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.  

You may have already been deep into the socials, web and maybe even a local motorhome show feeding 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?’

Martha the van’s early interior Sketchup model – my boots do indeed fit under the woodburner in real life!

1.  Set up some way to keep all your inspiration tidy.   

Pinterest is pretty much purpose built for this.  If you aren’t familiar with it, Pinterest is an online notice board that allows you to save photos from almost any website to your own board by ‘pinning’ them via an easy web browser plug in.  It also suggests ideas from other Pinterest boards and has a search function so you can trawl through the curated lists of others.   Check out the Vansformation boards here.

Old skool methods like a biscuit tin of sketches or a folder on your desktop could work as well: whatever you choose the important thing is to get the system in place as soon as possible.

2. Get ideas and inspiration everywhere

Other vans, motorhomes, tiny houses, custom sheds and narrowboats are great for inspiration.  At the same time, the most interesting vans can be inspired by anything: the colour of flowers in a field, the lighting at a cafe, mythology.    

For example, the sliding window cover mechanism in a hospital room and Japanese rice paper shoji screens were both active inspirations for my storage areas. 

Second Stage: Make 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’, this is your opportunity to pour through your inspiration and interpret what you really want and need.

1. Must-have: ‘Daily Activities’
These are the essential features to have in the campervan.  These are so critical to the expected daily activities you cannot function without them.
2. Want to have: “Feel”
These are the features you genuinely plan to build into the van, but could compromise on when and how they are implemented if needed.
3. Fringe level: “Dream”
Cool luxuries not likely to be practical right now, but you would put them in if you have time/money/space/skills to do so.  Challenge yourself to think of things that seem impossible, often this opens the door to considering a more practical option.

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.  

Van conversion campervan self build plan

The conceptual plan used through the entire Martha build

The 3 objectives for the Martha Van build were:

  1. Feeling of spaciousness, despite being only a mid-wheelbase sized van
  2. Very good kitchen facilities – I like my food!
  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.

Questions you could ask to arrive at the design objectives:

  • What themes unify the three lists I made previously?
  • What is the single one most important thing to experience with the finished campervan?
  • How must the van be structured to enable me to feel happy in the space?

And with that, the objectives are set! In the next post we will look at progressing from a conceptual plan to the concrete ones for actually building the campervan itself.

What are your must haves? Hit us up in the comments below and thanks so much for stopping by.  Best of luck with your vansformation!











Feta from Vansformation

Chief Rabble Rouser at Vansformation


Gordie · 26/07/2018 at 8:53 am

Thank you so much for all this amazing information. I’m just beginning my van-build journey, and I couldn’t have wished for a better resource. I’m loving the podcast too.

    Feta from Vansformation · 19/08/2018 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you so much, that’s brilliant to hear! Enjoy the van build and let us know if there is something you’d like to have on the podcast.

Comments are closed.