Ifirst moved into a van 10 years ago. It was a practical decision. I’d been commissioned to make a 16mm surf documentary and failed to negotiate a living wage for myself during the three years it took to make it. This oversight had me surviving on cans of kidney beans and needing a rent-free place to sleep while I traveled between Australia and Los Angeles shooting and editing.
Today I’m the owner of a 2002 Sprinter van I bought off two traveling surfer/skaters in Death Valley. I’ve had the van for over a year and finally had time to make into a home on wheels.
I knew coming up with good design was key. I needed a well thought out space that served multiple functions and had built-in incentives for keeping my stuff orderly. I spent a lot of time prioritizing my needs and thinking about how to most simply address those needs. Here was my wish list of features:
1. Install a wood stove: you can’t beat the dry heat and pleasing aroma of a wood stove. Propane stoves are always a nightmare in my experience with fumes and wet heat that sinks to the ground. I bought a house with some land in Washington state earlier this year so I knew heating would become a concern, even in the deserts of Southern California this past winter the 20-something degree Fahrenheit nights became unbearable at times, a result of poor insulation and no heat source.
2. Insulate with EPS foam and wood: EPS insulation doesn’t breakdown with road vibrations and wood walls make it easy to accessories the walls with shelves and hooks to get stuff off the ground.
3. Make a functional kitchen: I never had a kitchen in my van and I really wanted to have a nice space I could store, clean, prep and cook food. Over the years I’d grown to cooking a lot as a way to save money, eat fresher and save my consumption of packaging waste.
4. Install a solar system: Although the solar system I had in my Ford was nice for my electronics when the weather was fair, I wanted more power. As part of my kitchen I wanted a refrigerator to store perishables and not have to deal with always getting ice and emptying a smelly warm cooler after it all melted. I also wanted to connect the 12V fan and vent that came with the van.
5. Make a space I could walk through the whole way: It seemed like a shame that I couldn’t take advantage of all the height and floor space of my new van in the current design which had a huge and heavy wood rack separating the back from the main compartment.
6. Keep it clean: I wanted to make an organized, easy to access place for my short surfboards and longboards
7. Have a good working space: Make a work desk so I can have a clean space to work on my projects.
Read the full story of the build on, then go do it yourself.
Cyrus Sutton is an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, surfer and 11 year van dweller. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook