Updated: Oct 19
Designing a campervan layout is one of the most fun and important steps of your whole van build. Like Steven Covey discusses in The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, you should 'begin with the end in mind'. Visualising your design from the outset is going to be the best tool you have to create a beautiful van and give you the motivation to keep going. So unleash your inner architect, let loose the interior designer and get creative. In this article you will find out what to consider before converting your van, you will see some beautiful campervans for inspiration, and I will show you the best ways to design your van on paper and in software. I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for many years, I'm the author of The Van Conversion Newsletter, van conversion instructor at Udemy, and the proud owner of a beautiful self-build campervan called Beans. So let's jump in and have a look at the best vans to convert into campervans!
Before designing your campervan interior you should have decided which van you are going to buy (and ideally have already bought the van). This is important as the size of your van directly determines how many appliances you can fit, the level of comfort, and the amount of storage space you will have.
Note: Before we hop in, you can grab yourself a wiring diagram for free by signing up to The Van Conversion Newsletter (I send out the wiring diagram straight away).
11 Things to Consider Before Designing Your Campervan Layout
You must consider carefully what your campervan will be used for and what your goals are before starting your design as it will dramatically impact how you furnish it. Let's check out some of the main points to be aware of before hopping into the design: 1. Working from the van: I work remotely from my campervan, running my startup on the road. Having a comfortable workspace is absolutely key to me as my days often stretch longer than the usual 9-5. If you're like me and work remotely, or even have the desire to work remotely you definitely need to install a workstation (ie. a table). I installed a seating area that sits 6 people, so there is plenty of room to work from. Fold down standing desks can also be a great addition to your van; I use standing desks all the time when I'm home or at an office and find they are great for you mood, productivity, and fitness. 2. Weather & Seasons: If you're going to be travelling to cold or wet places you will likely be spending a bunch of time inside the van. Your van will want to have a pretty comfortable van if this is the case, with room to move around and stand up inside. Though in a summer van you may be happy to cook from out the back, in an all-weather van, your cooking station will need to be inside the van. If you are travelling to very cold locations you will need to insulate your van very well on the floor, roof, and sides which will detract from the room inside your van. Make sure to consider this when taking your initial measurements. If you are planning on travelling to very warm locations you may need to install 2 fans in the roof (1 fan is the usual amount), you should account for this in the design also. If you are travelling to moderate or cold locations you will most definitely need a heater and should account for storage space for a heater and gas cylinder. 3. Where you will be travelling: Will you be spending a lot of time in cities or are you a mountain-dweller? The answer to that question might determine the style of van you build. If you are going to spend time in populated locations you may want a stealthy van (ie. it just looks like a builder's van). This means no awning, no art-work on the van, and the use of flexible solar panels rather than rigid ones (they are hidden from sight). 4. Budget: This is the single biggest factor in determining how you kit out your van. A furnishing budget of €1000 will differ significantly from a budget of €7000. If you're on the cheaper end, then you probably wont be able to install a heated shower, compostable toilet, and home cinema. But that's okay. you can still build an amazing campervan! I will give you a supplies list later in this article and you can pick and choose what you want from it. As a general rule of thumb, smaller vans will be a little cheaper to build than bigger vans (less space to work with!). 5. Travelling with a partner, family, or friends: If you are travelling with your partner, you will need a double bed. Plain and simple. Even the solo-vagabonder should consider this (there's always the possibility of getting lucky - vanlife is a great chat-up line). If friends or family might occasionally be joining you, you may also want to carry along spare tent or even have some extra sleeping room inside the van. 6. Lifestyle: If you are an outdoorsy person and do a lot of running, skiing, mountain-biking, or other sweaty activities you may want to install a shower in your van. A proper shower installation can be expensive and tricky, but for some vanlifers, it's an absolute essential. Adding a shower will also require more water storage capacity which takes up valuable space. If you are going to be lugging around a load of outdoor gear, you will also need somewhere to store it. A garage or large storage chests will be necessary. 7. Dress-sense: Are you a yuppie, hippy, or fashion guru? If you have a ton of clothes (which if you're doing vanlife you shouldn't), you will need a big wardrobe. If you like freshly-ironed shirts, you will need a place to hang them. If you are a nudist... well you don't need to worry so much. 8. Bowels: Though in the real world your bowel motions are a bit taboo to talk about, on the road you're going to have to get used to it. Yes even with your partner. I personally would not be without the chemical toilet in my van. If you have IBS, I would say it's an absolute necessity - who knows when nature might call. 9. Books: Book worm? Me too. I would suggest taking your favourites and leaving the rest. Get a kindle! Think about where you will store them and where the best place for a book shelf will be 10. Food: If you are happy living on jam and toast then you may not need too much food storage space. However for most people this is not the case. I personally have 2 shelves filled with spices, a pantry, and a 50 litre fridge. Think about where you will store your food before the fact. You should also think about the size of fridge you need - what kind of food do you eat? 11. Mood: Prone to the blues? Add more light to your van! You could add more side windows, paint the interior white, add more lighting, or you could add a skylight. If you're new to vanlife and and don't really know what you'll need, renting a campervan and taking it for a test drive can be and excellent way to determine what you absolutely need, and what you can live without. I would suggest renting a campervan for a week and taking it on a wild adventure. Get muddy, do lots of cooking, push the camper and yourself to the limits, and you will determine which supplies you need.
12 Beautiful Campervans to Give You Inspiration
Humans are idea recyclers. Creativity is borrowed and new ideas are inspired and build upon previous work done by others. Don't expect inspiration to just come to you, you need to actively seek it! Before you start designing your van you should do lots of research into other beautiful builds that exist out there. Go on Instagram or Pinterest and get inspired. Make sure you save your favourite builds so you can replicate the best parts. Here are 12 of my favourite van builds from other vanlifers:
Make a Supplies List
By now you've done your homework and you're ready to put together a supplies list of everything you will require in your van. Make a list on paper or in a note-taking app. Here is my complete supplies list. Make sure you check the legal and insurance regulations for your country when designing your van as it may determine what you put in it and the location that things go. For example, in Ireland most insurers require a walkway between the front and the back of the van - check out my guide to converting a campervan in Ireland here. In the UK your campervan must have a vinyl graphic on the side of it. Do your due diligence before you start your campervan. It will save you heartache at the end. Most countries will require your campervan to have at least seats and a table, sleeping accommodation, cooking facilities and storage facilities. Other things to be aware of might be the location of the gas bottle and fan, the height of the roof, the number of windows required, and if an awning is required. Here is a list of some large interior supplies which you might want to include in your build:
Outdoor equipment box
Measure Your Van
Once you've bought your van the first step is to go out and take some measurements of it. Take measurements of the floor, walls, and roof in different places, taking note of any odd shapes or curvatures. While these measurements don't have to be perfect, they should be accurate enough and get the proportions are close as possible to allow you to design your van on paper.
Design The Layout
Now that you've taken your measurements, you will have a good idea of the proportions and size you will have to work with. The next step is to design the interior layout! Here is a catalog of the most common campervan layouts, its an excellent resource! The first draft of your van will be on paper. In fact you should probably do your first few designs on paper! First do rough designs on blank paper, then do more precise versions on on graph paper. When you are designing the layout of the van there are a few big things you should be aware of:
You will probably be installing insulation and cladding/ply on the floor, roof, and walls. Detract from your measurements as necessary. I used 5cm polyiso foam insulation board with 1cm wood cladding on top, so I needed to detract at least 6cm from my measurements.
The bed is the most important and space-consuming thing in your van. Make sure you allow appropriate room for it. Horizontal sleeping could be tricky in some slimmer vans, especially if you have it well insulated. Some vanlifers leave wells in the walls for your feet and head in order to extend the bed length.
Don't forget to keep legal and safety requirements in mind. For instance the location of the gas bottle, the amount of room you leave the fridge for ventilation (requirements differ depending on the fridge), and keeping electrical appliances away from gas.
You should also consider weight distribution inside your van. You want to keep weight even and low inside. Poor weight distribution affects fuel fuel efficiency and adds more wear-and-tear to your van, thus decreasing its life expectancy.
Quick tip: A great way to iterate through designs and get the creative juices flowing is by using crazy-8's, it's a design technique used by Google in order to decide on the UI for a website. Essentially, you will want to fold an A4 piece of paper in half 3 times so you have 8 sections. In each section draw a different design concept. At the end, pick your favourite! As luck would have it, each section will be roughly campervan proportions.
After you have designed your van on paper, the next step is to design it in software! This isn't 100% necessary but I found it definitely helped me visualise my build and nail down some more precise measurements. The two best resources to digitally design your campervan are SketchUp and Vanspace 3D. I designed my van before Vanspace was a thing, so I used Sketchup, the simple architectural software originally created by Google. It worked okay and was pretty easy to use.
If I were to do the project again I would definitely use Vanspace 3D as it is specifically built to design beautiful campervans, with pre-built layouts for pretty much every type of van and has awesome drag n' drop functionality.
Vanspace makes it easy to bring your van design ideas to life.
Here's a video on how to build out a van design using VanSpace:
Test The Layout
After you have designed your van and are happy with how it looks, it's time to see how it works in real life! Grab a roll of painters/masking tape and head out to your van. Per your design measurements, lay down the tape on the ground to match when your interior objects such as the fridge, bed, wardrobe, and storage will go. Leave the tape stuck to the ground during your build as a reference. If you have already bought your supplies, you can bring them out to the van and place them inside in order to further visualise how everything will piece together. Some people build cardboard or plyboard mockups of their interior to help them with this process.
After you've designed your van, it's time to get building!
I have a long wheelbase, high roof Ford transit (L3H3) that has stood to me wonderfully. It has 400W of solar power, a split-charge relay, shore power, running water, an LPG heater, a large fridge and kitchen area, a comfy bed and large wardrobe, an adjustable height table, a roof fan, and a sink and stove. It even has a home cinema with a projector and pull-down projector screen! It's turned out beautifully and is a great travel companion. Let me know in the comments which design you chose and why! Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion.
If you're converting a van but unsure of how to do it, you could also check out the Van Conversion Course on Udemy. In the course, you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!
Until next time,