Atsushi Takahashi's vibrant van inspired by an old café. (Image credit: Atsushi Takahashi)

Van life has captivated adventure-seekers in recent years, fuelling the rise of these mobile homes. Yet, to fully embrace this lifestyle, careful consideration of interior design and functionality is essential.

We explore the intricacies of crafting the ideal interior for a travel van, blending comfort and functionality to create a personalized home on wheels.

Finding the right interior concept

Selecting a design concept for van interiors requires delving beneath the surface.

Start by contemplating the overall theme or vibe you wish to create within your travel van. Whether it’s a cosy rustic retreat, a sleek and modern space, or a bohemian-inspired oasis, the design concept should mirror the owner’s personality.

When asked about seeking van design inspiration, Emily Arnold, founder of Vanlife Conversions Ltd, says, “Our strategy is to make the vans resemble homes rather than caravans. Therefore, much of our inspiration stems from the residential realm, drawing from high-end homes and utilizing domestic materials such as tiles and wood finishes. We strive to achieve beauty by infusing personal touches and using raw materials.”

Emily Arnold, founder of Vanlife Conversions Ltd.

This design concept should reflect one’s lifestyle and resonate with an individual’s sense of style.

Atsushi Takahashi, a freelance editorial director and photographer for travel media in Japan, finds inspiration for his van design ideas through his past editorial work.

He says, “I had been the editor-in-chief of a coffee magazine for the past nine years, and I’ve seen so many wonderful old cafes that have been renovated into modern styles. So, I thought about decorating my van that way too.”

Atsushi Takahashi, a freelance editorial director and photographer for travel media in Japan.

Eco-friendly interiors

Creating sustainable van interiors involves prioritising eco-friendly materials, energy-efficient systems, and responsible practices to minimize environmental impact.

Opting for low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and finishes can improve indoor air quality.

Solar panels can be utilized to harness clean, renewable energy for powering electronic devices and appliances.

White screen for movies can also be used as studio backdrop paper for in-car filming. (Image credit: Atsushi Takahashi)

Implementing water-saving fixtures and systems, such as low-flow faucets and composting toilets, helps conserve water resources.

Arnold says, “Our vans are off-grid with solar panels, and we also install ECO composting toilets in most of them. If you really want to be off-grid and have a chemical toilet, people don’t really like it because it uses chemicals and ties you to campsites. By using composting toilets, everything essentially turns into dust, making disposal easier and safer, even in natural environments.”

Opt for storage racks, hooks, and organizers to keep belongings neatly. (Image credits: Atsushi Takahashi)

Multi-functional spaces

Van designers must make the most of every available inch by incorporating overhead cabinets, under-bed storage, and built-in drawers.

One can opt for storage racks, hooks, and organizers to keep belongings neatly stowed away and easily accessible.

Arnold says, “Our vans have a relatively small shower room, as it’s typically used for only about 10 minutes a day. It occupies a significant portion of the van space, which we felt wasn’t the most efficient use of space. Therefore, we decided to make that area a removable toilet cover. This allows for dual functionality, utilizing the same floor space for two different purposes.”

Takahashi adds, “Try to make everything serve two or more functions so that it doesn’t just become a mere decoration. For instance, the white screen for movies can also double as studio backdrop paper for in-car filming. The bed board can be transformed into a sofa when not in use, and the table can be positioned in five or more different locations.”

Make the most of every available inch by incorporating overhead cabinets, under-bed storage, and built-in drawers. (Image credits: Atsushi Takahashi).

Technology

Integrating smart devices for lighting, temperature control, and entertainment enhances convenience and comfort on the road.

Enhance connectivity with Wi-Fi routers and charging stations, ensuring you stay connected no matter where your adventures take you.

“I believe what made the mobile office possible was the latest technology available today: a pocket Wi-Fi router and a 1000W mobile battery. With ample electricity and Wi-Fi, you can work on your laptop in your car for long periods,” says Takahashi.

Atsushi’s van has a special place where he can brew coffee. (Image credits: Atsushi Takahashi)

In areas with limited to no network and broadband amenities, good bandwidth can be achieved through solar panel installation.

Arnold adds, “All of the vans we work on run off solar, equipped with solar panels on the roof and lithium leisure batteries. These batteries store the power generated during the day and then power lights, fridges, sockets for laptops, and other electronic devices.

“They can even power high-end coffee machines, hot plates, air conditioning units, and more. Users can monitor different aspects of the van on their phone as well, tracking battery capacity and energy generation throughout the day.”

Van designs should include a corner that reflects your personality and adds warmth. (Image credits: Atsushi Takahashi)

Think about safety

While the allure of van life lies in its sense of freedom and spontaneity, it’s essential to prioritise safety and security on the road.

Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to safeguard against potential hazards.

Implement secure locking mechanisms for doors and windows to deter intruders and protect your belongings.

Plan emergency exits and stock up on first aid provisions to ensure you’re prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.

Implement secure locking mechanisms for doors and windows to deter intruders and protect your belongings. (Image credits: Atsushi Takahashi)

The personal touch

Just like homes, van designs should include a corner that reflects your personality and adds warmth.

Arnold discusses a memorable project called Iona where they incorporated numerous personal touches, “It was a long-wheel-based craft conversion, and what made it unique was the roof deck we added on top, complete with lounge seating. This allowed you to sit on the roof and enjoy the view, which was quite cool.”

One can also integrate their work into the van interior to add a personal touch.

“As a former editor-in-chief of a café magazine, it’s also important for the van to be a place where I can brew coffee,” says Takahashi, “The old Italian SMEV enamel sink along with it is also stylish, and I like it.”