Feeding Station Build (ie the Kitchen)

As we were building out the van in Pennsylvania last March, it started snowing (a lot) out west. At that point we had only completed the bed frame, but decided to take a little break from building and go on a 10 day “test” trip from Pennsylvania to Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, to ski. While on this trip, we realized how much we missed being able to make our own food, pull over and grab something quickly from the back or even make our own coffee in the morning. We realized we were completely dependent on either dry snacks or eating out, and it felt awful. We knew that we wanted to build a kitchen that could not only store enough fresh goods and non-perishables to last a few days or even a week, but mostly importantly, we wanted to build a kitchen that was comfortable and convenient to use. Here’s a list of a our main considerations:

  • Storage for dry goods, fresh goods and fridge. Given we’d be accessing this area at least 3 times a day, we wanted storage to be shallow and easily accessible to prevent food from getting buried under things. We also wanted quick and easy access while cooking. We wanted it to be as convenient as possible to help encourage cooking rather than going out.
  • Stove top: we wanted a portable stove top that allows cooking inside as well as outside when weather was nice
  • Sink: We wanted a small sink with a manual water pump. The sink would only be used for washing a few dishes and brushing teeth so we didn’t want to take up too much space. A hand pump would help conserve water usage.
  • Counter space: we wanted ample space to fit the stove top and additional space to the side to use while the stove top was out

We figured the best solution would be to build a large counter top with easily accessible and organized storage underneath, from the bed frame to behind the driver’s seat. We also wanted some overhead storage to hold light items. After some time in the van, we actually found the overhead storage to be inconvenient to both access and to store anything but large items, so we moved most of the items from the over head storage area to the forward facing drawers under the bed. Regardless, this post became too long when we added overhead storage, so we’ll post something on that separately in the next few weeks.



The kitchen cabinet was the last big piece of furniture that went into the van. Therefore, it’s dimensions were largely dictated by the bed frame construction that was already installed. Our bed platform was designed to accommodate a 50” wide bed with the remaining 18” of space for the cabinets to its side – the kitchen counter was designed to continue along those lines (i.e a depth of 18”).

We didn’t want the counter top to cover the window, which meant that the counter could be up to 33” tall, a height at which it would be comfortable for both of us and flush with the bottom of the side window. We decided to end the counter with some space to the driver’s seat, in order to leave some leg room when the driver’s seat was swiveled around.

Overall the dimensions of the kitchen cabinet are 54”x18 ½ ”x32” (LxDxH- not including the counter top). The countertop itself is a bit larger, overlapping around the entire counter. On the passenger side of the cabinet (the right side if you’re facing toward of the front of the car), the overlap is ½ inch. Facing the passenger side, the overlap is ¼”. On the side facing the window, the counter indents to leave less of a gap between counter and window. The dimensions of the counter at its widest are 54 ½”x20”.


A big component of the kitchen cabinet would be our ARB fridge. We opted with an ARB 37Q Fridge (Amazon). We designed a pull-out drawer on six casters that would securely lock into place while driving that the fridge would rest on. The dimensions of this space are 30”x19” (LxH).

The ARB pull-out drawer left about 13” inches of space to the countertop. We divided this space width-wise into half, with the right side leaving space for a sink, and the left side for drawers. Each half would be 15”x13” (LxH). With a height of 13”, 2 drawers would be ideal for the left half. We opted to make these drawers different heights – a silverware drawer (5 ½”) and one for plates, bowls and cups (7 ½”).

Finally, on the left side of the cabinet (towards the rear of the car), the remaining space would be separated with a shelf, but one cabinet door. The bottom of it contains water tanks (fresh and grey) as well as our gas tank, while the top contains some dry goods and cans. We decided to make this accessible through a simple door, with a hinge on the left / rear of car (for easier access the door opens toward the bed frame).


As with all other furniture, we used ½” birch veneer (polyurethaned) for the cabinet construction. We used three 1×3 pine studs as supports. The frame consists of 2 birch side panels (32”x18” HxD) with the 3 pine studs running the length of the cabinet. The studs are located along the back bottom (next to the car wall and along the floor), as well as one at each side of the top corners of the cabinet. We cut grooves in the panels to accomodate the studs, and joined these pieces using pocket screws (Amazon).

To make the fridge drawer, we cut a 29 ¾”x18” (WxD) platform from ½” birch veneer and another panel that would be the front of the drawer for the fridge storage of 30 ¾”x18” (WxH). They are supported by two 1×3” pine studs that connect these two boards at a 45 degree angle. The fridge sits on the platform, secured by a strap. We used 6 low profile casters (same as for our pullout box underneath the bed) at the bottom of the drawer platform to allow us to roll the fridge in and out. Lastly, we opted for pull to open latches for a durable, strong and convenient locking mechanism. We’re very happy with them.

Once we finalized the fridge drawer, we added one large horizontal shelf above the fridge (would function as a shelf for storage below the sink and structural reinforcement) and another vertical divider between the sink area and drawers (would also be one of the attachment points for the drawer rails and section off the area below the sink for storage). These dividers were made of ½” birch veneer and attached using the pocket jig. We didn’t put the shelf into the left most storage compartment until we put the entire counter into the van. One end was attached to the ½” birch veneer middle panel and the other end was attached to the 2×3” vertical pine stud used in the bed frame.

We wanted the counter top to sit on top of the sink, not only because it looks better, but also because it allows you to cover the sink area with a board, using it as an extension of counter space. The sink therefore would be sitting directly on the 1×3” pine studs but we needed to cut grooves into the studs for the sink to fit and allow the counter to lay flat.

With the structural part of the kitchen done we were ready to attached the frame into the van. The cabinets are attached to the floor, the car wall, as well as the bed frame. We used pocket screws for the floor and the bed frame, and self-tapping sheet metal screws to attach to the car wall.

Once all was in place, we were ready to make the drawers and put doors onto the cabinet spaces. All the drawers are made with full overlay (none of the framing is showing when you look at the cabinet front). The drawers were made the same way as our forward-facing drawers under the bed frame, using ½” birch veneer. Since they aren’t exposed to the same forces as our forward-facing drawers, simple roller catches would keep the drawers closed while driving. Under the sink, we put a door using ½” overlay hinges (Amazon).

Attaching the door for the tall storage area on the left was a little tricky because we wanted the hinges to be on the left. To do so, we cut a ½” strip of ½” birch veneer that we carefully screwed into the bed frame post. We shaved out grooves for a flush finish and used simple hinges (Amazon) to attach the cabinet door.

We used the same handles (Amazon) for all doors.

Finally, the counter top. We bought a pine panel from Lowes. It’s 1” thick. Since it had a width of 20”, it would work nicely using our intended measurements. We cut a rounded outline to accommodate for the window, and cut out a piece to make it fit with the bed frame. Next we cut the area out for the sink (it came with a cardboard template). All of this was done using a jig saw, and we sanded the cutout until it was smooth. For the hand pump, we used a 2” hole saw. Lastly we used a router to round the edges of the countertop.

The completed countertop was then stained (we used a light color) and coated with polyurethane. We knew this space would see a lot of wear and tear so we applied generous coats. After 9 months of daily use, you can see hardly any signs of wear.

We attached the counter top to the struts which we did using the pocket jig placed in all 4 corners of the counter.

 What we learned / important things to consider / what we would have done differently:

  • Our sink is on the small end of what we would recommend. We really like that it has a flat bottom – it’s great to leave things there, even while driving. However, we would consider a larger sink.
  • We ended up fitting our plumbing system and propane into the bottom of the largest storage compartment, after the cabinet was built. We got very lucky in that we found tanks that fit perfectly into the cabinet we had designed. If you have a different design in mind, that needs to strongly factor into your cabinet dimensions.
  • The kitchen counter works great with a portable stove because we designed a storage compartment for the stove, more on that in a later post. It’s one of our favorite things in the van.
  • We almost went with a smaller fridge thinking it was cheaper and that we wouldn’t need it but are very happy we didn’t and find this larger one almost always full. Fridge space doesn’t really go to waste – you can always store a few extra veggies, water or more importantly, beer.



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  1. Hey guys, heads up – this isn’t in your “Van Build” section – for some reason I didn’t think you had it! Anyways, would you guys recommend someone with no woodworking experience tackle this? I’ve got the van but need to redo the kitchen. I’m really ripping off your design, but not as well!

    • Fixed that, it should now be linked on that page!

      We had no woodworking experience at all before we started our van build. I think it takes a little while to become efficient. Things may take a little longer to finish, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing a project like this.

  2. Any reason you didn’t put your propane in a sealed, vented locker? I’m no expert but most things I read seem to indicate that not sealing off your propane can be dangerous and lead to asphyxiation if it leaks. Given it is heavier than air you can vent it downwards to alleviate the risk.

    • We started our trip with the intention of using 1/2 pound propane bottles because it seemed too complicated to put in a locker. In the end a larger propane tank is a good idea especially south of the border as the small bottles are really expensive or unavailable. We got our propane tank in Mexico, so our installation was more about what’s feasible on the road rather than what is the best solution.

      When you factor in the complications of vented lockers as well as refilling tanks in places that have different connectors, and unknown propane / butane blends that might mess with your stove, the idea of going with a diesel cooktop become ever more appealing…

      • Cool thanks Jakob. I should have started my comment with amazing build! Not nitpicking and your explanation is totally reasonable. I was thinking a diesel cooktop, along with a diesel heater the idea of a single fuel source is very appealing, although obviously orders of magnitude more expensive than your current setup.

        • Thanks Dave.

          I can tell you from our experience every time we had to refill the bottle we wished we had a diesel cook top. But then again, a 4kg / ~9lbs tank lasts around 6 weeks and usually costs between $5-10 to fill.

          The downsides of the diesel are supposedly issues with altitude (depending on who you ask), and that it’s a little slow (slower to heat up), aside from the cost. So we’re debating it regularly and it’s really hard to justify – and still I would want a diesel cook top 🙂

  3. What led to the choice of the ARB fridge, and would you make the same purchase again? My wife and I are converting a sprinter, and trying to figure out what amount of food storage to plan, and which of the many fridge choices to invest in.

    • We love the ARB fridge. I think the energy efficiency is tough to beat (it’s hardly noticeable that it uses electricity at all), it had no problem keeping things at 32 degrees with outside temperatures at 90 or 100 degrees, and I think the size is perfect for 2 people. Before the trip we were considering a smaller fridge because we thought we wouldn’t need all the space. After talking to some friends with more experience, they convinced us of the 37qt model and I think it’s the perfect size.

      In terms of choice, I think ARB and Engel are probably very similar, and they are used extensively offroad, so they’ll be reliable. Other brands I can’t really speak to, but I’m sure you can go with a cheaper option that will perform just as well. What other options are you looking at?


  4. Wow! Great work on the build, especially kitchen, as well as the documentation. I also have a frig/freezer like yours (Dometic) with the same layout, slightly larger 65 qt. Your design for the cabinets has really helped me for our build. Thanks so much…very, very helpful!

  5. Hey! Love the idea of using castors for the heavier items with the 2 box drawers. Were the castors set up on some sort of track that would both guide as well as limit forward/backward travel of the box drawers?
    Or were they free to roll on your laminate?

    • We left them free to roll on the laminate, and it worked fine. It was nice to be able to fully pull out the boxes for access. We designed the boxes so that you didn’t need to pull them out all the way for access, so they were naturally held in place without a track. It was a simple and cheap solution that worked great.

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