Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

This Renovator Flipped a Cargo Van into a Stunning Getaway

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We all love a gorgeous camper renovation, but have you ever considered a van conversion?!

Camper vans may be even more popular now than in the 1960s and 1970s! We’re here to show you why with rain2shine ventures’ most recent custom-built camper van, Athena.

before photo of the back of camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
after photo of the back of camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Athena’s (van) Story

Athena came to rain2shine ventures through a couple close to retirement in Maryland. As avid campers who previously owned a teardrop camper, this couple sought something bigger and more convenient to travel in. 

They bought their 2022 Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 with a 170” wheelbase from a seller in NY who previously started modifying the vehicle with some exterior work. The seller also provided approximately $30K worth of materials he had already purchased, with the price of the van.

While searching for a company to build their van, our clients found that most van conversion companies weren’t willing to work with them because of the excessive amount of products coming with the van.

Typically, we also purchase and/or build all the materials for our camper renovations and van conversions because we know what will and will not work and fit in each RV.

Often, some purchased items need to be retrofitted for a build, and we know what will be less costly in terms of the price and labor required to make it work. It ultimately saves our clients and company from wasted time returning unusable items and added labor, which helps the budget stretch further.

However, in this case, the van’s owners acquired high-end, mostly operational equipment from the seller, so we agreed to use as many of those items as possible to save time and money.

Side Note:

As a fully client-based company offering customized builds and renovations specific to each customer’s wants and needs, we welcome our clients’ ideas and guide them through the process with our expertise in small spaces, function, and interior design.

Some clients give us free rein and creativity. In contrast, others are more particular or want options to choose from regarding layout and decor.

We strive to get to know each client before starting their project to ensure a smooth process. We ask questions such as:

  1. Are there any must-haves or needs to consider? For example, spaces for children or pets, work/office materials, special equipment, etc.
  2. What is your design style or vision? Do you have examples (links or photos) of design styles you like?
  3. Do you travel Full Time or Recreationally?
  4. What kind of lifestyle do you lead? Very active, relaxed, work-oriented, etc.
  5. Where do you intend to travel in your RV?

Read More: How Much Does an RV Renovation Cost? (+ How to Save Money!)

Back to Athena

The owners of Athena did extensive research and had a list of “must-haves,” including a self-cleaning shower door, interior switches for holding tanks, and an area by the bed with a plug for a small CPAP machine.

Next, their list of “wants” included a table that would accommodate the driver-side swivel chair, shoe storage by the sliding door, a step to assist in getting in and out of their raised bed, and a place to install a TV and a sound system later.

So, we got to work on creating a floor plan and design in VanSpace 3D to share with them, and they approved!

While this was our third van build, it was by far the most complex, with many more features than the previous two.

Additional features included a full shower (with a slide-in-and-out toilet), an elaborate electrical system, solar, and a fully diesel heating system, including a heated floor.

We began working on Athena at the end of May 2023, and our clients came for their BIG REVEAL and took her home to Maryland in December 2023.

Since this Mercedes van has so many features throughout, I’ve broken them into categories: aesthetic, functional, and operational features.

Aesthetic Features: 

Our goal with Athena was to create a cheerful vibe with a transitional (mix of traditional and contemporary) aesthetic. The Mercedes is a classic but fun space, featuring pops of color, sleek neutrals, and tasteful accents.

While we like everything about this van, the textures really make a statement. From the wood-grained marble backsplash in the kitchen and the teal geometric shower tile to the sleek white onyx corian countertop and the rattan cabinet inserts, we were able to blend a variety of products seamlessly. 

Upper Cabinet Doors

Personally, one of my favorite aspects of the van was the upper cabinet doors, which have rattan inserts and gold hammered handles.

Why, you may ask? Typically those handles are supposed to be flipped the other way around, but as a nod to the rain2shine ventures logo, we turned them to look like a sunrise. 

upper cabinet doors in camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Shower Tile

The shower tile was a true work of art and a tireless project, but it was worth it.

The challenge in a van is that the shell of the vehicle is curved.

So, trying to lay tile vertically on a slant and match up the design on three separate walls was very difficult and time-consuming. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, you will be satisfied with the outcome.

shower tile in camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Backsplash

We chose the wood-grained marble backsplash for the kitchen because we loved the geometric shape that coincided with the diamond-esque shape of the shower tile, but also mainly because the wood grain complimented the natural rattan inserts in the upper cabinetry.

Having those two elements reflect a natural vibe helped to bring all the other aesthetics together seamlessly.

backsplash in camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Tabletop

Lastly, the tabletop we chose for dining and working was a last-minute decision.

Initially, we planned on making our own, but that “wow” factor was missing. Ultimately, we decided to purchase an end table from Amazon that we deconstructed to work within the van. We couldn’t be happier with it. (You’ll see the tabletop from above deeper into this article.)

Tabletop in camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Side profile of finished camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Functional Features: 

While the above features help make the space look beautiful, making it as functional as possible is also essential.

Creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness are necessary when working with such a compact space.

At rain2shine, we pride ourselves on merging style and operations without sacrificing any functionality. 

The most functional aspect of this van involves the bathroom and dining areas.

Bathroom

We custom-built a shower and a shower pan to allow the Separett toilet to slide in and out with drawer slides. The shower’s multi-functionality saves space in an already compact van. When the toilet is not in use, it is stored outside the shower, under a seating bench, and enclosed with a tambour door.

Creating multi-functional spaces is imperative in tiny homes.

Note: Our client chose a urine-diverting toilet, meaning there is no need for a black tank.

Toilet in remodeled camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Toilet in remodeled camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Dining and Office Area

That leads us to the dining/office area. Remember that tabletop we mentioned earlier? Well, we put that on an adjustable table leg.

HWHongRV Upgrade Rv Table Leg with Folding Table Top, Swivels 360 Degrees Removable Premium Aluminum Alloy Rv Table Leg Bracket Accessories for Rv, Pontoon, Truck Camper, Travel Trailer… (White)
13 Reviews
HWHongRV Upgrade Rv Table Leg with Folding Table Top, Swivels 360 Degrees Removable Premium Aluminum Alloy Rv Table Leg Bracket Accessories for Rv, Pontoon, Truck Camper, Travel Trailer… (White)
  • Upgraded swivels table legs cross-arm part has a 90° folding function, so you can fold and store the desktop without removing it, creating more convenience

That provides mobility for the table and allows you to collapse it against the wall when it’s not in use. Every spare inch matters!

Additionally, we installed swivels under the driver’s and passenger’s seats so our client could rotate to face the back of the van. 

Side profile of finished camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Side profile of finished camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Bedroom

It’s common for a van’s systems to be located in the rear. We put them under the custom-built bed in the back for this project.

This made the bed sit higher than a standard bed, making getting in/out challenging for a petite person.

To solve this problem, we custom-built a pull-out step stool below the refrigerator. It is hidden when not in use and easy to access when needed.

Additionally, we made it slip-resistant using life grip tape.

LifeGrip Anti Slip Transparent Anti Slip Tape, 2 inch by 30 feet, Non-Slip Traction Grip Tape to Tubs, Boats, Stairs, Clear, Soft, Comfortable for Bare feet (2' X 30')
5,166 Reviews
LifeGrip Anti Slip Transparent Anti Slip Tape, 2 inch by 30 feet, Non-Slip Traction Grip Tape to Tubs, Boats, Stairs, Clear, Soft, Comfortable for Bare feet (2" X 30')
  • CREATE HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT: This clear non-skid adhesive tape is made out of environmentally friendly material with a soft texture surface to create traction and prevent slips. It is comfortable for bare feet. It has many great features for using to create a safe environment for your kids, seniors and dogs.

Note: The drawer slides (with locking rails) used for the step and the toilet will hold up to 500 lbs.

YENUO Heavy Duty Drawer Slides with Lock 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 44 48 52 56 60 Inch Full Extension Side Mount Ball Bearing Locking Rails Track Glides Runners Load 500 Lbs 1 Pair
336 Reviews
YENUO Heavy Duty Drawer Slides with Lock 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 44 48 52 56 60 Inch Full Extension Side Mount Ball Bearing Locking Rails Track Glides Runners Load 500 Lbs 1 Pair
  • 【Installation note】Suitable for 18-20 inch drawers.The space between drawer and cabinet wall need to be 0.75in each at left and right side,total 1.5in ( inside cabinet width - outside drawer width= 1.5in )一 Note:For installation,make sure the two slide rails parallel to each other,and make sure the drawer portion slides parallel to the cabinet portion slides and in the same level. without mounting screws included,you can purchase different M6 screws according to your specific installation scene.
Drawer stool in campervan
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Drawer stool in campervan
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Cabinetry and Sink

Van life typically lends to an active outdoor lifestyle and, ultimately, dirty shoes. We installed a sliding shoe compartment in our cabinetry (facing the sliding door) to store all those shoes for our client.

The real benefit is that you can access it from outside the van to switch from dirty shoes to clean shoes before entering and vice versa. 

After photo of the cabinetry
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

We also intentionally placed the sink and faucet above the shoe compartment.

or this faucet, we chose one with mobility, meaning you can rotate it to the outside of the van to quickly clean things, like, perhaps, dirty shoes!

PHICHI Kitchen Faucet with Dual Function Pull-Down Spray Head in All-Brite Finish, Commercial Single Handle Brushed Gold Kitchen Sink Faucet with Deck Plate, 1 Hole Or 3 Hole Compatible.
115 Reviews
PHICHI Kitchen Faucet with Dual Function Pull-Down Spray Head in All-Brite Finish, Commercial Single Handle Brushed Gold Kitchen Sink Faucet with Deck Plate, 1 Hole Or 3 Hole Compatible.
  • 💛💛Commercial-Style Flexibility💛💛Experience the flexibility of our commercial-style faucet, boasting a heavy-duty open coil spring spout for an industrial touch. Designed for home use, its optimized compact height effortlessly fits beneath kitchen cabinets. The pull-down sprayhead adds convenience and ensures a broader range of motion for all-around sink tasks.
After photo of sink and faucet down the center of the van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
After photo of sink and faucet
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Self-Cleaning Shower Door

To avoid touching on each functional feature, I will end on the self-cleaning shower door, which is beneficial in preventing moisture build-up and, ultimately, mold in a small space.

These shower doors aren’t the best-looking, but their benefits outweigh their beauty!

Operational Features:

Operations are the most exciting part to some, while it is boring or goes right over the heads of others.

Either way, the operations may be the most critical part of a custom van conversion.

The operational features include:

Power

Using a very complex 600 AH Victron system with three batteries, the entire van has the power to operate. Additionally, it connects to the 200-watt roof solar panels and the 90-watt hood solar panels. 

camper van's batteries
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper van's air conditioning unit
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Air Conditioner

Finding a 12V AC can be difficult, but Nomadic Supply Co. has a few models that can be utilized when you’re not plugged into anything.

We chose the Nomadic Cooling X3 Camper Van Air Conditioner, a stand-alone AC that can operate without being connected to the engine or shore power. That choice allows them to function while off-grid. 

Furthermore, this AC only uses 12V or 24V DC power to run directly from your batteries without an inverter.

Heating

Our clients were adamant about using diesel over propane to heat their van. Since the rig itself is diesel, this made perfect sense.

We chose the Bobil Air Hybrid heater.

Bobil Vans describes it best, “it allows you to heat water from both your diesel air heater and via electric (12V, 230V or both). By pumping water through a heat exchanger – attached to a diesel heater – you can heat water from your diesel heater, giving your hot water to wash up, do dishes or have a hot shower. The 10L insulated, pressurized tank easily connects to your existing water supply and has integrated tank connectors, requiring very little power to maintain the temperature. You can set the temperature you would like the water to be, and it will automatically switch off when it hits it.”

Camper van's systems
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

We also installed heated flooring by using the Bobil Underfloor Heating Kit.  This kit allows you to utilize the heat from the diesel air heater and use it to heat propylene glycol, which pumps around the floor of your campervan through a copper pipe, giving you a cozy floor!

Flooring being built and placed into camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Cabinet being built and placed into camper van
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Cellular Signal Booster

WeBoost is one of the best-known cellular signal boosters around, primarily for its ability to create a strong cell signal from a very weak source, up to 50 dB maximum gain!

One of these boosters was very important to our clients, who will continue working remotely until retirement.

Everything Else

Although I’ve covered a few of the more prominent features in this van, there are many more, including a 40-gallon fresh water tank, 2 gray tanks, a UV water filtration system, a pop-up countertop outlet, and more!

For a complete list of features and materials, visit Athena’s page on our website: Athena Van Conversion.

Camper Van Gutted Before Picture
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper Van After Picture from side
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper Van Gutted Before Picture
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper Van After Picture from back
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper Van Gutted Before Picture
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper Van After Picture from rear
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper Van Gutted Before Picture
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures
Camper Van After Picture of bedroom
Photo credit: Alice Zealy of rain2shine ventures

Tour Athena in Full on YouTube:

See more of our step-by-step renovation guides that Alice has written:

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