As the heart of a van conversion, the kitchen serves as one of the places, if not THE place that will get used the most. You’ll spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Whether it’s cooking food, washing dishes, using the sink, countertop, or using it for other activities, the kitchen will get its fair share of use.
Other than the bed, there isn’t another area in my van where I spend as much time as I do the kitchen. I am nearly always doing something in this area.
With that being said, I wanted my kitchen to be a nice, compact area that had plenty of storage space. The following article will show you my thinking on my kitchen layout and how I pulled it off.
Overall I am happy with my layout with only a few things I would do differently.
Planning My DIY Van Kitchen
During the planning phase for my kitchen I wanted to make sure that I included a few key items.
- Kitchen sink with faucet and wand
- Water supply tank with an electric water pump
- A simple greywater system that can be dumped easily
- Counter space for a camp stove
- Electrical outlet
- Plenty of lighting
- Plenty of storage for dishes, pots, and pans
I wanted my kitchen to be reminiscent of the kitchen in my home. The only difference would be that it would be much smaller and have fewer bells and whistles.
My plan called for a portable camp stove rather than a built-in stove. This plan might have been different if I had planned to live in my van full-time. However, as a part-timer, I wanted something that would allow me to do my cooking and then I could move it out of the way.
I also wanted to use a portable stove because I also go tent camping on occasion so I wanted to be able to utilize this stove for those times as well.
The main part of my kitchen was created using a sink base that I would build from scratch.
Parts I Used
Disclaimer: The links below are affiliate links. This means that I will earn a small commission if you click them and make a purchase.
- Camco Flexible Camper Drain Tap
- 5 Gallon Water Jugs
- Fresh Water Fill Hatch Inlet
- Fill Hose
- 16 Gallon Freshwater Container
- Shurflo Water Pump
- Shurflo Accumulator
- Shurflo Strainer
- Water pump silencer kit
- Rev-A-Shelf Tip Out Tray Set
- 16-inch Soft Close Slides
- Kreg Pocket Hole Kit
- Kreg Drawer Slide Jig Kit
- Kreg Cabinet Hardware Jig Kit
- Kreg Concealed Hinge Jig Kit
Creating A Sink Base
A sink base is what serves as the main kitchen area in my van. It is a place where my sink is mounted but it also serves as an area for counter space and plenty of underneath storage.
I could have purchased a sink base from one of the big box stores and customized it but that would have been more trouble than it’s worth. Instead, I used those as inspiration to build my own sink base from the ground up, using my own specific dimensions. I also dissected the one I have in my house so that I could create the exact dimensions (other than depth) and shape it the same way.
I built the base using 1/2 inch birch plywood so that I could keep it as light as possible while still maintaining a good amount of strength. I built this just like a standard sink base would be, complete with a kick plate on the bottom. The entire sink base measured approximately 19 inches deep, 41 inches wide, and 34 1/2 inches tall (without the countertop).
Sink base measurements: 41″ Wide by 19″ Deep by 34 1/2″ Tall
This measurement was based on the one in my home and I allowed for an inch and three-quarters that would be for the butcher block on top of the counter. In the end, I would be left with a countertop that was approximately the same height as the one that I’m used to in my home which is the standard height for a kitchen counter, around 36 inches.
As I was putting the sink base together, I used a combination of pocket screws and wood glue to connect everything.
After building the sink base, I installed it in my van. I did have to use some shims in order to get the sink base completely squared with the floor. Like most other items I installed in the van, it was a challenge to get everything straight and square.
Installing The Butcher Block Countertop
For the countertop, I used a 1 1/2 inch butcher block piece that I purchased from Lowes. I had to cut it to fit around the wall. This thick butcher block was difficult to cut but I ended up doing the job with the combination of a circular saw and a jigsaw.
I stained the butcher block with a honey stain and then I put six layers of Polyurethane on all sides. Hopefully this will hold up over time and allow me to have a nice countertop.
The butcher block was installed with screws through the top of the sink base. I used the 8 corner bracing pieces to screw the butcher block to, making it tight and secure.
Installing The Sink
I initially purchased a larger and deeper sink but concluded that it took up a little too much space. I finally settled on a top mount composite granite sink. Although not as deep as my original choice, it works fine and is plenty big for what I use it for.
I will say that if I lived in my van full-time, I would want to have a double sink. It wasn’t necessary in my case but a double sink can be helpful by giving you a place to wash dishes and a place to dry them.
The sink that I used is mounted using a silicone sealant around the bottom edge all the way around. Despite me thinking it wouldn’t hold very well, it has actually held up very well and the sink is mounted tightly into place.
It is also held in by the faucet that goes through the sink and the butcher block counter. The faucet holds the sink tight to the countertop while the silicone sealant provides an additional way of keeping the sink held in place.
Water System & Plumbing
In keeping with my simple kitchen set up, my water management system is also simple. I chose to use a portable grey water tank underneath the sink that I can easily take out and dump at my convenience. I chose to use a see-through container so that I could see when it required dumping. I also have a spare that I can easily change out to when I am in a location that I cannot dump the tank.
For my sink drain, I used the Camco Flexible Camper Drain Tap that serves as a P-trap and is specifically made for RV usage. It works great but I wish the drain hose was a little bit larger. It can take quite a while for a lot of water to drain through into the grey water tank.
The size of this drain hose is perfect for the see-through containers I have and recommend. It can easily be routed through the top of the container and you can make use of a standard garden hose quick connect as I did.
When I want to disconnect my greywater jug, I quickly disconnect it here and either dump the jug or connect another jug that already has a quick connect installed on the top.
The quick disconnect is nice to have but this also creates a bottleneck for the drain. If you have anything other than water coming through, it could get clogged up. You may discover a better way of having a disconnect but this is the best way that I have found for now. It has worked for me and it does not get clogged up because I am aware of it and make sure large chunks of food or trash doesn’t go down the drain.
For the water supply in my system I used a 16-gallon freshwater tank that is plumbed using PEX pipe. This freshwater tank supplies water to both, my kitchen sink and my shower.
I have a fill cap in the back of the van where I can easily fill this tank using a water hose connected to a spigot. Once full, I have plenty of water that is pumped out of the tank using a Shurflo Revolution water pump.
Adding Face Frame Onto Cabinet
Once all the plumbing was finished, I still needed to add the rest of the face frame onto the cabinet so that I could install doors and drawers. I planned to have two doors under the sink and then three drawers of various sizes on the left-hand side.
I built the face frame using a combination of 1×2 and 1×3 finger-jointed pine that was pre-primed. This made the job easy and required just a little sanding after I was finished before I put on a few coats of paint.
With the face frame finished and all of the interior work completed, the last main thing to do was to add the doors and the drawers. The drawers are the part that I dreaded the most and turned out to be the most difficult part of the process. The doors were simple to build and mount thanks to some jigs that I used.
First, to build the doors, I used 1×3 pine boards and a router to rout a groove into the wood using a tongue and groove router bit set. I then used a quarter-inch piece of plywood that went in the middle creating a shaker style of look.
These doors were created using pocket screws and wood glue. This is the same process that I also used to create the doors on my overhead cabinets and all of the doors throughout my van.
I used wood filler to close up the holes and sanded everything down smoothly before painting.
Second, I used a hinge jig to add the hinges which allowed me to get them perfectly straight and lined up with one another. I would not want to attempt installing concealed hinges without a concealed hinge jig. This was among the four types of Kreg jigs that I used throughout my van build and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without them. The Kreg jigs came in handy and I highly recommend them.
The concealed hinges that I used have a spring to them and they close tightly. At this time, I have not installed any kind of door latches. I feel like I don’t need them at this point. I have driven around and taken many trips and have never had any problems whatsoever with the doors moving or opening at all.
Perhaps in the future, when the new has worn off, they won’t hold as tightly. At that point, I will install some kind of door latches to keep them securely shut. The doors also stay open on their own, even the overhead ones. At some point I may need to add door stays but I’ll tackle that challenge when needed. For now it’s fine without them.
The two doors that I installed open up to a nice spacious area underneath my sink. I can easily get to anything in the area and I can remove my water tanks easily. I also installed a fire extinguisher in this location just in case an emergency were to ever happen in the van.
With the kitchen cabinet built and the doors installed, the only thing left to do was to install the drawers. I had planned for three separate drawers to be in this area and wanted the face of the drawers to look just like the doors I had built. I use the same process to build these once I knew the dimensions that each drawer would be. The drawer facings are a 1/2 inch bigger on all sides than the drawer boxes.
Building the drawer boxes was the easy part and was done using half-inch plywood and pocket screws. I also used a little wood glue to make sure they were held tightly. I used a square clamp to make sure the boxes were nice and square as I screwed them together. I would recommend a square clamp like this if you are creating a box. It was very helpful in the process. I have two of them and used them together to make sure each drawer box was completely square.
I chose to use soft-close drawer slides for my drawers. The main reason that I chose this was that the soft-close slides hold tightly and require more force to open than standard slides do. This is a tip if you are going to install drawers in your van. With soft-close slides, you can pull out on the drawer slightly and it will close back.
You have to pull the drawer with some force to get it to open. This may become less tight over time but so far it has held tightly in and I haven’t had to use any kind of drawer latches.
The hardest part of the process was getting the drawer slides to be straight inside the cabinet. I had to use a few shims along the way as I did in many other places in my van. I also used another Kreg jig to install the drawers.
I couldn’t imagine doing it without this Kreg jig. The jig made the process so much easier than I was imagining it would be. The jig isn’t perfect and is probably the worst I have used from Kreg but it still allowed me to get it done with less frustration than I would have had without it.
After all was said and done, the drawers were completely straight and the slides work like a charm. The drawers slide out smoothly but they close themselves once they get to a certain point and they close tightly. As I had hoped, they are held in very tightly with the soft-close mechanism built into the slides.
Sink Front Tip Out Tray
Since this is a small van, I wanted to make use of all storage options available. Rather than having a blank cover underneath the sink like most sink bases do, I wanted to utilize this area for more storage. I chose the use the Rev-A-Shelf solution for this.
While this does not add a ton of storage, it does allow me to use this area rather than wasting it. The shelf is perfect for storing dishwashing equipment and other small items. It’s a handy area to keep sponges, rags and dish soap containers. It’s a small area but it makes a difference having a place to store these items out of the way, rather than them being scattered all over the countertop.
This was easy to install using the hinges that it comes with and the templates provided.
Trim And Other Finishings
Trimming everything up, in the end, was the fun part because I got to see it all come together. The main part of the trimmings was to add the door handles and drawer handles.
Again, I made use of a Kreg jig which made the process very easy. Using the jig, the doors were very easy to get perfectly centered and lined up. The handles ended up in the same location on each door and straight. I could not have done this without the jig.
I used the same jig on the drawers to add the handles of the same type. It was a little more difficult with the drawers since each drawer was a different size. However, the jig made easy work of it and I was able to get all of the handles lined up perfectly. I highly recommend the Kreg jig for door handles if you are in the market for one.
I also used the same jig to put handles and knobs on all of the other doors throughout my van. It made it look like a pro had done it.
Things I Would Have Done Differently
Overall, I am very satisfied with the kitchen in my van. However, in hindsight there are always things that could be improved and we wish we had done a little differently. There are a few things that I wish I had done differently but they aren’t huge issues.
- Make the cabinet wider.My entire countertop is about 44 inches wide. If I had it to do over I would have gone a little wider than this, maybe up to 60 inches wide. I left it at 44 inches because I wanted more space to come in and out of the van but the space I left is a bit too much and some of it is wasted and could’ve been used for more counter and cabinet space.
- Create an extra counter space that folds down. A lot of people do this and I thought of doing it at first but didn’t go through with it. I wanted to add a hinged counter space on the end that folded down out of the way and then could be folded back up when needed to add additional counter space. I can still do this but I’m not sure I ever will at this point.
- Install a deeper sink. I started with a deeper sink but decided against it. In hindsight, it was probably the better choice. Sometimes I find it would be helpful to have a deeper area to work with when doing dishes or filling up bottles and such.
These are small changes that I would have made but overall I am happy with everything that I have in my kitchen. It’s a nice area and provides enough space to work with to cook and clean. It looks nice, has lots of storage, and serves the purpose well.