Vanbase Builds a Conversion That's More Like a Boat Than a Camper Van

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©. Shaun Kelly, Vanbase

Beautifully crafted interior is a classic where sailors will feel right at home.

I have often wondered why tiny houses and vans take their design cues from houses instead of from boats, where there is a very long history of living in smaller spaces. So I was immediately attracted to Shaun Kelly's van conversions. He tells TreeHugger:

My father was a well known wooden boat builder in the Seattle area with 13 houseboats on Lake Union. I grew up building boats with my father but later started designing websites and apps. I spent 18 years working at start-ups and game companies to mid to large size companies before looking for a change. After my father passed away I started Vanbase and started building vans with wood and marine products built for adventures around the Pacific Northwest.
Interior of van

© Shaun Kelly, Vanbase

This van is very much like a boat, but it is no lavish over-the-top land yacht; from the alcohol stove to the table that drops down to a bed, it's pretty much like the inside of my dad's old boat.

Looking to rear of van

© Shaun Kelly, Vanbase

The bigger bed is permanent and up high, so there is storage for bikes and camping equipment that can be reached from the rear doors.

Fridge in a drawer

© Shaun Kelly, Vanbase

Unlike my dad's boat, it has a drawer fridge instead of an icebox. This is progress.

Alcohol stove on counter

© Shaun Kelly, Vanbase

The alcohol stove is stored in a drawer and brought out when needed. This is very low-tech compared to some of the arrangements we have seen. On the other hand, these stoves are extremely dependable, the products of combustion are mostly water vapour and you can cook up quite a meal on them.

The kitchen has a stainless steel Marine sink, foot pump with water supplied by a five gallon tank: "Easy take out, carry and fill just about anywhere."

View to front of van

© shaun Kelly, Vanbase

The van is insulated with Thinsulite in the doors, and wool in the walls and ceiling, then all lined with shiplap wood, screwed and glued. "Clear Sauna Cedar Tongue and Groove boards glued and nailed wood to wood to custom curved marine plywood framing riveted to vans ceiling ribs."

view of storage area

© shaun Kelly, Vanbase

I wish it had a head, as they call toilets on boats. I suspect that one could be squeezed under the double bed somehow, in all that storage space, and then there is always the bumper dumper trailer hitch toilet as an option. It's always a tough call; even when we had one on the boat we tried not to use it because then you had to pump it out. Perhaps it is better to rely on rest stops and campgrounds.

Electrical systems

© shaun Kelly, Vanbase

There's also a bunch of marine-style electrical systems, not enough to live off grid, but enough to get you through the night.

  • 200ah AGM Batteries store your power for fridge, lights, fan, heater and dc outlets. Batteries are stored in a battery cabinet built into slider door step under the galley keeping a low center of gravity and is accessed though hatch behind slider door.
  • 200 Watts of Solar Panels mounted together and on factory rails with adapters allowing for awning.
  • Sterling Power Battery to Battery Charger charges battery bank while driving.
van going down the road

© shaun Kelly, Vanbase

It's an interesting package for US$90,000. Everything beautifully made by hand, feeling very much like a well-crafted boat. I wonder if most people don't prefer something that is more like a house, but I really like it. Treehuggers may also appreciate that Shaun plants 500 trees in Guatamala for every complete build. "We’ve spent time traveling in these beautiful regions and want to give back to the planet we love so much."

See more at Vanbase.