Design and Layout
This is the point in a campervan conversion where you define and commit to a design and layout that will work for you. Therefore make sure you consider as many options as possible and chat to as many people who have used camper vans previously before you commit to a design.
Knowing what you need in your van and how you will use it allows you to now work out how to fit all of that into a confined space in the best possible ergonomic way, which is what design is all about.
Have a look at commercial manufacturers layouts as they might work for you, they did not for me. The problem I found was that the passenger seating in most vans is either set to far back from the front seats or is side facing. These seats often use lap seat belts. Most commercial vans use the passenger seats to convert in to a bed, as this is the best use of space.
I investigated TUV crash tested seats that could convert into good double beds, they are available from German and French manufacturers. However I found these to be too expensive (1.5k to 2.5k fitted) for my conversion.
You may ask why I was so concerned about this, well it all comes down to safety and practicality. The main users of the van are my family and having two small children I needed to reach them from the front seats whilst travelling and also I wanted them as safe as I would be, in case of any accident (i.e. full 3 point seat belts, in crash tested seats).
This sticking point took me a few weeks to over come and it was linked to my other requirements. I wanted a decent sized kitchen and also if possible somewhere to sit whilst the kids may be sleeping in the van. This was when the idea of a partition wall occurred.
A partition wall would allow me to divide up the van into different areas and also give me an extra wall to add items on to / hide electrics within.
Also At this time I spoke to friends who were also converting vans, about their designs. One friend had just had his van fitted with windows and roof lights / vents by a professional installation company. Unfortunately they leaked and he ended up going back to the company twice before they were totally water tight. Now this I'm sure is not usual, however it can occur.
I worked out that to get the windows and seats fitted that I required, would cost me about £2k. At this time I was investigating second hand vehicle costs and I noticed that mini buses, with factory fitted seats and windows were about £2k more than second hand panel vans.
This started me considering a mini bus, they have crash tested seats with 3 point belts and factory fitted (bonded) windows that do not leak, they are also partially carpeted inside and have a wood floor already fitted.
After inspecting and measuring up 15 and 17 seat mini buses from all manufactures. I found that I could fit the following design into a Ford Transit 15 seater Long Wheel Base Hi-Roof line and it met all my requirements.
The benefits of this design are :
I could carry 6 people safely whilst travelling.
I could remove and sell 9 seats to recoup some money.
The kitchen would be larger than most commercial vans with good storage
Side and rear door access
The van was split into two distinct areas
The bench seats and table area could become a bed, 5ft10inch * 4ft6inch (kids bed)
The electrics and batteries could be housed behind and under the passenger seats.
The challenges of this design were :
Where and how would I fit a high / roof 6ft bed ?
How would I build the partition wall.