Van Turned Dorm Room, Complete With Bed and Desk




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

About: 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 around in my garage. I enjoy sharing my creations, but mostly I am her...

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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294 Discussions

I love this layout. I have a 2001 Chrysler Grand Voyager , and came up with very similar floor plans. However, I also want to install a tiny kitchen spot behind my front seats.

2001 van layout for vancamper.jpgcolored outline.pngmy van.jpg

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!

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.

3 replies

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.

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

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.

3 replies

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.

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.

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

That's really neat and looks so comfortable!


1 year ago

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


2 years ago

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.