Van Kitchens: Best DIY & Prebuilt Vanlife Kitchenette Ideas
VanIf you’ve ever gone on a road trip, you know that takeout meals are inevitable. While eating out is fun now and then, it can get tiring (and expensive) when you’re constantly traveling in your van. That’s why most travelers install a van kitchen.
If you have a kitchen in your van, you can store ingredients, heat leftovers and whip up healthy, delicious meals at any point on the road. In this article, we’ll go over the different camper van kitchen ideas available and help you pick the best option for your needs.
What Kind of Van Kitchen Do You Need?
When you think of a kitchen, your mind probably jumps to the essentials: refrigerators, stoves, sinks and maybe a few appliances here and there. However, there’s much more to consider than what amenities you’re going to use. Here are a few central factors when it comes to designing the perfect camper van kitchen unit.
The size of your van influences the type of kitchen set-up you can enjoy. If you have limited space, you’ll need to pick a layout that prioritizes functionality over aesthetics. For example, this might include portable appliances rather than installed ones. On the flip side, if you have plenty of space, you’ll have more options to choose from.
Before selecting a layout, ask yourself: how much money am I willing to spend on my van kitchen? Your budget will impact the overall look and functionality of your campervan kitchen, as well as the appliances you use.
Number of People in Your Van
The more people in your van, the more space you’ll require. Not only do you need enough room to support multiple people cooking, but you’ll also benefit from more cabinets and storage space.
How Often You Cook
Not everyone will spend lots of time preparing meals in their van. If you only cook occasionally, you can get away with a small kitchen and minimal appliances. However, if you want to make restaurant-quality meals every time you travel, it’s worth dedicating extra money and space to your van life kitchen.
How Often You Live in Your Van
It’s safe to say that those who live in their vans full-time will require more expansive kitchens than those who live in their vehicles part-time. If you don’t travel often, you can probably rely more on takeout meals than the average van owner.
Clever Campervan Kitchen Ideas
Once you have a clearer idea of what you’re looking for in a van kitchen, it’s time to start examining layouts. Below is a list of a few popular van kitchen ideas for your Sprinter, ProMaster, or Transit build. Keep in mind that these are general outlines — you can add or remove amenities as you please.
Pull-Out Van Kitchen
A camper van pull-out kitchen, also known as a slide-out kitchen, is a small unit that’s secured to a heavy-duty, sliding drawer. This drawer is usually stuffed beneath a furniture item (such as a bed) that’s located near the van doors. To use the kitchen, all you have to do is open the doors and pull the unit out.
Here are the pros of a slide-out van kitchen:
- Conserves space
- Easy to maintain and clean
- Provides substantial cooking space
Here are the cons of this kitchen style:
- Must be used outdoors
- Can be expensive
- Requires space near van drawers
Who Should Consider a Pull-Out Van Kitchen?
A camper van slide-out kitchen is a great option for anyone who needs to optimize space. Since it conveniently slides underneath furniture, it won’t occupy any of the limited room within your vehicle. However, because it’s used outdoors, you should only consider it if you typically travel in good weather conditions.
Bare Bones Van Kitchen
A bare bones kitchen functions exactly how it sounds — it provides the absolute bare minimum you need for cooking. It comes with a small countertop space, portable burners and a jug that can be filled with water. It’s generally used for heating tea, warming food and cooking easy, no-frills meals.
Pros of the bare bones van kitchen include:
- Saves space
Cons of this kitchen model include:
- Limited functionality
- Not much cooking space
- Minimal space for storing appliances
Who Should Consider a Bare Bones Van Kitchen?
You should only consider a bare bones kitchen style if you don’t plan on cooking often. It’s convenient for heating water or whipping up a quick bowl of ramen — however, it won’t come in handy if you want to make versatile, restaurant-quality meals.
Chef’s Van Kitchen
As the name suggests, a chef’s van kitchen is fit for a professional chef. It comes with everything you need to create a delicious meal, from an oven and stove top to tons of countertop and food storage space. Many also come equipped with fully functioning sinks and refrigerators.
Here are the main advantages of a chef’s van kitchen:
- Lots of cooking space
- Useful for storing ingredients
- Multiple people can use it at once
Here are a few key disadvantages of this kitchen style:
- May be expensive
- Consumes valuable van space
- Can be difficult to clean and maintain
Who Should Consider a Chef’s Van Kitchen?
A chef’s van kitchen is designed for people who have larger vans and love cooking. They’re the closest thing you’ll find to a traditional, at-home kitchen. However, if you don’t cook every day, or if you want to conserve space, then this model is probably not for you.
Related: Camper Van Plumbing & Water Systems
Portable Outdoor Van Kitchen
A portable kitchen for vans features a small, foldable table that can be easily stored in your van. When you’re ready to cook, simply take it outside and set it up. You can place a burner on top for cooking, then use the sides as prep space.
Pros of portable kitchen pod for vans include:
- Conserves space
- Can be moved and used anywhere
Cons of this caravan kitchen style include:
- Not much cooking space
- Limited functionality
- Must be used outdoors
Who Should Consider a Portable Outdoor Van Kitchen?
If you have very limited space in your van and don’t mind cooking outside, then the portable outdoor van kitchen is the way to go. Since it can be stored underneath furniture, it conserves even more space than a bare bones kitchen. Furthermore, it doesn’t need to be placed near doors (like a slide-out kitchen) — it can go wherever you’d like. However, you should only use it if you travel in good weather conditions.
How Do I Include a Kitchen in My Van Conversion?
When it comes to incorporating your kitchen into your vehicle, you have two options — you could DIY your own kitchen, or you can purchase a camper van kitchen pod. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each.
DIY Van Kitchen
A DIY campervan kitchen pod involves building your kitchen from scratch, then connecting your various appliances.
Advantages of DIY kitchens include the following:
- Highly customizable
- Saves costs
- More likely to fit in your van
Because you’re the one building this kitchen, you can decide exactly how you want it to look. Moreover, you may adjust measurements based on your van’s unique size.
Here are the disadvantages of building your own kitchen:
- Takes time and effort
- Requires carpentry experience
- Safety risks
If you’ve ever worked on a construction project, you know that they take time and energy. Furthermore, unless you have a professional evaluate the kitchen, there’s a chance that some items may not be safely installed.
Pre-built Van Kitchen Pod
A pre-built campervan kitchen pod is a ready-to-use unit that can be easily installed in your van.
Here are a few pros of van kitchen pods:
- Saves time
- Fewer safety concerns
- Multiple choices available
It goes without saying that purchasing a van kitchen pod is much easier (and faster) than building it yourself. You can also hand-pick a pod that meets your design and functionality expectations.
Here are a few cons of van kitchen pods:
- Can be expensive
- Not as customizable as DIY kitchens
Since you have to pay for the pod and installation, purchasing a pre-built model can be more expensive than building it yourself. Not to mention, you won’t be able to customize every element — thus, you’ll might have to compromise on certain parts (such as the design).
Should I Build or Buy My Kitchen?
There’s no right answer when it comes to choosing between a DIY kitchen and a van kitchen pod. If you have the time and resources, building a kitchen is a great (and budget-friendly) choice. However, buying one will be much quicker. You could also save money by finding campervan kitchen units for sale.
Are you still unsure which way to go? Learning how to build (or buy) a kitchen can help you reach a conclusion — read on to discover the processes involved.
How to Build Your Own Van Kitchen Unit
If you have extra time (and carpentry skills) on your hands and want to cut costs, building your own van conversion kitchen is a smart choice. Throughout the construction process, you can tailor your kitchen to meet your precise functionality and aesthetic demands. Of course, before starting, you’ll need to gather the right tools. These include the following:
- Tape measure
- Water pressure pump
- Cupboard door handles
- Vinyl tubing
- Drain connector
- Wood boards
- Wood glue
- Carpenter’s square
Once you’ve assembled your supplies, it’s time to get to work.
Step 1: Choose a Layout
The first step of any van build kitchen is to design a layout that optimizes the space available in your build. The kitchen layout should fit seamlessly into your vehicle while promoting functionality and ease-of-use. And, of course, it needs to fall within your budgetary needs.
When choosing between DIY campervan kitchen ideas, consider where your kitchen is going to go. If you have lots of available room, you have more freedom in terms of layout options. However, if your van is small, you’ll need to take advantage of any free space you can create. Here are a few popular locations for kitchens:
- Inside furniture: As mentioned earlier, slide-out kitchens for vans can be placed inside furniture, then pulled out using a drawer.
- On the doors: You can mount your kitchen on the side of the van’s cargo doors.
- Parallel to the side walls: Many kitchen pods are mounted on one wall of the van (allowing people to walk straight through to the front seats).
- Parallel to the front seats: Some kitchens are installed immediately behind the front seats, effectively sealing off the cab.
- Along the front and walls: This style, known as an L-shaped kitchen, extends from the front of the van (right behind the front seats) to the side of the van’s walls.
- Split along the van: This unit is divided on either side of the van to create extra storage space and allow a clear path to the cab.
Once you’ve settled on a layout that meets your budget needs and works with your vehicle, you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Decide Which Appliances You Definitely Need
It’s safe to say that your van kitchenette probably won’t be as well-stocked as a typical home kitchen. As you visualize your desired space, carefully consider which appliances you’d like to include and exactly where they’ll go. Start by focusing on essential kitchen appliances, such as the following:
- Stove: If you plan to cook your own meals, a van stove is a must. Think about whether you want a fully-installed stove or a portable version.
- Refrigerator: A van refrigerator is helpful for storing ingredients and leftovers. Since this appliance is bulky, you should decide where it’s going to go ahead of time.
- Sink: There are a few different options when it comes to van sinks. For instance, some are connected to plumbing, while others are manually controlled with a pump.
- Storage: Determine where your van kitchen cabinets & shelves will go — will they be mounted on the walls, or remain closer to the ground? You can also choose between pre-made, DIY or custom units.
Once you’ve figured out the essentials, move on to other kitchen appliances (such as microwaves, toasters and blender). Eliminate any materials you don’t anticipate using often — otherwise, they’ll just take up valuable space.
Step 3: Build Out Your Kitchen Pod
Now that you’ve selected a layout and know which appliances you want, you can start the most important step: actually building the kitchen. Here’s a brief, step-by-step guide on how to do this:
- Make measurements: Measure out the wood frame for your campervan kitchen unit, then join the planks together using screws and wood glue.
- Built the counters: Build out the countertop (be sure to cut out a space for the sink and water storage tank). As you lay out the counters, leave space for appliances.
- Build cabinets (optional): Measure, cut out and build cabinets for housing your kitchen supplies. Then, complete them by installing doors. You can learn more about how to build DIY campervan cabinets here.
Now that your kitchen pod is built out, it’s time to incorporate it into your van.
Step 4: Install Your Kitchen Pod
Securely attaching the kitchen pod to the van will help ensure the unit doesn’t crash down and cause an injury while you’re driving. To achieve this, start by attaching batons along the side and floor of the van. Then, screw the kitchen pod directly to the batons.
If your kitchen pod is large, recruit a friend to help with the installation. Once it’s complete, double-check the security by shaking the walls — if the pod moves, you may need tighter screws.
Step 5: Add Overhead Cabinets and Lighting (Optional)
Congratulations — your kitchen pod is now ready to use! You can leave it as is, or take things a step further by adding overhead cabinets. This offers room for additional food storage and really helps complete the kitchen look.
Along with more cabinets, consider incorporating some campervan lighting ideas. For example, you could add lights underneath your overhead cabinets (which helps illuminate the items inside). Alternatively, you could light up the kitchen countertop and enjoy enhanced vision when preparing meals.
Purchasing a Van Kitchen Pod
While you can’t beat the customization and costs of building your own van kitchen, not everyone has the time (or carpentry skills) to do so. For these individuals, purchasing a pre-built van kitchen pod is generally the better route.
As you scroll through the different kitchen pods available for sale, you’ll notice that many sellers market their pods as “versatile” and claim they can fit into any van. However, the truth is, some pods will be better for your vehicle than others. Thus, it’s important to consider what features a pod has. Here are a few things to look out for:
- High functionality: The unit should offer multiple appliances, such as a sink, fridge, cabinets and water tank. It’s also helpful if there’s ample counter space.
- High quality: The kitchen should be made from high-quality wood and come with airtight seals and water-resistant finishes.
- Compact size: While the unit doesn’t have to be miniscule, you want it to successfully fit in the space you have available.
To help figure out what you’re looking for, we’ve put together some examples.
Examples of Pre-Built Kitchen Pods
Here are a few leading, pre-built van kitchen pods that are popular among vanlifers.
This compact, pre-built van kitchen pod comes stocked with the following amenities:
- Single burner butane stove
- Dining, cooking and limited utensil storage area
It also features a marine-grade water system complete with both 9-gallon fresh water and 6-gallon gray water tanks. The entire unit can be mounted on either the driver’s or passenger’s side, allowing for flexibility.
The Ford Transit Campervan Kitchen Pod is a removable kitchen pod with a built-in sink and a foldable faucet. Not only can the faucet be folded into the sink, but the sink lid may also be lowered (which creates more working space when it’s not in use). In addition, the unit features a foldable cutting board/table and portable refrigerator space, making it a great option for vanlifers with a Ford Transit.
Zenvanz specializes in pre-built, removable kitchen pods. They offer everything you need in a comprehensive kitchen unit, including the following items:
- Bamboo cabinetry system
- Utensil drawer
- Bamboo or stone countertop
You can even upgrade the unit to include a fridge/freezer unit, under-counter lighting, a two-burner propane cook-top, a sink and a faucet.
This pull-out van kitchen pod fits seamlessly underneath a small table that can be installed directly inside your campervan. Once you open the doors and slide it out, you’ll enjoy plenty of space and amenities. Along with stove-top burners, it offers storage space and a small cool-box for storing refrigerated items. However, the unit is a bit bulky — thus, it’s best for medium or large van owners.
This kitchen pod is a sleek, stand-alone unit that uses recycled wood and block countertops. It boasts the following amenities:
- Self-contained water system
- Storage space
Along with high functionality, this unit is an ideal size. It’s small enough to easily integrate into your van, but large and sturdy enough to prove support while you’re cooking and cleaning.
What Will Your Van’s Kitchen Look Like?
Having a reliable van with a kitchen is one of the most important elements of vanlife. Whether it’s a customized, DIY kitchen or a pre-built pod, you can’t beat the convenience of having a fully functional kitchen on the road with you at all times. If you have any questions about kitchens or need help choosing between van life kitchen ideas, our team is here to help. Reach out today!