There are few things more adventurous than living in a van. While the freedom of being able to travel at a moment’s notice is hard to beat, there is one major drawback: the lack of space. In comparison to standard homes, vans have less available space for storing clothes, food and other materials.
On the bright side, you can optimize the room in your vehicle by installing van cabinets. Not only do these offer storage space, but cabinets also make it easier to stay organized and add a sense of class to any van. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about planning out, finding and installing cabinets for vans.
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What to Consider Before Building Van Cabinets
Installing cabinets for campervans is not an overnight job — rather, it takes a fair amount of planning. As part of your campervan cabinet plans, you should consider the following:
- Where you’re going to put the cabinets
- How much cabinet space you need
- How heavy the cabinets are
Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these factors.
Where Should I Put Van Cabinets?
When it comes to choosing a location for your cabinets, there’s no shortage of options. Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular cabinet styles and their respective pros and cons.
Van Upper Cabinets
Arguably the most popular cabinet style, campervan upper cabinets are mounted on your van walls. You’ll often find them in kitchens, hanging above the counters and appliances.
Depending on your preferences, you can place the cabinets on one side of the van or both. The former provides more free space, but will create a weight imbalance. The latter consumes extra room in your van, but has a more balanced look.
- Offer lots of storage space
- Look elegant
- Useful if you plan to cook often
- Consume space in your van
- Can make the kitchen feel cramped
Ultimately, if you have a large-enough van and could use a decent amount of storage space, van overhead cabinets are a great choice.
Van Sink Cabinets
Your van sink offers a prime spot for installing kitchen cabinets. Since this area is already going unused, you won’t be consuming any more of your van’s valuable space by adding a cabinet here. Sink cabinets can also be paired with van conversion overhead cabinets.
- Conserves space
- Easy to access
- Sink plumbing can take up some cabinet space
- Limited functions (should mainly be used for storing cleaning supplies)
If you have space readily available under your sink, you might as well take advantage of it by installing an extra cabinet.
Under Bed Cabinets
Things like van galley cabinets and overhead cabinets are great for kitchens, but what about bedrooms? Chances are you don’t want to store your clothes with your food items. When it comes to bedroom storage, under bed cabinets are a popular choice. As the name suggests, they fit conveniently underneath your bed and can be used to hold everything from pants and tops to underwear and socks.
- Conserves space in your van/bedroom
- Has an elegant look
- Saves you from having to buy bedroom storage containers
- Can be expensive (in comparison to more basic beds)
- Beds with cabinets can be bulky
Investing in a bed with built-in cabinet space can go a long way in saving valuable bedroom space. If you would rather have a simpler bed, you can get other storage containers (like boxes or nightstands) to hold items instead.
How Much Van Cabinet Space Do I Need?
The amount of cabinet space you need varies from person to person. You can make a solid estimate by considering the following factors:
- How large your vehicle is
- How many people live in your van
- How much time you spend in your van
- How many things you want to store
- How often you cook in your van
Typically, the more time you spend in your van, the more cabinet space you’ll need. These will come in useful for holding your clothes, food items and general van supplies. Of course, you also have to consider the size of your vehicle — the larger it is, the more liberty you have when installing cabinets.
How Heavy Should The Cabinets Be?
One of the most important details to consider in your cabinet plans is weight. Since cabinets add a significant amount of weight to your vehicle, you want to make sure they won’t cause your van to go over its weight capacity.
A common mistake many van owners make is only calculating the weight of their cabinets when empty. Your cabinets won’t be empty as you’re driving, so don’t forget to account for the extra weight of your storage materials.
What’s Better: DIY Cabinets or Pre-Built?
Once you’ve figured out a location for your cabinets and have an idea of the dimensions, it’s time to decide where to get your cabinets from. Most van owners choose between two options: making their own custom van cabinets or buying pre-made ones. To help you decide, let’s take a closer look at both options.
Pre-Built Ikea Van Cabinets
Pre-built Ikea cabinets, also called prefabricated cabinets, are cabinets that come ready-to-install. Once you’ve narrowed down your style and size preferences, simply find cabinets that fit your requirements, then either purchase and install them yourself or hire a professional to put them in for you.
- Saves time: Pre-built cabinets for vans can be bought and installed immediately.
- Requires less work: If you don’t have carpentry experience, building your own cabinets may be too much work.
- Includes aesthetics: Most prefab van cabinets come painted and decorated, meaning you can select the exact style/appearance you want.
- Potential sizing problems: Since pre-built cabinets aren’t specifically designed for your vehicle, there’s a possibility they won’t fit properly.
- Higher costs: Pre-made cabinets tend to be more expensive than DIY versions.
If you want to save time, lack carpentry skills and/or don’t mind spending some extra money, then pre-built cabinets are probably the better choice.
How to Order Pre-Built Van Cabinets
You can order pre-built cabinets online or go to a physical storefront (like Ikea). When getting cabinets, consider these factors:
- Size: The most important element is the size — if the cabinet is too big or small, you won’t be able to use it in your van. Carefully measure the space where you intend to install the cabinet, then choose one that meets those dimensions.
- Style: When selecting cabinets, narrow it down to your preferred style. For instance, if you want a cabinet for under your sink, you should ignore overhead models.
- Quality: Cabinets vary greatly in terms of quality. Those made of higher-quality materials will be more durable and long-lasting, but also cost you more. If you plan to use your cabinets for a long time, quality should be a priority.
- Appearance: Do you want light or dark cabinets? How many hinges do you prefer? What color should the handles be? These are all questions you should consider when buying a cabinet.
- Budget: Before purchasing a model, keep a strict budget in mind. If you’re trying to save money, you can narrow your search down to lower cost options, but keep in mind that cheaper cabinets may be lower in quality.
Taking the time to find the best-fitting cabinets will lead to a better looking and more functional van.
Where Can I Buy Van Cabinets?
When it comes to purchasing cabinets, Ikea is one of the most popular options. The retailer offers a vast expanse of cabinet styles at affordable price points, and its furniture items can be used in virtually any van type — you’ll discover everything from straightforward upper cabinets to elaborate ProMaster van cabinets. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at Ikea, try the following sources:
- Aluminum Cabinet Co.: This cabinet company specializes in aluminum 80 20 van cabinets, which are a good choice if you’re looking for something that’s durable and resistant to moisture.
- Titan Vans: Titan Vans offers several DIY cabinet kits for Sprinters, ProMasters, & Transits.
If you’re not satisfied with pre-built options, but you don’t want to build the cabinets yourself, consider hiring someone to make a custom cabinet for you. RoostVans offers a team of professionals that will build custom Sprinter and Transit cabinets that fit your needs. You can also find custom cabinet makers on Etsy.
DIY Van Cabinets
DIY, or do-it-yourself van cabinets, are cabinets that you construct on your own. After measuring the right dimensions, you’ll use wood, saws and other equipment to create your very own custom furniture.
- More affordable: Making your own cabinets is less expensive than buying them pre-made.
- Better sizing: Provided you measure correctly, custom cabinets should fit perfectly with your van.
- Higher customization: Making your own cabinets affords a higher level of customization when it comes to size, style and design.
- Takes time and effort: Making cabinets requires time, effort and a fair amount of carpentry skills.
- Potential for problems: Ready-made cabinets go through a strict manufacturing process to ensure they meet the seller’s quality standards. Homemade cabinets, on the other hand, are susceptible to issues during the construction process.
If you want to save money and have the time and expertise to make your own cabinets, you should definitely go for it.
Materials and Tools You’ll Need to Build Your Own Van Cabinets
As you prepare to install cabinets for van conversion, put some thought into the construction materials you intend to use. Since cabinets add weight to your van, you should seek materials that are lightweight — this will help avoid placing excess stress on the van’s suspension, steering, braking or transmission systems. You also want to use high-quality supplies to ensure the cabinets last for a long time. Let’s review some of the things you’ll need for the job.
The Best Wood to Use for Van Cabinets
The first — and arguably most important — element you need to construct cabinets is wood. When searching for cabinet wood types, you’ll quickly learn that plywood is one of the most popular options.
Not only is plywood affordable and lightweight, but it’s also resistant to movement (or expansion and contraction). Moreover, this material is durable, which is useful for holding screws and van life cabinet latches or hinges in place. Plywood can be divided into two main types:
- Medium-density fibreboard
Medium-density fibreboard, commonly known as MDF, is the most popular choice for crafting van cabinets. It offers a flat surface that’s ready for painting, making it easy to work with.
For those who are willing to spend some extra money, hardwood might be a more compelling option. It’s more durable than MDF and comes in a variety of appearances and sizes. If you want to make your cabinets stronger without breaking the bank, you can use a combination of hardwood and MDF.
Supplies for Building Van Cabinets
Before building your cabinets, you must to gather your materials. Along with wood, cabinets require the following supplies:
- Stainless steel
- Aluminum Frames
- Vinyl film
- Door hinges
- Drawer slides
Of course, to assemble these materials into functioning cabinets, you’ll need to use tools.
The tools required to construct campervan cabinets vary depending on the size of the project. Below is a general outline of some of the equipment you may need:
- Saws (miter, jig, table and/or circular saw)
- Drill and drill bit set
- Carpenter’s square
- Impact driver
- Pocket hole jig
- Tape Measure
- Electric or manual sander
- Wood glue
- Plus nuts
- Putty knife
- Natural wood filler
- Wood screws
- Stud finder
- Pine planks (for constructing cabinet doors)
- Speed or combination square (for drawing straight lines)
- Paint or stain
If you complete carpentry projects frequently, there’s a good chance you already have many of these supplies in your home. However, if you don’t own them (and don’t feel like hunting items down), you can get the majority of what you need by getting a camper van cabinet kit.
How to Build Van Cabinets
Now that you’ve assembled all the supplies you need for constructing DIY van cabinets, let’s go over how to install cabinets in a van. Keep in mind that this is a general guideline — the actual construction will vary based on the type of van and preferred cabinet design.
1) Make Measurements
The first step to any DIY van cabinet construction project is determining the size of your cabinets. Ideally, they should be big enough to store your items, but not so large that they consume your limited van space. Once you’ve decided on a place to put them, measure the following dimensions:
Taking correct measurements helps ensure your van build cabinets will fit seamlessly in your vehicle. It’s also advisable to use an angle finder so that the edges of the cabinet don’t clash with the walls. To use this tool, simply place it against the wall and the ceiling until it’s lying flat, then read the measurement.
2) Create a Template
Relying on the measurements you’ve gathered, cut the plywood into the right height and width. To achieve accurate cuts, first trace the length and width on cardboard or posterboard. Then, take a utility knife or a pair of scissors and neatly cut out the tracing — you can then use this template to cut your wood.
You can double-check the template by placing it against the wall where you plan to put the cabinet. If it fits, utilize it as the outline on your plywood board. To cut the plywood properly, we recommend using a jigsaw.
3) Construct the Frame
Now that you have the end pieces of your cabinet, it is time to build the wooden frame and remainder of the body. The frame consists of the following parts:
- Two sides (front and back sides)
When creating these elements, we recommend using box construction shapes. Make one frame for the upper part and the side — once complete, you can duplicate these designs to create the complementing sides. Keep in mind that the front needs room for doors or drawers.
You can put the sides together using nails or simple wood glue. When the frame is done, place the cabinet in position to double-check that it fits.
4) Construct Cabinet Doors
Before installing the cabinet, it’s a good idea to have doors ready. Start by measuring the size of the cabinet to ensure the door will fit — you can then create a door frame by cutting four pieces of plywood and either screwing or gluing them together.
Once the door is complete, it’s time to add the hinges. Most people choose between the following options:
- Two hinges: One hinge is placed at the top end of the door, while the other goes on the bottom.
- Three hinges: One hinge is attached at the top, one is placed at the bottom and the third goes in the middle of the door.
Once you know where the hinges are going, make space to fit them — you can use a Kreg Concealed Hinge to create a cup in your door frame where the hinge will sit. Finally, attach and hang the hinge.
5) Hang and Secure your Cabinets
Once you’ve assembled your van conversion cabinets, it’s time to actually install them. Here’s how to secure a cabinet in a van:
- Use a stud finder to locate the studs in the van walls
- Fit the cabinet into the desired space
- Use a drill to screw the cabinets in place
If you used wood glue, make sure that the cabinets are close to each other before it finishes drying. On average, the wood glue should be left to dry for as long as 12 to 24 hours.
When attaching upper cabinets, leave the doors off to avoid complications. After the cabinets are fitted, you can insert doors and fasten the hinges to facilitate opening. When attaching lower cabinets, support them from underneath and then hang them onto the van’s walls using L-brackets.
6) Stain Your Cabinets
The final step of the process is beautifying the van life cabinets so that they look aesthetically pleasing in your vehicle. Start by sanding the wood using sandpaper, which will remove defects and helps ensure the surface looks and feels smooth. If you accidentally create any holes or impressions during this procedure, use wood filler to conceal them.
Once the wood meets your standards, you can start staining or painting the cabinets. First, wipe them down with a moist cloth to remove any loose pieces of wood. Then, paint the cabinets with the color of your choice.
What WiIl Your Cabinets Look Like?
The way your cabinets look is entirely dependent on your budget, van’s needs and — of course — personal preferences. Do you have limited space in your van? Your cabinets will likely be on the smaller side. Do you have a large budget for cabinets? Your cabinets might be more decorative and elegant than less expensive ones. Do you intend to build your own cabinets? They may look more rustic and authentic than store bought versions.
At the end of the day, the only way to determine what your cabinets will look like is to start planning. If you need van cabinet ideas, or if you have any general concerns about the process, our team is here to help. Feel free to contact us today with questions about van life!