How to build your VAN bed
The bed is the most important part of your van, rv or mothorhome. This is the place where you spend most of your time. The remaining time, if all goes well, is spent outside, which, after all, is what vanlife is all about. Do you sleep poorly? Then your trip is just really less enjoyable.
Our Mercedes 508 will be the third motorhome project we will be working on, and this time we can start from scratch entirely. YESSS! So we decided to start with the van bed and adjust the rest of the camper accordingly. We are really happy with this choice and even more excited about the end result! Curious then read on quickly to see what it finally turned out to be and what the bed making cost.
We are definitely not handymen and sometimes fiddle around a lot, but we always succeed in the end. The most important tip we can give you: just start and do it. Get inspiration, but also be sure to make it your own project.
Are you already convinced about our camper bed. Then scroll down for all the steps and cost summary.
This is how we slept before
With our first van, a 1983 Citroen C25, we chose a seating area with a table that we could fold as a bed. The bed took up almost the entire camper when unfolded. During the day we could then work at the table or have dinner when it rained, and in the evening we could have a nice spacious lie down. After 5 months of roadtripping, we had used the seat maybe once and went completely mad changing the bed in and out. Also, the loose pillows were really terrible and slid every time. So we decided to add a topper as well. Not at all convenient when space is already so scarce.
After this bus, we decided to go for a bigger model a Fiat Ducato Alkoof camper.
The idea was to sleep comfortably in the alcove. In fact, this bed was very spacious. But an alcove soon turned out to be nothing for us. Rolling yourself out every time you had to go to the bathroom at night, and on hot days, it was impossible to sleep here. After several nights in the alcove, we decided to sleep downstairs anyway and use this part of the camper as extra storage space. This bed was fine, but very cramped and again we lay on several pillows with slots. So not ideal.
Then we came across our newest bus a gorgeous 1985 Mercedes 508. In terms of size, exactly between the Fiat camper and the Citroën Bus. 1 thing was certain we were going for a semi-solid bed. Ideally we would have opted for a complete fixed bed, but unfortunately, because Leroy is a giant, we cannot lie across the width. Before photos, see below.
Fixed bed or collapsible bed seating
Almost everyone I talk to who have built a bus before all say the same thing; CHOOSE A FIXED BED. If you can choose to do this, do it. Don’t hesitate, just do it. After 2 years of roadtripping, we have used the seat maybe 3 times and then often only to take nice pictures of the interior. And Yes we also work while traveling and cook and eat in the RV. Most of your time is spent outside and if it does rain or you have to work, we chose the bed every time. Therefore, this time we opted for a semi-solid bed that we can easily extend.
Of course, we listed all the options and the pros and cons for each bed type before finally making a choice. Of course, we are happy to share those with you:
Sofa bed or fold out van bed
Many people choose a sofa bed or fold-out van bed for their first project. After all, this way you have a seat and a bed in one. For very small buses where a fixed bed is not possible, such as in our Citroën C25, this is ideal. However, if you have the option of installing a fixed bed, we still recommend choosing this.
Cons Sofa bed or Folding bed:
- From my own experience, you hardly ever use the seat
- Folding in and out the van bed becomes tedious at some point
- When the bed is unfolded it is impossible to reach your things under the bed
- You lose storage space
- The seating is often huge, even though you need very little seating space
- Your bed consists of loose pillows which is less comfortable
- You have to store your bedding each time which takes up a lot of space
- You have a lot of living space
- You can easily exit the camper through the back
If you do choose a bed that you can unfold then we recommend the following:
- Choose a super simple system. 1 a 2 steps max, making this process easy.
- If you have enough storage space, get an extra topper so you don’t have to deal with slits in the mattress
- Choose drawers instead of flap cabinets so you can access your stuff even when the bed is unfolded
If you have the option of installing a fixed bed, we definitely recommend it. The only drawback is that your living space is a bit less and you have no or a small seating area. We think this is a little less serious. We spend most of our time outdoors and sometimes work on location. If it does rain, then a day’s work in bed isn’t so bad either.
- You sacrifice living space
- Little to no seating space to eat or work, for example
- It is not difficult or not possible to exit the camper through the back
- You can choose a good mattress (VERY IMPORTANT)
- Extra storage space
- No hassle of folding in and out
Almost everyone who has ever chosen a sofa bed eventually opts for a fixed bed. Especially if you are going on a longer trip, we definitely recommend this.
Another option that combines the above types is a drop-down bed. The bed then hangs from the ceiling during the day, so to speak, and you can lower it in the evening. That way you have a seat during the day and in the evening you can quickly dive into your bed. No more fussing with making your bed or awkward bed constructions either. Why doesn’t everyone do this? It’s often quite pricey and you can’t install hanging cabinets. It also looks a little less attractive and most people don’t want too much weight on the roof.
- No more upper cabinet options
- Less storage space
- Looks a little less pretty (but that’s mostly taste)
- You can choose a good mattress (VERY IMPORTANT)
- Extra storage space
- No hassle of folding in and out
Semi fixed bed in your motorhome
We ended up choosing a semi fixed bed that we could easily slide out. Ideally we would have chosen a fixed bed, but unfortunately sleeping widthwise is not an option for us because Leroy is quite tall. Therefore, we came up with our own bed construction that fits perfectly in our bus.
We placed the bed at the back of the bed. Thus, on hot days we can throw open the doors and wake up to the most beautiful views. Most of the bed is fixed. This section is about 180 cm wide and 120 cm deep.
For some people already a complete bed, but we can extend the bed even further. This extension runs up past the kitchen and over the seat. Therefore, we can just leave the seat for what it is. The extension part is another 130cm wide and 70cm deep. So in total we almost have a 180×190 bed.
This way we have a bed lengthwise, without having to sacrifice a lot of space for this or rebuild everything every time. We just need to extend the bed slightly and put the extra mattresses and that’s it! So it’s a snap.
A custom mattress for the motorhome
An important reason why we also chose a semi-solid bed is that it allowed us to install a good mattress. Because the bed consists of a unique construction and we needed three mattress sections for this, we looked for a provider that specializes in custom mattresses for RVs. Soon we ended up at Seminautic. A custom mattress within 1 hour and a review score that would scare any competitor.
The service from Seminautic was really far beyond expectations. What a well-oiled machine this family business has set up. Everyone is equally friendly and the concept is really great. Within 1 hour we drove away with a new mattress in our motorhome that also laid great.
Roadmap Camper Bed Customization
In sketchup we made a rough plan of what our RV layout would look like with the most important part being the bed. After quite a bit of research, we decided to start with the fixed part first and only then start with the extension part.
We decided to work in 2 steps, namely first making 2 equal frames that we could place on the right and left and then connecting both frames with beams. So we make a modular bed frame that we don’t have to install in one go.
It also allowed us to install 1 side already, so we could continue with the kitchen and cabinet. Once we had everything in the camper, the bed frame could be secured.
We used the following for this purpose:
- 9x beams of 44×44 mm
- 14x beams of 33×44 mm
- 20x beams for the slatted floor
- 1 MDF board for the front
- Lacquer paint
Tip! Have all the beams for the frame already cut to size at the hardware store. Saves a lot of work and often goes with tremendous precision.
There was a lot of consultation and drawing and 100 changes to the plan, but we are extremely happy with our enom luxury bed.
Step 1 Frame Left and Right
We started with the frames placed to the left and right of the bed. Both frames have the same dimensions and are joined together at the next step. We joined the beams together with long torx screws and wood glue. We also used corner profiles in a few places for added strength.
Tip! Pre-drill the beams with a wood drill bit to prevent cracks in the beams.
Once both frames are assembled, they can be secured in the camper. We attached the frames to the bottom. You can then put some sealant on your screw just to be sure in case of moisture or leaks.
Step 2 Connecting both frames together
Now that both frames are attached you can connect these 2 parts to each other by placing intermediate beams. Because an RV is never completely straight, it is difficult to determine the outside dimensions in advance. We connected most of the intermediate beams using corner profiles.
Step 3 Slatted fixed part
The first part of the bed frame is now standing and you can start with the slatted base. We determined the distances of the various slats by simply placing a slat between them each time and then leaving a little space. In this way, the extension can later be easily extended and you will still have sufficient support.
Step 4 Make slide-out undercarriage
1 part of the bed frame leans/slides over the seat back and in the middle (against the kitchen) we made a u-leg. The easiest way is to make this part the very last. For example, we had started this before the kitchen cabinets were installed and had to change some things last-minute because the cabinet doors would not open.
Step 5 Attach extension with battening
When the base fits properly you can start attaching the slatted base for the pull-out. This also immediately attaches the pull-out to the fixed part of the bed. We placed felt on the bottom of the slats so that sliding is easy and the slats do not get stuck behind a beam of the frame.
The extension part basically leans loose on the frame, so we can pull it off completely if necessary. So far with my enthusiasm, this has happened 1 time. So that’s not too bad. The heaviness of the mattress keeps the slatted base firmly in place.
Step 6 Finishing
Finally, we finished the part in the camper with MDF boards and in the middle we placed 2 drawers for our clothes (first shelves, but we changed that later) and a table that you can slide out.
A lick of paint (sage green from Flexa) and VOILA our dream bed is ready.
What did building the camper bed cost?
Building the bed in our camper cost the following:
|2x Beams 33x44mm Advantage Package Praxis||45.98 euros|
|1x Beams 44x44mm Praxis discount pack||13.09 euros|
|2x Beams 22 x 48 mm Praxis price package||22.00 euros|
|MDF board 244 x 122 cm 6mm||10.59 euros|
|Paint Flexa Sage Green 750ml
|Other materials||10 euros|
|Total cost of camper bed||116.61 euros|
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Travel further to
- Camper Update Week 2: inventariseren, meten en bouwen
- Camper Update week 3: elk extra uurtje in de werkkleding
- Camper Update Week 4: het bed en een gouden pot
- Camper Update Week 5: camper essentials shoppen bij Obelink
- Camper Update Week 6: knopjes erop, gordijntjes eraan en gaan met die banaan!
- Een kijkje in onze camper Cloverfield
- Say hello to my little van
- What the Fudge! We hebben een Mercedes 508 bus!