Before and after: Travel van with pull-out kitchen

At first sight it is a common van, but when you look inside you will discover a house with everything needed. The man built it for traveling, there is even a kitchen and a toilet.

Carpenter friend Nicolas Bessu rented a van during her trip to Australia. And when she returned, she infected him with the idea of ​​free travel. For more than five months, Nicolas thought through the layout of the van, created drawings of built-in furniture, and compared cars. And then I bought a used Renault Trafic and completely redid it in a month and a half. Let’s see the result!

“After nine years of working in IT, I decided to fill my life with new meaning. In February 2021, I completed my retraining as a carpenter and opened my own business in Limoges,” says Nicolas. His studio now makes furniture for alternative housing, particularly tiny houses. The van setting became one of the first testing grounds.
Choosing a truck
For Nicolas, vehicle reliability, maneuverability and low fuel consumption were important. That’s why he chose the Renault Trafic 3 L2H1 with a three-seater seat in front. Typically, such a van is used by artisans for cargo transportation.“I know this model well – I myself have a shortened version for business needs. The van’s height of 1.97 meters allows it to pass under two-meter bars in parking lots, and its length of 5.40 meters allows it to park in the city without any problems. The body configuration allows for maximum interior space.”
Nicolas carried out all the dismantling work himself, cutting out the sheet metal on the rear doors and on the roof at the front of the car to organize the windows and ventilation system in the roof.“In addition to a couple of windows, I also installed a special panel in the roof. Compared to a conventional skylight, this panel raises the roof by only 2 centimeters instead of 10 or 12,” explains the carpenter.

The next step was to insulate the walls and floor of the van. Nicolas loves the mountains and immediately planned to use the van for trips in sub-zero temperatures.

“I filled the wall voids with sawdust and then laid 40mm thick foam cork panels on the floor and walls,” he says.

“I installed a solar panel on the roof to power the battery, which provides electricity to the van when stationary, with the engine off.”

Nicolas made furniture in his own carpentry workshop. “First I made a bed that can be converted into a seat, then a kitchen and a dressing room/office. All items are made from 12mm poplar plywood, the lightest available.
By law, the maximum permissible weight for this type of van is 3 tons. Therefore, when designing furniture, we had to think about its weight,” explains Nicolas.

The ceiling is covered with 5 mm natural oak veneer, and the floor is covered with laminate. The bed has a size close to standard (135 x 190 cm) and when folded, the mattresses serve as the back and seat of the sofa.
The slatted base was made in steps so that one lamella could slide into the void between two adjacent ones (see drawing below). A carpenter’s friend sewed covers for mattresses from IKEA. Decorative pillows and curtains are her work.

The wall opposite the sofa is occupied by a large storage module with a shelf that opens up like a secretary.

“The idea came to us from a friend who had set up a van and had to work in it. The table can be used for indoor dining or, more often, for setting up the computer and watching a movie,” explains Nicolas.

All furniture doors are equipped with lockable handles so that they cannot be opened during travel.

Compared to many others, this van has a lot of exposed surfaces. Initially, there were no compartments on top, but after the first trip, Nicolas added sections so that everyday items could be left without them rattling along the road.

In most trailers, the kitchen is located along a long wall opposite the entrance or near the door. Nicolas came up with an option to place her back to the driver’s seat.

“For some time we were thinking about how to make a living room with two swivel chairs – a driver and a passenger. But it turned out that such reversible seats do not exist,” explains Nicolas.

The module with two-burner gas stove and sink is completely retractable through the side door. “My friend saw something similar in Australia. It was she who convinced me that it would be very cool to cook in the fresh air. I had to rack my brains to come up with and draw a sliding kitchen section,” shares Nicolas.

The pull-out unit has closed cabinets for storing dishes, pots and pans. It also has a cutlery drawer and a compartment for a trash bin.

The two-burner stove is connected to a gas cylinder: you can cook inside, and in good weather you can pull out the section and take it out into the air (the stove and cylinder are completely removable),” explains Nicolas.

“I was thinking not only about pleasant culinary experiments in the open air, but also about the next maintenance of the car. The fact is that I met all the standards for electricity and water. But a gasified car can raise unnecessary questions. It is for this case that the stove is removable,” explains Nicolas.
Under the sink there is a 10-liter container for collecting waste with a full indicator. Nicolas uses biodegradable products to avoid harming the environment. A supply of clean water is stored next door – in 10 and 20 liter bottles (canisters can be obtained by pulling out the kitchen).
The black box under the cans is a 45 liter refrigerator that is powered by a solar panel on the roof. The configuration of the refrigerator is different from the usual one with shelves: here all the products are piled up and sometimes it is difficult to get what you want. But this format allows you to fit much more food into a compact volume. And when moving off-road, there is no risk of something falling off the shelf.

The work surface above the refrigerator is used for cooking. All wooden countertops are coated with Rubio protective oil.

Small compartments are used to store spices. For the shoot, Nicolas brought out his beautiful glass jars here, but in normal life they are stored in the closed section above.

Where are the toilet and bathroom?

“I’m always asked this question,” jokes Nicolas. And he explains: “We set up a shower outside, using a folding tent and a hose with a watering can from the sink. And in winter, we use showers at campsites.”

As for the toilet, it is located in a special compartment under the seat. “I created a wooden dry toilet with a sawdust bin and a compartment for compostable bags,” says Nicolas.
The awning, which serves as an awning on hot days (not pictured), can be mounted on the side of the van using a rail – Nicolas attached it directly above the sliding door.

Garden furniture is stored in a long drawer under the seat. Nicolas assembled the table from an oak top and a folding aluminum leg purchased online. The chairs are also foldable.

The carpet is not just for decoration: it is perhaps the main accessory for the trailer. Usually it is placed rolled up under the entrance step – this prevents large amounts of dust from entering the interior.

“I clean the carpet with a 12V vacuum cleaner, which is stored next to the trash can. It can be charged from the outlets we installed in the kitchen.”

It only took Nicolas and his girlfriend a month and a half to outfit their van for the summer holidays. The first real outing took place over the weekend on Lake Saint-Pardoux, near Limoges. The shooting conveys the atmosphere to us. And then, during the summer, the couple, without any specific program, traveled almost all the Alps.
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