As the van was being built out, we had a hard deadline to finish by our next trip to Bishop. We pushed the trip back by one day due to snow in the passes on the way there. Given this extra day, we worked feverishly to put the finishing touches on. This included screwing on the last latches and door pulls, finishing the slipcovers for the foam mattress, and cleaning up. At around midnight before we left, McKinley snipped the last stitches of the slipcover, and we were "done".
During this first trip we had a house (van-house anyway), but we did not yet have a home. While perfectly functional, it felt like we were missing a few things here and there. A weeklong trip to climb in the desert was a great test what else is needed to make the van more comfy and figure out what worked and didn't work.
Right away, we noticed a lack of space to hang things like keys, rags, hand towels. It's amazing the difference having a hook to makes in terms of organization. I used a combination of 3M command hooks and hardware that matched the latches and pulls. I also put a mirror in the door of one of the cabinets to aid in the insertion of contact lenses into my eye.
We also noticed how the fan does not really work unless there is airflow. This meant having to roll down one of the front windows or cracking open the sliding door. We ended up upgrading to a T-slider window, courtesy of Motion Windows in Vancouver, WA. (Windows, $325)
Privacy/blocking out the sun while we sleep/keeping the van cool during the day is also a concern. For each of the windows (in the cab, slider door, and rear windows), we made some covers with Reflectix. A little double sided locking tape to secure it to the walls (we also have used some magnets to some success), and we can sleep it during even the sunniest of days. We also put up some light blocking curtains between the cab and the rest of the van.
Two other game-changing creature comforts were the ARB retractable awning and the swivel seat base for the passenger seat. On a hot sunny day, the awning is great to block out sun and allow you to sit in the shade with frying to a crisp. The mounting of the awning was a little tricky, but i was able to find some suitable mounting brackets and was able to attach it to the rain gutter. After many thousand miles, it hasn’t flown off yet! It deploys manually, which can be done by one (but much easier with two!) people. The swivel chair adds an additional place to sit, and makes great “work-from-van” seat. Installing it is really a bolt-on affair, and was pretty simple.
There was also a lack of foliage. We thought having a few plants would make it feel more homey and keep the air fresh while we travelled. The challenge is finding a way to keep plants, but not have them fly around or swing when we are driving down a bumpy dirt road. This kind of rules out some hanging pots. I found an interesting design on Pinterest, which used a hole saw to cut a "cup-holder" for a flower pot. This holds the pot in place as we take turns. I found some thin walnut boards by the pound at Goby walnut. I cut some holes, sanded smooth, grain-filled, and finished with tung oil and paste wax. Quite nice. ($1.00 x 3 pots at Ikea, $6 walnut board, plants).
Next, we got some magnetic strips from Ikea. These are used for holding knives. We got them to both hold knives and other metal objects, as well as a holder for some air plants. The holders were made from magnetic spice containers. I spray painted the inside of the container a glossy white. I used a Dremel and cut the plastic lid in half, then glued the remaining half lid to the container. The bottom half was then filled with pebble rocks and sand. And now we have a home for a couple air plants! (Grundtal Containers, 7.99. Magnetic Strips, 14.99 x 2). And no; no knives have flown off of the magnetic strip so far. It’s actually right behind the driver’s seat, so it was a real concern. But so far so good!
McKinley does some amazing needle work. As mentioned at the start of this post, she made the slipcovers for our foam pad out of some upholstery fabric (from JoAnn's), and includes a zipper for removal and cleaning. This was especially challenging due to the "wedge" shaped foam we chose, so neither of us fell into the crack while we slept. She also found some burlap coffee bags from Scrap in PDX, added some lace and backing and made this beautiful window coverings. As wall art (and my Christmas present) she embroidered this cute little design in some scrap fabric. It reads "Home Sweet Van".
Add a cute mini set of prayer flags, and this van is really ready for adventure and long-term living!