I love creating special spaces. You know, like little nooks and crannies with multiple functions, or peaceful corners in a garden. It’s a way of being who you are in the world, and expressing your inner self. Designing a living space in a van is no different – it can be rich, rewarding and deeply creative. Working with an “empty” van is particularly interesting because although it initially seems empty, it’s not empty at all. It’s full of surprises.
This is what the inside of my 2017 Caravan looks like with the middle seats removed and the back seats stowed in the floor.
The cargo area felt pretty “spacious” to me to begin with, but I soon realized the Caravan had additional gifts to offer. There was space inside space! What a lovely surprise!
To start with, there are two spacious cubbies in the floor directly behind the front seats. These have bifold doors that can be seen in the bottom right corner of the above photo.
I removed these doors and below is what it looks like now, before my bed has been built above them. The cubbies are about 8″ deep and the full width of the van. They will also be directly under my bed and will provide a great space for clothing and bedding.
It then became apparent that removing the back seats (rather than folding them away) added a second large space. Initially I thought this space would be sacrificed under the plywood floor. I’m so happy this wasn’t needed! Below is the back cargo area, with the carpet removed. It will be lined with a rubber material that will be easier to clean and keep things from sliding around. The floor will be built over this cargo area, and a hinged door in the floor will allow easy access.
Think carefully about head room and sleeping spaces. Both greatly affect design and a small calculation error could leave you unable to sit on a bench comfortably or leave you curled up instead of stretched out when sleeping. What a disappointment that would be!
I’m 5’2″ and used a 12″ milk crate to simulate sitting spaces in the back while planning the build. This was a perfect sitting height for me with a 3″ foam on top. A milk crate won’t be the right height for taller people who will need to sit higher. If you intend to having a sitting area, make sure the angle of your legs is comfortable. Remember that a floor will bring you closer to the ceiling and the thickness of cushions will also impact your head room. Play around until you find the bench or bed height that feels right.
Because I’m shorter and often sleep on my side, I’ve placed my bed directly behind the front seats, using the greatest width of the van between the two sliding doors. I spent much time lying in this space before deciding it was large enough for me. A second sleeping space will be built using an expandable side bench that will allow a taller person to sleep comfortably.
There seem to be two “camps” when it comes to decisions about beds in mini vans – those who want a full size bed and don’t mind it filling the entire cargo space, and those who prefer an expandable bed that allows for a small sitting area as well. I fall into the latter camp. I’ve slept on a futon for most of my adult life and don’t need much luxury, and can also sleep quite comfortably in a narrow space.
One final note about space in this van. Take note of where the 12 volt plug is (on wall on driver’s side) and where the air conditioner vent is on the other side – as you will want to consider them in your design if you wish to use either.
There is also a cubby along the wall at the back hatch where the tire jack is housed. One can move the jack and use this for other purposes. There are other spaces designed to store small items or place a drink. Depending on your daily habits and what features you want in your build, you may wish to, or be able to, preserve them. Because my bed and bench are only 12 inches high, I am able to integrate almost all of them into the design.
Designing and building a living space in a van is the creation of a very special space that can bring you peace, adventure and enjoyment for years to come. I found the process has been far about creativity and imagination than technical knowledge. It’s a personal sanctuary, so don’t be afraid to make it personal to you.