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How To Build Your Homemade Truck Camper Interior

homemade camper interior

How To Build Your Homemade Truck Camper Interior

Looking For Ideas For The Interior Of Your Home-Built Truck Camper?

Awesome! Let’s get started.

Designing the interior can be one of the most fun parts of building a DIY camper — But it can also be one of the most frustrating and stressful once you realize how little space you have in there!

Case in point: My own homemade truck camper is only 7 feet long and 4 feet wide! Not to mention, it’s only four feet high when the top is down. That’s why it always makes me laugh when I see headlines about “tiny houses” saying things like, “This gal lives in a tiny house that’s only 120 square feet!” (Seriously, I’d be ROTFL if I actually had a floor wide enough to ROTFL on. 🙂 )

So how do you design for a space that small?

TIP #1: Multi-use Everything

For example…

My “Bench Seat” on the right side of my camper is built as a multi-chambered storage box with hinged lids, so it’s simultaneously:

  • Where I sleep when the top is down.
  • A grocery-storage “pantry” in the rearmost section by the door.
  • A triple-insulated long-term boondocking cooler in the middle section.
  • A giant toolbox in the frontmost section, where I keep my rechargeable power tools.
  • And of course… a bench seat during the day.

Another great example is the original “indoor bathroom” I made, inspired by the videos in this article: Phoenix PULSE SC – A Truck Camper With A Bathroom, and this article: Make A Removable Indoor RV Shower Stall For Your Van Or Camper. Though I wound up not even using it and removed it to make room for storage, for awhile, I had an indoor vermi-composting toilet that doubled as a sit-down shower. And because the “bathroom” was enclosed by just a shower curtain, I could pull back the curtain to open up the space as if it wasn’t even there.

But I never used it, because 1) I figured out that showers are unnecessary when I have a microfiber washcloth and some water, and 2)… regarding #2… I find it easiest when I’m camping just to dig a hole and bury it. Which brings me to a second big tip…

TIP #2: Move The “Interior” Outside

Instead of packing all kinds of furniture inside the camper, plan to move portions of it outside when you’re actually camping. Many people wonder how I can stand to live in such a small space. The simple fact is — I DON’T! I camp in order to enjoy nature, so I spend as much of my time as I can outside. My camper is primarily for sleeping, sometimes cooking, and for occasionally escaping from the cold and rain. But as often as I can, I do my cooking outside on my mobile workbench using my homemade wood-gas stove, lounging in my camp chair. I read and do emails outside under my makeshift mosquito-proof “safari tent” — made from the same tarp I use to cover the roof in bad weather. Which brings me to the third tip…

TIP #3: Think Like a Backpacker

When shopping for camper appliances, avoid the RV store, and instead go to REI or your local hiker supply store and look for tiny light gadgets you can replace your appliances with. Learn how through-hikers manage to fit their entire lives into a backpack. While I do actually have an underused homemade camper kitchen, the kitchen setup I actually use most often is the size of two medium-sized coffee cans, and I honestly feel a little embarrassed that it doesn't fit into just one! Instead of a coffee machine, I use a coffee press (electicity-free!) that's inside a travel mug. (Though I might switch to an Aeropress.) I've modeled my wardrobe partially after ultralight backpacking best-practices, meaning my clothes don't take up much space at all. I've also donated all of my books, because it's way easier to carry an iPad full of Kindle versions. And though I technically have a sink basin, I never actually use it, because spraying and wiping with napkins is plenty sufficient.

What's Left?

Funnily enough, when I really think about which furnishings and appliances I've actually used consistently, it turns out that a bench/bed and sometimes my little indoor propane burner are all I need the "interior" for. Which means it's no longer much of a puzzle to figure out what to put where -- I actually have so much "free space", they could go anywhere!

But in case you still need ideas for arranging things... especially if you're arranging for more than one person... Here are some more tips I've picked up.

Build so you can sleep sideways. If your vehicle is wide enough, you'll probably save a lot of space by arranging things so you can sleep sideways rather than longwise. Sleeping longwise as I do (since my camper is only 5 feet wide, and I'm 6 feet tall), cuts into the usable width of the living space. Especially if you build a cabover "loft bed" and sleep sideways at the end, you can be left with a more squarish living space where you can even enjoy a dining-table or create a "living room" feel.

Try "Pocket Shelves" Cabinets look neat, and maybe that's a priority for you, but I personally prefer to have more open space not hindered by large bulky items like cabinets, especially if they're half empty. So I figured out how to make non-spilling pocket shelves along the wall that allow me quick access to items and hardly take up any noticeable space.

Think "Transformers" When You Need Flat Surfaces. Counter space and coffee tables and desk surfaces could easily take up a lot of valuable real estate, so a way to minimize intrusion of surfaces you don't need all the time is to hinge them so they can fold or swing into position only when you need them.

Consider Lightweight Furnishings Wooden furniture like cabinets can really add a lot of weight very quickly. But you can reverse that into an advantage if you can think creatively about which furnishings you can replace by lighter counterparts made of plastic, wireframe, cloth, or even styrofoam or structural cardboard -- all materials an image-conscious camper dealer would rarely try to sell you, but as a DIY builder, you're free to build it however you want. I've managed to use stacked wireframe baskets in place of cabinets, and where things look too sloppy even for my chaotic tastes, I just hang nice fabric in front of it. 

Idea Finding Tip: Search Pinterest.com!

Pinterest is the best place on the internet for collecting handy DIY tricks to save space. If you've never visited there before, I'd highly encourage you to join and create your own design scrapbook by browsing around and saving your favorite ideas to your page. (Here's my Pinterest site. I'll try to remember to load more interior pix when I get around to it.)

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  • gary
    May 30, 2015

    I have been thinking about making a camper and I love your site. Have you ever thought about a hammock? That way it would be stored out of the way when not in use.

    • May 30, 2015

      I HAVE! I experimented with a hammock right after I got the shell done. (In fact I mentioned it in my book.) It was really comfortable, but ultimately my camper isn’t long and high enough. I settled on a bench/bed that fits storage underneath.

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