There are lots of things to consider when designing your van. You need to decide what is most important to you so that you can make your van unique to you. Ours was slightly more unusual in that it needed to be designed around music. For example we needed to build storage that would specifically fit our amplifiers and music equipment and have a place to store two guitars. That was before we even got into our actual belongings. We also wanted to design a bed that morphed into seating, so eventually decided on a U-Shaped bed/sofa. Also, we wanted everything we use on a daily basis to be in easy reach and available without having to go outside the van and open the back doors, in case it was raining. SketchUp was a really useful tool for doing this.
What is Sketchup?
SketchUp is a free download of what is basically 3D design software. It can be used for a whole range of drawing applications from designing your house/van to creating whatever you can image.
It does take some practice in order to understand how it works but once you do it is a really useful tool. SketchUp allows you to create a 3D visual design of whatever you want to actually build. It even uses accurate measurements, so you can tell immediately if there’s enough room, or not for what you want to create. To be able to see the van build in 3D and easily play about with it before sawing even a single piece of wood really helps you see what works and what doesn’t. You can also play around with colours and patterns on the finished design. This gives you an idea of the finished aesthetics, though these are a little limited on the free version.
Measuring your floor plan and replicating in on SketchUp
If you’ve never worked with SketchUp before, it basically works by drawing 2D lines and boxes and then using a “Push/Pull” tool to make them 3D.
It’s best to map the shape of the available floor space as well as you can. When I first drew this on paper, it seemed like there was a ton of storage space where I wanted to put the bed. But this was because I underestimated how much space the wheel arches took up. Being able to see them in 3D helped me redesign our storage around the wheel arches.
Mapping out the Furniture
With the floor laid out, it’s easier to see where the furniture could go. One thing for most vans to note is that the front seats probably are not flat and the tops of them probably stick out a little over your floor plan. So this will reduce the total space you have.
I designed about 4 or 5 different versions of the bed. I also tried a kitchen cabinet in a couple of different positions before settling on a smaller storage cabinet to the side of the bed.
Drawing the different ideas out in 3D took a lot of hours, but didn’t cost a penny. If I had tried to build my first design in the van I would have had to rebuilt it at least once because bits of it would not have worked. This would have cost us a lot of time and money so I’m glad spent my time (literally hours) on here instead.
It was kind of interesting so experiment with colours and get an idea of what the finished van design might one day look like.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t draw out those guitars! I am nowhere near that good with this software. SketchUp also has a built in 3D Warehouse where other designers have uploaded their designs for you to look at and use in your projects. This is very helpful, for example, if you want to put a fridge or a TV or whatever into your design.
So I think using SketchUp was pretty invaluable. I am a very visual person and was having trouble imagining what the outcome would be and figuring out if there was enough storage space and such. Designing and re-designing in 3D allowed us to build the van that worked perfectly for us, on the first go!.