This Chevy Camper Van’s Wondrous Wooden Interior Will Make You Look Twice

An Ecuadorian couple are taking their new traveling home to remote communities to raise awareness for sustainability.

Ecuadorian couple Diego Sayago and Tatiana Salas—a lawyer and an environmental engineer—bought a 1993 Chevy van with dreams of turning it into a place where they could live while traveling to remote communities for their work. At first they planned to refurbish the van themselves, but they soon realized they needed design expertise to successfully transform the tiny interior space—so they approached Juan Alberto Andrade, María José Váscones, and Cuqui Rodriguez.

Tatiana works with communities, schools, and other organizations to foster environmental consciousness in younger and underprivileged groups, and Diego helps support this mission. The Dodo Van is designed to serve as a mobile home that the couple can use to visit remote communities. 

When Tatiana and Diego bought the secondhand 1993 Chevy Van, it was completely unfurnished. The first intervention—done by the clients—was to add a pop top to create a more spacious dwelling.

"They wanted to equip the van with basic living needs—a place to rest, work, cook, and eat," says Andrade. "Our purpose was to solve the architectural program by designing and implementing flexible furniture that can produce different configurations according to these needs."

Diego and Tatiana named their vehicle the Dodo Van—after the late bird species—to remind themselves not to let their dreams become extinct. "Diego’s plan is to travel around the country, getting to know new places, while Tatiana wants to educate people about a sustainable lifestyle and ecological materials," says Váscones. "They were able to bring their wishes to life through the van, and the name reminds them to keep their dreams alive."

Plywood joinery conceals a portable table for eating and working, a bed for two people, a kitchenette, and ample storage space. The interior is designed to be flexible enough to adapt to different everyday situations, solving the basic needs of living.

The Dodo Van has seats to transport up to six people. The side entrance leads directly to the kitchenette area behind the driver’s seat.  

The van’s interior measures about 54 square feet, so it was essential that the space could adapt to different living functions. The solution is a clever system of built-in plywood joinery that can fold, assemble, and pull out to offer space to sleep, prepare food, eat, and relax.

When configured for dining, the Dodo Van features a table with bench seating and a kitchen bench next to the cooking area.  

The bench seats in the rear of the van fold out to become a double bed. 

The living area is divided into three distinct zones, with two entrances—lateral doors on the right, and doors at the back. Entering the van through the right side leads to the kitchenette, with a window to the outside. The middle of the van holds a foldable kitchen countertop next to a cooking area, and the rear of the van features seating that folds out to become a double bed. The design team integrated storage space wherever possible throughout the entire van.

The bed is located at the rear of the van, so it has access to the views afforded by the open doors. 

Plywood covers almost the entire interior of the van. "The construction process involved thinking of solutions for a space with many corners and curves," recalls Andrade. "Challenges make things interesting, so this was my favorite part of the project."

"An analysis of tiny houses led us to the conclusion that flexibility is the main attribute when solving an architectural program with basic living needs in a space limited by square footage," says Andrade.

The design team initially planned to work with solid timber, but eventually they decided to craft the interior from plywood boards of various thicknesses, which are lighter and more easily molded. "Given that the van has a very specific shape, it was necessary to work with a material that could adapt to the morphology of it, preserving the van’s structure," says Váscones. "Working with one material also made the space monochromatic, so it could seem open and wider."

The table, which is used for dining and working, is stored away when not in use, and simply screws together when needed.

Some of the furniture in the van—such as the table—can be used outside as well, giving the clients added flexibility.

The van also needed to provide all the necessities for comfortable living. The kitchenette has running water thanks to a system of storage tanks that hold both clean and used water, and there is an independent battery connected to the vehicle’s alternator, a 110v transformer, light fixtures, and three outlets for charging appliances and devices. The floor, walls, and ceiling of the Dodo Van are insulated with thermoacoustic mineral wool that protects the interior from noise and the elements.

Six-millimeter plywood boards clad the vehicle’s interior, and 12- and 15-millimeter boards form the floor and the joinery. The wood’s natural matte finish makes the space feel larger than it really is. 

The kitchen bench simply pulls out when needed. It also features an integrated storage drawer and rubbish bin below the work surface. 

"The clients were very moved with the completed project," says Andrade. "They liked that you could still perceive the shape of the van, and how comfortable and spacious it felt. Tatiana sent me a message after it was completed saying, ‘Thank you for making this dream of ours come to life.’"

Adapting the design to the shape of the van involved many tests during the construction process.

The clients—Diego, a lawyer, and Tatiana, an environmental engineer—were both born and raised in Guayaquil, ​​a small port city located in Santa Elena Peninsula of Ecuador, an hour and a half from the coast.   

A section of the Dodo Van by Juan Alberto Andrade shows how the bespoke joinery fits inside the space.

A plan of the Dodo Van by Juan Alberto Andrade shows the table assembled.

Related Reading:

An Ecuador Couple Seek Out Adventure in a DIY Tiny Cabin on Wheels

Budget Breakdown: A Climbing Couple Turn a Delivery Van Into an Adventure Mobile for $8.5K

Project Credits:

Architects of Record: Juan Alberto Andrade / @juanalbertoandrade.ec, María José Váscones

Collaborator:  Cuqui Rodriguez

Materials & Hardware: Mega Metales, Mega Kywi, & Acimco

Local Hand Work: Eusebio Tomalá

Photography: JAG Studio

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