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Van life: Unique camper van renovation ideas

With plenty of summer staycations on the cards this summer, and remote working making life more flexible, there’s no better time than now to tick travelling around the UK off your bucket list. And what better way to do it than in your very own camper van?

If you’ve been following the popular ‘van life’ trend on social media, you’ll notice one thing most van lifers have in common. They’ve all converted their vans into tiny mobile houses, using features that make life on wheels much more comfortable. Get on the road in no time using our top van renovation ideas, below.

1. Bespoke camper van storage to save space

Camper van with fixed bed and storage

One of the first things to do when you’re converting a van is to plan any permanent fixtures and fittings you’d like to have. If you’re planning to install a fixed sleeping area, consider building a platform bed. It’ll give you plenty of space underneath to set aside things you’d normally keep in the boot and equally, ample space to store those bits that you don’t want taking up space in your living area.

It’s best to build storage space, whether it’s under or overhead, as you’re building your foundation fittings in. This is so you’ll know how many things you’ll have space for at a minimum. You’ll thank yourself when you’re packing!

A talented carpenter can craft a bespoke structure to contain the fittings you want and need in your van.

2. Roof-mounted solar panels to be self-sufficient

Solar panels on camper van roof

Solar panels aren’t only sought-after for our homes. They’re also popular amongst owners of camper vans, caravans and motorhomes!

Most of these vehicles have a leisure battery (separate from a van battery) which powers 12V appliances such as lights, kettles and TVs inside the vehicle. Many campsites provide electric hook-ups which you can use to power these appliances; often at an extra cost to you. However, with solar panels, you can generate your own green power for free. Not only does this help you to be more energy efficient, but it’s also useful if you’re going off grid.

Get help with installing solar panels on your van from a vetted solar panel installation specialist.

3. A pop top elevating roof to create space

Caravan with elevating roof

At some point in your journey, cabin fever may set in. A great way to get some fresh air is to attach an elevating roof to your van. You can sleep alfresco in it during a warm night, or maybe a chillier one if you’re brave enough.

On the other hand, a roof deck is the perfect space for sunbathing like you would on a deck at home. Plus, it’ll take star gazing in the countryside to the next level.

A third option is to install a classic roof rack, where you can store big items, like bikes, away.

4. Separate areas to make the van seem bigger

Kitchen and bedroom area in camper van

Space is undeniably tight when your life is on wheels, but you can make your van feel bigger than it actually is by clearly dividing it into different areas. A half partition wall achieves this without taking up as much space as a full partition wall would. It also offers privacy from the other people you’re travelling with, which is a welcome feature for long road trips in particular.

Plus, you can use colour and texture to break up your van. Stick wipe clean splashback tiles in the kitchen for differentiation from other areas, as well as to bring aesthetic and functional value to the space. Another idea is to choose a colour scheme for each area and paint surfaces or place furnishings in that colour to create some separation.

If you have kids, attach a canopy over their bed to create a dark daytime napping area.

5. Innovative lighting to add functionality and décor

Person watching sunset from campervan

It’s important to have lights inside your van, for those gloomy days and evenings when sunlight through the windows just won’t cut it.

Wired van lighting

Recessed spotlights and light strips can be installed under cabinets, in walls and on surfaces to save space. Install wired lighting early on in the conversion, so you can hide the wires away.

To cut down on the amount of power you’re using in your camper van, install a dimmer switch to reduce the brightness of your lights. Dimmer switches help to add ambience whilst you’re eating dinner or watching a movie, too.

If you’re not comfortable wiring lighting yourself, hire a local electrician.

Non-permanent van lighting

Standalone solar powered lights, such as lanterns, add light and are a great decorative feature. Battery powered tea lights also bring aesthetic value and are a safer option than having real candles in such a small space.

Outdoor lighting

Van awning is a piece of material stretched on a frame, that’s fastened to your camper van. It creates a covered space where you can spend time outside and be protected from rain or the sun. Not only do awning lights allow you to spend longer evenings outdoors, but the motion activated models help with security and provide light if you’re leaving the van to use a campsite toilet at night.

The best camper van lighting

Use cool white light bulbs in functional areas, like the kitchen. In areas where you relax, such as the bedroom, use soft and warm lighting to add ambience. Whatever lighting option you choose, use LED light bulbs: they last longer and are more energy efficient.

6. Make your storage work harder

Man cooking in camper van kitchen

Many seasoned van lifers say that the sound of items banging around in cupboards and drawers whilst you’re driving gets annoying. Plus, it raises the risk of waking up a sleeping child onboard, which is less than ideal. Put items inside fabric pouches or cubes before storing them away to reduce unwanted noise. This’ll help with keeping everything organised, too.

In addition, attach a bungee cord going across the inside of your cupboards to keep bottles, small jars and other items upright.  

You can install non-permanent storage solutions to add even more space:

  • Attach self-adhesive hooks to hang up items that you need to grab quickly, such as coats or lanyards. You can also use these hooks to hang pictures, hanging baskets and other décor to make your camper van feel more homely.
  • Multiple bungee cords can also be attached across a surface, such as along part of a wall, to create shoe storage. This keeps them in easy reach and allows them to be aired out – often an essential step after a long walk!
  • Hang fabric door organisers on the driver and passenger side seats to store little things you need quick access to. The pockets are the perfect size for things like socks, a hairbrush and flip flops.

7. Multipurpose camper van furniture to free up floor space

Modern motorhome with storage

Minimalism is a way of life when it comes to van life. Reduce the number of items taking up floor space in your van by using dual-purpose furniture.

Multipurpose furniture for camper vans

  • Storage seats and benches. These are great for storing clothes out of sight.
  • Wall mounted fold down tables. A sturdy table is essential if you’re planning to work on a laptop whilst you’re on the road, but it’s equally as useful to create a sturdy surface to eat on. Plus, you can decorate the underside of the table with pictures of loved ones. These will be shown when the table’s folded up onto the wall. You can craft a fold down table yourself or buy a pre-made option.
  • A Murphy bed. It can be folded up during the day to create an open space that’s ideal for storing surfboards, kayaks and other equipment. Murphy beds are also popular amongst family or group van lifers, as you can fit multiple inside a van.
  • Shelves on a spring loaded hinger. These easily swing out to create extra surface space as and when you need it. They’re great if you need to boost the functionality of a small van kitchen area. Slide out shelves are a similar alternative.

Pinterest is a great resource for DIY tutorials on crafting furniture for van life.

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