The dining area in my van is located in the front section. I did this so that I could make use of the seats that were already in the van. Rather than cut off the living area from the driver and passenger seating area, I wanted to be able to swivel the front seats around so that I could utilize these with the dining area. Doing this opens up the area and makes it a larger living space since you are utilizing nearly the entire length of the van.
If you don’t utilize the front seats, you are essentially cutting your living space off shorter than you need to. When you can take the two front seats and swivel them around, they become the most comfortable seats in the house. This makes a perfect place for a dining area and this is what I decided to do.
For my plan, I wanted to use this area for a place that I could sit down and eat or do other things. It provides a perfect place to put my laptop and work while I am looking out the side door. The location of this area is perfect for when you are parked in a picturesque place that has great views.
The following is a detailed account of my thought process as well as creating the space and the parts that I used to accomplish it.
Deciding On A Layout
When I planned my dining area, as mentioned above, I wanted to make use of the side door area. While some people choose a dining area further back in the van, I wanted mine to be in the front open area so that I could look out as I ate or worked at the table. I knew that I wanted some sort of bench seat that would allow me to face toward the door.
Another feature that I knew I wanted was a table that could move around freely into different positions. I chose to use the Lagun mount for this because this is one of the best options available for mounting a table in tight spaces. I’ll discuss this a little further down in the article.
Not only did I want to have a bench seat, but I also wanted to have lots of storage area within the seating area. I chose to use a banquet bench seat design similar to what you would find in a home dining area. During my search for banquet seating plans, I found the perfect solution at one of the major online retailers (Ballard Designs – Breton 30″ Bench). However, the price was pretty steep and I would have to customize it so that I could fit it in the van where I wanted it.
Purchasing an expensive seat like this was going to cost me around $800 at the time. That’s a lot of money to spend just to take a saw to it and cut it to fit in a space. What if I messed it up? What if I cut it too short or crooked? These questions scared me away from purchasing it. Although it would have been nice to purchase something that was mostly already done for me.
In the end, I chose to build something similar myself. Using the one I had found online as a model, I took my own custom measurements and got to work on building it from scratch.
I built my bench seat using 3/4 inch birch plywood. I purchased a large 4 x 8 sheet of this plywood and it was more than enough to complete the job. I didn’t have a specific plan for building it other than my own knowledge and experience of how to get it done. I didn’t follow any kind of template or pattern to do it. I just guessed my way through this and it seemed to work out pretty well.
I’ll have to say, there were times throughout the process that I wish I had just purchased the one online and been done with it. I’m glad I stuck with it though because, in the end, it turned out better than I had imagined it would.
Not only did I have a bench seat, but I also had a storage box that could store a ton of stuff. The commercial product that I was working from had storage in the bottom as well. However, I took mine one step further and created an additional storage compartment in the back of the seating area.
This is perfect for small, slim items and has become the area where I store a stepping stool and other odd-shaped items. When stored in this rear storage area, things are completely out of the way and you don’t even know you have them.
I often forget that there is even storage behind it and I forget where I have put things. I have to remember to open the rear storage area to check. This is a good thing because having lots of storage in a small van is not always the case.
I built this bench seating in my garage before ever installing it in the van. My goal was to build it similar to the commercial version I had found except using my exact measurements. Once it was fully built, I would then paint it and finish it, then install it in my van.
That’s exactly what I did and once the seating was fully complete. To install it, I screwed it down tightly to the sub-flooring as well as the furring strips in the wall behind the bench. This gave me a very sturdy installation and I don’t have to worry about it coming loose. This bench seat isn’t going anywhere and it is set up to provide me with seating to use with my dining table or just to chill in.
The size of the seating area of the bench is 30 inches wide by 18.5 inches deep. It’s large enough for two people to sit on if needed but more comfortable for only one person. The entire banquet bench measures 30 inches wide by 24 inches deep.
Directly beside this seating area is a pantry area where all of my food items will be stored. As you can see from the picture, this area doesn’t come out as far as my shower area. I did this on purpose so that I wouldn’t feel so boxed in when sitting in the dining area.
I wanted to create a more open area when I was sitting in the dining area and looked back towards the rear of the van. If I had built the pantry area all the way out, I wouldn’t be able to see anything except a wall beside me. Not only that, but the pantry would also be super deep and hard to get into.
This idea has worked out quite well and has opened up the space just as I had hoped it would. The only problem with doing this was the space that was created in front of the pantry left a bare spot where no cushion would be. Instead of leaving this empty, my wife created a small cushion to match the cushion from the dining bench. This can also provide additional seating but it’s mainly for my dog to sit in while I am sitting on the bench. It works out great for this purpose.
When traveling with my wife, one of us will usually sit in the banquet seating area while one is sitting in the passenger seat, swiveled around. This gives us both a comfortable seating area and allows us both to eat at the table together. Our dog can plop down on the bench seat in the little extra cushion area made for her.
Note: my original plan was to have swivel seats in both front seats. However, after installing the passenger one, the additional height of the seat was raised an inch and a half. I feel like this might be too much for the driver’s side. The driver’s seat already sits up high as you’re driving so I’m not sure I want it to sit up any higher than it already is. I have refrained from installing the driver seat swivel base thus far. I might decide to follow through with this in the future. For now, it works great with only using the passenger seat.
My table is quite simple. I chose to use a small and lightweight solution for now because this is something that can always be upgraded in the future. For this tabletop, I purchased a small edge-glued pine board at The Home Depot. The tabletop is small but large enough for my needs and it stores out of the way nice and easy when not in use.
I finished the tabletop with a light honey stain and then put five coats of polyurethane all around it.
The tabletop is strong enough for normal usage when eating or using it as a workstation, but I wouldn’t recommend sitting on it. It’s not as strong or sturdy as a home dining table but it serves its purpose and provides me with a nice table area with a decent size that also doesn’t take up a lot of space. It also doesn’t add much weight to the van.
In the future, I may upgrade this tabletop to a more substantial unit but I’m not sure it’s really necessary. Only time will tell how this one will work out.
So far, after using my van for over a year now, I’m happy with this little tabletop. It has served my needs well and I don’t see any reason to upgrade unless this one becomes damaged.
Lagun Table Mount
In order for my dining area to come together as I wanted, it required that I use a table mount that could move around. I wanted to be able to swing my table around to wherever I needed it. This would allow me to use it as a dining table or as extra counter space when cooking. It would also allow me to move it completely out of the way when I just wanted to sit down without a table.
The obvious choice for this solution was the Lagun mount. This mount is often used in boats and RVs for this purpose and it provides a perfect solution for what I was looking for. Many people use these mounts in van conversions so I wanted to give it a try in mine. I purchased the mount directly from Lagun USA.
This is a well-made solution for creating a dining table with flexibility. It works well for my dining area and provides me with a way to position my table exactly where I need it for whatever I’m doing.
I mounted the Lagun mount to the side of my banquet bench. This location is fairly hidden and the mount is conveniently located out of the way but allows the table to be positioned perfectly. The installation was very easy. It comes with everything you need, including a piece of teak plywood and some shims for getting it perfectly straight.
I only used the plywood and didn’t need the shims since the surface I mounted to was already as straight as it could be. The additional plywood helped to give it a sturdier place so that it would be a more solid mount.
Note: be careful with the plywood. After more than a year later, I still have a splinter from it buried deep in my index finger. I was hoping it would work itself out by now but no luck.
Lagun Mount Pros
- High quality – This mount is very high quality and made from heavy anodized aluminum. I expect it to last for many years and perform well for my dining table.
- Space-saving – If you live or camping in a small space, the Lagun mount is very useful. You’ll be able to move it out of the way or even remove it altogether when it’s not needed.
- Easy installation – It comes with everything you need, except for the tabletop, for a simple installation.
- You can add additional mounts – Purchase as many additional mounts as you need. You can place them in different areas and then simply move your table from one mount to the other as needed.
Lagun Mount Cons
- Expensive – At nearly $200 for the basic mount with hardware, it is a significant expense. However, I feel that the convenience and quality warrant such a price.
Overall, I have been very happy with the Lagun mount. It is a very high-quality table mount and gives you a lot of flexibility. It is well thought out to perform well in this type of living space. If you want to make the most of a small space, this type of mount is a no-brainer. The price is a bit steep but you are getting a high-quality item that can do wonders for making your space seem larger than it is. I highly recommend it.
The main thing I was trying to create with my dinette was a place to do my dining with a view. The large sliding side door is the perfect place to be able to look out at nature as you enjoy a meal, read a book, work on your laptop, or just chill out.
Although the area that I built provides a nice space for doing these activities, it doesn’t take up a lot of space. On top of that, it adds additional storage which is essential for a camper van. It has become the main hangout spot in my van and you can nearly always find me chilling in the front passenger seat or the comfortable cushioned bench seat.
Hopefully, this post will give you some ideas for creating a dining area in your van. The most important thing is to create something that works for you. There are many different plans out there so take what works for you and leave what doesn’t.