The platform for our bed and cabinet storage is 68” wide, of which we decided to use 50” for the bed, and the remaining 18” for storage compartments. To decide on these dimensions we laid down to see what is comfortable. The width of a queen size bed is 60”, so while ours is a bit more narrow, it suits us perfectly well – we even have space for Leika if Jakob would let her sleep with us… With a 50” width bed, we had space to put storage cabinets next to the bed. We think it’s ideal for our clothes, books and toiletries, which are all light, and not accessed too frequently. We segmented the entire area we had to work with into 3 sections – the two larger sections further back are equal width at 24” and would function as clothes storage for each of us. The 3rd, and narrowest section at 14”, is nearest to the front of the car. It’s easily accessible and we use it to store books, toiletries as well as other odds and ends (first aid kit, batteries, cards and other junk that we should probably throw out..). This is what the final product looks like:
- Saw(s) (We happened to have a circular saw, jig saw and miter saw)
- Power drill
- Measuring tape
- Pocket screw jig
- Pocket screws
- ½” Birch veneer
- 1×3 pine studs
- 6 door handles (Amazon) or 3 of the Pop-Out Knob Latches
- 6 hinges for the top cabinet doors (Amazon) or Lowes
- 3 hinges for the bottom doors (Lowes)
- 6 roller locks (Amazon)
- Right angle measure
To start, we needed 4 cabinet walls that would stand vertically and perpendicular to the car body, separating the three storage sections, and functioning as structural supports for the cabinet. The 4 walls create 3 main compartments, further separated into 3 sections each by shelves. The back side of the walls needed to match the contour of the van body. Making these 4 walls was not as easy as it sounds – as we mentioned in prior posts, there are absolutely no straight lines in the van (except for the bed platform itself) and all 4 walls are shaped differently. We had to get a little creative about shaping the walls, if we didn’t want to use a guess-and-check process.
The 2 outside walls needed to be 17 ½” at the base, while the 2 middle ones had to be ½” shorter to account for the doors, which we later overlaid for a cleaner look. For each of the 4 walls, we used a piece of cardboard to create a template. We cut cardboard shapes to roughly match the shape of the body of the van so that the gap is never more than a short distance, about 1”. You also need to make sure that there is a right angle between the forward-facing edge and the bottom, so that the face of the cabinet will be vertical. We then attached a pencil to a piece of wood, about 1 ½ -2-inches thick. Putting the cardboard piece in place (make sure to be precise here and that the cardboard is truly perpendicular to both the van wall and the bed platform), we traced the contour of the wall on the cardboard at a distance of the wooden piece. This gives you the exact outline of the wall! The shorter the distance between the wood and the pencil tip, the more precise you will be. We then cut along the marking and tested to see how it fits, making adjustments as needed. Once satisfied with the cardboard, we traced it onto ½” birch veneer, cut the rounded shape with a jig saw, and applied 2-3 coats of polyurethane.
To make the cabinets sturdy, we ran three 1×3 pine studs across the length of the cabinets to support the frame: one on the bottom along the van wall, one at the top along the van wall, and one at the top along the ceiling. The 2 inside “walls” from the step above need a 1×3 notch to accommodate for these supports. The walls are attached to the 1×3 studs using pocket screws, 2 on each connection.
Next, we cut 6 rectangular boards from birch veneer as shelving. We decided on 14” height for the bottom compartment, and about 10 each for the middle and top compartments. Why? Well, the bottom-most compartment would partially be covered by baseboard and mattress (will explain below) and would be awkward to access if the cabinet door was too small. It also made sense to us to store larger / heavier items lower and keep the top shelves for smaller / lighter things. The shelves are attached using pocket screws.
For the front of the cabinets, we added a 1” strip of birch veneer at the top so the doors don’t run all the way to the ceiling, and a 4” strip of birch veneer at the bottom, to account for the height of the mattress. This way we felt safe that there wouldn’t be any issues opening our cabinet doors. These 2 strips are attached using pocket screws with holes on the insides of the cabinets, so there wouldn’t be any screws visible from the outside for a nicer finish.
The assembled cabinet frame including shelves was then put into the van (it was a little difficult to put the large frame into place, but we managed). Since the van body warps while driving, we had to find a balance between securely attaching the cabinets and leaving them room to flex with the vehicle. We decided to attach the cabinets to the bed platform at the bottom and the van ceiling. The cabinets are not attached to the wall (neither is the bedframe). The decision-making process for this was only partially scientific – it was just easier to know a good attachment point at the ceiling because it wasn’t covered by a plywood panel. We used wood screws to attach to the bed platform and self-tapping sheet metal screws for the van ceiling.
Finally, we cut 6 rectangles from birch veneer for the cabinet doors. Our 3 top cabinets use two hinges (Amazon) or Lowes) on the left side, while our bottom cabinets have two hinges (Lowes) on the bottom. This makes all the cabinets easy to access, even when the bed is full of stuff. It takes a bit of measuring to get the overlay on the top doors just right, but once you get it right it feels pretty good! It took a bit of thinking through, but for our doors we had a ¼” overlay on the 2 doors to the front of the van, and 0” overlay in the back. The bottom doors are a bit easier, using simpler hinges – to leave no gap between the door and 4” strip of birch veneer along the bottom, we cut out a bit of space on the doors to accommodate the hinges.
All the cabinets use roller catches to keep them from opening while driving. This is secure enough for sidewards-facing cabinets containing light-weight items such as clothes.
We did apply several coats of polyurethane to all the pieces of wood used (except the struts) and would highly recommend it. It certainly makes the wood more durable and easier to clean.
What we learned / important things to consider / what we would have done differently:
- What you expect to store. Which would help determine how deep you want the cabinets. Frequency of access to the storage space and use would help determine how to put the storage (?? I don’t understand this). For example, if we were building a van for weekend use, we likely wouldn’t have put the cabinets in next to the bed. We just wouldn’t need so much storage.
- How thick a mattress is planned to be used.
- Rather than using roller catches, we’d probably go with the same handles that we used for the drawers underneath the bed (Pop-Out Knob Latches). They’re flush with the wood and the locking mechanism is stronger.