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Converting an Astro Mini-Van

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At a get-together of members of the yahoo group vandwellers, I built this bed/shelf unit for a member named Katie. It turned out so well, I am going to give you directions here on how to replicate it. This basic unit would work on nearly every van–you would simply change the lengths and heights to fit your van.


There are two parts of the unit. Directly behind the driver’s seat is a shelf unit that reaches all the way up to the ceiling. We spaced the shelves to fit the exact items she wanted to put in them. Behind the shelves is a bed that is 72 inches long and 26 inches wide. She liked everything about it, but after living with the bed for a while, she decided it needed to be wider. I personally think 30 inches is the minimum width for a bed. First, I built the bed the size she wanted, and then put that in the van and closed the door. When I was sure that the bed cleared all obstructions I measured the space between the bed and driver’s seat and built the shelves to fit there. If your van is longer, you will have bigger shelves. A possibility that didn’t work in the Astro, but would in a bigger van, was to build a second shelf unit at the foot of the bed and run a shelf between the two shelf units like an overhead cabinet.

I added plywood gussets to the legs that went against the wall. I didn’t add them to the in-and-out from under the bed. We measured the height of the tallest thing she wanted to put under there and made the legs that high, 19 inches so she could get the maximum amount under the bed. Making the bed couldn’t be any easier. Cut two 2X4’s to 72 inches long. Then cut 6 2X4’s that are 19 inches long for the legs. Using 3 inch screws, attach the legs to each end and in the middle. Cut and attach the gussets out of 3/8 plywood. Cut the 72 by 26 inch bed top out of 3/8 plywood. When we put the bed frame in the van we found that the wheel well wouldn’t allow the legs to go back flush against the wall, so the plywood overhangs the back legs by a few inches. Once I was sure how everything fit, I screwed down the bed top. All the plywood was attached with 1 5/8 inch screws.


The front legs are attached to the plywood shelf unit, so it is very strong. To add strength to the back legs, I cut out an upside-down U shaped gasket and screwed that into the end legs, making sure the drawers would fit under it, seen in the above picture. Notice that the bed is in the middle of the van and actually hanging out over the end of the van. Once the bed was finished, we pushed it out there and built the shelf unit right on the front end of the bed. That gave us room to work all around the shelf unit.  Once it was done, we slid it into its permanent home.


The following picture shows how I had to cut the sides of the shelf unit to fit the curve of the van’s roof. I measured the height of roof in the front, middle, and back wall of the shelf unit and cut to fit.


Katie didn’t want it to interfere with her ability to get into the back of the van from the front seats, so we sized it the width of the front seat. For strength, we used 5/8 plywood for the shelf unit. The shelves rest on strips of 5/8 plywood. Just like the legs of the bed,  Katie decided what she wanted to put on the shelves and we sized them to fit. Eventually she will get rid of the bottom shelf. Above it is a slide-out shelf her butane stove sits on (see picture below).  I made a mistake here and the bottom shelf support has to go all the way out to the end of the plywood to support the slide-out. Above the slide out sits Katie’s insulated water container which is tall so it is a high shelf. The shelves are 14 inches wide and 16 inches deep. Of course you will fit them to your van.


Katie wanted easy access to her butane stove, so we built this slide-out. If she had a propane stove the shelf would have needed to be taller to allow room for the arm that holds the green propane bottle. She reports she loves it and uses her stove more. In fact her whole life as a vandweller was revolutionized by the organization the unit provided. Before, she had to put things so she had to shuffle things around every morning and night. But now she is able to organize and put things away in their home.

In this shot you can see the finished unit. You can see it gives her a huge amount of storage space and organization. After she lived with the unit for a while, she discovered a problem. The bed was too high, she hit her head every time she got in and out of bed. So she rebuilt the bed to be both wider and lower. To keep things from sliding around on the shelves, she laid down red drawer liners on the shelves. For double security, just in case, she also placed bungie cords across the shelves to make sure that nothing will go flying. Stacking the Sterilite drawers under the bed was an especially good idea, giving her lots of organization.


This is really a very inexpensive bed. We bought one sheet of 3/8 plywood, one sheet of 5/8 plywood, a 1/2 pound of 3 inch screws, and 1/2 pound of 1 5/8 inch screws, and four 2X4s. I used my Ryobi cordless 18 volt power tools from Home Depot for this and many other projects. Very highly recommended!

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