When it comes to camper van conversion and DIY van builds, one of the main questions people have (besides “Do I need a shower?”) is how to make the most of their van kitchen space. Kitchens in campervans are a tricky beast: you need everything to be as secure and spill-proof as possible while also being easily accessible (and easy to clean!)
In this article, I’ll talk about what goes into a good, functional kitchen layout for a DIY campervan build, and lay out some of what I think are the best, most useful ideas for utilizing the kitchen area in a campervan layout.
What You Need in a Campervan Kitchen
If you’re starting to think about your own campervan kitchen setup, you probably already have some ideas about what you want. But if you’ve never actually lived in a van before, it can be difficult to know what van life kitchen ideas are actually useful and which ones just look nice on Instagram.
So let’s talk about what you really need in a campervan kitchen setup. The key features can be broken down as follows:
- Plenty of countertop space
- A minimal amount of “setup” or take-down time
- Reasonably priced materials and kitchen appliances
- Extremely secure storage space
- Easy access to clean/gray water tanks and propane tank
- Easy to clean (no nooks or crannies for crumbs to fall into)
- 12-volt appliances like fridges and stoves
As long as you keep these points in mind while designing and building your kitchen, you can’t go wrong. Let’s take a look at some kitchen design ideas that hit all these points.
Back Door Slide-Out Kitchen
The back door slide-out kitchen is probably the most popular and easiest-to-use kitchen set up for people who live full-time in warm climates. The pull-out tucks easily into the back of the van (usually folding into the floor) when not in use, and slides out with minimal effort when it’s time to cook.
The only tricky part about this van kitchen idea is rigging up plumbing for the sink, as pipes will need to be able to move and slide without kinking, breaking, or coming loose. The drawback to this design is that it requires you to be outside your van to cook, so if you spend a lot of time in the snow, it’s probably not the right option for you.
Hanging Spice Rack
Hanging stuff in your van life kitchen is a no-brainer. It saves floor, drawer, and counter space, and keeps stuff from molding or getting damp or rusty. Plus, it gives the kitchen a homey, decorated feel.
A hanging spice rack is a simple way to get stuff up off counters and out of drawers and onto an easy-to-access shelf. Other things you might consider hanging in your small van life kitchen are pots and pans, mugs, and fruit baskets or hammocks.
Side Door Slide-Out Kitchen
After the back door slide-out kitchen, the sliding door slide-out is another popular option for van lifers in warm climates. Depending on your van setup and the size of your back and side doors, either the side door or back door option might make more sense for you.
Just make sure, if you go this route, that you’re not blocking your van’s main access point with any kitchen appliances. The side of the van is usually where people get in and out, so putting an induction cooktop or counter with a stainless steel sink.
Wrap-Around Kitchen Counter
Is there such a thing as too much kitchen countertop space? Lots of countertop space is especially important for avid chefs and foodies who may need to chop, slice, dice, and cook all sorts of delicious food items. The extra tabletop space can also be used as a work space, arts and crafts area, or even an extra spot to sit.
The biggest drawback of a big kitchen countertop in a van is the space it takes away from other areas–ie your “bedroom” or bathroom areas. But, that’s why you have the great outdoors, right?
Protruding Side Kitchen
While you don’t want to completely block your van’s main side door with a kitchen setup, you might be able to get away with partially blocking it if affords you a little more precious counter space.
A counter that protrudes partially into the side door can be an effective use of space if done correctly and can open up enough extra counter space for a cutting board or food prep area. Again, just make sure there’s still enough space to climb in and out of the van, especially in case of an emergency.
Kitchen with Oven
To oven or not to oven? That is the question when it comes to DIY van conversion. Many minimalist camper van kitchens don’t include a full oven, opting instead for a small propane stove or camping stove that sits on a countertop.
But van life is all about living the life you want, so if you’re a baker or you just want to be able to cook some recipes that require an oven from time to time, I say go for it! There are plenty of small 12-volt ovens out there, plus toaster ovens and solar ovens that work really well and take up very little space.
When most people think of where they want the kitchen in their campervan, they usually think of having a counter in the back of the van, or along one side of the van. These are both great options, but a lesser-known option, that works just as well, is the kitchen split.
This layout puts the kitchen smack across the middle of the van, separating the front half of the van from the back. This allows you to put your bed in the back and have a living and eating area in the front, with the kitchen in between.
Kitchen with Induction Stovetop
A stovetop is one of those kitchen essentials that even van lifers can’t go without, but some van lifers have concerns about burning propane inside their vans. Depending on the electrical setup in your campervan build, an induction stovetop can be a nice alternative to a propane burner stove.
An induction stovetop is more energy efficient than a regular electric stove. Just be sure, if going this route, that your batteries can handle powering an electric cooktop. You will need a very solid solar array if you plan to spend a lot of time off-grid.
Small Kitchen with Single Burner Stovetop
For those not concerned by the risks of burning propane in the van (the risk is low, by the way) then a simple single burner stove is a great alternative to electric. Propane is cheap to buy and easy to store.
A single burner gives you just enough space to make simple meals without taking up valuable countertop space. However, if you’re living in the van full-time, you might find that a single burner isn’t enough for daily meals. I think two is enough, and three is an ideal setup.
Lifting Tabletop Kitchen
Tables with tops that lift! Is there any greater invention for van life? I don’t think so. Anywhere you have a table in your van, you should have a lifting table top. It’s easy to build and exponentially increases your available storage space while taking up zero additional space.
Other nifty storage ideas and hacks for your van life kitchen are creating storage spaces in the floor, adding hanging cupboards near the ceiling, putting in bench seats with storage compartments in the back, or using the available space under front seats.
Which Van Kitchen Idea Suits You?
When it comes to the best campervan kitchen ideas, the key things to remember are to give yourself plenty of counter space, make things easy to reach and clean, use collapsible, sliding, or folding designs wherever possible, and secure everything as best you can.
Figuring out the kitchen layout for your van can be one of the most fun parts of DIY campervan design. Don’t let it stress you out! Enjoy the process and use it as an opportunity to design the kitchen of your dreams.
Ready to design and pick out your campervan bed? Check out my roundup of top van mattresses and bed designs.