Van Build | Kitchen

We won’t be able to share much practical knowledge with you on this subject, as our kitchen was built and installed by a professional cabinet maker.

We were running out of time, and rushing to finish something you’re not familiar with is never going to turn out good… Now the excuses are out of the way, here are the reasons behind our design. We at least came up with that ourselves!

As a start, we want to suggest designing your kitchen around your fridge. Let’s face it, you need to eat… and drink! Here are some options you will need to consider.

Candace cooking in van

Types Of Fridges

12V Compressor Fridge

First on the list, your 12V compressor fridges. Pretty self-explanatory really, they run straight from a 12VDC power source (your batteries). From which they’re able to run at full potential on uneven ground, have consistent cooling and most importantly, they are very efficient. However, as always there’s a catch, and in this case, it’s the price. A good quality compressor fridge will easily set you back over $1000. In our opinion, this is a no-brainer. It’s hard to look past the advantages of these fridges.

3-Way Absorption Fridges

Next on the list is the 3-way absorption fridge. Similar to the compressor fridge, they can run on 12VDC but have the ability to utilize a power source from gas or 240VAC (Australian residential standard) as well. We know what you’re thinking, why would you get a stand-alone compressor fridge when a fridge that can run off anything is available to you? Just be patient, sit back, and read.

Unlike the compressor type, these fridges are very inefficient running on 12VDC power. Not to mention, level ground is required for them to operate properly. Maybe not the best choice if you plan on free camping. Speaking from experience, finding level ground can be a challenging feat.

It’s not all negative. While running from 12VDC offers poor efficiency, they offer much better efficiency from a 240VAC supply or gas. So if you’re planning on spending your days at caravan parks, where the ground is level and 240VAC supply is on hand, this might be the style for you. Likewise, if you don’t intend on venturing anywhere too extreme, and level ground can be accomplished, gas may be the best option. Just remember, if gas is going to be your main source these fridges will need to be vented outside.

We think our opinion on these fridges is pretty clear. That being said, if you plan on mainly using gas and set these up correctly, it might be the type of fridge for you.


Last but not least, The esky. One option that is commonly overlooked. Yes, a fridge is better, but if you’re on a very tight budget, don’t forget to consider a good quality esky. Generally, they can keep food cool for up to a week and have the benefit of using no power. While restocking on ice may be inconvenient and food may get waterlogged, an esky could be used as a bridging period before you upgrade to a fridge when it suits.


What I mean by style is Chest or Upright.

It is said that a fully packed fridge is easier to keep cool rather than an empty one. This is true… take my word for it. Generally speaking, a chest fridge is more efficient for this reason. Stacking your items on top of each other will take up more of the air space, thus, filling your fridge to its entirety. Opening from the top can also assist the fridge in keeping cold, as cool air likes to chill at the bottom of things… see what we did there?!

Upon researching and reading blogs, we found most people go with the Chest style, and for good reason, they are great products. Although there was one thing we couldn’t agree with. People say chest fridges are easier to organize!? Yeah right… I grew up camping out of eskies. You pack them like it’s a game of Tetris. Want one damn thing and you have to unpack everything!

Let’s get a little off-topic. Have you ever bought a new tent? Nice and compact in its specifically designed bag, set it up and just marvel at your success? Then what happens? All of a sudden, it’s time to go home. Shouting, arguing, swearing! Trying to fold the stupid thing the correct way to fit back into its ‘specifically designed’ bag. Then finally you get it back in there, dreading the day you have to do it again!

See the point? Don’t know about you but we didn’t want to do that every time we felt like an apple.

To the people that still disagree, we will ask one question. Why don’t you have a chest fridge at home? Just a thought to consider…

When it comes to fitting, We don’t really see a benefit in one or the other. While an upright fridge may look a little nicer to us, others may disagree. We have seen some pretty awesome slide-out chest fridge designs!

In conclusion, our advice is to spend the money and get a quality fridge such as an Engel, Dometic, EvaKool or Bushman’s. As for the type, compressor all the way. We don’t recommend the 3-way fridge for two reasons:

  1. Poor efficiency on 12V systems.
  2. Must be level to operate correctly.

For the style, just think about the space and power requirements, as generally, you can fit more in a smaller-sized chest fridge (remember Tetris). Just don’t forget, you will be using this several times a day, every day!

Our Kitchen Layout

The first point of call was the bikes. As we have mentioned, the bikes had priority in this build due to security and we don’t regret that at all! Even if it meant giving up valuable kitchen space. To accommodate this, we placed the bikes in the car and measured the space left over so we could maximize what is to be the world’s smallest kitchen.

The second priority was the fridge. Like we said earlier, we designed the kitchen around our fridge. We decided on finding the biggest fridge that could practically fit… and we got it! The fridge of choice was a Bushman’s 130L fridge. A DC upright fridge (12VDC compressor fridge) that we can fit a weeks’ worth of groceries, a carton of beer, and most importantly, a few bottles of wine in. Pretty damn good for a campervan!

Once we had these items, all there was to do was draw a rough sketch with dimensions and pass it on to the company who completed it.

Kitchen design

The design fits in well and turned out awesome. Much better than if it was completed by yours truly!

kitchen from the rear of van

End Result

The drawers are a push to open style which we would not recommend in a van! A little scary driving along a windy road, then BANG! You think a tree has landed on you. Easily rectified by pins through the side of the drawer and baby-proof latching. Although, it took several weeks before our confidence was high at the rectification… You would be much better off sourcing some sort of latch system.

Installed in the van are two types of cupboards. First, the pantry doors. These doors open outward and are set up with hydraulic hinges. This has been a great design, as the hinges are more than capable of keeping the doors closed, even on the windiest of roads. Secondly, the sliding cupboards above the bed. They are locked with a pin and are a perfect size, big enough for storage, but still, allow us to sleep underneath.

One thing that was overlooked in the original design was the bench extending over the back wheels of our bikes. After putting up with this for 6 months, we finally decided it was time to extend the bench space. In the end, this was easily rectified by installing right-angled brackets and a piece of plywood.

Installing new bench space

Being trapped in our van for consecutive nights on recent adventures, we decided even more bench space was needed. We cut another piece of plywood to the same size as the original add-on and installed it using hinges. The hinges allow us to flip the table out of the way, to make lifting the bikes in and out easier. As an afterthought, chains were added to support the weight of the bench and these chains hook onto our ceiling.

If you take anything away from this, let it be – don’t undervalue bench space!

Equipment used:

  • Ply wood
  • Clear stain
  • Right angle brackets
  • Screws
  • Hinges
  • Curtain hooks
  • Chain
  • Clear stain

Tools used:

  • Drill
  • Paint brush

This list of equipment and tools is only for the extra benches installed.

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