So with the pull out sofa starting to take shape, it was time to turn our attention to the kitchen.
1 – Install the Gas Heater & Secure Gas Bottles
Whilst many people opt for the old Carver Cascade water heaters that can be picked up for around £80-100 we wanted to choose a newer brand that had 240v electric hook up (in case we ever decided to park our van up anywhere permanently and rent it out). We therefore opted for the German made Truma Ultrastore which set us back £200. In hindsight the Cascade would have probably sufficed and been considerably cheaper. Anyway, we are very happy with the quality of the one we chose and it can heat 10l to about 70 degrees in 15 minutes so is perfect. The only downside is that the model we chose has an external cowl cover that needs to be removed every time you want to heat the water, which is easy to forget about – which can be quite dangerous as it could potentially prevent the Carbon Monoxide from exiting the van. However, it does have a pretty effective sensor on it that cuts it off if you if you do leave the cover on.
To install the Water Heater we needed to bore a thick hole through the floor, for the winter drain valve output pipe to go. We also needed to cut a hole in the wall for the air input/CO2 output. Unfortunately here the walls were thicker than the vent. You can buy a vent extender but we just used some scrap aluminium that we folded, pop-rivoted and sealed using non-drying automotive gasket sealer and some very long threaded bolts. Seemed to do the job just great.
We then wired in the Heater to the 12V fusebox, added the temperature control switch inside the cupboard and attached the gas pipes. This proved somewhat tricky as the gas connectors were German GOK sizings and not British standard, however after a few days of searching and several wrong adapters we managed to get it attached and ready to test.
2 – Build main frame for Counter top, cupboards, and cupboard doors
For the Kitchen unit frame we use 1.5” squared lengths. We attached one to the wall of the kitchen, build out from the wall towards the sofa using levels, and then up to them from the floor. We knew that our kitchen counter top was going to be 600mm wide so we brought the frame out 570mm to allow for the cupboard door thicknesses and a every so slight countertop overhang.
For extra frame strength we routered a channel deep enough to make some steel L-Brackets flush with the top. These would then sit under the counter top and be hidden. (Probably not necessary but had the brackets left over and didn’t want to have visible screws from the front of the unit.)
3 – Measure, cut, router, sand, seal and install solid Oak counter top
We decided that we hated the look of fake wood countertops and wanted to create an old fashion country farm house / beachy styled kitchen area, so for us only solid wood would cut the mustard. We found a 600mm by 2400mm solid Oak counter top on sale at Wickes for £100 and bought this as seemed the cheapest we could find. We needed just under 2m for the length of the countertop, so this would leave us enough to add a corner unit to help hide the battery bank and give counter top workspace for cooking.
We measured the length we need, and cut it out a cm less (to allow for expansion – it later proved that we should have left more as it expanded quite a lot at times). We marked out where the gas hobb and undercounter sink were going to go and then cut these sections out (very slowly) using the router with a straight routerbit. We needed to do a good job on this as the edges of the holes cut out would be visible in the sink, and we would have to use the larger section removed for the gas hobb, to be used as the lid to our sink – again to increase useable kitchen work surface.
We then applied 5-6 coats of Danish Oil to the worktop to protect and seal the wood, and 3 coats of clear matt marine varnish to the sink edge to make it water proof as likely to get splashed frequently. This amount of marine varnish worked great, but the Danish Oil lasted about a week before the wood totally dried out and needed more coats. I recommend adding as many coats as time will allow before installing the counter top (if going the solid wood way) as much easier to get a good coat on before it is installed.
When the top was dry we simply screwed through the frame to hold it in place.
4 – Install Sink, Plumb in and make wooden cover/cutting board
To continue the country farmhouse style kitchen look we opted for a ceramic undercounter sink secondhand off ebay for £25. With this being the first sink we had ever bought and installed, we were deeply shocked with how heavy it was when it arrived! It looks incredible but really could have looked just as good being made from a thick plastic. We needed to buy the sink plumbing kit (which we had overlooked and wasn’t cheap as had to come from Howdens to fit this exact model) but fitted very tight and very easily.
We drilled a hole through the floor again and added some pipe for the waste water. We had intended to pipe the sink and shower waste to a waste water tank, but there was just not space underneath the van, so decided to have hidden outlets in the middle of the bus that hopefully would be noticed when dumping our waste water. In reality this isn’t a problem at all as we never use paid for campsites so we just wash the dishes and have showers in the night when people cant see the waste water. That said, if you have the space underneath to fit one, for £10-20 it’s really useful having one and not worrying about waste water annoying anyone else.
We decided we wanted to leave a lip of the sink protruding from the wood, in order to have a ledge in which to sit an oak board to cover the sink when not in use (to give us more counterspace). Whilst this worked great as a ledge for the wood cover, it does mean that grime builds up here and needs a good scrub pretty frequently. In hindsight we might have done this slightly differently I think.
The cover weighed a lot in the end so we routered out the middle of the bottom to help reduce the weight. Unfortunately the router bit slipped and went too deep so we didn’t do the best job for this, however a tip here when routering out large areas we found, was to cut a really wide piece of Perspex and screw it to the base of the router. This ensure that the sides of the Perspex were always on top of the wood.
5 – Install Kitchen Sink taps and plumb in
Again we wanted the taps to match the farmhouse style so opted for this large, curved mixer unit. We cheaply procured some tap tail adapters that allowed us to connect them to the hose pipe we used for the plumbing. The screwed into the countertop easily and give the kitchen a great look. That said, in practice, because the long curve keeps some water in there when the taps are turned off, it does mean that this can dip out as you drive along as the taps vibrate.. which isn’t exactly ideal. Now we just place it over a folded towel as we dry to catch any drips.
6 – Install Gas Hob and connect to gas lines
We decided to use flexible gas hose and the appropriate hose barb connectors to attach the gas bottle to the hob and the water heater. We attached a length of hose from the regulator on our gas bottle, and the other length to a T-Connector spliter, which sent one pipe to the water heater and one to the hob. Technically to be registered as ‘Gas Safe’ (which you will need to do if you intend to ever rent out your conversion) you need to use solid copper piping instead of the gas hose, as the regulations on this changed a few years ago. However, we only found this out once we had used the flexible hose and as our gas bottles are only accessible from within the bus (to be Gas Safe access to the gas bottles can only come from the outside of the vehicle) we kept the flexible hose as will suit our needs fine. We did have some issues with finding the right connectors and with some leaks. We used the leak detector spray that can be purchased from DIY / Builders merchants to isolate the leaks and check everything over once the leak had been dealt with – WOULD STTRONGLY RECOMMEND USING THE LEAK DETECTOR ON ALL GAS PIPING!
By this stage we had the hole cut out for the hob to go in, and had sealed the edges of the hole with yacht varnish. We used some rolled up sausages of hob mounting putting to set the hob in place and trimmed the excess putty that came out of the sides with a knife to tidy the edges up.
Our hob didn’t come with any mounts so we just screwed a few scrap pieces of 5mm ply into the hob at one side and into the underside of the counter top at the other and the hob was fixed securely in place in just a few minutes.
7 – Build cupboard shelves and corner unit
We had intended to build an L shapes extention to the countertop and kitchen cupboards, but thinking that this might hinder access to our electrics panel and equipment, we decided to opt for a 45 degree angled extention – which actually looks much more welcoming as you step into the camper now. (This is a good point to note that in hindsight I really wish I had made the electronics/batteries/inverter/Fusebox much, much more accessible. You may end up needing to access this area on the road more than you think, so don’t make changing main cable fuses or changing inverters over in the future!)
The corner unit was built from lengths of wood that we had left over, painted with several coats of white paint, another door was made and kinged in place, and then the whole thing screwed to the floor. Another piece of solid oak for the counter top was cut, screwed in place and the gab between siliconed. At this point you can router to holes on each piece of counter top you are joining and attach bolts in a channel here to pull both pieces together, but with us running out of time for the build we opted not to, and worked out just fine.
8 – Fit and wire in pull out fridge shelf
We opted to minimise the amount of gas fittings (and hence potential hazards) so decided not to install a 3 way fridge that runs of gas, battery electric and hook up electric. Also, as installing solar it would be really nice to have the solar power the fridge during the day and just use the resisdual coldness of the fridge during the night. Also, a new 3 way fridge is pretty pricey too and already by this stage the build costs were spirally out of control and a hefty pace!
So, we opted for a Waeco (now called Dometic) Tropicool TCX35 Fridge for around £220, which cools to 30 degrees below ambient temperature. Not needing ice or a freezer section, this 33 litre cheap(ish) fridge seemed to do us just great.
So we build a sliding out shelf for it to sit, with the lid opening just below the height of the counter top. The 12v cable that comes with the fridge has a lighter socket it on the end, so in order to attach this to the fusebox, I needed to cut this off. However, once I had done this there was no clear way of knowing which was the positive cable and which was the negative cable on the lead. With no clear markings on either cable, I decided to to just touch one cable to the positive and one to the negative and see if it worked. It didn’t and a millisecond later the fridge was smoking. I had obviously got the polarity of the cables the wrong way around. I had either blown the AC/DC PCB or the main PCB. Contacting Dometic, these parts needed to come from Germany and were about the same (each) as the whole thing cost in the first place. So in the space of a second the fridge was dead!!
Not having enough money to replace it, it now became the world’s most expensive 10kg fixed coolbox L
9 – Install Kitchen / shower room wall, attach Oak spice rack and condiment shelf, and wire in light switch
We decided we wanted some nice looking oak shelves on the kitchen wall, and as these would be screwed from the back of the kitchen/shower room wall, this had not yet been fixed in place. We used some scrap solid oak from the countertop, and cut it into some thin board slices, and built a condiment shelf and a spice rack, both of which after a coat of oil or two, really complimented the oak countertop and looked great on the white wall.
We wired in the light switches that were on this wall, screwed the shelves in place, and installed the wall. Several coats of paint and attempts at fillering the joins and this wall was up and looking great.
10 – Build Cupboard Doors
By the time we had got to making the cupboard doors we were well and truly over building the kitchen. But, the kitchen doors would really make or break the look of the whole thing, so they needed some time and dedication. Having got some practice in making thin doors with the back cupboards, we decided to use the same method of making a squared frame, but this time added the plywood to the back (instead of sitting in grooves) as we wanted the edges to be thick as possible to hold the hinges adequately. Having never set hinges before, we struggled a bit to get them the right way around and after drilling a few holes with the forstner bit into the kitchen frame unnecessarily, we managed to figure out which way was the right way!
With some time and care we managed to set all the doors, adjusting the depth and height on the hinges to make the cap between each door the same and how they sat 3mm under the counter top overhang. We were incredibly pleased with how they looked and sat, so off they came for a multicoat paint job (save a few days for this!) and then back on they went with some lovely new ceramic door handles.
11 – Make handmade tiles for kitchen backsplash and install
We had already started the super laborious task of handmaking the ceramic tiles for the backsplash. We thought this process would save us a few pounds, but there was a certain appealing lure of satisfaction in making as much of the elements in the conversion as possible. We rolled out clay on large wooden boards to set thicknesses using same-sized sticks on the edges and rolling pins. Using rectangular templates, we cut out the rectangular tiles and bevelled the edges of each one we cut. We then let the tiles dry and then bisque fired them in the kiln. At this stage many of them we too thin, so several patches later we managed to get ones that didn’t curl too much. Then we purchased some lovely turquoise and green crackle glazes (this was very expensive – certainly makes us know appreciate why hand made tiles are so expensive!) and applied these to the tiles. We needed three coats per tile, so the glazes didn’t stretch so far. Then they needed a Glaze Firing. Some bubbled and some the glazes split. Some tiles shattered.
However, in the end out of the hundreds or more of tiles we attempted, we managed to get enough nicely glazed tiles, that were too curled, to make an attractive backsplash. We mixed up some tile grout with pva glue (which set super fast) and tiled them onto the plywood board. So far, they haven’t cracked – because god knows how we replace a tile if they do!
12 – Make and Install black out rollerblinds
We bought some cheap rollerblinds (full blinds seemed cheaper than the kits), stripped off the old material, cut some white blackout material to the required size, taped this material to the pole – and up the blinds went – trying to minimise the distance of the rollerblind to the wall so that not too much light would come through the gap. Once these went up the bus was starting to look quite homely!