When planning a campervan self-build, every opportunity is open. Open space with Murphy bed and mobile yoga studio? Space for a family of 6? USB points for all your gadgets with storage for sports gear?
A conceptual plan is essentially a guide for the entire process, the first step in differentiating a dreamer from a builder. Read on to create one for yourself.
First stage: Design Inspiration
A little obsession is a good thing when starting a big undertaking. I suspect, dear reader, you may have already been deep into the range of Facebook groups, blogs and forums building the campervan dream. Do it!
Just perhaps stay aware of the distant looks and polite smiles of your family and friends which indicate silent cries of boredom. ‘How’s the van coming on?’ really means ‘What can you tell me about it in under a minute?’
Pinterest, essentially a free online noticeboard, is a super power at this stage. An easy web browser plug in makes it easy to post photos from almost any website. Onto a Pinterest board an self-builder can dump layouts from other vans, ideas from tiny houses, colour schemes and perfectly suited hardware all in one place where it can be found later. Pinterest also has a feature to follow other people’s boards - creating a stream of inspiring photos and ideas daily, even when there’s no time to pin them up yourself.
I also found it helpful to go to a Motorhome/Caravan show at this point to get a sense of how different layouts felt. If you can get to a gathering of self-build or pre-fabricated vehicles, there is no better way to know how you will react to them in 3 dimensions. For example, a show taught me that I much preferred shallow overhead locker set-ups, for the sense of spaciousness over deeper ones with more storage.
Second stage: 3 Lists
Filled with some inspiration and ideas, the next step is to think about all the things you'd like to have in a campervan. As undefined as a ‘Hippy vibe’ or as specific as ‘a holder for one large wine glass’, time to get them all down.
Making 3 lists will help narrow down all the options:
1. Must-have: essential features to have in the final campervan
2. Want to have: if finances, space, other practicalities allow but not really critical
3. Fringe level: Cool luxuries not likely to be practical right now
Third Stage: Design objectives
This is the stage to reflect on what you've written and discipline yourself to no more than 3 objectives for the entire project. It may not seem necessary, but building a campervan is a series of compromises and creative work-arounds. These objectives become a compass to guide action later when competing choices arise. The 3 objectives for the Martha Van build are below
3 Primary Design Objectives on Martha Van Build
1. Feeling of spaciousness, despite being only a mid-wheelbase sized van
2. Very good kitchen facilities
3. Woodburner, installed to a safe standard
For example, it would have been less hassle when camping to have a fixed bed. But, in order to achieve all my objectives the campervan needed a fold-away design. Now I actually don't mind folding the bed at all. I have even come to enjoy the morning and evening rituals of setting it up in part because of the appreciation of the fact there will be plenty of space to cook up a big brekkie because of the bed design.
This is now the ideal time to sketch the first rough ‘bird’s eye view’ layouts, considering how to incorporate all most important elements. And with that, the conceptual plan is done.
In the next post we will look at progressing from a conceptual plan to the concrete ones for actually building the campervan itself.
Is there something here you want to use in your design planning? Always good to hear from readers in the comments below and thanks so much for reading.
Who's writing this, anyway?
Me, Feta Brown, who dreamed of building a camper van retreat for an embarrassingly long time. In 2015 I plunged into doing just that. Now am enjoying my fully functioning camper van with solar powered array, woodburner, sofa bed, lovely kitchen and composting toilet. I want to empower you to build your own retreat on wheels by sharing my journey and top tips from experts in their fields.