Our step-by-step guide from start to end of how we built the storage in the van, 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.
The cab shelf was one of the first crucial storage areas we fitted in the van; it would become a large area of our bulk storage. All we needed for this was a sheet of 12mm plywood and some screws. We cut it down to the maximum width of the van then slowly pushed it towards the front, trimming it down as we went to ensure a tight fit. We added a long strip of wood through the middle of it to stop it booming as we drove which also strengthens it over all, and screwed it into the metal lip that runs around the top of the cab (trying to miss the rust holes as we went).
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Under bed storage:
In the spare space around our water tanks and service area underneath the van we found enough room to build a small cupboard for toiletries and a drawer for underwear.
For the cupboard frame we used 2x2 which also added additional support to the bed frame. We used an offcut of 12mm shuttering ply to make the cupboard door, sides and shelf, and decorated it with planks of reclaimed pallet wood. Initially we used a roller catch to keep it closed, but as soon as something would hit the door from behind it would pop open and everything would go flying out. So we’ve now swapped to a small loop of hemp twine and a hook which works a treat. The hinges we originally used were also too small so we swapped them for some rustic looking iron ones.
On the right of the bed we built a custom-sized drawer using an old drawer we adapted, a pair of groove runners and more reclaimed wood for the front; this was really all there was to it. It doesn’t open all the way, but at least nothing falls out of it when we’re on the move.
Between the bed and the shower we also have a small shelf for toiletries, which we get complimented on a lot but was actually a complete accident. Due to the addition of the 2x2 that holds the thermostatic mixer we then had two different levels of cladding on the shower wall; we made use of this by building what could possibly be the world’s smallest shelf, made out of odds and ends of cladding to make a box large enough to hold our toothbrushes and daily toiletries, and it’s been surprisingly useful.
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Clothes cupboard & hammock:
Mounting the hanging cupboard we’d been contemplating for far too long was a seriously tricky task, trying to get a two-sided caravan cupboard to fit our van, and it took a lot of sawing and modifying to get it to fit. We attached it to the struts of the van roof at the foot of the bed, with extra support underneath. We revamped the old wood-print MDF with a coat of brown paint and a driftwood handle.
We also needed just a little more room for clothes, so we decided to attach a storage hammock beneath - we were inspired when we found some nylon fishing net being sold by the metre at a local hardware shop. We found two thick sticks of driftwood roughly the width of the cupboard, wove the ends of the net around each stick and tied them to it, then screwed through the inside of the cupboard at either end into the driftwood to hold it up.
Unfortunately Italy’s ridiculously bumpy, pot-holey roads had other ideas, and one fateful day we hit an unmarked speed bump which caused our entire cupboard to come crashing down, and all our clothes with it. To be honest we were surprised it had last this long anyway, and cut our losses by using the cupboard as firewood to cook a nice meal.
Once we were back in the UK and had successfully cladded the roof, we decided to forgo the cupboard for a simple hammock, the main reason being that our clothes got awfully damp and mouldy in an enclosed space and the net material would provide them with ventilation. So we simply screwed five eye hooks into the cladding, whose tongue and groove design maximises strength and support, and hung the hammock from these; four at the top to spread the load of the weight, and one at the bottom to prevent it from bashing around while we drive. However this large hammock provided only enough space for Lucy’s clothes, so we installed a much smaller one at the head of the bed for Ben’s allotted amount of clothes. Seems fair, right?
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The tiniest library:
There was a small space left between the kitchen unit and the bed, so we decided to make the most of it by building a bedside table with a little bookshelf underneath it. We used some leftover 6mm ply and a few odd pieces of driftwood for decoration, attaching small pieces of timber to the side of the kitchen unit and the bed to sit the shelves on. The chunky driftwood pieces sit at the front of each shelf to hold the books in place while the van is moving. The bedside table (a square of 6mm ply) is removable for easy access to the books and the plug socket beside the bed.
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One thing we learned travelling in the van was that if it ain’t tied down to the floor with 15m of rope, a ton of glue or at gun point, then it’s going to fly around like there’s no tomorrow every time you want to move on to a new destination or even head to the shops. With that being said, we had an idea to revamp an old ottoman we found for free on Gumtree to store some of our belongings in, the added bonus being that it would double up as a sofa for visitors as well as somewhere to hide Lucy’s annoyingly large and ever-growing shell collection.
We picked it up from a very nice old lady who spotted the large van and tried giving us more unwanted furniture. We declined and made a hasty exit before we ended up with a three piece sofa suite crammed into the van too.
The build was dead simple. We cut down some old pallet wood and sanded it until it was clean and smooth. A bag of rusty nails later and the pallet wood was secured to the sides of the ottoman and looking pretty funky.
Next we grabbed an old coffee sack (because we’re cool like that), and filled it with old pillow material. Finally we stapled it neatly in place on the lid.
The whole thing only took a couple of hours from start to finish and what a difference it has made. It gives us tons more added storage space in the van and ample seating for two. The best part? It was absolutely free.
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Total cost and materials used:
Lots and lots of reclaimed wood - £0
Sheet of 12mm shuttering ply - £12*
Net hammocks (one reclaimed, one purchased) - £3
Eye hooks and screws
Decorative iron hinges - £5
Driftwood - Free
Secondhand vintage ottoman - Free
Two pallets - Free
Burlap coffee sack - Free
2 old pillows - Free