When Helene and I were heading back to Scotland after eight months of nomadic freedom we knew we’d need to bring some of that lifestyle home, so we bought a Citroen Berlingo.
We asked Davy Boy (aka Helene’s Dad) who’s a bit of a tinkerer and big time bargain hunter when it comes to vehicles. From Canada, we asked him to find us a car that was big enough to sleep us both and was cheap, dirt cheap. This is what was waiting for us.
Below is a sketchy step by step guide on what we did, please feel free to follow at your own risk. I have no carpentry or building experience, just a £4 hand saw from B&M, a cheap electric drill and a desire to spend as much time in the outdoors as possible!
If you want to see what materials I used and what they cost click here.
Find a vehicle! We love the Berlingo for the headroom, aircraft type overhead storage and underfoot storage. It’s a diesel so is still able to give it some welly when the back is full and our favourite features are the sliding side doors and the fact the boot door is massive and really tall.
Measure, measure and measure again! If you’re like me and a little clumsy and forgetful then you might want to measure everything three times to make sure there are no errors. I also sketch everything first to make sure I get the best use of all materials.
The plywood was cut into 4 equal segments of 580mm x 1160mm. One part makes the base and the other three are hinged together to make the bed. I put one set of hinges on top (you don’t feel the hinge under the 2″ memory foam) and one underneath to make a Z shape so it folds out easily. lt was something of a fluke that as it unfolds it misses the roof by about 2cm……bear this in mind when you measure…..I did not.
The reason for the extra slab of ply under the hinges is that I didn’t have any screws short enough to hold the hinge to the 9mm ply without popping through the other side. Obviously it was easier to use some ply scraps and the longer screws than pop to the shop.
I folded down the back seats and leaned the front seats backwards so the bed can rest on them and measured the height from the boot base to the highest point of the chair backs, this is the length I cut the eight battens to.
I found plastic storage boxes of a good size and made sure they would fit in to the space beneath the bed, that’s pretty much how I figured out where to place the battens. When screwing them to the plywood I drilled pilot holes (new to me) first so as not to split the wood.
Once I’d built the bed I needed to add in some supports to help take the weight when it’s unfolded. As I was headed into town one day I spotted a skip and with permission I took a long 4x10cm piece of wood, I cut it to the width of the bed and using small pieces of leftover ply I made a slot for it to squeeze into when in position. Once the bed is unfolded I slot the 4×10 into place and it helps take the weight of the centre piece of the Z frame by resting on the back of the folded down seats (which don’t lie flat).
To make the bed I cut the foam mattress into 3 equal sections the same size as the plywood base, I upholstered them all separately using a cheap duvet cover then sewed the parts together along the lengths. This means they are always attached so no separation at night but they fold up neatly on top of the box in transit. In our camper, when the box and mattress is folded away, the parcel shelf can still fit on top.
There was quite a bit left over from the foam mattress so I made pillows out of them, covering them in leftover duvet cover material
We knew there was no point trying to make the Berlingo look cool so we found the ugliest material known to man from a charity shop for all of £1, I cut out a piece for each window and attached them at the top with Velcro strips. To tie the curtains up during the day I handily found a bunch of hairbands lying around the house. For each curtain I tied one hairband into a knot and attached it to the inside of the top of the curtain and another hairband on the outside of the curtain so it loops around the knot when rolled up. Easy.
At this point it was functional and we used it for several trips away, managing to pack our inflatable kayak in the boot as well as the camper unit and all of our supplies! However, it was far too simple for me, I wanted to make a drawer to house the cooking stuff. I had to add in some extra pieces of scrap wood to be able to attach drawer runners and cut out a 2cm chunk from one of the battens so the gas cooker would squeeze in.
I made it double height so the gas hob fits on the top shelf and the box of wine fits perfectly on the bottom. Some non slip matting down and a wee spice rack (scrap wood and my first attempt at using a hole saw!!) later and we were all set.
At this point I wasn’t ready to stop so I put in a fold down shelf too, I used one hinge and a small length of chain to hold it level.
I almost forgot, for the table top that can be removed from the unit I found a super cheap tripod camping seat for about £3 from B&M to use as a stand.
If you have any questions or ideas just post a comment. Good luck with your own #vanlife project