I want my van to be flexible.
- It needs to work as a Day Van for trips out with bikes and muddy shoes or to travel to see friends and family across the country, yet remain usable as a basic van if I need to haul ‘big things’ about.
- I don’t want a full-on campervan but I do want to be able to sleep in it for a couple of nights at a time occasionally.
- I also want to be able to sit in the back on a rainy day and read my book or watch a film with a nice view.
- Although I’ve never been a fan of public loos, with the impact of Coronavirus a loo feels like a must-have to keep safe during day trips.
- A quick stop at the chippy on the way home with the luxury of a proper fork, normal price ketchup, and a comfy seat is a bonus too!
That’s a lot to ask from a Long Wheel Base VW Transporter, but I think it’s doable. Key to making this all work is a system of removable pods and a bed of some kind.
This project write-up is a little different from my others. For a start, it’s long because it covers a range of smaller elements that make up a very large end result. It’s also ever-evolving because I am doing the work in stages. I have therefore included a table of contents below and included a more diary-like format with dates to represent the staged approach to this project. I intend to share links to the most relevant sections on social media to help the van community so you may be reading this having arrived here partway through. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.
Bed – Type
The bed, by its very nature, is the biggest element of the setup so it made sense to start there and then make everything else fit around it.
I looked at a lot of types of bed. Having owned and spent time in around 20 different Caravans, Motorhomes and Narrowboats I knew the limitations and annoyances of the various styles.
- Not compatible with the need to be flexible in a small van. They can work in higher topped or longer vehicles where a garage can be fitted underneath but no good in my circumstances.
Bench Pull Out;
- I find the biggest drawback of this style is the cushions. You are restricted by the dual nature of the bench/bed so you end up with joins where the cushions meet that invariably end up being in an inconvenient place in the middle of the night which can be overcome by a mattress topper but then you have to store that, taking up valuable space.
- Because it’s a bench for sitting on, it has to be a certain size which then takes up extra room that could be used for something else like bikes.
- I already have seats that can double up for a quick rest or to change shoes etc.
Rock n Roll;
- I don’t need to transport any number of passengers when I’m likely to want to sleep in the van.
- A bit like the bench style, I don’t really like this style because it’s trying to do 2 jobs and each job is limited by the lowest common denominator of the other job. Safety is obviously the most important thing required in a traveling seat. That adds weight and elements that get in the way. Being woken up by a seatbelt digging in your back does not sound like fun. Again a mattress topper can compensate for this, but it’s something else to store.
- This style is a popular choice when needing rear seatbelts and if this is something you need then this style can work well and a lot of the limitations can be overcome. But it’s not the right style for me.
- I don’t have a pop-top yet.
Hammock/Air bed on the floor/Futon;
- Fine for temporary use I guess?
I found a style of bed that I kept coming back to but it’s one that does not often feature highly in #VanLife on Instagram/YouTube/Pinterest etc. For me, it overcomes a lot of the limitations mentioned above.
- Easy to get out so closest to the benefits of a fixed bed without the restrictions on space.
- Only a bed so no major restrictions of dimensions and cushions imposed by it trying to be a seat as well.
- Dedicated yet small footprint that contains not only the bed itself but pillows/duvets etc too.
- Ability to choose the comfort level of the sleeping surface.
- Can be used to sit on during the day for reading etc. where lounging is required.
Often called a Murphy Bed, I really like the benefits, as you can see, of a folding bed. The issue I struggled to overcome was exactly how to make one work in a van. I began searching and designing and trying to work it out when one fateful day my GoogleFu skills turned up trumps.
Flatout Camper Beds
I found an image and went on a hunt that led me to Flatout Camper Beds (FCB). I pored over their Facebook page and their website and fell in love with the products. One major appeal was the ability to keep my second row of seats for when I want to take friends/family out for the day but still have a full-length bed semi-permanently installed in the van.
I finally decided that the Extendy model looked like it would work for me so I dropped a message to the number on the website. This was mid-COVID19 initial lockdown so I expected a delay in hearing back as I had done with other suppliers. I was very pleasantly surprised when I had a call back the following day. It was the start of a beautiful relationship!
When Craig from FCB called and answered my questions as to whether his bed would work in my Shuttle and we discussed options for customisation, work began on specifying the ins and outs of the bed I wanted. I spent hours with a tape measure and a roll of masking tape to create a CAD model that I knew would work in real terms.
I also started looking at the finish I wanted. Craig offers a whole range of paint and upholstery types and colours. His Facebook page showed several examples of customers requesting customisations so I knew I had the option to request something totally unique. Which obviously, me being me, I did.
As part of the CAD and masking tape planning, I was able to produce an acceptable quality visual mockup not only of the dimensions and components but the aesthetic too. Backed up with a selection of Pinterest Pins I was able to go ahead and place an order with Craig.
The steel would be painted with a clear lacquer instead of the powder coating that he normally does and I would add wood to the frames he was going to build. To allow me to do this he included steel tabs on the frames that I can later screw through.
I had also included 2 pods to complement the bed; one for my composting toilet and one by way of a kitchen for day trips.
A few weeks after placing the order whilst working on other areas of the van conversion I placed an additional order for a 3rd frame that would box in the rear heater of my Shuttle and provide valuable cupboard space for coats etc. Again Craig was extremely accomodating and executed my vision perfectly. This pod was a weird one with only one full side and 3 horizontal ‘legs’ to allow for the curved van walls and the wheel arch. I sent him a few CAD drawings and some measurements, several of which being “make this the same as the finished bed a point x”, to which he was able to apply his magic.
25.11.2020 – Bed Collection Day
After several weeks of waiting it was finally time to drive up to Huddersfield to meet Craig and collect my bed and furniture frames. We were now entering the early stages of the COVID-19 second wave in the UK so I was nervous that BoJo et al would put the kibosh on my day out. However, all was well, and with a clear run up the motorway and mask ready to wear I arrived at Craig’s.
It was lovely to meet him in person, we had spoken several times at length during the order process. Sometimes you connect with people that are totally on your wavelength and beautiful things happen. This was one of those situations; I felt I could trust Craig with my business and vision. He did not disappoint in the least. When I first saw the attention to detail and care that he had put into melting bits of metal I was blown away. The clear lacquer added real beauty to the frames and left the natural burns and welds to show through. He also really liked my Van Tatts too which was nice!
Everything fits perfectly thanks to the masking tape and Craig’s attention to detail. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for a bit…
27.11.2020 – Modification 1; Anchor Point
The folding bed needs to be secured to the side of the van. This is usually done in the centre of the frame, but because I haven’t decided on what exactly I am doing with my roof/ceiling yet (probably getting a pop-top fitted in due course), I am having to work around some issues thrown by this.
I have therefore moved the anchor point to the side of the bed as opposed to the top. This also has the added benefit of securing my plywood walls.
To secure the mounting point I chose to use Rivnuts. This gives me a really strong anchor point and allows for a nice finish if and when I take the bed out for hauling ‘big things’. Scary moment drilling into the van with a 9mm steel bit for the first time, but slow and steady wins the race!
This strap is temporary; my latest ‘hobby’ is apparently trawling Google Images and Chandlers for the perfect clip to use with a leather strap to match the tabs on my blind.
… to be continued…