! We expect to use stores, gas stations, friendly homes, and nature in most cases, but for any instance where we’re stuck in the van we have a backup that we can use in our van living space. These things use the same dry bag system that some RV’s use. Supposedly holds 500 lbs though, so that’s a plus. The final touch on this room is a color matching blackout curtain. This will serve as a visual and thermal barrier for when we’re reading bedtime stories. The most light and heat comes through the greenhouse we’ve got going up front and in our test runs the curtain works great! We had the bottom hemmed 10″ so that it doesn’t drag along the floor.