Our step-by-step guide from start to end of how we built the kitchen, including all of the trials and errors in between. We’ve included the cost of all materials used to give an idea of what to expect when considering converting your own van.

 

Building the frame:

We began building the kitchen unit for the van outdoors where we had more space. We’d like to say we had a plan at this point but we didn’t. We’d had no luck removing the kitchen from our donor caravan- we’d actually ended up breaking the whole thing apart, so we started from scratch with a bundle of 2x2, a saw and some screws. We built it in the shape of a rectangle with 3 different compartments, one for the fridge, one for the oven & microwave (later removed) and one for under-sink storage. We left a gap in the frame at the bottom of the right cupboard to allow us to open the fridge door, and the frame was sturdy enough without it although lacking in any straight edges.

We cut out a piece of plywood to attach to the back of the two cupboards, leaving the space behind the fridge open to allow it to ventilate. We then set about making the interior cupboard dividers out of the same 6mm ply, but used 12mm ply for the work surface, leaving a space for the sink. The sink came from our donor caravan but was unfortunately attached to a gas hob when we removed it - a little angle grinder sorted that out in no time. We had to use a few bits of plywood to get it to fit properly before we could screw it in, then once that was done we went around the edges with a belt sander to round them off and make it look a little more decorative. Once the flooring was in and the plumbing pipes were running along the sides of the van, we were able to install it, screwing it down securely to the floor. We cut a hole in the back of the unit to feed the pipes through and once the sink from our donor caravan was fitted, we plumbed in the mixer tap.

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Adding doors & shelves:

Our kitchen units were looking pretty good but they needed some shelves before we could actually use them. This was simply a case of cutting squares (if you could call our handmade cupboards “square”) of plywood to size, reinforcing them with 1” baton and resting them on strips of wood screwed into the sides of the cupboards before screwing them in. Ben had to cut holes out of the backs of two of the shelves, one for the kitchen plumbing, one to feed the plug for the oven through so it could reach the socket we’d installed inside the cupboard, aswell as screwing some 1” high baton onto the front of the shelves to prevent the oven and the microwave from sliding forward as we drove around corners. We used normal caravan roller catches from eBay to hold the cupboard doors closed, which were later replaced by bolts.

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Hanging cupboard:

We decided to tackle the hanging kitchen cupboard, one of the few wooden artifacts that had survived from our donor caravan. By some miracle it fit neatly either side of the metal roof struts, so we could simply screw through the wood into the metal to hang it with some thick self drilling bolt head screws. For extra support, we used a couple of lengths of 2x2 attached to the sides of the cupboard and the speaker bar of the van, with a couple of slits cut out so it sits tightly then secured with Sika-flex for even more support. Our kitchen was looking solid.

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Decoration:

The whole unit needed a coat of varnish so we went for “Church Oak” as it seemed to be a close match to the colour of our flooring. We left the frame in Antique Pine to create a contrast and make the whole thing look more like authentic wood, and added some handles by screwing through the back of the cupboards into some small pieces of driftwood. 

Following the driftwood theme, we also incorporated driftwood into all our kitchen units and cupboards, screwing bits of it to finish things decoratively and using it to revamp our old cutlery drawer from the caravan, by creating cutlery dividers out of thick sticks. The overall result was a strange but wonderful mix of shabby chic, farmhouse and beach bum.

We later came to revamp the kitchen, changing the whole look entirely but keeping the driftwood. Read on for more.

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Spice rack:

With us both having a passion for food we decided a centrepiece spice rack would be an essential, and naturally living by the sea we decided to incorporate some more driftwood that we collected during the winter. It was a really straightforward design using a long plank of reclaimed 2x4, attaching it to the bottom of the hanging kitchen cupboards using two short pieces of driftwood to get it to hang at the right height. Luckily for us the driftwood already had two holes in it so it was just a case of finding the right thickness of rope to thread through it, pulling it tight to create tension and knotting at either end. We went for hemp rope as we liked the effect, using it to hold the spices in place when driving, and the chunky knots at either end also added a nice touch. We decorated the front of it by nailing naturally twisty sticks of driftwood along it, and in the centre of the spice rack a short piece of beautifully patterned driftwood sits to support the rope.

Underneath the spice rack we screwed four small cup hooks to hang our indoor plants from.

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Pallet wood revamp:

After seeing so many cool vans on our adventures and getting serious cases of van envy almost every time, we decided to pimp ours a little bit. The kitchen for us is the most important part of the van, it also takes up the most space so it made sense to tackle the old units and make them look a little better.

Basically Ben just got a load of old pallet wood together, sanded and cut it all down and fixed it to the front of the old doors. Simple. The antique style brass fixings all came from eBay and a local DIY shop, and the top cupboards were finished with strips of right angle trim.

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Oven & cooker:

The thing we missed cooking the most while living in our van was pizza. After a long stint of relying on little camping gas canisters, and an even longer stint of having no gas at all, we finally converted our kitchen to run off mains gas. This meant that not only could we have a two ring burner, we could also have an oven, and all the pizza we wanted!

The oven is a Flavel Vanessa, commonly used on narrowboats and in some motorhomes, which, as some of you may remember from our blog post, we picked up from Wales on the way back from our first Eurotrip. The gas cooker is a double ring Campingaz one we picked up for £30 from a local hardware shop.

What we wanted though was something a bit specialist, as we didn’t want a fixed cooker on the worktop using up valuable space, but rather something we could detach and store away when not needed. So we came up with the idea of using a bayonet fitting, a 1/2″ gas fitting and hose that can be securely attached then detached when necessary. We attached this to the side of the kitchen unit, and plumbed all the relevant hoses and fittings into the oven and the cooker, first using copper pipe which turned out to be weak and unable to stand the constant movement of the van, then swapping to rubber hose.

Rather than opting for one big gas bottle, we bought two secondhand 4,5kg butane bottles, with a regulator, for £10 from Gumtree (again, we cannot rate Gumtree enough for projects like this), which would store neatly in the cupboard underneath the oven. It was also necessary to drill a hole in the floor and install a vent to allow any leaking gas to escape, as well as purchasing a carbon monoxide detector. We hope this amount of gas will last us our entire second trip, but we also have a French gas regulator in case we do need to buy some new bottles.

We got the gas installed and burning with no minor explosions. 

 

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Our fridge:

We originally started with a 3 way Electrolux fridge from our donor caravan, opting to run it solely off electric. It was sluggish, and slow and power-draining as we didn’t have gas installed at that point. We soon swapped it for a shiny new 12V Campingaz cool box, which we bought secondhand (good old Gumtree) for £20. We run it intermittently, mostly when we’re driving, and it stays cool for a couple of days when off. It cools the inside to -18ºC below ambient temperature, so it makes tea in the summer and ice in the winter, but we still think it’s great.

We installed a couple of drawer runners to allow it to easily slide in and out of the cupboard and be opened. It’s a small change, but one that has made a significant impact on the ease of use of our kitchen.

 

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Charred wood worktop:

Our new kitchen makeover was looking pretty sweet now but the worktop was seriously letting it down. We got thinking about ways to spruce it up a bit. At first, we were tempted by an easy route of buying a wood-effect work top from a hardware shop. We soon realised how expensive they were and how ridiculous it would be in our eyes, using so much reclaimed wood to then just plonk a big old Wickes worktop on it. We wanted something a little more rustic, so we headed down to a builders yard to see what we could grab for free or cheap.

Half an hour of head scratching later we ended up leaving with an old scaffolding plank and a pot of Danish oil. We cut it into three sections, each the length of the worktop, and Ben got creative with the jigsaw on the edge piece, trying to imitate the solid wood log worktops we’d admired for so long with their naturally curvy shape.

Lucy had remembered a really neat technique of charring wood she’d seen, otherwise known as Shou Sugi Ban. After a quick YouTube lesson in said technique, Ben whipped out the blowtorch and got stuck straight in, having no idea what the end result would look like.

Holding the blowtorch around 5cm from the wood, he slowly charred the cut-down planks, before applying several layers of Danish oil. Charring the wood allows the resin inside to come to the surface and creates a fire- and water- proof coat, as well as bringing out the natural wood grain.

Along the front and side edges, he charred the wood more intensely to create a faux-bark effect. All in all it took around 3 hours to finish and install in the van, using sikaflex and screws. The Danish oil was applied in 6 hour intervals, and a coat of beeswax and olive oil also helped to seal the wood.

We finally have our dream kitchen in our tiny home, something rustic and homely and totally unique.

 

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Total cost and materials used:

Camping fridge, secondhand - £20

Roller hinges - £4

Vanessa Flavel oven, secondhand - £20

Campingaz portable stove from a local hardware shop - £30

2 x 4.5kg butane gas bottles with regulator, secondhand - £10

Various gas fittings and pipes - £41.75

Kitchen mixer tap, secondhand - £5

Sink & cupboard, pre-owned - £0

Various assortment of reclaimed wood - £0

9 x 1.8m lengths of 19mm timber - £1.12 each*

2 sheets of 6mm hardboard from Jewsons - £19

Brass bolts, hinges & handles - £29

Hemp rope from a local hardware shop - £3

Right angle trim from Jewsons - £8*

Danish oil from Jewsons - £24*

Scaffolding plank from Jewsons - £10

 

*Trade price

 

Total cost:

 

£233.83

 

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