We’ve been using the van for over a year with the front 1/3 unfinished, the wall across from the sliding door a blank space of fuzzy white insulation. We knew this section, the galley, would be the hardest project. So, we covered the insulation with clear plastic drop cloth and played outside instead.
It was the ice that finally made me do it. We’d been using a cooler, and it was just so annoying. Especially that time in Death Valley. Ice does not belong in Death Valley. It’s just unnatural. Yet, we tried. Eventually I got sick of fishing food out of a melt-water pool. It was time to get a fridge, and if we’re doing the fridge we might as well make a proper spot for it.
QUICK LOOK Products Used: * Knape and Vogt 18 Inch Extra Heavy Duty Drawer Slides (part 8900 P18) * ARB fridge/freezer tie down system (part 10900010) * 80/20 10 Series aluminum extrusions * Elfa 18" mesh hanging drawers with frame * Enviro-Bottle 2 gallon water jug * Waterlox Marine Sealer Special Tools: * Astro 1442 13" Nut/Thread Hand Riveter Kit * HHIP 3601-0312 7 Piece Transfer Screw Set 5/16-18 Frustration Factor: High
Besides a fridge, we considered a variety of other requirements for the galley, including a sink, running water, and built-in stove. Ultimately, we decided to keep it simple and skip the sink and water system. For now, a water container with a spout mounted somewhere above the counter would be fine. We also concluded we’d rather cook outside whenever possible to limit the mess so there was no need for a built-in stove – we’d have the camp stove with us anyway. All of this stuff can be added in a later retrofit if we decide we really want them.
The crux of the design is how to create an overhead cabinet without attaching it to the wall or ceiling. I didn’t want to repeat the tricky process of attaching and leveling another cabinet the way we did over the bed. (If we did this build over again, I would have a totally different strategy for wall studs that would make attaching cabinets and walls much easier.) We settled on a roughly L shaped design with a large base holding the fridge and drawers topped with a counter. Above that the skinnier top of the L would be upright supports holding an overhead cabinet.
We actually built this design 3 times. First, we did it with cardboard. We wanted to be certain about the design and layout before we built the galley. It takes up a lot of space and could obstruct access to Andrea’s seat at the table. So we started by building a mockup with cardboard. This is the first time we spent so much effort testing out a design, and I’m glad we did. We settled on the right depth and width to give us enough counter and storage space without getting in the way.
Second, we built it with wood. This was supposed to be the final version but our poor woodworking skills caused too many uneven joints and compromises. Plus a few weeks after we installed it, things shifted turning formerly straight edges into crooked messes. This drove me nuts. So while Andrea was out of town, I pulled it all back out and started rebuilding it, this time with an 80/20 aluminum skeleton. This design made it easy to keep things square and strong.
I built it in two pieces, the base separate from the uprights with the overhead cabinet. In the base I installed an ARB fridge (one of the cooler style models for over-landers) on Knape & Voight extra heavy duty drawer slides. Above the fridge several drawers hold pots, pans, utensils and other miscellaneous kitchen stuff behind wood doors. In the second, wooden version of the galley I made custom drawers myself but they all ended up out of square. So this time I took two shortcuts to make them easier and higher quality. On one side I simply screwed a pull out pot rack that belongs in regular home kitchen cabinets into the plywood shelf above the fridge. On the other side, I attached Elfa hanging drawers (the ones from the fancy custom closet system the Container Store sells) to brackets mounted on wood boards secured to the back of the 80/20 skeleton. To keep all these drawers from sliding open while we drive, I got some 3/4 inch webbing straps and buckles from REI and strung them across the drawer fronts.
Above these drawers I mounted our counter top to the 80/20. We decided to splurge on the countertop. While browsing MacBeath Hardwood for options we came across some pre-made walnut butcher block counter tops. They looked amazing but didn’t come in the right sizes. The only size available was huge and expensive. Luckily the guy at MacBeath said one of his coworkers did custom woodworking on the side and built countertops like that all the time. We placed an order with them for a van-appropriate size. We just had to apply the finish ourselves.
Keeping things from flying around while the van is moving is critical to every piece of the design. The fridge weighs about 50 pounds empty, which is a lot of mass and momentum to worry about. Luckily ARB provides a few options. It is possible to mount it with bolts into the bottom of the fridge, but this would be very difficult to access in its low drawer location. So instead, we used ARB’s tie down kit. It comes with two custom hooks for the fridge handles and 4 straps. We paired the kit with 4 tie-down rings we bought online.
I completed the 80/20 skeleton in the house and then moved it into the van in one big piece. The primary attachment point to the van is three bolts through aluminum L brackets running across the back of the galley just below the counter. I aligned these L brackets with 3 rivnuts I mounted in the thick crossbeam running across the van’s wall, about 30 inches off the floor. I used a transfer screw set in the rivnuts to mark the exact spots where they lined up with the L brackets. Setting the base down in front of the van wall then giving the L brackets a modest whack with a hammer made enough of a mark on the L brackets to drill perfectly located holes.
I missed my target of being done with the new galley by the time Andrea returned home so we used the van for a few weeks with just the galley base in place. On a weekend we actually stayed at home, we finally finished the cedar wall behind the galley and mounted the overhead cabinet together. The uprights slid into place with several brackets attaching them to the base aluminum. Then we added maple plywood sides, bottom and doors to the overhead skeleton to form the cabinet. Finally we threw in a few other finishing touches like jelly jar storage containers mounted under the cabinet and brackets to hold a water jug.
And now, we’re pretty much done with version 1 of the van. Of course, I’ve got a long list of minor things I want to add or adjust, but at long last this is it!