Designing a campervan bed for a family of four is not as straightforward as you might think. To create enough livable area for long-term travel you must create spaces that can double as other spaces. In this post we discuss our design to create a campervan bed for a family of four.
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“Me me sleep inna da van!?”
It is the week before Thanksgiving break and my two year old is ecstatic. We have been packing and prepping food for our upcoming trip and she is asking every night when she will be able to sleep in the van. My wife and I look across the room and share a smile. Two nights from now we know we will all be nestled in our campervan bed. While the desert wind howls outside we will be cuddled up under a down blanket, the shared body heat keeping us all warm as we sleep and dream of the cracks we will climb tomorrow.
Designing a campervan bed for a family of four is not as straightforward as you might think. As we have mentioned before, van design for a family often differs greatly from the classic fixed platform in back, living space up front that we have all seen ad nauseum on Instagram, Youtube and countless blog posts.
To create enough livable area for long-term travel you must create spaces that can double as other spaces.
This has become our mantra of design as we tweak, prototype and refine our van build. Each trip we take gives us an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness, usability and efficacy of each space and system in our van. (One of the benefits of taking test trips.)
Quickly realizing that a fixed bed platform was not for us, we went back to the drawing board and searched for a bed system that would work in our design.
We reasoned that we wanted a bed that could get out of the way during the day but that would sleep all of us comfortably and deploy quickly. Hours were spent sketching out beds that folded down from the walls and benches that flipped out into beds at night. We even designed a bed that lowered down from the ceiling. All seemed too complex, too expensive and involved too many shenanigans.
It was when we stumbled upon Vandogtraveller and, later, Ray Phung that we were inspired to build the bench/bed combo we are using now. While we borrowed from their designs, we are the only ones I have found that have tweaked this concept to create a full king sized bed. It is perfect for a family of four (as long as two of them are still little!)
You Will Need:
Wood: The straighter the better. You may need to pay up for more finished boards as the cheaper rough lumber is often warped. Buy more than you need, you can always return the extras on your next trip to the home store but it’s annoying to run out and have to go back to the store.
Wood Screws: 1.5″ and 2″
Hinges (small brass)
Tools: Power tools make things go faster but require more diligence (watch those fingers!)
Chop Saw, Circular Saw or Mitre Box
Impact Driver (optional but useful)
Hand router with a roundover bit (useful for getting into tight areas and will also come in handy when constructing cabinets)
Pocket Hole Screw Jig
We spent a ton of time sitting in chairs, measuring benches, discussing the pros and cons of different bench heights and mocking up different designs in cardboard. The key design constraints we had were:
1) No blocking of the slider door. (We already have a tight pass through with the kids’ seats)
2) Leaving enough room up front to fit our fridge.
3) Enough room in the back for a sink cabinet and storage “garage”.
4) Comfy to sit in. (not too low)
5) No hitting our heads standing up or sitting down. (not too high)
6) Long enough so Mr HOTL (5’10”) can stretch out while lying down.
We ended up creating a bench/bed frame that is 74″ long and XXX deep.
The construction is fairly straightforward once you have your dimensions down. Begin by creating a box using the 2x4s as uprights and the 1x3s as horizontals. Measure twice, cut once and screw the whole thing together. Top the box with 1x3s in the front and back (butt and knees). These will be the stops for your sliding slats as well as anchors for the fixed slats.
Once the boxes are built and secure you can make your transformer lid. It’s a bit hard to explain exactly how everything comes together. You will be creating a series of slats. One set will be fixed to the bench frame, the other set will slide out to form the extension. Cut most of your slats all to the same dimensions (the width of your bench seat) Cut three longer that will span the entire distance and be employed as handles to raise the entire lid when needed.
Again, its difficult to put into words. Read the description, check out the pictures and then come back and re-read. Check out Vandogtraveller’s post and Ray’s post. It should start to make sense after a while.
Use pocket holes and screw the boxes into your floor and the van walls.
Creating the face frame that will also serve as the support legs when your bed is extended is fairly straightforward. It is essentially a copy of the front of your bench box. Again, use 2x4s as verticals and 2x3s as horizontals. We chose to leave the front of the benches open (as opposed to filling in with cladding). This has proven to be an excellent feature as we can stuff our bedding away underneath and access the storage tubs under the bench seats without lifting up the top.
This bed setup has been amazing for us. This past summer we put it to the test, living in the van full-time for the summer. It was wonderful to pull into a quiet place for the night, slide together the bed platform and tuck the family in for a good night’s rest.
Sweet dreams, see you out there,
What do you think of this design? Do you have something similar? Or something totally different? Add to the story in the comments below.