I have been slowly working on this micro-camper build for years now, so this blog post is long overdue. This is actually my third iteration and by far the one I am happiest with. My goal was to have a setup that converted easily and quickly between bed mode and couch mode.
I find couch mode super useful because its way easier to pack and change with couch mode – really great for camping/backpacking trips. I also find it more comfortable for reading and working on my computer, which I do sometimes when I show up somewhere early and have some time to kill.
Many Element camper setups (including my second iteration) are tall simple platforms that optimize storage space under the bed platform. This setup has decidedly less storage space than most. But in exchange for storage, I get good head room when hanging out in couch-mode, and a 4″ mattress – downright luxurious in such a small space.
There are only two pieces of furniture: a shelf and a bed. Each are held in with 2 turnbuckles that attach to existing anchor points. Neither requires any modification of the car in order to install.
I wanted the shelf to fit in really well with the existing contours of the interior trim, so I carefully trimmed cardboard templates to fit all the curves before cutting the plywood itself. In addition to looking nice, the matching curves also help to make the shelf extremely stable with just two turnbuckles.
The bed platform is also secured with two turnbuckles, so the whole setup can be removed in a few minutes. Again I made some cardboard templates to match the contours of the interior trim before cutting the wood to fit. I then used these same templates to cut a 4″ foam mattress to the right shape. And then again to make a set of form-fitting sheets to cover the funky shaped mattress.
The bed platform is composed of interlocking slats that extend out for “bed mode” conversion. The sliding out motion is my favorite bed conversion mechanism because it means you can have your whole mess of stuff on top of the bed and do the conversion without clearing anything off. (This was my least favorite task when I had a hinged bed platform that could only be flipped open when it wasn’t covered in stuff).
The curtains are a sweet spot for easy and effective. I installed some hooks in the trim and stretched a loop of elastic cord to use as a curtain ‘rod.’ It also makes a good clothesline for drying stuff.
I also put bug netting on the middle windows. Future improvements include having a pop-up mesh tent for the rear door for camping in hotter places. But so far I’ve only camped in cooler situations and wanted to be more stealth, so having these windows open a tiny bit has been enough airflow.
My latest upgrade is this iPad holder that doubles as the frame that holds my insulation bubble wrap in place. Plastic tabs rotate to allow easy removal of the iPad and also easy removal of the frame. The plastic pieces and the wooden plywood frame were both cut on my laser cutter. I’m quite impressed that my 60W laser was able to go through 1/2″ plywood with a couple passes. I must say, this is a solid way to watch a movie, even when I’m parked in my driveway…
When I’m actually camping, my cook kit and some food fits in this Tupperware. There’s room under the bed for one more of these, plus some extra space. Usually, any other extra gear/clothes get put in the shelf or on the front seats and dash when its time to sleep.
Here’s a video showing the installation of shelf and bed, and how to convert it between bed and couch mode: https://youtu.be/qfIWjVnueSI
Awesome build! Very creative and great usability details. Your approach to the pull out is brilliant.
I would love to see your projects in person one of these days.
Personally, I have been trying to get over my fear of starting some ukuleles…. stumbled across your blog… and was thoroughly impressed.
Thanks for reading, Matthew! Yes yes, start making a ukulele!
Hey Amy – thanks for sharing your build! It’s impressive and inspiring 🙂
Just wondering if you could share some details on the mattress/cushion situation you have. Did you do the electric carving knife trick to cut the foam mattress? And also do you have the link of what mattress you bought? And how many cushions do you have in total? You wrote that you used a template to make the weird sheets – did you sew them yourself?
Thanks – I’m trying to figure out a mattress for my own weird shaped sleeping platform, so I’m hunting for all the help I can get!
Hi Maria, Yes, I did sew the sheets myself. I made some cardboard templates that I used to shape the bed platform, the mattress pad, and the sheets. For the mattress, I ordered the “Zinus Memory Foam 4 Inch Mattress, Twin” from Amazon. I cut it using the biggest kitchen knife I have. Basically, if its sharp enough to cut a tomato nicely, it will do great on a foam mattress, too! Good luck!!
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I can’t get enough of this build. The detail is just so fantastic. Thanks for sharing! I have a old 99 Subaru Forester and would love to make something along these lines for it. Maybe some day!
I can’t get enough of this build. The detail is just brilliant! Thanks for sharing the plans too, I have a 99′ Subaru Forester and hope to build something similar for it Someday.
Hi Amy ! I love you set up and admire your craftsmanship. I hope to do something like this someday soon:) one question though, how long is the bed ? And does a shorter bed work well for you n why.
Hi Amy, Loved your video! Would you be willing to share (or sell) your cardboard cut-outs to a fellow Element owner? It may not be that hard to recreate, but it would save a heck of a lot of time! Thanks for considering!
Would you be willing to make the Honda Element bed and cabinet and ship it? If yes, just let me know how much and when you can send it. I’d be happy to pay the price to have you do this and it will be done correctly.
Thank you very much for putting these pictures out there.
Done…….I build you Element bed. Thank you for the plans. I only thing i did different is I didn’t use your “little birch spacers” I went down to the building supply store and picked up a handfull of arborite/formica samples. Worked great as you can double them us as needed depending on the fit. 🙂 Didn’t have to trim them or perdrill them and they were free:).
Hi Mark, what a great idea! Way to use what you have available 😂 Glad your build went well!
Does these conversions require a special battery, especially if you have a microwave and fridge? And if so how hard it is.
I’m pretty sure you would need an additional battery (I don’t know how special it would be). I have neither a microwave or a fridge, so you’ll have to consult another source!