A comfortable bed makes a house a home. Or should we say makes a camper van a home?
In our camper van conversion, building the bed was the most important part. Everything else we built and included in our RV was built around our comfortable nest.
A good night’s sleep is the most precious thing, and since we will be living in our camper van full time, there was no way in which we’d compromise on that!
Designing the layout
Before we bought our van, we had some ideas of the layout and knew which items we’d like to include in our home on wheels.
We were set on having a fixed bed, that would not have to be converted into a sofa whenever we woke up, and back whenever we went to sleep. It was that feeling of having a bed that was just that, a bed, what we wanted to have.
In addition, we needed two seats at which we would be able to comfortably do our work, have dinner, and play boardgames.
Swivel seats would be the perfect option, but sadly the passenger seat in our van turned out to be a bench. Finding a swivel for this specific bench proved to be very difficult and we decided to build a wall and separate the cabin from the living area completely instead.
Once we brought our van home, we measured it again and again (just to be sure, you know, that there wasn’t another inch of space hidden somewhere). We quickly realized that our 330L Transit would never offer us the opportunity to build the design we had in mind, whilst also being able to have a decent kitchen and a toilet.
It was time to start sketching it all out, and come up with some new ideas.
We first designed the convertible bed to transform into an L-shaped sofa. This turned out to be a tad to difficult to realize for us due to some of our requisites. We hence ended up going with a regular long sofa instead.
Incorporating a dog crate and a toilet
One major thing that caused for a struggle in the design of our sofa bed, was our dog crate. We were kindly sent a teal colored crate by Impact Dog Crates to ensure our dogs’ safety on the road.
We preferred Mojo and Venus to both be able to stretch out and sleep comfortably, no matter the temperatures. The dog crate we chose is hence quite a large one.
The only place to fit such a large crate would be beneath the bed. Our sofa bed could hence not have a similar height to a regular sofa that you might have in your living room – meaning that we’d have to climb onto our bed at night.
But we’re still young and fit, so for us, this is no issue!
The second item that we struggled to fit in was a toilet, but we were determined to include one in our little motorhome. We ordered a lovely composting toilet from Simploo in the UK but couldn’t find a spot for it.
Many van lifers build a small seat of which the cushion can be removed to reveal the toilet, but as we previously said, we did not have room for such an extra seat.
Since the dog crate forced us to build a sofa bed that was higher than average, we had to think of a structure on which we could rest our feet. This turned out to be the perfect place to put a toilet, so it turned out to be a win-win situation!
This foot-rest is a tad high above the toilet, but I can comfortably rest my feet on it. The area behind the toilet is a tad lower, so Jordy too can rest his legs at a comfortable angle.
We topped this structure with the same cork tiles that we used to create our floor, so that it all blends in nicely with the rest of our tiny home on wheels.
Using scaffolding tubes
Once the flooring, walls, and ceiling were installed, we were ready to build the frame of our sofa bed.
Many self built RVs have wooden pull-out beds that are around 1.5 ft in height. These structures are relatively simple to create and can be adjusted to the amount of space you’re working with.
In order to create a similar frame at our preferred height however, we’d need relatively thick beams to support the slatted base. This would add a lot of weight to our camper van. More importantly however, it would take up quite a bit of space underneath the bed.
We decided to go with aluminum scaffolding tubes to create the base of our bed frame. These tubes are lightweight, and very simple to work with.
There’s a clamp to be found for any imaginable purpose, so whatever you’ve designed, there’s probably a way to build it using scaffolding tubes.
Scaffolding tubes give furniture an industrial vibe, which is a look that we’ve always liked. Have a quick scroll on Pinterest looking for ‘scaffold furniture’ and you’ll see a wide array of amazing and unique designs of wardrobes, sofa’s, tables, and much more
And why not pin some pictures of our motorhome sofa bed to your vanspiration board? 🙂
Scaffolding tubes can be connected using clamps that come in various materials. Aluminum scaffold clamps would have been best to keep the weight down, but they were incredibly expensive (about 5 times as much as standard ones!). To keep the costs down, we opted for steel brackets instead.
Building furniture out of scaffolding tubes is incredibly easy. Once the tubes are cut to the perfect length, every item can easily be connected by hand using scaffold clamps.
All you need to tighten the structure, is an allen key! Sure, some extra screws and bolts are necessary to fix the structure to the floor and to install wood of any kind (to create a slatted base or a table top, for example), but all in all, it’s really simple!
Building the sofa bed frame
Our sofa bed frame consists of three main parts.
Part one is the main structure that covers the dog crate. Since the dog crate is positioned next to a wheel arch, this part of the bed frame is approximately 90 cm (3 ft) wide.
It is a rectangle that’s supported by five legs. Two of these legs are taller, and protrude above the slatted base level to hold another horizontal beam. The rectangle has another additional horizontal beam at approximately 20 cm from the right side. These two beams hold part three – the back rest.
Part two is a very simple structure. It is positioned at the opposite side of the van, next to the wardrobe. It solely includes a horizontal beam which is supported with two legs.
Together with part one, this structure supports the back rest whenever our sofa bed is used to sleep on!
Part three forms the back rest. It is a rectangle with four hooks in the corners. These clamp hooks grab onto the horizontal beams of part one and part two.
It can be positioned to form the backrest of our sofa. When we transform the sofa into a bed, this backrest is moved over to be hung in part one and part two. It then covers the area on which we rest our feet if we’re seated on the sofa, and forms a bed of 118 cm in width!
All of these structures are held together with an array of scaffold clamps, which each have their own function. It took Jordy quite some time to figure out which clamps we needed exactly, but everything worked out just perfectly.
Are you interested in knowing the approximate length of scaffolding tubes and the exact clamps we used for each structure to build our sofa bed? Scroll down to the bottom of this post to find our shopping list. Perhaps it helps you out when designing a bed in your RV!
Installing the slatted base
Along the horizontal beams in part one (the main frame) and part three (the back rest), we installed clamps that would hold the slatted base. These clamps are called single- and double lugged mounting brackets.
The clamps go around a scaffolding tube and have either one or two ledges with a hole in the middle.
The mounting brackets were fixed in place on the scaffolding tubes using an allen key. We then attached two beams within each rectangle, so six in total, and used thick bolts to attach them to the clamps.
Each rectangle was then covered in slats, which were screwed into the beams, to create our slatted base.
You can add as many or as little slats as you like, of any width and thickness. The slats we used were kindly given to us by a friend, and they are 70 mm (2.5 inch) wide and 12 mm (.5 inch) thick.
As can be seen in the picture below, a downside of this slatted base is the fact that they cannot run across the entire length of the bed. To allow an easy attachment and detachment of part three – the backrest – we had to leave enough space for the hooks to move through.
Luckily, our mattresses are sturdy and thick and we haven’t had any issues with these unsupported areas just yet!
Custom made mattresses
A comfortable bed is incredibly important. In an RV, this can be a bit more difficult, especially if the bed and sofa in your motorhome are used on a daily basis.
We compared a number of companies that create custom mattresses to see what they had to offer. We contacted one of them to see whether, in addition to creating mattresses that fit our sofa bed perfectly, they’d also be able to cover our sofa mattresses in a durable fabric. This extra layer of fabric allows us to use these mattresses as our sofa cushions as well.
A week later, our mattresses arrived. Since our bed is 118×192 cm, we ordered an additional 3 cm topping mattress in that size, which unites our two mattresses into one.
We have two sofa pillows, the seat is 65 cm in width, and the backrest is 53.
To finish off the sofa area, we added a versatile Lagun table leg topped with a spruce tabletop. We can easily remove the table if we go to sleep, but can simply put it back in place whenever we have to do some work!
Since it can be difficult to determine the tube length necessary in your build, we’d like to share the materials we ordered to build our sofa bed. Note that some of these tubes were shortened in order to adjust the length and width of the bed frame to fit our van.
Tip: Each bracket differs in length and in some brackets, the scaffolding tube can be inserted further than others. We’d hence advice to order tubes that are a tad too long and shorten them as needed.
4x horizontal tube lengthwise (185 cm)
2x horizontal tube widthwise (85 cm)
3x vertical tube regular (80 cm)
2x vertical tube extra tall (120 cm)
2x 90 degree elbow
2x 3 way elbow
2x 3 way through
2x short tee
5x wall plate
12x single lugged mounting bracket
6x double lugged mounting bracket
1x horizontal tube lengthwise (185 cm)
2x vertical tube regular (80 cm)
2x 90 degree elbow
2x wall plate
2x horizontal tube lengthwise (180 cm)
2x horizontal tube widthwise (35 cm)
4x short tee
4x clamp on tee
12x single lugged mounting bracket
Did you like this blog post and want to read more? Click here to go to our main camper van conversion page! Here, you can find a neatly organized list of all blog posts related to our van conversion project.