Having worked for a themed entertainment design firm for six years, I feel like there is only one right way to design and build an environment. Not that other ways won’t work, they just won’t work for me.
Every project begins with a concept stage, where all the possibilities are explored, no idea is too crazy, and inspiration is the driving force behind any forward movement. This is when you spend hours and hours on the internet, searching for visual reference photos, and researching anything and everything related to your project. You try to consider all of the options under the sun, taking note of anything clever, innovative, or problem-solving. After a while, a few key ideas seem to sound better than the rest and the project as a whole begins to take shape.
The design detail stage is fairly self-explanatory. This is when you figure out the details of the design. You develop spreadsheet after spreadsheet detailing costs, who is going to install what, where, and how long it will take. You get try to nail down a layout, and figure out electrical systems. You get info on lead times, and develop a schedule.
Finally, production begins. This is when you actually build your project. While getting your hands dirty is often the most fun part of the project, you quickly find out if you overlooked anything. If you did, headaches become common, and inspiration turns into frustration. You keep a sharp eye on costs and schedule, and hope that everything goes as planned.
What stage am I in? After attending the RV Show and Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, spending quite a large amount of time on the internet, and talking with a handful of long-term van dwellers, I feel pretty confident that I’ve adequately covered the concept stage. A few golden ideas are starting to stand out, and I think the next big thing to do is actually purchase a vehicle. Once the vehicle is purchased I can take real world measurements and develop and more detailed layout. While prep work is being done (installing a high top and insulation) I can turn my focus to the design detail stage, and gradually get my hands dirty as the details start to solidify.
A lovely lunch with some good friends did inspire some new ideas:
- How about a greasel conversion?
- How about building an entire living space on a slide-out frame so the entire unit can be moved from one vehicle to another?
- How about building with aluminum?
And some new concerns:
- Weight of building materials
- Humidity and temperature affecting building materials
- Designing space into the layout for cove lighting, and a place for a lighting controller
I’ve learned a few things in the past week or so. It’s very important to take your time designing a van as a living space. Clever ideas can sometimes be inspired from seemingly mundane environments and experiences. It can be very fruitful to share your vision with others, particularly those who are of a creative mindset. It is not so helpful to share plans with naysayers who hell bent on bursting your bubble.
I don’t think most people put as much thought into theirs conversions as I have, and that’s okay. I don’t think most van dwellers are insistent upon “good design” like I am. Different strokes for different folks. I enjoy sitting around and thinking about things, wheels turning (spinning out of control) in my head. The boyfriend often looks at me and asks, “What are you thinking about?” More often than not, the answer is something like, “designing a height adjustable table that flips out from the wall,” or “figuring out how to build a box from the inside for the high top liner.” (I’ve figured both of those out. Will share at a later date.) In fact, I’m having so much fun thinking about and solving all these problems that I’m a little scared that once it’s all built, I’ll lose interest in the whole adventure. But you know what? That would be okay too. It’s all part of the process.