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Adventures in Design

Things that matter to me: design of all kinds, van life, living lightly on the planet, permaculture, flower and food farming; my plans and dreams for the future and my adventures along the way.


Design For Living

Susanna Luck


This is Hygge, the lovely van I’ve rented for a few days from Quirky Campers, who are a sort of Airbnb for modern van conversions and have about two dozen beautifully converted vans available to rent around the UK. Now that I’ve spent two nights and a couple of days living in it, a few things are much clearer for me in terms of what I want to do with my own little home on wheels.

I’m loving it but have to admit, not as much as I thought I would. A number of things are making the experience more of a challenge than I think it needs to be and I want to make a note of it while I’m thinking of it.

Hygge, for instance, has a cleverly built sofa that pulls out into a bed. Cool, right? Except that it’s a pain to keep having to transform in the morning and evening, takes up all the available living space when it’s out, isn’t actually long enough for anyone over 5’6” to sleep on comfortably and is essentially just foam pads on a wood frame. Bed, to me, is almost a sacred space. It needs to be the most comfortable space in my house, it needs to be beautiful, clean and a dedicated space that doesn’t need fiddling with twice a day to set up.. so my van will have a kind sized bed at the back with storage underneath, accessible from the inside and via the back doors outside.

Other things that are clearer to me now:

  • Insulation is vital - especially in Northern Europe, where my van will live! The space under Hygge’s bed is not insulated at all - it’s just bare metal down there and you can feel it sucking the heat out through the foam. It also leads me to believe that, pretty as the interior is, it’s not insulated at all, which would explain why it gets cold again quite quickly when the heat is off. The insulated window covers that snap around Hygge’s windows are great but one that entirely covers the sliding door to keep out drafts would be wonderful.

  • Heating. I know that gas heat is most efficient. Hygge’s is powered from the fuel tank, with the combustion happening outside (good) and a fan blowing the heated air in under the cabinets.. not so great. It’s either on or not on - there’s no regulating the heat to low or anything - and when it’s on it’s blasting pretty loudly. If possible, I’d like to find a way to add electric underfloor heating, or a little towel rail.. or maybe even hot water pipes? to gently heat the van at night without it being too hot or too loud. And yep, I know that’s a tall order.

  • Ventilation. Mine will have an extractor fan over the stove top. Sucking out cooking smells and condensation would be a great idea. If it’s possible to get a heat exchanger, even better.

  • Fridge. Hygge has a teeny (and adorable) caravan fridge under the stove, but I think one that is more of a cooler box design, and which tilts out toward you on a bottom hinge, so that the cool air is trapped inside and it’s easier to access than crouching near the floor would be a better option.

  • Gearbox. This is almost a cultural thing; most British people drive and prefer a stick shift. I learned on one and I’m so grateful that I did, because it makes it possible for me to be able to drive nearly anything. But it’s really not fun to be driving a nearly 3 tonne van up and down steep hills and around a million roundabouts (we brits love our roundabouts). Maybe it’s my years in the US but stick shifts seem such a waste of energy and they make driving so much more exhausting - especially if you’re driving alone and in unfamiliar territory. It’s very clear to me that I’ll be getting an automatic, even though they’re harder to find and often more expensive. I think the quality of life will make it worth it.

  • Storage. No surprises that living in a small space makes storage space vital! I’ve had some ideas for maximising the teeny space: a dining table that slides on casters out from the space under the bed. A second seat for the table that will also slide into the bed space and is itself storage that can be accessed from the side if it’s stored in the bed wall. A slide out panty wall of the type Ikea makes, with bin space in the bottom and many shelves for food and kitchen storage. Shoe storage just inside the door to keep outside dirt outside as much as possible.

  • Noise. It’s pretty rattly when I’m on bumpy country roads. Having kitchen storage that keeps everything tightly packed would be great.

  • Windows. You can’t see out the back of Hygge and that makes backing up pretty tricky. She also doesn’t have a backup camera, which I think would be money well-spent. I’d also like a big roof light over the bed so that it can be opened to star gaze in the warmer months.

  • Something I do really like: The cabinet design. It’s simple and streamlined, with a neat little catch on the inside of the drawers that you release by reaching into the hole you use to pull the drawer open. I’ll try to remember to take pictures..

There’s more, I’m sure. This is such a great experience in terms of figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t! I scribbled some ideas for my van conversion this morning, based on what I was thinking as I got up today. It ain’t pretty (or to scale, I’m sure) but I didn’t want to forget what I was imagining for my own space.


Any ideas or feedback from other van lifers would be most gratefully received!