By a Pragmatic Interior Designer.
A Guide to designing the perfect Kitchen for your Home on Wheels.
Disclosure: Everything shared in this blog is just my opinion, I can't guarantee the same solutions will work out for you! But I can guarantee that I will only ever link or recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are exclusively my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I might be lucky and earn a small commission from.”
When it comes to the design fundamentals of your campervan, the first question that needs answering is, will you live in your van full-time? If the answer is yes, you will likely have different design priorities as opposed to designing a van intended for short trips and holidays.
Adding in home comforts can take the experience of full-time van dwelling from Camping Life to Cosy Living. I am a self-confessed house cat at heart, so I had some interior necessities on my design list to ensure I could live that hygge life I love so much whilst on the road.
So, with that in mind, this blog focuses on the design process of creating the optimum kitchen set up for your rolling hygge home.
The “hub” of the home, the kitchen, and never to be underestimated. Eating is an essential daily task that usually comes hand in hand with cooking. So, when it comes to designing your camper kitchen, consider your cooking priorities:
Is baking a hobby of yours that you want to continue on the road?
Do you love to cook and centre your day around conjuring up complex dishes?
Is cooking just a life essential, but not a huge priority for you, in other words, you are happy to live off fruit and noodles.
These things will be at the centre of your design decisions.
Function is Queen
I am guessing you have already been scrolling through Pinterest ogling enticing inspiration for your design, which is a fabulous way to conjure up a vision of your future kitchen, but before you make any concrete design decisions, keep in mind that this is a small space and above all, it HAS to be functional. Function should be at the forefront of your mind when planning your small space kitchen. Function. Is. Queen.
Planning your Layout
You will want to know how much space in your tiny home you are going to allocate to your kitchen, and you will most likely be considering this in conjunction with the rest of your living functions (sleeping, working, eating, washing etc.) Once you have determined this, you can start to place your four key kitchen elements (see below).
Think about the activities you will carry out in this space, and the process of the activities. Consider your function triangle when planning the layout (if you aren't familiar with this, google it and you will find all you need to know!), it may seem a little OTT in a van, but in a small space, function, process and practicality is EVERYTHING.
The four things you will 100% need to plan into your camper kitchen layout are:
Sink & Tap
Place these elements first within your layout.
Diving into the Detail.
Okay, now you know the basics and have considered what your priorities are within your petite kitchen, lets dive into the detail, this is what is going to take your kitchen to the next level.
Solid Storage Solutions
Envisage what you are going to need to store before you plan your storage. Make a list of all the kitchen items you will need to house, yes, ALL of them. Then within your kitchen layout, allocate a storage space to every item so you know you have enough room for everything you need.
Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to storage compartments. Depending on what you plan to store in a space, sometimes bigger is less efficient and the storage space would be better divided or use of a smaller unit is more practical. This is why it’s great to know what you will store and where before you build.
The Water Works
Size matters. Here, you can go big. The bigger the sink, the better! Prioritise a large, deep sink, it's practical and you can store dirty dishes in it ready for when you eventually get around to doing the washing up, instead of them being left out cluttering your work surfaces.
Undermount vs Overmount? I personally, would suggest an undermount sink. It allows you to create a worktop insert to sit in the sink, which will give you additional work surface when not using the sink (and it hides those dirty dishes). They tend to take up less room and feel more modern.
Go for a pull-out tap – it’s not a gimmick, its worth it! It makes water reservation easier when washing up.
TIP: Is the sink next to your bed? If so, give it some breathing space by fitting in a 200mm unit between the bed and the sink unit, you don’t want soggy sheets from washing up! The unit is also great for storing chopping boards etc.
The Chef Spot
To oven or not to oven? How you cook and what you cook will determine this. If you love to bake, install an oven. If you only cook simple meals that can be done on a hob, an oven will be a waste of space, just go for a hob and save the space for storage.
If you do choose to install an oven, I recommend the Thetford Triplex Combi Oven, it means your hob and oven are one unit. We recessed ours so we could add a hinged worktop cover over the hob. This gives us additional worktop space when its not in use. If you choose this design, ensure you ALWAYS lift it up when using the oven, and install metal stripping to the worktop edges next to the hob.
TIP: Leave some work surface space next to your hob to rest pans on when you take them on/off the heat.
The cold Stuff
Don't scrimp on the fridge. If you end up with a rubbish fridge, you will forever regret it. Fridges use a lot of your electricity so you want one that is efficient as possible. We went with the Dometic CRX80.
TIP: If you have the space, avoid installing your fridge next to your oven/hob, the heat will mean your fridge has to work harder to keep cool, resulting in more energy use.
Don’t forget to plan in a generous space for your bins. The last thing you want is for your van to be overrun with rubbish when you are out in the wilderness and there are no communal bins around. This happens a lot! Bins come in all shapes and sizes so get creative, we have two under our sink: one for food waste and one for recyclables.
Bonus hidden storage
If you are installing your kitchen with plinths (units that sit on legs) put handles or cut-outs in the plinth so they can easily pull out. You can use this additional storage space for things you won’t need to access on a regular basis. Diving Fins fit great.
The materials you choose to design your kitchen are going to be detrimental to its longevity. You should prioritise your surfaces being easy to keep clean, hardwearing, and lightweight. Try to keep your colour/materials palette to no more than 4 finishes for a crisp overall style.
Choosing a natural wood such a plywood, combined with a hard-wearing finishing oil is a great solution for unit doors, if they get damaged, you can sand them down and reoil them – ta da, brand new doors!
Tip: The prep work when making these doors is SO important (albeit a long process) to their eventual finish, do your research on the plywood quality grade too (A,B,C), this will impact the look and longevity.
You are going to want to include some sort of wipeable splashback. When cooking and washing up, it is inevitable that you are going to make a mess of your walls! We went with a 3mm thick tile panel from Reco Surfaces, which is one of our fave products we have in the van. The panelling looks like real tiles without adding unnecessary weight and enhances the overall aesthetic of our interior, whilst being super practical. They also offer loads of different patterns, styles and colours, it really is the ideal product.
If you are like me and just want 150x150 white tile & grey grout panels, don't be fooled and think these will be easy to find. Reco Surfaces were the ONLY supplier I could find that sold this product.
Worktops are easy to go overboard with, there are lots of beautiful options; solid wood, quartz, Silestone etc. all of which I would NOT recommend putting in your van. They are heavy, expensive and likely to get damaged. We installed 18mm plywood with a plain white laminate applied to the top and bottom (do both sides, it prevents warping!!). This means that they were low cost, lightweight and easy to keep clean. Also, inexpensive to replace if we destroy them.
The little things
Consider where your sockets/switches are going to go, put them in low traffic areas to avoid them getting damaged, and you don’t want them above your sink/hob! Also consider what you will charge and where so you can ensure surface/storage space for devices near sockets when charging.
Handles can tend to get in the way in a petite area, think about cutting handles into your doors and draws or using fabric handles as a pose to traditional protruding handles or knobs. Semi-Circle cut in handles are so easy to do, you just need a circular drill cutter!
Install lots of hooks. If you are smart about where you place them, they can be a nice design feature as well as a great flexible storage solution.
The Pretty Bit.
Now we've got all the practical, functional bits out the way, you can get back to that mood board, picking out your idyllic colour scheme, that dreamy tap and those gorgeous patterned tile panels!
I can't wait to see how it turns out, but first, here's a few more things you can consider along the way to ensure your kitchen ends up as gorgeous as it deserves to be.
Palette Perfection. As I said before, try to keep your core materials palette to no more than four finishes in the kitchen area, for instance, plywood, matt black, white laminate and stainless steel.
Stay in Sync. The kitchen will be a key component within your camper, so ensure any design elements are considered with your overall aesthetic and keep them consistent throughout.
Showing Off. Think about whether you are going to install any open storage shelves, and if you are, think about what you will store in them and whether those items are "pretty" and work with your interior vibe. A mix of open and closed storage will create a good balance, but too much open storage and you could end up feeling surrounded by clutter.
Accentuate if you will. The perfect feature to bring through a bold accent is with your splashbacks, you can also tie this in with your bathroom wall panels (if you are installing a bathroom).
Be Bright. Consider where your spot lights will go and whether you need any additional under cabinet lighting for ample surface luminance.
Do you really love our van and want to build something similar? You can now buy our entire set of digital, downloadable van design plans, including technical drawings, visual sketches and design boards, click here to take a look.
Did you enjoy this read? Why don't you take a look at our blog on Camper Bathroom Design, a Guide to Designing a perfectly balanced bathroom within your tiny home on wheels.