Van Conversion Bed

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Pros and Cons of Fixed vs. Convertible Bed

There are two thoroughly divided camps for a van conversion bed: fixed bed vs. convertible bed. There are plenty of pros and cons to both. For a fixed bed, your bed is always made and you can jump right into it. A fixed bed also offers tons of storage below, you can build a pretty epic garage underneath! When your bed is fixed, however, it takes up the footprint of your living space. A convertible bed maximizes the amount of living space you have during the day. Convertible beds also make your space feel more open. The downsides to a convertible bed are less storage space and you have to make your bed every day and night. As owners of a low roof van, we wanted our van to feel as spacious as possible. For our van build, the convertible bed was a no brainer.

GIF of convertible bed being made in a campervan
Our bed is so easy it practically makes itself!

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Our Convertible Bed System

We wanted a simple system that could be made by one person since we would be making our bed every morning and night. We also wanted a clean and elegant look which meant we didn’t want legs on the sliding section. Our bed slides on two separate sets of slats that lock into a French cleat on the opposite side of the van.

By having the bed slide on two separate sets of slats, one person is able to easily make the bed without the slats binding. By utilizing the French cleat, we eliminated the need for legs and created a super stable platform. We are able to slide each slat out, then flip down the back of the couch to convert it into bed mode. We have a fitted sheet that we stretch over the bed. The entire process takes only a minute or two. The whole bed is on a piano hinge which allows us to lift up the slats and access storage below. We house our battery system, tools, and any seasonal clothes/blankets under the bed.

The slats to the bed lock into a French Cleat on the opposite side of the van
Under Bed storage
Table in Van Conversion
Desk/Kitchen Table Across from our Couch

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What the Heck is a French Cleat?

Many people when they see our bed say they would be terrified that the bed would slip off the ledge. Once you understand how a French Cleat works, you’ll know why we have had countless restful nights without a fear of falling to the floor. The French Cleat is a popular method woodworkers use to hang heavy cabinetry on walls. It is a proven design that can be trusted.

On the cabinetry side of our van, there is a strip of wood that has a 45 degree angle on the top of it. The face of the sliding slats have a matching 45 degree angle on the bottom that “locks” into the cabinetry side. The diagram below illustrates this concept. When you pull the slats to match the cabinetry side, there is no way for the bed to slip off when it is properly engaged. In fact, the more weight that is on the bed, the more engaged the French Cleat becomes. We feel this was an elegant solution to eliminate the need for legs.

Diagram of a French Cleat
Diagram of a French Cleat

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Our Mattress

We made our mattress from 3 inch high density foam and 2 inch memory foam. This combination is great because it doesn’t make the bed too soft. We looked into 5 inch memory foam mattresses however we read horror stories of removing the mattress cover and having fiberglass shards go everywhere. Many mattress covers have fiberglass as a flame retardant , these are not meant to be removed. We needed a mattress that we could cut into sections and having fiberglass shards everywhere was not an option. Our solution was high density foam with a 2 inch memory foam topper that did not have a cover. We sewed mattress covers out of synthetic linen that are removable and washable.    

Custom Campervan Interior
Our van in bed mode
Convertible bed system in campervan
Slats of bed locked into French Cleat without mattress

After living in the van for a while, we are still very pleased with our convertible bed. Making the bed every morning and night really is not that big of a task. When the bed is in couch mode, we are able to pull out our table to use as a dining table or desk. We enjoy having two modes of the van to delineate our day. When we put the bed in couch mode and the coffee is flowing, that signifies the start of our day. When we convert things to bed mode, that means it’s time to kick back, relax, and get some rest. Are you a fixed bed or convertible bed fan? Let us know in the comments below. If you want to know more about our van build, check out this post. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post!

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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Betty

    We don’t have a van, rather a travel trailer. However, we do have a murphy bed, and we love it. It has all the positives of your convertible bed. It only takes a moment to put it down or back up. Happy travels to you!

    1. Yes! Being able to maximize that space during the day is so awesome and it sounds like your system is as easy as ours. Happy travels to you too!

  2. Debbie

    This is awesome! I wondered how comfortable it was. However, I think you got the right one for you guys. Your van is pretty cool. I love reading your posts. Continue to have fun on the journey but, stay safe and healthy.

    1. Thank you! It is definitely super comfortable for us. We are having a blast and staying safe out here!

  3. Kevin

    I absolutely adore your van. It’s exactly what I want. The cabinetry even has beautiful inlays. You have serious skills. And you’ve totally sold me on the convertible bed. Having that pull out desk/table would make it 10x as livable for me. Like I could work out of the van if it had internet.

    1. Those are such kind words, you made our day! The convertible bed is the best, gives you so many options and makes it feel so spacious. You for sure could work out of it! Let us know if you have any questions if you’re in the van build process!

  4. Brook

    You are amazing! This is so cool! Can you pull out your desk while your bed is made? I can just see myself having ‘breakfast in bed’ while enjoying the scenery.

    1. Thanks so much! Yes we can! We have had breakfast in bed 🙂 Also great for movies in bed at night!

  5. Shaq

    Really cool bed design, you have me thinking twice about my traditional bed plan!

  6. Glenn Jensen

    So many of the build designs have a high fixed platform in the back of the van. Not for me. I do not want to climb up into a bed. Love your French cleat system. I put French cleats in my workshop to hang all my tools. Works great. Besides my mama taught me to make my bed every morning so there ya go.

  7. Istuke

    I love your design! Do you have a way to fix your back cushion in place during the day so it doesn’t slip down? Or is that not a problem?

    1. Thanks so much! We do! We have marine snaps that have one side screwed into wood and tabs with the matching snap on our cushions. It has worked pretty well so far and keeps the cushions in place on bumpy curvy roads!

  8. David J Carter

    I love your van layout. My wife and I are in the process of converting a Chevy Express extended into a camper van. The sliding bed is the option we are going with. I will be using the French cleat you describe. I couldn’t determine the width of the bed when in bed mode or depth of the passenger side cabinets shown on the layout you posted. Could you please post those?
    Thank you for sharing your conversion ideas and experience. They have been very helpful.

  9. Brady

    Awesome! I have a 3500 Chevy express and searching articles for ideas. Much love! Brady from
    SV Delos

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