Are you wanting to DIY your own custom convertible sofa bed, but don't know where to start, or even what design to choose? I get it! There are so many different design options that it can feel overwhelming trying to find the best option for you.
If you have decided you definitely aren't wanting a stationary platform bed, here is everything you need to know for designing, building and installing your own convertible sofa bed.
One of the toughest design choices you will have to make in your DIY van conversion is exactly how you would like your bed to be built.
Are you going to build a platform bed? Great, so many people choose this option because the thought of needing to convert a bed everyday sounds grueling and tedious. I personally chose to build a platform bed after hearing so many complaints from van lifers about their decision to build a convertible bed.
I honestly regret it!
I wish I would have built a convertible bed instead of a fixed one.I crave a better work station, more room for guests, and a place to sit and eat meals. Plus, with the amount of dirt tracked into my bed every day by the wind and my giant dog— it’s already tons of work stripping my bed, and shaking the sheets and comforter out every day.
If you’re like me and wanting a convertible bed— here is your guide to finding and building the convertible bed of your dreams..
We will talk about building several different styles such as an:
It is incredibly important that your sleeping space is comfortable and allows for a good night's rest. So here are some fantastic ideas and plans to get the ball rolling on your DIY couch bed conversion.
Here are some helpful things to consider while choosing the right design for your space.
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing your design is how much space you can afford to sacrifice in your rig. If you are looking for an easy way to visualize your living area, you can always download software such as SketchUp to draw out your plans and visualize them.
Another great way to get a feel for your layout is by using painters tape on the floor to mark out your different sections. When I was building out my van, I knew that I would need enough space for my big dog to sprawl out on the floor at night. You may think that a couple of inches doesn’t matter, but they absolutely do.
Instead of guessing, I drew out the layout with perfect measurements and spent some time in there with my dog to get a feel for how the area would feel. This helped me realize that I would rather downsize a little more than squish us both in.
When you are building out a camper van costs add up super quick. A couple extra dollars here and there can easily turn into extra thousands overall. If you’re on a tight budget try perusing classified ads for extra lumbar, materials, and pieces you can recycle.
I was able to save a bunch of the wood that was already in my GMC Vandura conversion van when I bought it, and repurpose it for different projects around the van. Unfortunately after COVID, the price of lumbar spiked significantly.
Another fantastic place to look for materials is at Habitat for Humanity and ReStores. Essentially, these materials were purchased to build homes, and the extra building supplies are donated and resold for a discounted price. You won’t always find exactly what you need, but if you’re willing to be flexible, you can find some amazing high quality materials at a fraction of the cost.
Building things from scratch takes time. While building out my van I found myself constantly thinking a project would only take a couple hours, when in actuality it took a full days work.
When choosing your design, be sure you allow yourself much more time than you anticipate. This is especially true if you are newer to building things like I am.
If time is of the essence, you may want to consider a pre-made design or a partially built one. Again, classified ads could be your friend. There are always furniture items listed that you could potentially fix up and repurpose for your project to save you time and money on your camper conversion.
Getting a good night's rest is arguably the most important thing you can do to ensure you can stay on the road long term. Everything is harder in a camper van. You’re constantly finding places to sleep, fill up water, shower, and get work done.
When I moved into my van I was genuinely worried I would have a bunch of down time and be bored. This has not even remotely been the case!
Even designated relaxation days are tough and somehow busy. I am so grateful that I invested in a super comfortable bed from Mattress Insider for my build. They make custom mattresses in whatever shape and size you may need for your custom bed.
We did make an entire guide to finding the best mattress for your van conversion.
Here are 5 incredible designs you could try for your van.
This DIY sofa bed conversion is so gorgeous! For those van lifers who regret their convertible beds because it makes day time napping difficult— this is the ideal solution.
This conversion starts as a twin and pulls out into a queen size bed. The twin is a perfect “couch mode” because it can be used for napping, watching tv, working, etc. Plus, it provides decent storage under the bed.
The creator of this bed does state that the most difficult part of this conversion will be finding cushions that will fit, but he does provide several cushion options you can purchase online.
If you are looking for something more comfortable and long term solution— check out our guide to finding the best van mattress for your bed. You can custom order your own comfortable bed from multiple sites like Mattress Insider, and North American Mattress Corp.
If you are at all worried about losing storage because of your decision to have a convertible bed instead of a fixed bed— this piano hinge futon bed may be the perfect solution for you!
This bed operates on a piano hinge to draw the back wall portion of your mattress toward the ceiling to turn into a futon style bed. This style is amazing because of the use of a piano hinge. The piano hinge allows both ends of the mattress to come up to reveal storage, and create seating facing toward the inside or outside of the van.
The bed platform and frame are pretty standard and truthfully can be rearranged with a bit of ingenuity to customize your storage.
If this is the design you choose, you will most likely want to omit storage along the upper back walls to allow for head room while your bed is in couch mode. Also, this design is perfect for larger vans such as a Ford Transit, Dodge Promaster or Sprinter, because it requires a lot of headspace.
This design definitely doesn't save any floor space either, instead, it provides the same versatility as a standard futon style sofa.
The process of building this bed is quite intensive and may be tough for beginners to get the hang of, however, with the right tools it should be accessible for all.
The tools you will need are:
Be sure to check out Goat Man Mikes step by step instructions if this is the design you choose!
If you're looking for a ridiculously easy sofa bed conversion, you may want to look into purchasing one of the friheten sofa beds from Ikea. It starts as a couch and works by pulling the seat of the couch out and sliding the back down into a flat position.
The ikea mattresses on their couches are not very comfortable— I can vouch because I owned the L shaped version of this sofa. This sofa bed does have storage under which you could store a memory foam or pillow top mattress cover in.
If you’re a regular Ikea customer— the assembly process of this sofa is similar to any of the furniture assembly you’re used to from Ikea. It’ll take some elbow grease, but overall the process to assemble it should be much quicker than building a convertible bed yourself.
One downside to this option is the price. $700 for just a sofa bed with a pretty uncomfortable mattress is steep. However, if you’re not ready to build something from scratch, you can always sell your store bought furniture in the future and build something else.
The dimensions of the sofa bed are
Overall this option is great because of just how easy it is to set up, and because of the available storage space.
If you're really tight on square footage and wanting to save room, this design was specifically made for a tiny Honda CRV. This is a pullout L shaped bed design that is intended to create versatility in a small area.
I love this design because it still allows for plenty of storage under the mattress near the back doors, while still leaving room for a workstation and space to walk around while it's in sit mode.
This design works by extending the base of the seating area and can pull out to double the width of the bed platform. The back cushions can then be used to fill out the rest of the mattress area when it’s time to sleep.
This design is ideal for those who wish to have a place to sit, and want free up space on one side during the day.
The tools you will need to make this beautiful design are:
Overall, this is a great option if you’re living in an especially small van, so if you’d like to snag the exact details, here is the step by step guide to making your own small camper van bed.
If you’re looking for a breakfast nook, work station, and comfortable place to lay your head at night— this table bed design just may be perfect for you!
Essentially, this bed works by using a center table in the upright position during the day, and letting it drop down into the center portion of your bed design at night.
This design will require the loss of some square footage in the center of your design. So be sure you have enough storage elsewhere before deciding to choose this design.
The table in the center folds down easily when it's time to sleep, and easily folds back up when your done sleeping or if you need to access the storage underneath. Both sides of the bed frame open to help you access some of your less needed items.
The materials you will need are as follows:
This is a pretty popular design for some of the larger vans on the market because of its larger dimensions and the necessary sacrifice of space to make it come to life. I have personally been in vans with this design and it is truly so comfortable and versatile.
Having the right tools will dramatically improve your building experience over the course of your van build.
Some of the most important tools are:
Having a good saw to help cut straight lines and keep your edge work clean will be imperative. Different saws do different things, and truthfully— you may decide you need more than one.
I started my journey with just a jig saw and cut my entire subfloor with it. Truthfully, this was not the right tool for the job, but it did get the job done.
My jig saw was arguably the most versatile saw I used, but it is incredibly hard to get straight lines, and can be difficult to maneuver without proper supports and a designated bench.
The miter saw was ideal for all of my framing and flooring needs. Cutting my 1x2 framing boards would have been an utter nightmare with a different saw.
Lastly, the circular saw was perfect for cutting the roof in my ceiling for my vent fan, and mandatory for cutting the luan plywood walls.
If you are looking to only purchase one saw, I’d recommend a circular saw. Remember that it is always possible to rent tools from places like Lowes and Home Depot if you’re not quite ready to bite the bullet on new ones.
A drill (and or) an impact driver will be a staple in every single process of your van build— including your bed. A drill is fantastic for regular screws, and a driver will be important for getting screws in and out of any thick anchor point.
The old seat hardware in my van during the gutting process took me an embarrassing amount of days to try to remove. Between Blaster, WD40, and a giant breaker bar— nothing would make the rusted bolts budge. This was all until my friend loaned me his impact driver.
Do yourself a favor and buy at least two tape measures. Building a van is hard work, and I promise, you’re going to kick yourself when you realize you left your tape measurer by the saw and have to get up (for the hundredth time) to go retrieve it for a simple measurement.
Also, be sure to buy a good quality tape measurer like this one. We fought over this one and would race to the garage in the early mornings to call dibs on it.
For building something as important as your bed, you’re going to want to be absolutely sure it can hold your weight. A rivet press works by creating sturdy studs in the framework of your van that are meant to hold a ton of weight.
A rivet press is super simple to use (although will require some muscle). Having the peace of mind knowing my bed frame will hold much more than my weight in the contact point definitely helps me sleep better at night.
I used the rivet press to attach each of the edge pieces of my bed into the frame work of the van. Believe me— my bed is not going anywhere.
Buy pencils, buy so many pencils! There will be so many moments when you realize you left your pencil somewhere and have to get up and search for it. Purchase a big pack of high quality construction pencils and keep them everywhere!
Buy a high quality ratchet set before you start your van build. It will come in handy countless times! Plus, if there are ever any mechanical problems with your engine, you will most likely need them anyway.
If you’re a newbie to the world of building stuff like I was here is the low down on what you need to know about ratchets:
I can not tell you the amount of times I have messed up a cut because my tape measurer was crooked, or I somehow measured something an inch short. I found it incredibly helpful to take a step back and visually analyze my markings before making the cut. I am incredibly dyslexic, so this was imperative.
Building anything in your van including your bed is incredibly taxing. Bring a cushion to sit on while you’re working, wear comfortable clothes and always keep a water bottle nearby.
Everything is so much easier with a friend or a knowledgeable professional. Don’t be afraid to reach out for guidance! I had a friend who worked as an electrician that helped with my wiring, I had strong friends help with gutting, and I had a friend who built cabins let me use some of his tools and know how.
You may find during your building process that you just don’t like your layout, or the choices you made. If you plan on living in your rig full time, you’ll want to be sure you love every aspect of your home on wheels.