When building a van conversion, storage is paramount for a comfortable, organized van life experience. From the kitchen galley to your overhead cabinets to extra drawers or closet space, quality cabinetry helps turn a metal rolling box into a home on wheels.
Whether you want a prefabricated solution (RTA or ready-to-assemble cabinets), a DIY woodworking project, or prefer to enlist the help of a professional, this guide explores the best van cabinet options to meet your budget, space, and aesthetic.
Buying Guide: How to Choose Van Cabinets
Before you dive into the daunting world of cabinetmaking, consider your materials, cabinet style, available time, and budget.
Material: What is the Best Material for Campervan Cabinets?
The most popular material for van cabinets is ½ inch birch plywood for the cabinet doors and box and pine 1x2s for framing studs. Birch plywood is a hardwood that strikes a balance between strength and weight. With multiple lamination layers, it is sturdier, lightweight, and more aesthetically pleasing than regular plywood. Alternatively, you can find van cabinets made of aluminum, bamboo, and varying types of plywood.
A minimum of ½ inch thickness is recommended by cabinet professionals to ensure longevity and space for hardware. You can build Euro-style (no face frame) van cabinets with solely birch ply or you can use pine 1x2s to construct face frame style cabinets with a hardwood plywood for the cabinet doors. 1x2s are also useful for creating studs behind the van walls to attach your cabinets to.
Cabinet Style: Euro (Frameless) vs. Face Frame
The two most popular types of van cabinets are Euro-style and face frame cabinets. Most professional-looking van conversions on social media these days are using Euro cabinets without face frames.
European-style cabinets are frameless, which means the cabinet box is the main structure and the door hinges are attached directly to the plywood. Face frame cabinets are like those commonly found in American houses, where the cabinet doors sit over a face frame, revealing an “edge” along each side. The only real advantage of face frame cabinets in a van is that the frame can help hold your stuff inside the cabinet without building extra dividers.
|Euro Style||Face Frame|
|Modern and sleek||Traditional|
|Generally lighter weight||May be heavier|
|Frameless: Plywood cabinet box is main structure||Framed: 1x2s create the structure and plywood creates the box walls|
|Doors attach directly to cabinet box and sit flush with the cabinet (no edge reveal)||Doors attach to the face frame, showing a “reveal” around the edges|
|More efficient and functional for small spaces because they offer “full access” to cabinet||Framing helps hold cabinet items in place without adding additional dividers|
Time and Budget
The crux of van cabinet decisions lies at the intersection of time and money. Consider these three key categories and recommendations for your situation:
High Budget, Low Time
Anyone short on time or skills should opt for a prefab (ready-to-assemble) van cabinet setup. While this is often the most expensive option, it is the most reliable and will get you on the road the fastest. With the rising popularity of van conversions, we now have a plethora of premade options available to help skip the headaches of custom cabinetry.
Ready-to-assemble cabinets include all the pre-cut pieces and hardware for a quick installation. They are specifically designed by people who understand van life. They reliably stay open/closed and withstand the roughness of life on the road. Fortunately, you can still paint and style the cabinets to match your van’s aesthetic.
Medium Budget, Medium Time
For those with moderate amounts of time and money, hiring a custom cabinet maker or van conversion company can make the process easier and more streamlined. The pros know what they are doing and can quickly design and construct basic cabinets that look like a house. The downside is that many cabinet makers are not familiar with van life.
Low Budget, High Time
If you have a lot of time and a small budget, it’s best to use online tutorials to learn the art of cabinetry yourself. A DIY option is the best route because your cabinets will be cheaper and more customized to your specific design. This is especially advantageous if you ever need to fix anything on the road because you know exactly how you constructed it. However, your cabinets may not look as much like a professional home.
6 Best Van Cabinets
Van cabinets can be the most difficult part of the conversion process. They incorporate aspects of a traditional house, a boat, and an RV, but they don’t fit solely into any of those categories.
In my luxury Sprinter conversion, I hired a custom cabinet maker to help me install cabinetry that looks like a home. If I did it over again as a beginner, I’d recommend pre-fab cabinets to make the process easier. But now that I have the skills, I could DIY build cabinets myself.
Your cabinet journey ultimately depends on how much time and money you want to invest. Here are the 6 best options for any aesthetic, skillset, and budget.
Top Pick for Overhead Cabinets: Titan DIY Kits
If you want to install your van cabinets in a day without any major carpentry equipment or skills, this is the option for you! These DIY kits include pre-cut wood, auto-lift doors (gas struts), hinges, fasteners, and screws for attaching to your van. Instructions are provided and everything is ready to assemble with a standard drill. The wood is unpainted and unfinished so you can match the aesthetic to your van’s design.
The kits come in a wide range of styles and options for specific vans, including:
- DIY Overhead Cabinet Kit for Ford Transit Vans
- DIY Overhead Triple Cabinet Kit for Sprinter Vans
- Bed and Wheel Well Cabinets for Sprinter Vans
Based in Colorado, Titan DIY Kits has quickly become a leader in prefab van install kits. These engineers have actually lived van life, built hundreds of vans, and understand all the nuances of van designs and installations. They take the headaches out of cabinet design.
- Quickest, easiest option
- Requires minimal skills or tools
- Compatible with your specific van
- High-quality baltic birch plywood
- Unfinished so you can custom paint for your aesthetic
- Auto-lift doors with gas struts
- Secure closing marine-grade latches to keep doors closed
- Stainless steel hardware
- Moderate price
- No options for Promaster vans
- Moderate to lightweight (30-70 pounds)
- Less customization
- Still requires basic carpentry skills like drilling and assembling
- You must decide how to attach the cabinets
Top Pick for Kitchen Galley: Adventure Van Galley from Flatline Van Co.
Imagine just dropping a pre-made kitchen into your van and securing it so you can hit the road right away! This premade kitchen galley from Flatline Van Co. offers unparalleled convenience with almost zero assembly. The unit is engineered by professional van builders for top-notch aesthetics and performance, with a premade space for a fridge, sink/stove, two drawers, and a butcher block countertop. All you need to do is securely drill it down or attach it to an L-track system.
- Ships fully assembled and ready to install
- Durable and sleek aluminum and bamboo construction
- Bamboo butcher block-style countertop
- Quality push-lock hardware holds drawers and doors closed
- Powdercoat finish in black, gray, or white
- Space to install a sink or stove
- Free shipping!
- Moderately expensive
- Fairly heavy (130 pounds)
- Requires strategic securing to the van structure
- Less customization for colors and styles
- Only fits a specific refrigerator size (Engel SR70 fridge-freezer or Isotherm Drawer 65)
If you want truly custom van cabinets but you don’t know how to build them, I recommend drawing out your layout and hiring a pro carpenter to construct it. Beware it may take some time to find a local carpenter who is up for the task. I found mine through family friends and worked with him over the course of several weeks to create and build my completely custom design. Fortunately, I learned a lot of skills along the way so I now can build my own cabinets (this is a bonus if you choose a down-home carpenter with his own shop).
The drawback is, most traditional cabinet makers only work in houses and may not be familiar with a van setup. The cabinet-maker I hired was very savvy but had never worked in a tiny home on wheels. Therefore, my cabinets turned out heavier and more like a traditional home kitchen. He did an excellent job with soft-close drawer slides that have kept my drawers closed over some wild roads. However, I had to devise my own plan for gas struts and latches.
- Professional completely customized finish
- Cabinets look like a home or hotel
- Opportunity to learn from an experienced carpenter
- Wide variation in price tag and professionality
- Cabinet-maker may not be familiar with van life
- You will likely have to choose and install your own hardware to hold drawers and doors shut
Here is my van with the 1×2 studs installed with rivnuts and self-tapping screws into the ribs of the van:
Here are my finished custom face-frame cabinets that were ultimately a hybrid of a hired professional and my own DIY carpentry skills:
Lightest Weight Option: Custom Cabinets from Aluminum Cabinet Co.
If you want to minimize the amount of wood weight in your van, lightweight marine-grade aluminum is the way to go! Aluminum Cabinet Co. offers custom fabricated and stock-size van cabinets for Sprinters, Transits, and Promasters. Aluminum is increasingly popular in the van community because it doesn’t rust and obviously won’t mold or warp the way that wood might.
Ordering custom aluminum cabinets is another hybrid DIY and professional option. You can create the measurements and storage designs, but you still need to install them and ensure the hardware matches up to your expectations. Wild off-roaders and overlanders tend to love the aluminum option! It’s easy to clean and extremely long-lasting.
- Extremely lightweight and strong
- Professionally fabricated and minimal installation
- Minimize your GVWR (better fuel mileage!)
- More cargo or adventure style
- Lots of organization options
- Moderately expensive
- Exact measurements and design required
- Still requires an attachment to your van
- Less customization or home-style painting
Budget Option: Stock Kitchen Cabinets
For those who are not builder-savvy, ready-made stock kitchen cabinets can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowes, Ikea, and other hardware stores. You can even go to Habitat for Humanity to score a cheap used cabinet setup.
These premade options are quick and easy because they’re ready-made to look like a kitchen. The vans and skoolies I’ve met who used a premade option usually have to repair or customize it along the way. They don’t look as much like a professional van conversion, but they do offer a very cheap way to get on the road quickly.
- Assembled and ready to install!
- Very affordable and quick option
- Looks like a home
- Minimal carpentry skills needed
- Not specifically designed for van life
- Must replace hardware with latches that will hold shut on the road
- May not match your van fridge, sink, or other appliances
- Thinner, cheaper materials may not hold up on the road
DIY Build: Teach Yourself Custom Cabinetry with Online Tutorials
Hone your cabinet-making skills and design the most customized van possible by going the DIY route. YouTube offers a wealth of knowledge from pro van builders and carpenters, but you will need to do a lot of research in advance.
DIY building my van was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life because I acquired so many skills I never thought I could do, however I am still glad I consulted a professional for the cabinets because I was not up for the challenge at the time.
If you don’t have tools, the investment in saws, drills, and accessories can be the most expensive part of the process. I built my van with only a circular saw, chop saw (Miter saw), drill, impact driver, and a jigsaw.
This tutorial for overhead cabinets is extremely straightforward and comprehensive:
This video is my favorite for designing a kitchen galley with extruded aluminum framing:
- Most customizable option
- Can be extremely lightweight and aesthetic
- Highly rewarding (but sometimes frustrating)
- Can be budget-friendly because you are sourcing your own materials
- Easier to fix on the road because you built the cabinets
- Requires significant investment in saws, drills, shop space, and other tools
- Lots of time spent learning from online tutorials
- May need to take classes or consult a carpenter
Key Takeaways: Choose Van Cabinets That Fit Your Budget, Skills, and Storage Needs
Van cabinets don’t have to be a major headache if you choose prefab or professionally built options. But anyone with a budget and an open mind should aim for a DIY learning experience. No matter what cabinets you choose, I recommend laying out everything you plan to store in your van so you can be sure all your clothes, kitchen tools, and living items fit in the storage spaces you design.