Food, glorious food. It’s still very much a part of our daily life on the road. And, you, a van dweller or soon to be one, will need to have a kitchen for cooking and food storage.
Next to designing a bathroom (if you decide you need one), the kitchen is probably the most complicated aspect of your van build.
As with anything in vanlife, you have to decide what you absolutely need and what can be left out. If you really want an oven, for example, then put it in. But if you need space for two desks and a bathroom, you’ll probably have to keep your kitchen relatively compact.
That’s not to say there aren’t sneaky ways to fit more counter space in. If you’ve read our garage storage article, you’ll already know about pull-out and flip-up counter space. Also, check out our dedicated article for kitchen storage hacks here.
Before we delve into the vanlife kitchen inspiration, let’s talk about the most popular van kitchen designs.
Choosing your Design
With so much inspiration out there, it can be difficult to determine what your kitchen needs truly are.
Before settling on a layout, you’ll want to keep several things in mind, but here are some important questions to help you get the ball rolling.
- Will you be cooking most of your meals? Do you enjoy cooking? Will you have time to? There is no point in using a lot of space to build something you’ll only use minimally.
- Will there be extreme outdoor temperatures during your journey? This would make an outdoor kitchen difficult. You might want to avoid slide-out kitchen options.
- Will you be bringing your nice kitchenware? You’ll need to design space for it. If you’re an avid cook, there are probably some items you can’t live without. They’ll need plenty of room, though.
- Do you like to have a well-stocked pantry? You’ll need space for food storage. You’ll also have to consider how often you’ll have the opportunity to stop to buy food.
- Do you want to access the kitchen/living space of the van from the cab? You know, for the mid-drive munchies. Or because you’re stealth camping and don’t want to open the side door. Some kitchen van builds block access to the cab.
- Will you need an oven? If you love baking or have many recipes requiring a range, consider including an oven when planning. There are many small options if it’s a must.
- What appliances are the most important to you? Do you need a microwave, for example? Remember, appliances generally are expensive and use lots of energy.
- How many people will you be feeding? If you’re travelling with your family and more than one or two people, you’re going to want more than one stovetop element, for example. Check out our article on travelling with kids here.
- How much electricity do you have? Can you power the appliances you want? Solar power is not always sufficient for some energy-suckers. You may need a generator and some backup batteries.
This brings us to a discussion of campervan appliances. You’re probably going to use some in your kitchen design unless you plan to utilise campgrounds and traditional cooking and camping equipment.
Your campervan experience will run much more smoothly if you have some modern cooking amenities. While you won’t have room for them all, you’ll likely want at least a fridge, stove, and sink.
Here are some of the most necessary campervan appliances and the options you have.
Refrigerators are lovely additions to any kitchen design, but they eat up a lot of energy. In fact, solar power might not be enough to keep your food cold. So, plan to have backup batteries and/or generators for your fridge.
We recommend purchasing an RV Fridge. These small refrigerators are often highly efficient, so they draw the least amount of energy. The most common is an upright fridge that is just a smaller version of a typical house one. There are also top loading fridges that open up from a top. They can go in a drawer and be organised with boxes and/or buckets. Check out our guide on fridges here, as well as our detailed review on Vitfrigio’s 115L fridge
You’ll want to design your van with your fridge in mind as many units are prone to overheating. Build a vent above and beside the unit so that you don’t ruin your fridge and the food inside.
If you are going to be travelling to areas where outdoor cooking isn’t always feasible, you will want to look into an indoor stove. You can buy a stovetop with as many elements as you feel you will need. Most campervans have two, but some people opt for only one or as many as four.
Induction stoves. These safe and clean-looking stoves will make cooking a breeze in your campervan. The drawback, however, is they consume a lot of power and require a battery bank and inverter. They are not very affordable, but they are handy.
Indoor propane stoves. A more affordable option to convection, indoor propane stoves provide specific cook times and don’t use electricity. You can purchase a cover for the elements so the stovetop can double up as counter space when not in use and cooled down.
Outdoor propane stoves. The classic camping stove is the most affordable option. You’ll want to commit to cooking outside for the most part if you go this route. You can use these indoors, but you’ll need excellent ventilation. Have the window open and use a fan to keep things safe.
If you think you’ll use it, putting an oven in your campervan is a good idea. Many ovens will work independently from the stove, so you can have both going at once if you’re making a fancy feast.
Portable camp ovens are a popular choice for outdoor baking or well-ventilated baking.
Be aware, though, that indoor ovens often use up a fair amount of electricity, so you might need a generator to run one.
You’ll want to figure out what you’ll use your sink in your campervan for before deciding on size. Generally, you’ll use the sink for cooking, handwashing, and doing the dishes. You might also use it for giving pets a bath and watering household plants.
There are plenty of different sink builds, and most of them come down to a matter of preference.
You won’t regret installing a full-size sink. It’ll make dishes a breeze, and you won’t make as much of a mess.
You might also consider sinks that sit on the counter so that precious drawer and cupboard space down below aren’t compromised.
If your sink is built into the counter, make sure to create a cover for it that will give you extra counter space when you’re not needing water.
There are many different kitchen designs for the perfect vanbuild. But here are some of the most common. We will have plenty of pictures down below.
- Back Door Slide-out. We’ve talked about this option in our garage article, but back door slide-outs are a great way to utilise all the space in your van while not hogging floor space when you’re not using the counter/cooking/seating area.
- Side Door Slide-out. The perfect way to fit in some more counter space into your build. The same concept as above but out of a different door, this is an ideal option for temperate climates. An advantage of this layout is your kitchen is all in one place if you also have some indoor counter space and appliances.
- Parallel to Front Seats. This design is probably the best if you don’t have room for a larger kitchen. It can also be combined with the slide-out options so that you have extra counter and storage space when you need it. The only downside is it’s more difficult to reach the front seats.
- Door Wall. This option is normally smaller but can include a flip-up counter space when you aren’t using the side door. If you want more space for tables or bedding but want easy access to the cab, this is one of your best bets.
- Wall kitchen. These designs created opposite the van door are one of the most popular van builds. You’ll have maximum counter space while still have space to move around.
- Corner kitchen. If you can’t decide/want more kitchen area, build your cooking area in the corner, starting behind the seats and winding its way down the back wall, you’ll have a luxurious amount of kitchen room to play with.
Kitchen Vanlife Inspiration
Now, for some of the best Instagram inspiration on kitchen vanbuilds!
1. Full-Size Sink
You can have space for everything in a really small area. This van features a small fridge and counter area, a small gas stove, and a full-size sink. This kitchen is tiny but very attractive, built on the side door side of the van. The other side of the van is open for a seating area, storage, etc.
2. Cover the stove
This van build kitchen has four stove elements with a cover, so you have extra counter space when you’re not using it. There is also a small drawer oven, just in case you need to bake something. Built looking out the window, you can enjoy the view as you cook or wash dishes.
This small cooking area leaves space for a classic kitchen table that can also double as a workspace. Instead of building in a stove, the couple decided on a camper stovetop, another great option to free up drawer, storage, and counter space.
4. Counter space
This kitchen has plenty of counter space. Deciding what is a priority in your van build will help you with design. While you probably don’t have room for every luxury, a couple “musts” can usually be accommodated. In this case, it was counters!
5. Think outside the box
This ultra-compact kitchen leaves room for a bed on the other side of the wall! The fridge opens towards the passenger seat, creating room for the narrow passageway between the bed and counter space. The stovetop is flat and can be doubled up for more counter space.
6. The space below the bed
Make use of space under your bed and outside. We love slide-out drawers that display cooking areas and counter space like this one. They don’t take up space inside, and the drawer looks neat and clean when you’re packed up again. Also, if you’re using a camp stove that requires propane, cooking outside will ensure you’re getting proper ventilation.
7. Fit in more counter space
You don’t need to use counter space on your pull-out drawers for stoves. These are made of marble and double up as an eating or work area that fits neatly under the bed once you’ve cleaned up.
8. Fold-up back door counter
Another less conventional kitchen idea is to build a counter that folds up and down in the back of the van. This design takes up even less space than the pull out drawer and can be used for many options. A fold-up counter will come in handy from cooking like she’s doing, preparing food, eating, or working.
9. Slide-out drawers side door
Who said those secretive drawers need to pull out in the back? This nifty design features a camper gas stove that pulls out the side door and tucks under the counter when not in use. It leaves plenty of counter space and lots of room in the rest of the van. Note the small glass holder shelf hanging from the ceiling on the other side as well.
The modern feel of this kitchen can’t be beaten. Built into the opposite wall of the door, there is plenty of counter space for food preparation. The table/desk on the side is unique, giving the option to move it for when you need it.
Nestled in the corner, this kitchen even fits in a microwave. We also love the small shelves for dry goods, the hanging dishcloth rack, and the small planter full of succulents. A welcoming kitchen to come home to when you open the side door.
12.Parallel to the front seats
We love the long drawers in this van build kitchen. Also, look at the skinny cabinet they’re fit in, just left of the sink. Building the counter on the other side of the driver and passenger seats ensures that the behind-the-chair space is completely used. Also, separating the front window and the living area makes stealth camping easier to pull off.
13.Access the cab
We love how these van dwellers utilised the space behind the driver’s seat to build the kitchen but made the cab accessible. The counter flips open, so you can climb up front. Ideal if you’re stealth camping and don’t want to open the side door. They’ve also redesigned the above-the-cab space as a pantry. The small kitchen design leaves room for two desks/work areas and a shower.
14.You have more space than you think
This classic vanbuild style kitchen has an almost full-size stove and a small oven. Notice the panel that can be used to cover the stove when you need the counter space. Another potential counter is hanging on the side of the cupboards beside the sink. When you don’t need to get in and out of the side door, you can pull it up for more space.
15.All the storage
We love the details in this kitchen design. The corner shelving, the cute cabinets on the ceiling, and the wooden cupboards below the sink make for a clean yet earthy feeling kitchen with plenty of space for storage.
16.Compact and cute
This compact kitchen has everything you need in a tiny space. Leaving room for a small bathroom beside it makes room for an oven and stove, a sink, and a small kitchen counter. Across from the kitchen area is ample seating/bedding.
This practical kitchen design utilises many of the best van design options. There is plenty more counter space to be had, and they’ve designed a skinny cupboard to fit in the space leftover from the oven. The jars hanging from the cupboard take advantage of unused space, and the vine of the ceiling is a nice touch.
18.Make it cute
We’re obsessed with the design these van dwellers picked for the kitchen. It looks just like an old-timey kitchen while utilising every nook and cranny. A small drawer beside the fridge pulls out and can be used as a small pantry, chopping block, or counter space.
It’s all in the details. This modern designed room divider separates the bed from the kitchen while looking good and still letting light in. It’s something to consider if your kitchen will be beside where you sleep. You don’t want to accidentally knock things into the kitchen or roll onto the counter in your sleep.
Look at that splash of colour! Who said your van build kitchen needs to be in natural wood or neutral colours. If making things pop brings you dry, add colour to your van kitchen design.