Introduction: Van Turned Dorm Room, Complete With Bed and Desk

Picture of Van Turned Dorm Room, Complete With Bed and Desk

My younger sister came to me with an exciting proposition, Turn her newly acquired Chevy Astro into her new home! She was an easy client, all she requested was a bed, a place to sit with her computer, storage, and lastly she wanted to help. Oh and she had a budget of $200, ok great, lets get started.

This is not a new concept, So before starting the build I did a little research to see how others converted their vans into campers. In fact, there are some other vans right here on instructables, In particular, I found great inspiration in the multiple posts by Audrey Desjardins, I recommend checking out her work.

Step 1: A Blank Vanvas!

Picture of A Blank Vanvas!

The foundation for this build was an Empty Chevy Astro Van. As you can see all the seats were removed, and subsequently sold on Craigslist. My sister happened to arrive with a new area rug on the floor and black out shades already applied to the windows, so this was our starting point.

Step 2: Schematic Design - Dimensions and Layout

Picture of Schematic Design - Dimensions and Layout

We made sure to document the critical dimensions, including the van, the storage bins my sister already owned and even her height, head to toe. We came up with a basic layout that accommodated a bed, a full desk, a place for seating and ample storage. Fortunately for her she was short enough to fit in a bed oriented perpendicular to the main axis of the van, this allowed us to situate the bed across the back of the van, maximizing the "living space."

our short material list consisted of :

- (2) sheets of Sande plywood

- (1) box of screws

- (2) piano hinges

- wood glue

- (1) roll drawer liner

- (2) memory foam pads

The total cost came in just over $200 (more than half of which was the Foam pads).

Step 3: Design Continued - Rough Fit, Full Scale Layout

Picture of Design Continued -  Rough Fit, Full Scale Layout

We cut the ends off one sheet of plywood so we could place it in the back of the van for a rough fitting. This gave us an opportunity to make sure my sister would fit in the bed comfortably. In addition, it also allowed us to layout everything in full scale, drawing the plans directly on the plywood.

Step 4: Rip

Picture of Rip

Once you are confident with your layout (measure twice) then it is time to rip the boards and supports to the proper dimensions. The table saw is of course the perfect tool for long square rips, however because you are working in a van, many of your cuts may not be truly square. In this event you can make do with any straight edge, such as a long level, clamp it to the plywood at the desired angle and use it as a guide for your circular saw.

Step 5: Scribe and Shape

Picture of Scribe and Shape

Once again, this is a van and unfortunately nothing on the interior is square or plumb, so in order to fit all the pieces snugly in place there will be a lot of required scribing and jigsawing, and scribing and sanding and more scribing and sanding. You can purchase a scribing tool (they are fairly cheap, I have no excuse for not having one), but I find can do just fine with an adjustable square and eyeballing it.

Once you have all the pieces cut to their desired shapes I recommend rounding over all of the corners with a router, this gives it a cleaner look and minimizes any chance of splinters.

Step 6: Assemble

Picture of Assemble

This was an exciting step for my sister because she could see things finally coming together and could really start to envision the finished product. Our chosen method of assembly was wood glue and pocket screws. The Kreg pocket hole kit makes this a cinch, this small jig only cost $40 and included all the necessary drill bits and driver bits.

The desk platform was connected to and partially supported by the bed platform via two flat Simpson metal plates screwed to the underside of both pieces and bridging the seam.

Step 7: Details - the Storage

Picture of Details - the Storage

We wanted the rear storage at the back of the van to be accessible from inside the van when the doors are closed. To accomplish this we incorporated two hinged hatches in the bed platform. When laying them out it is important to note that you must make sure that there is ample clearance to clear the wall the van on the up swinging of the hatch door. As an added measure we recessed the hinges into the panel so as not to be felt through the mattress (probably not necessary, but hey, looks cooler).

The other important detail to note here is the bungee cords that were stretched across the storage bins. This seemed the most economical way to keep the bins from sliding while the van is in motion. The cords attach at each end through a 3/4" hole drilled through the Plywood supports.

Step 8: Details - the Bed

Picture of Details - the Bed

The final completed mattress consisted of two foam pads, the pictures above show only one, however it was later decided to add a second for increased comfort. We snapped our lines on the foam with a chalk line, and cut it cleanly with multiple passes of a utility knife.

Step 9: Details - the Desk

Picture of Details - the Desk

The desk took a bit more scribing and shaping to make the parts fit. I made sure that the shelves and compartments had stops on all sides, nailed in place with a finish nail gun. These stops, in conjunction with grip liner (the kind meant for lining drawers) on all the surfaces would help keep objects from sliding around while the van is on the road.

Step 10: Completion

Picture of Completion

All that is left is for you to personalize it however you like. Please share your build, and Happy Travels!


DeaconV1 (author)2017-10-29

This is BEAUTIFUL! When I saw this Image on Google, I said to myself "fake" with reason. but I checked it out and it was legit! I couldn't believe my eyes! I always wanted to do something like this but never had the money or time. If I do, I thank you for your awesome layout! I'll keep an eye out for a van that opens from the side. Actually if I invert the layout I could do it on one that opens from the back, too. My changes on the design are to make the desk taller (I wanna have a proper chair), and to install a big Solar Panel (and maybe antenna) on the roof. I'll favorite this too. (I signed up just to comment) Good Work! Very good work!

stheis22 (author)2017-07-31

Very cool!

IngrownSplinter (author)stheis222017-08-11

Thank You!

mreamer (author)2017-06-27

Very nice work! Ya'll are craftsman!

IngrownSplinter (author)mreamer2017-08-11

Thank You!

JaimyB made it! (author)2017-07-31

Helped this little creation come along!

IngrownSplinter (author)JaimyB2017-08-11

Wow, Very cool!

cliffyd (author)2017-08-07

Got my vote! Nice woodworking.

IngrownSplinter (author)cliffyd2017-08-11


MoonMail (author)2016-11-11

Some steps that I feel were left out.

1. Hygeine: Gym membership, $20-50/month, gym access, shower access.

2. Power: Strong alternator + shoddy wring + spare car battery + inverter = Firehazard/electrical outlet.

3. Water, Bottled water, creeks (if clean), water fountains.

4. cooking, Go electric mate. Or do one of those propane stoves; It'll be fine. Store your propane next to your malfunctioning electrical outlet.

5. Never park in the same place twice.

IngrownSplinter (author)MoonMail2016-11-21

Thank you, My sister has now been living it the van for two years, with all that she has learned from the experience, I am sure we could make another instructable about just how to live in the van.

Please do. You hear about men living in vans, but life for women is different. I would really like to know more tips and tricks.

Oscelot (author)dollywild2017-06-18

Agreed. Women face so much more danger that if she made an 'ible about her lessons I'm sure it'd be very helpful.

windoz (author)2015-09-22

I did this to my full-size Ford E-150 years back. Being a utility worker and ALWAYS on the road, this saved me money I didn't have for motel rooms. Plus, my custom-sized and cut memory foam mattress is more comfortable than most motel mattresses I've slept on. A company I have a strange serendipity with. They started as a VERY small upholstery shop that did some couch cushions for a re-upholstery job I was doing, and has now grown large enough to have taken over the building of my last engineering job in Michigan. Their shop is great, but they'll custom fabricate anything and any size you want; and they ship anywhere!

I added POWER to this set-up. Two deep cycle batteries and a pure sine-wave inverter for power, PLUS the ability to port power in from a weather tight box just ahead of the rear wheel well. I even had a portable air conditioner that I vented through the floor through a PVC conduit adapter and a four gang weather tight cover I modified for the install. Staying 'under the radar' while utilizing this kind of setup is important in public.

My other real comfort is hot and cold running water heated off a heat exchanger spliced into the heater core return line to the engine. With a 12v on-demand pump and a discrete location, my side doors and a fence or wall became my shower stall. Nothing more rejuvenating and civilized after a dirty, sweaty, hard days' work. Kind of makes me wish I had more documentation to share about my build.

This interface is TERRIBLE BTW... I had some pics I tried to upload, but I don't think it worked.

dollywild (author)windoz2017-06-18

Ive used foam factory for years. They ship free ove $75. Great prices, very educational site. Just re did my camper with their foam. Highly entertaining when you gen this little box and think, what? Then open it and WHOOFFF! full sized mattress.

IngrownSplinter (author)windoz2015-09-28

thanks for sharring

YetAnotherMike (author)windoz2015-09-26

Thanks for the link to the foam factory. I'll be contacting them.

The only way I've found to upload photos it co create your own instructable.

paulomurteira (author)2017-06-18

Awesome! Thanks for the sharing, your smile shows it all :):):)

deluges (author)2017-06-14

That's really neat and looks so comfortable!

Bea17 (author)2017-05-23

If I did this I would probably work a night job and park in commuter parking during the day.

QT2 (author)2016-07-26

I love it! I want to build a mini version. I have a 2000 Rav4 which I took out the seats. Plenty of room back there for me to nap. I have a long commute each day to work and park in a multistory parking garage. Each day during lunch I go to my Rav4 to nap and chill. Having something like your sister's van but in a smaller form will fit my needs just fine.

IngrownSplinter (author)QT22016-07-27

Thank you! I would love to see pictures of your completed conversion when done.

amark6 (author)2016-04-11

Bad-ass, thanks for the inspiration.

IngrownSplinter (author)amark62016-04-14

I am Happy to have shared, I'm glad you liked it!

ZoyaP2 (author)2016-02-15

This is a great instructable! I'm currently looking into the idea of doing this in the future and this helps a lot ^.^

IngrownSplinter (author)ZoyaP22016-02-29

Awesome, I hope it works out for you as well as it did for my sister, she has had no regrets.

CraftAndu (author)2016-01-19

Thank you for sharing this awesome instructable!

You are welcome, and thank you for taking interest!

KyleE13 (author)2016-01-19

I find it interesting that most people are fixating on the heater options. While you may need to save a few pennies for it, a catalytic propane heater is likely the best option. I bought one from Bi-Mart (a northwest sports and outdoor store) for about $40-$50 several years ago, to use in my tent while hunting in the winter. It did fantastic for a tent, and with a van that has considerably more insulate properties than a tent, I'm sure it would work great. I could run it for about four nights in a row on a one liter tank of propane (these run about $3.00 each where I live).

My main question would be about facilities. Water wouldn't be that difficult as you could keep a lot of bottled water on hand (one gallon bottles are cheap). A hot plate for cooking would be fairly simple, as long as you had a good secondary battery that could be charged from the engine. A porta-potty could be used for other basic needs. That leaves the issue of hygiene, which could be dealt with utilizing the hot plate for heating water (or possible an electric water kettle) and good sponge bath techniques.

None of this seems to have been addressed in the article, though. It would have been nice to see how she planned to deal with these concerns.

Sapper (author)KyleE132016-01-19

I think that using a catalytic heater in a confined space is dangerous due to Carbon Monoxide build up and/or oxygen depletion which creates a danger of asphyxiation. You may go to sleep and never wake up.

It might be a better idea to re-purpose a propane heater from an actual camper which vents and intakes air from outside. Another solution may be to use an electric heater and look for outside sources for power.

spamman99 (author)2016-01-18

A observation about all the Walmart comments below: I think most people are confusing two issues. I believe it is Walmart corporate policy to allow overnight parking in any of their lots. However may jurisdictions have laws prohibiting overnight parking so when you see an "no overnight parking" sing in a Walmart lot its the city/town you're indisallowing it, not Walmart.

muyis (author)2016-01-13


IngrownSplinter (author)muyis2016-01-13

Thank You!

Temprature range is a bit of a killer for van people, I have tried many things on the "no money down plan", polystyrene is bulky and takes valuable head room, mylar and camping mats work ok. Someone (geoff) tried to stuff the interrior of the body with pink batts and found it made little difference as the issue is themal conductivity in the steel body and not radiation through the cavity, later model vehicles seem to have better internal insulation in the trim. My van is a commercial vehicle it is just steel with no trim. Geoff's answer was thermal backed curtain material glued to the inside of the body, works well and does not take space. I have a roof box of sorts on the van holding the solar pannels, in this I have a set of spare 4wd tires restinig on a piece of plywood for support and some blue plastic coversheet from pallets of sheetmetal, currently I have no internal roof lining at all and the box/plastic does an excelent job of buffering temprature, the only place condensation occours in winter is in the area there is none of that blue plastic on the outside.. Summer sun gets the windows to 40-50c, so fans are being installed, and rubber door trim is removed to allow more ventilation. I find the heat worse than the cold, winter time the gas burner (9kg propane bottle) can be left on if needed but again some ventilation or a flue is a must.

Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge.

w1ll3tt (author)2015-09-22

Eberspacher D2 12V Heater Kit or Webasto. I have a small racing diesel tank above my rear wheel arch inside and the heater sits in an aluminium box bolted under the van. Pushes clean warm air inside. i also fitted an electric extractor fan on roof (so dogs don't overheat).

also line the sides, roof with

CAMPER VAN INSULATION 12M X 1M X 35MM THICK LIGHT WEIGHT DACRON POLYESTER. Insulation should meet all the furniture and furnishings fire and safety regulations, This available on ebay also meets the British standard: BS5852 and is very light in weight

Remember to install a carbon monoxide detector just incase, for any heater

milnews_ca1 (author)w1ll3tt2015-09-22

Curious - how "cold" would that set-up deal with? Methinks it could be a bit brisk in Minneapolis in January-February sleeping in a rig like this, as lovely and well laid out it might be. Thanks!

I study vandwelling and have spent enough nights in my minvan to have opinions. Heat depends on how you use the vehicle and personal taste. Vandwellers often are not tied to a location and don't need much heat. I like to stay warm, and a good microfiber blanket, tucked in, works for me down to 40 degrees. In warm climates, that almost takes care of the issue.

Most of the vandwellers I know use small propane heaters (Buddy heaters) if they need heat and have no issues with them so long as they are properly vented. Even on very cold nights, they DO NOT sleep with the heater on. They warm the van (or minivan or tent), shut down the heater, go to sleep bundled up, and have the heater within reach so they can light it before getting out of their beds in the morning.

Thanks for sharing.

IngrownSplinter (author)2015-12-30

Unfortunately because I was not the one living in the van, it is hard for me to answer questions regarding livability. Fortunately others have made some great suggestions here in the comments, I hope you found the answers you were looking for.

gana_anaq2 (author)2015-12-29

very nice instructable. When i read this i was thinking at me... First was the money 200$ . I have allso this handyman work an i spent more money on tools than the actual job cost to buy ready made. So if you live in a flat with no tools and just 200 $ you will find out that just the tools presented in this tutorial costs 2000$ but the original ideea matters low quality can be reproduced only with a handsaw a screwdriver a knife an sandpaper

foothillbilly (author)gana_anaq22015-12-29

gana_anaq2, you and me both. I have a low-end drill/driver, a few yard-sale tools, a loaner jig saw, and like that. I can round corners with a rasp ($0.50 to $2.00, common at yard sales), cut plywood with a $1 hand saw, and generally substitute things to get the same result. I suspect I could learn to "scribe," but making a cardboard template is easier. I would/will use some old couch cushions rather than spend $100 on foam and I'll get the added advantage of a cushion to sit on. If I use hinges, they'll be cheap and I'll use them to make a lid for the difficult-to-reach space under where the bed and the desk join.

gana_anaq2 (author)foothillbilly2015-12-29

I liked your instructable. It looks great like a room.very nice job. You are a very talented worker.

Thank you!

You make some great points in regard to money. In my case I was fortunate to have a job that provided me access to tools I didnt have myself. A great alternative for those without their own tools may be to check out tech shops or maker spaces, which are popping up all around the country.

MartinG40 (author)2015-12-30

When I was a teen we called these "shaggin' wagons". In those days though the most popular conversion was a panel van.

charles543 (author)2015-12-29

Some Walmarts allow overnight parking. Some have signs saying no overnight parking. How about a truck stop? Many of them have restrooms, showers, food.

Kahana98 (author)charles5432015-12-29

* As a former long-haul truck-driver I can
assure you that as long as you follow the signs in the
truck-stop/rest-area, you will be left alone (as noted below, go dark
quickly). The rigs in WalMart, etc. actually haul stock for those
locations and have special permission from the stores.

* As a
homeless advocate here in Mass. I've found that one has to feel-out the
proper locations. In my experience, it is right in front of the homeless
shelter. Stay away from places where tent-communities are. Staying on
the street almost always works, staying on private property (malls, etc)
almost never works. Case your location; you'll figure it out--but often
the knock-knock on the window comes right about dawn.

* Should
you be questioned by the po-po just be honest (and respectful). "I'm
homeless, but getting back on my feet" has worked for me 99%. Key here
is be respectful. Once when I had camped by an establishment serving
booze I told the cop I had too much the night before and was doing the
responsible thing not driving--but I didn't go back.

* Most of all, Variety is the Spice of Life! Move around (almost) daily. Be smart; be safe!

IngrownSplinter (author)Kahana982015-12-30

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Unfortunately because I was not the one living in the van, it is hard for me to answer questions regarding livability. However I do know that my sister stayed bear a beach where there were public showers and she kept a gym membership that always provided her restrooms.

About This Instructable




Bio: I consider myself a designer and a builder, I am currently working for an architecture firm in San Francisco and on my free time putzing ... More »
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