Campervan layout – a feat of architectural design?

Before we started work on the van and it was still an empty shell, it was hard to imagine we’d be able to squeeze in a kitchen, bathroom and living room without it all looking very cramped. Yet somehow, now the furniture is in and the walls are up, it’s like our little minibus was always destined to be a cosy campervan. Everything just fits. It is compact and bijou! Clearly all those Thursday nights we’ve spent watching seven series of Grand Designs have been worth it – Kevin would be proud! (Actually, Kevin would say it could have been even better if we’d employed an architect, but never mind.)


The internal structure is quite defined now, and the walls have gone up between the bathroom and kitchen. Paul bought these as pantry doors and used a cardboard template to cut them to shape around the side of the van. The bathroom door will be a bit trickier. Ideally we’d want a rectangular panel that slides across the gap, but the position of the wheel arches on either side means it could only open half way. So the options are to fit a double door that opens into the bathroom, or hang a few strings of beads. That one’s still on the drawing board.

 

The toilet and bathroom basin are now bolted down, and the back of the toilet is fixed to another panel to facilitate the rear-entry swivel benefits, as shown below.


The seating is coming along, and the next stage will be to construct and fit an extra horizontal panel that will hinge out to form a bed. This has been a more contentious issue than you would probably imagine, and the subject of many robust discussions between Paul and his various campervan advisers. Whichever method he chooses, it’ll be one of the next jobs.

A lot of the work coming up will be less visible and includes the wiring and electrics. My sewing machine has now arrived and I may attempt another place mat before launching into the cushions. Thank you to everyone who has expressed a preference for a particular fabric. Surprisingly, almost everyone chose the same one.

(I suspect a conspiracy.)


Advertisements

Plan of attack – 11 simple steps to achieving your diy campervan

Right. These are the 11 simple steps needed to transform our maxi-taxi into a campervan so our 4-wheel adventures can take off in relative comfort. And style, obviously.

    1. Buy and fit laminate flooring. Involves removing upright bolts in floor that were used to secure the seats (and which I keep treading on), fitting chipboard, laying the underfloor insulation and then fitting the laminate on top. Having spent only 20 minutes in sauna-like conditions measuring up the van yesterday, we’re going to skip the underfloor heating at this stage.
    2. Order and fit toilet. The size of the toilet will dictate where the three surrounding ‘modesty’ screens will sit, and how much space we’ll then have for the kitchen. [note: The bathroom will also be accessible from the rear door of the van, which means we can empty the waste water from the sink and remove the cassette from the toilet. This also means we can get a bit of a through draft into the van when the door’s open. There will be a screen next to the toilet so it’s not visible through the back door, but fitting a wall next to the basin would reduce the bathroom width by about 10cm so we’ll just have a blind on the glass instead. One that’s dust-repellent, anti-static and easy to wash, of course. If such a thing exists?? (sorry, in-jokes are probably considered very poor blogging etiquette).]
    3. Order and fit fridge, freshwater tank (which will go under the kitchen sink) and waste tank (which will sit under the bathroom sink – we can then open the back door of the van and empty water from the valve at the back of the wastewater tank, just as we can remove the cassette from the toilet on the opposite side of the bathroom). Also order and fit smaller (2.5kg) gas bottle and casing, which will sit underneath the seating next to the stove.  Fitting the big ticket items early on lets us see how much space we have for everything else.
    4. Joinery – build cupboards / drawers which will go underneath the seating and underneath the stove and sink in the kitchen. And the sink in the bathroom. Also need to fit extra panel to the side of the seating which will slide out to form the bed, fit laminate onto wall between kitchen and bathroom, and incorporate the door.
    5. Order and fit water heater and water pump. Ideally these would go on the left-hand side of the van underneath the sink but that side is already heavy with both water tanks, so to distribute the weight a bit, we’ll put the water heater on the right-hand side under the stove, and run a pipe underneath the flooring to the freshwater tank.
    6. Finish bathroom – install basin, do tiling around toilet and basin.
    7. Figure out wiring and locate batteries – not sure if we’ll need one or two at this stage – but they’ll sit alongside the battery charger underneath the seating behind the driver’s seat.
    8. Electrics – fit and connect lighting, connect water heater, move speakers (currently providing piped music to the bathroom) to the middle of the van and install 3 ceiling vents.
    9. Fit work surfaces in kitchen, install sink and stove and connect to gas (will need help with this bit).
    10. Upholstery – fit seating in living area.
    11. Interior design – fit blinds and/or gingham curtains, commission surfer-chic artwork, casually scatter cushions around seating.

 

We’ve chosen the hottest day of the year so far to start on the flooring…

Paul resorting to desperate measures to find some shade

 

The hardboard layer and insulation went down well, and we’re ready to lay the laminate flooring next weekend. Again, let’s make it clear when I say ‘we’ – Paul is doing all the physical stuff here. I have joined in the shopping excursions, but otherwise have been taking photos from the sidelines and occasionally offering helpful advice at critical moments. Which is also an important role; we should all play to our strengths.

12 grey bus seats sitting in a garage

In its previous incarnation, the campervan was used by ABC Childcare in Western Australia to ferry children around, and as such, was fitted out as a 14-seater mini-bus. When we bought the van, the owner kindly removed all 12 rear seats, and they’d been cluttering up our garage ever since. Originally destined for the tip, they were actually in near-perfect condition so at the last minute I thought I’d try them on eBay. I couldn’t imagine there’d be an active market for 12 old bus seats (retro dining furniture anyone?) but to our surprise, they attracted a lot of interest almost immediately. We had 8 people watching on the first day, and for an eBay virgin, this was most exciting. Admittedly, most people only wanted to buy one, but I thought there would be even less demand for 11 old bus seats so we held out, and pretty soon someone bought all 12 for $350!

The couple that came to pick them up had also converted a campervan and were about to drive it to Perth (they had to be there in 8 days – eek!) when their son decided to join them, so they needed to fit an extra seat for him.  They were planning to relist the other 11 seats when they returned, but at least they’re now out of our garage, and we can put the money we made towards our gourmet kitchen (i.e. the grill).

This was how the van originally looked with all its rear passenger seats (carsales.com.au)

 

Waiting for a home

Buying the van – what happens next?


Tues 11 October 2010

So after a seemingly endless, global search that saw us trek out to car yards as far away as Strathpine and Acacia Ridge, we’ve finally found the perfect van, hurrah!!

Well, I say we…

Paul had very precise requirements, and was starting to lose hope that there were any Toyota commuter vans in Queensland that represented exactly what he wanted (i.e. diesel, automatic, low mileage, low cost, no signage emblazoned on the side, one careful lady owner etc). We had seen and discounted quite a few for various reasons, and unfortunately every salesman we encountered had the same reaction, exclaiming with a sharp intake of breath and a shake of the head that they were as ‘rare as hen’s teeth’.

Not to be defeated, I logged on to carsales.com last Friday morning with the now ingrained list of requirements, and at the top of the list was a lovely looking van. It was petrol, not diesel, but other than that, it seemed exactly right. A 2006 model with only 41,000 km on the clock and best of all, it was $32,000 – $3,000 less than we thought we’d have to pay. It had somehow slipped through the cracks on Paul’s search, but he agreed it looked promising. That evening, Paul rang the contact number listed, and the guy said he had theoretically already ‘sold’ it to two people who were scrambling to arrange their finance, but if we could promise cash the following day, it was ours. Well. That was a turn up for the books.

Keen not to be gazumped ourselves, on Saturday morning we drove in torrential rain to yet another interesting Brisbane suburb, Rocklea, where we met the owner in a printing & signage workshop where the van was being stored. It had recently come across from WA, where it was owned by ABC Childcare. It wasn’t too good to be true, it was a beautiful van – clean and shiny with no dents and hardly any wear inside. It also came with a free fire extinguisher!

We gave it a thorough test drive in the garage, and then dashed to the bank down the road for a cash deposit before he could sell it to anyone else.

The owner was great, and promised to arrange for all 12 rear seats to be taken out, get it certified as a 2-seater vehicle and also re-register it in Queensland – all without charging any extra!

Sat 16 October
Paul drove back to Rocklea yesterday to transfer the rest of the money and drive the van home – sans 12 rear seats. Luckily it fits perfectly down the side of the house. So here it is: ooooh, aaaaah.

Campervan

 

Plenty of room!

Sat 23 October
The first job was to get the windows tinted, which Paul arranged at Auto-Tint in Capalaba. They used the darkest legal tint and promised no bubbles. It looks pretty good:

 

In the afternoon we also joined 5,000 other people wearing this season’s pac-a-mac at the Brisbane Caravan and Camping Sale. It was good to check out the various fixtures and fittings, including lighting and sinks, that we can use in the van, although admittedly we spent most of our time swooning at the fantastic Winnebagos that slept about 16. Our van does not resemble a Winnebago. We found a conversion company who were helpful, and can do either the whole van or just the tricky bits. The look on Paul’s face suggested he would quite like someone to do the whole van, so we had to make a swift exit.

At least we can get a quote for just doing the cutting work to install the gas bottle and ventilation.

Fri 29 October
It’s all systems go. One of Paul’s colleagues has done a 3-D design of the van, which shows everything should fit in well, with our living / dining / sleeping area at the front, a kitchen in the middle with hob on one side and sink on the other, and a tiny bathroom at the back:

Sun 31 October
Paul spent all day yesterday building a mock frame inside the van, to show where each bit will sit. Here you go:

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

Guidelines for each section

 

The only issue that keeps rearing its head is the height of the van inside. It’s 156m high, and because I’m 170cm and Paul is a bit taller, it means that spending any length of time standing or walking through induces a rather stiff back and neck. One option is to raise the roof an extra foot or so with either a hard or soft pop-top so we can freely move around, but Paul is not keen.

Cutting the roof off would obviously be a major job, fairly expensive and not particularly one for the driveway. It would decrease the rigidity inside and make it hard to have an internal wall separating the bathroom (particularly with a soft-top), reduce fuel efficiency and limit the number of multi-storey car parks we could frequent.

Of course, we won’t be spending long periods standing or walking inside however high the ceiling is. But it seems a shame to spend time building a lovely kitchen and bathroom if it’s then too uncomfortable to use them. Anyway, lots of people have tried to persuade Paul and he is having none of it – he says I can fry his breakfast kneeling down at the cooker. Hilarious.
Sun 7 November
We’ve had no luck with the conversion company, who as it turned out were not interested in just doing part of the job. So Paul’s going to tackle it all himself – any excuse for another trip to Bunnings to buy some shiny new tools.

He ordered a stainless steel box for the 9kg gas bottle, which arrived this week. The plan was for it to sit underneath the seating bench but it’s a bit tall, and means when we put the seat cushion on top, the seat will be at window height. To avoid passers by getting a perfect view of our derrieres through the (albeit beautifully tinted) windows as we sit and enjoy our cups of tea, we might have to get a smaller gas bottle, that fits under the seats as we planned. A 2.5kg bottle should be fine just for weekends away anyway.

Sun 20 November
There were a few sweaty palms today, as Paul had to cut a nice round hole in the side of the van for the electrical power point. I can’t imagine there’s much demand for minibuses with portholes, so there’s no going back now!

Still, it went beautifully:

Let’s begin at the beginning

Hello. I’m Rachel. My husband is Paul, and we (of the royal variety) are converting a minibus into a campervan for lots of mini-breaks around South East Queensland. We vaguely hatched this plan in 2009 while pootling around New Zealand’s South Island in a little Britz motorhome (which is where I took the photo at the top of this blog – one of our favourite drives out of Queenstown).

There’s something about travelling in a campervan that puts a smile on your face; fancy being able to just pull over to the side of the road / glacier to make a cup of tea any time you want! Not only that, but you’ll never go anywhere and realise you’ve forgotten your umbrella, because all your stuff is always right there!! (Very useful in NZ, we found, to always have a brolly on hand.) So anyway, after 3 weeks, we were hooked.

Added to that, we have lived in Brisbane now for five years and there are still loads of places around SE Qld and Northern NSW that we still haven’t visited, because they’re just out of reach for a day-trip. This way, we can take off after work on Friday and be home for the Biggest Loser on Sunday evening.

Not only that but Paul is looking for a ‘hobby’, particularly for those weekends when I am holed up at the computer working on uni assignments (weekends that, admittedly, don’t occur as often as they should).

So the plan was to buy a little van to convert into our own campervan et voila, we’d fulfill all criteria in one fell swoop. The little van in question would not, sadly, be an uber-cool VW kombi, but a Toyota Hiace – aka a maxi-taxi. Never mind. It will still be very cool and best of all, will have a toilet and a grill! Paul is aiming for surfer chic; let’s see how we go.

We actually bought the van a couple of months ago, and I’ve been scribbling notes about our initial campervan exploits since then. A blog does seem to be the way to go though, so here we are.