What kind of mattress to use and where to put your bed are serious topics of discussion in van building circles! Partly because a good nights sleep is so important, and partly because the bed is generally the largest thing inside a van (by volume).
While I am about average height for a woman (5’ 5”) I am the shortest person in my family. This has finally become a boon! It means I can sleep comfortably across the back of the van. I have several requirements for my bed. When I was still in the planning stages before I even had a van, and I was analyzing how I live in an apartment, I realized that while I of course sleep in bed, I also prefer to read, watch Netflix, dink around on my laptop and play my PS4 curled up in bed. I spend at least as much time sitting in bed doing things as I do sleeping. My van bed needed to allow for this reality. I also decided early on that I didn’t want to have to pull out/pull down (Murphy bed style), or otherwise “make up” my bed every time I use it. So the bed was going to be “always out”, fixed if you will, just like in a normal apartment/house. That means that I need to maximize the storage underneath, while not making it so high off the floor that I can’t sit straight up in bed.
I have never seen anyone else put in a bed like mine so I will detail the process as best I can. I came up with this idea partially based on some things I helped my youngest brother build when I worked for him building pipe organs, thanks for that B!
Here are the bones of it:
I decided to put the bed over the wheel wells. While many people box in the wheel wells I needed more height than that for storage, and while I could have made the “box” high enough I felt that was a waste of space. I also didn’t want a support in the center of the bed interfering with the under bed storage, but with heavy use, particularly in the center, sagging was a real concern. One end of the battery restraint system that’s under the bed does come up almost to the bed rails and if the rails sagged much they would rest on that, if it came to that. I ended up using these squared steel tubes that I bought at True Value Hardware. Lowes and Home Depot have aluminum ones in 72'“ lengths but the steel ones they only carried in 48” lengths, though they did offer to order them for me. Aluminum flexed to much for my needs, so I got the steel. They come bare metal, I eventually painted mine black to avoid possible problems with rust due to condensation in the van.
First I made the sides (or head and foot depending on how you think about it) which are screwed to the walls of the van as well as having corner braces which bolt thru the floor of the van:
Here is how I made the cutouts for the steel rails using my jigsaw and a chisel:
I cut the steel rails to 69” with a hacksaw, tedious but not actually very difficult. I put some pieces of felt on the bottom of the notches and against the van walls so the steel tubes won’t rattle when driving. This made the frame without having to have a center support.
The actual platform is 3/4 inch maple, I drilled some 1/2 inch holes for ventilation (again in case of condensation). Originally the platform was one solid piece, but once cabinets started going in I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get that piece out once all the cabinets were in so I cut it half so that if I need to remove it I can. The platform(s) is screwed into the 2x4 ends, I put more felt on the rails so that if the cut center bounced while driving it wouldn’t make noise.
I bought my “mattress” from FoamCenter.com, I bought 2 “camper” size mattress’ one 5 inch thick “Best Firm Quality” and one 4 inch thick “Best Medium Firm Quality” in order to get the density that is comfortable for me. They have a wide range of sizes/densities to choose from. No standard sheets fit this bed so I use a Full size flat sheet and tuck it in all around, it’s a bit of pain to change the sheet, but I only have to do it every few weeks.
With the addition of some pillows and handwoven blankets (thanks Mom!) my bed is very comfortable for sleeping and all around lounging!