This is the first in a series of blog posts on each 'room' in our van conversion, talking through how we decided on the design, how we built all of the structures, and the different features we have included. We are starting with our lovely big camper van kitchen. The kitchen is such an integral part of a van build, so we were keen to make it feel just like a kitchen you'd have at home.
This post is separated into 5 sections:
• How we decided on the layout of our van kitchen
• How we built our camper van kitchen
• Our van kitchen appliances
• The decorations we used in our van kitchen
• A link to our van tour video, which includes a tour of our kitchen
When you decide to convert a van, you will need to decide on a layout, and one of the main areas in your van will be the kitchen. Our kitchen takes up just less than half of our van, and we felt it was important to make sure we would have enough room to cook and prepare food inside our van, seeing as how we live in rainy England!
We had always known we were going to close off the cab - some people don't like the idea of this, because they want to be able to access the front of the van from the back, but we decided to close it off a) because to us it felt much more secure not being able to see there is a camper in the back when looking into the cab, b) to make it feel much cosier in the back - by not being able to see the front seats and the steering wheel, it feels less like being in a van and more like being in a cosy little home, and c) as we have a LWB we didn't need the extra space of swivel seats anyway.
Closing off the cab meant we could have an L shaped kitchen layout, which has meant we haven't had to compromise on space - we have loads of counter space for preparing food as well as plenty of room for a big hob and sink.
We designed our camper van kitchen layout in Adobe Illustrator. If you're not sure how to design your camper van layout, this is a great way to do it as you can make everything to the exact size it will be but scaled down, which makes it easy to see how everything will fit. We iterated over loads of different options over months and months before we even bought our van before we decided on a final layout that we were happy with.
The right hand side of the L is a standard 600mm deep to accommodate our hob and also to allow us to fit the fridge into one of the kitchen units, but the left hand side is a slimmer 450mm so the kitchen doesn't eat into the doorway too much, and this was still big enough to fit our sink and tap. Most of our units are a standard 400mm or 600mm wide, apart from the furthest right hand unit which is a non standard 450mm so we could fit the fridge inside.
Products, tools & consumables needed:
• 12mm sheets of ply
• METOD IKEA cabinet feet
• IKEA drawers
• Kitchen countertop (ours is from Worktop Express)
• Hob (ours is a Neff 4 ring hob)
• Sink (ours is a Shaws Baby Belfast)
• Tap (ours is from Lusso Stone)
• Frog concealed hinges
• Roller catches
• Cupboard door handles
Building the kitchen cabinets
We decided to build our kitchen carcass ourselves from single thickness 12mm ply. This was to save weight - IKEA kitchen cabinets are made from modular 18mm MDF carcasses, which means if you end up with double thickness 18mm MDF. As well as this just being much more material, MDF is heavier than ply so you will add a considerable amount of weight if you use an IKEA kitchen in your van.
We actually did the calculations and for a kitchen of our size, we saved a whopping 35kg making the kitchen out of 12mm ply rather than buying modular IKEA kitchen cabinets!!!
When building the kitchen from single sheets of 12mm ply, you can either clamp the pieces of ply together using a square edged batten to ensure that the ply is butted up correctly and then screw it together this way (pictured below), or if you have a router it's really easy to build a kitchen by just slotting it all together with a bit of wood glue. Building your own custom kitchen also means that you can make it to exactly the size you need - we were able to ensure the units would be deep enough to hide the fridge.
We bought the METOD cabinet legs from IKEA to mount our carcass onto, which meant we could adjust the height of the carcass to ensure it was level, and it also provided room for wires and pipes to run underneath the kitchen.
As we were building an L shaped kitchen, we were keen to utilise the space in the corner of the kitchen. We initially planned on storing our water tank in this corner, but in order to spread weight across either side of the van more evenly, and also to make installing a fill point easier, we ended up installing it in the boot. Instead, we use the corner space as extra storage for food (cans, dried goods, etc) that we don't need instant access to. We cut a hole in the side panel of the neighbouring cupboard so we'd be able to access it from the right hand side cupboard.
We attached thin strips of ply to the top of the carcass to support the countertop.
We constructed the kitchen outside of the van, as it was much easier to work this way, and then brought it inside once it was ready and attached it to the sides of the van.
We ordered our countertop from Worktop Express who are one of the cheapest online suppliers of wooden countertops. We went for the 22m thick top, which is the thinnest they sell, to save on weight.
We first cut the worktop to size using a Jigsaw, and then attached it to the kitchen by screwing through the thin strips of ply we had attached to the kitchen carcass. We used jointing compound to seal the two pieces of worktop together.
Once the worktop was installed, we cut the holes for the sink and hob with the worktop in place. We measured and drew out where they would go, and then used a drill bit and Jigsaw to cut out the slots for them.
We used two coats of Osmo Polyx oil on the worktop, which is a clear matte wax which protects the surface without leaving it with a shiny finish.
Cupboard & drawer fronts
We used IKEA drawers as a bit of a time saver, but made our own drawer fronts from the 12mm ply we used for the carcasses. We also made all of our own cupboard fronts, and used concealed frog hinges on all of the doors. We used standard roller catches on the cupboard doors and drawers to keep them closed when we're driving around.
We made a front fascia for in front of the sink, and used two thin strips of ply in the corner of the carcass as blanking pieces.
Once we'd finished construction we painted all of the units white, and installed the cupboard handles. As our kitchen came to just above our window height, we also made a splash back out of some birch ply to go behind the counter top, to stop anything falling down the back and to protect the curtains whilst cooking.
One of our silliest van purchases was our Belfast sink, which is a Shaws of Darwen bathroom Belfast sink (460 x 380 x 205mm). When you're building a van you typically try to save weight as much as possible due to the 3.5 tonne weight limit most vehicles and driving licences have, however we let our sink be our extravagant purchase as we really love the aesthetic of them, and we knew it would be incredibly useful to have a big, deep sink for washing up.
It's worth noting that our Belfast sink weighs 32kg, and we actually managed to save 35kg building our kitchen out of single thickness 12mm ply rather than using a modular IKEA kitchen, so we are pretty happy to have some justification for the weight!
We absolutely do not regret installing it - it is such a luxury to have loads of room to do washing up, and it's easily big enough to wash some of our clothes in if we're off grid for a while!
We also bought a domestic tap from Lusso Stone, and used some plumbing connectors to switch from domestic to metric (caravan/boat) plumbing sizes.
We will write a separate blog post about our water and plumbing system soon!
Our hob is also a domestic hob. We decided to buy a standard kitchen hob because motorhome/boat hobs are really expensive, and we wanted to have a 4 ring burner so we would have lots of room to cook. We installed a Neff hob, and used a connector to switch from domestic to metric gas fittings. The sparker for the hob is connected to our inverter via a 3 pin plug.
We didn't consider having a non-fixed stove, as we didn't want to deal with the faff of taking it out and putting it away every time we wanted to cook or make a drink. We just connected it to our underslung LPG bottle, and we still have lots of counter space due to our kitchen design.
We have the 'standard van conversion fridge' that the majority of van dwellers have, which is the Dometic Waeco CRX50. It's a 12V fridge that has a removable freezer section, and it's ideal if you're living in your van as it's a decent size, and has easy front access the same as a normal domestic fridge. If you buy it brand new it is pretty expensive (~£600), but we found ours on Gumtree basically brand new, so it's worth setting up alerts if you know you will need one in the next few months.
We built our kitchen units so they would be deep enough to put the fridge within a cupboard, as we were keen to hide it away.
We have real ceramic tiles from Mandarin Stone, which has a showroom in Bristol. As it's such a small area to cover it only cost us about £12 for all of the tiles we needed, which felt like a bargain as they are so beautiful! We used a standard 'grout and fix' to attach these, and haven't yet had any issues with them cracking or moving whilst driving around.
We bought an IKEA spice rack (the staple of every van!) as these work perfectly as a little shelf for storing bits and bobs. You can attach magnets to the bottoms of things if you want them to stay in place while you're driving. We also built a little bookcase to go in the kitchen out of birch ply and dowelling to hold cookery books.
The door handles on our kitchen cabinets are from IKEA, and the rattan handle on our bulkhead storage is from Anthropologie.
On the front of our kitchen cabinet by the sliding door, we have attached some coat hooks and also made a shoe holder. We find it super useful having these, to keep the van from getting messy with all of our shoes and jackets.
Van tour video
We recently filmed a tour of our camper van, which includes a section on our kitchen. Have a watch for some more info:
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions feel free to drop us a message on here or via Instagram!
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