A guide to motorhome and campervan layouts
The layout is the easiest aspect to get wrong if you’re new to the world of motorhomes. Ever wondered why you see almost-new models traded in with so few miles? Those buyers probably bought the wrong layout for their needs – and paid dearly when part-exchanging for something more suitable.
Unless you’re looking at small campervans, the first question you must ask yourself is: fixed bed or not? This may depend on how large a motorhome you’re considering, as you probably won’t want the bedroom to dominate.
However, there are well-designed six-metre coachbuilts with fixed beds, and permanent bed layouts dominate in van conversions from the Continent – even down to medium-wheelbase Fiats of just 5.41m in length.
The alternative to a fixed bed is a drop-down bed or converting lounge seats into beds each night – giving more space during the day, but requiring a nightly ritual and often a less comfortable bed.
A fixed bed will also result in a large storage area underneath – without that, consider where you’re going to keep bulky gear like outdoor furniture, barbecue, welly boots, etc. And, if you have a fixed bed, or even a drop-down bed, you’ll usually store your duvet there, ready for use – if your seats become beds then you’ll need to consider where to keep bedding.
There will be pros and cons to any layout, but first consider how many travel seats you need and the maximum number of sleeping berths you’ll require. Decide, too, whether you need a double bed or separate sleeping – or even the option of both, depending on who’s travelling, or the time of year.
Be wary of buying a bigger model than you need as it’ll be harder to manoeuvre (and perhaps have less payload, too, unless you go for a heavy chassis). Six metres is compact in coachbuilt terms but anything under 7m will be more manageable, more of the time.
Here, we cover the two main types of layout for small campervans first, while larger van conversions are grouped with coachbuilts of all types. You may also want to read our earlier published guide to the types of campervan and motorhome layouts, which is here.
Side kitchen campervans
Buy a side kitchen campervan because:
- You want a versatile vehicle to use as an everyday car
- Having storage space and a car-sized vehicle is more important than an on-board shower/toilet
Top side kitchen campervan choices of 2021: CMC HemBil Urban, Hillside Birchover S, VW California Coast
In the pop-top campervan sector, this layout probably accounts for at least 90% of the market and you’ll find various side kitchen designs in a variety of base vehicles.
The cab seats swivel (not always the driver’s seat) to face a bench seat in the rear.
However, some models use a double passenger front bench, which (if it swivels at all) will be much more awkward to rotate and a lot less comfortable for travelling and on-site relaxing. The rear bench seat can be fixed or on rails, so it can slide fore and aft, allowing the seat to be closer to the cab when driving and greatly increasing boot space in the rear.
Most campers have a two-person rear bench, but a wider three-belted bench is a better solution for carrying extra passengers than a double cab seat. Check for crash-testing accreditations of any rear seat system and, if you’re tall, make sure that the kitchen unit doesn’t restrict adjustment of the driver’s seat.
The rear seat will flatten in a variety of ways to form the main bed, but bed width is quite variable. Narrower furniture units can mean a domestic double-sized bed, while wider kitchens will have more storage, more often a traditional front-loading fridge (rather than a top-loader), and a grill might now be available; however, the bed is likely to be narrower and the rear seat will be for two just people.
Look carefully at storage space in the rear boot (above and below the mattress) as this will be key to the practicality of the camper for trips of more than a night or two.
Some converters offer long-wheelbase versions with a little extra living space and more storage, but going over 5m in length makes them less practical for town centre parking.
End kitchen campervans
Buy an end kitchen campervan because:
- You want a small camper with single beds
- You prefer the kitchen and living area to be separate
Top end kitchen campervan choices of 2021: Bilbo’s Nexa +, Ford Nugget, Rolling Homes Livingstone
We’re still talking small, VW-sized campers here, not larger Fiat Ducato/Peugeot Boxer-based van conversions. And, if the side kitchen layout is not for you, then an end kitchen floorplan is the alternative.
There are two reasons to choose this type of campervan. Firstly, and probably the main reason, is to have single beds rather than a double. But, secondly, you have a little more independence from site facilities as there’s usually a built-in cassette toilet, rather than just a Porta Potti kept in a kitchen cupboard or under the seat.
As the toilet is at the back, there’s a bit more privacy for its use, too – so it’s more than just an emergency fitting.
There’s plenty of choice, with most of the main VW camper converters offering their version of the design, although they sell in much smaller numbers than side kitchen models.
Also worth noting is that long-wheelbase VWs are more common than SWB models here as it’s challenging (although not impossible) to get this layout effectively into a sub-5m camper.
More often than not, there are two forward-facing seats just behind the cab chairs (both of which should swivel). Behind these seats, at the back of the camper, there are normally kitchen units on either side. Often a fixed cassette toilet is hidden away and, with the use of sliding doors or curtains, this can create a semi-private toilet area.
The seats should make into twin single beds, but check mattress length (especially on the driver’s side) and how flat these beds are. Sometimes (with extra cushions) the singles can be adapted into a double bed but this is likely to be quite a complicated arrangement.
Look carefully at storage space (especially for bedding and outdoor stuff) in these layouts as it tends to be much less plentiful than in side kitchen models.
You’ll also find some more unusual variations on this theme based on the Ford Transit Custom. Ford’s own Nugget campervan is now available here and is well worth a look, while also Ford-based are the Dreamer Cap Land and WildAx Triton (both of which have a rear toilet/shower area). All three offer double beds at night.
Transverse fixed bed motorhomes
Buy a transverse fixed bed motorhome because:
- Garage space is a top priority
- You’re tall and need a long bed
- Versatile van conversions offer great storage and superior sleeping
Top transverse fixed bed motorhome choices of 2021: Adria Twin Supreme 600 SB (campervan), Carado A132 (overcab), Chausson 644 (low-profile)
The oldest of all fixed bed layouts, but today perhaps one of the least popular in coachbuilts. However, in larger van conversions (Fiat Ducato and similar), this design has become a best seller on the Continent, with a strong following here, too.
You’ll find this format in van conversions from almost all of the major European brands (Adria, Hobby, Hymer, Knaus, Rapido, etc), as well as specialist campervan makers like Dreamer, Globecar and Westfalia.
Transverse beds are also seen in a number of continental compact low-profiles, where this design lends itself to shorter body lengths. Often these models are narrower than the coachbuilt norm, at around 2.10m, as well as being only six metres in length.
The layout is as much about the storage below the bed as the bed itself. These models will often be shorter than fixed single bed or island bed layouts but they will boast some of the most spacious garage storage.
Check weight limits in the garage, though (dictated by chassis extensions and rear axle limits), if you want to carry lots of stuff, or something really heavy, like a small motorbike. It’s not unusual for coachbuilt garages to be limited to a maximum of 150kg.
Bed length, too, is a factor: where lengthways beds can sometimes be short, these widthways berths – occupying the full breadth of the vehicle – are habitually more than two metres long in coachbuilts. But don’t forget that the person sleeping against the end wall will have to clamber over their partner for a toilet visit.
Beds in high-top van conversions are shorter, because the vehicles themselves are narrower, but still usually achieve lengths of at least six feet. Van conversions, however, have the advantage of rear doors that open wide to receive your holiday gear in their under-bed load areas.
Beds usually split and fold, too (or sometimes rise in one piece electrically), thus allowing the loading of taller items, such as bikes. If this aspect is important then check out how each maker has developed the storage area, as they differ in practicality.
If you’re in the market for something that’s compact but offers maximum stowage, or if you want a van conversion with the comfort of a fixed bed, this could be the layout for you. If you want a family motorhome with masses of storage, you’ll also find some overcab coachbuilts that offer truly maximum load-carrying potential.
French bed motorhomes
Buy a French bed motorhome because:
- You want a fixed bed, but not a long motorhome
- Good choice on the used market
- Plenty of under-bed storage
Top French bed motorhome choices of 2021: Elddis Autoquest 155, Knaus Sky TI 650 MF, Rapido C56
A French bed layout is a good place to start if you’re looking for a fixed bed coachbuilt, especially if it’s a secondhand motorhome that you’re seeking. French beds predate island beds (so there’s a bigger choice of used examples), and they still find favour because the motorhomes tend to be shorter.
They are still included in several British coachbuilt ranges, although they have fallen out of favour in most imported line-ups.
A French bed is a fixed double bed arranged lengthways against either side of the motorhome. The design is most commonly seen installed inside low-profile motorhomes, although it is occasionally seen in van conversions.
Because most French beds share space in the rear with the washroom alongside, the ratio of bed to washroom width is crucial. A decent bed (such as the domestic standard 4ft 6in wide) leaves only around 2ft 6in for the washroom.
However good the bed, the sleeper next to the wall will have to climb over their partner to reach the toilet.
Then there’s the washroom door. Sliding or tambour doors often work best but you still need room to access the ablutions, so the bed usually narrows towards the foot to make space. This ‘chopped off’ corner can see the sleeper on that side with a leg dangling; some designs are worse than others.
Another, less common, variation sees the washroom arranged behind the bed and across the rear, so then there’s more space for both the bed and the reasonably palatial ablutions. Overall length of the motorhome will be greater, though – probably 7.50m or more – so then why would you buy this and not an island bed model?
Although French beds have disappeared from many imported ranges, Bürstner has reintroduced the format in its Mercedes Lyseo M, Knaus has a couple of French bed floorplans and Rapido’s new-for-2021 C Series range features a French bed layout in a compact, sub-6m model. Perhaps the French bed is finding favour once again?
Island bed motorhomes
Buy an island bed motorhome because:
- It’s like your bedroom at home
- En suite washroom at the foot of the bed
- Huge choice of models when buying new
Top choices of 2021: Adria Matrix Supreme 670 DC, Carado V339, Itineo RC740
So, you want a permanent double bed, but you can’t live with the access issues imposed by a French bed or transverse double? This is the answer. An island bed is like your double at home, with access to the mattress on either side. It can be found in coachbuilts of all types (but never van conversions, which are too narrow).
Typical overall lengths are around 7.5m but more compact designs (down to 6.5m and, increasingly, around 7m) do exist. French brands especially favour island bed layouts (whereas German makers tend to focus more on single bed floorplans).
At the front, you can choose between half-dinette lounges and side settees. The latter are increasingly common, with most continental makers now offering settees that can be converted into a pair of forward-facing travel seats – some doing this transformation rather better than others!
As with all fixed bed layouts, under-bed storage is a key feature. This can be a bike-swallowing garage if the bed is set high enough.
A number of models have bed raising/lowering mechanisms (manual or electric) to change the locker-size-to-bed-height ratio, but remember that you’ll almost certainly want to move your bikes outside and lower the bed to a comfortable height for your kip.
The size of the bed and the access around it are two issues that need checking – brochure figures cannot always be trusted. Beds can be short and/or with a radiused foot, while space for undressing can be lacking, too.
Some have a mechanism that sees the head of the bed rise as the mattress moves back – thus creating more space for getting dressed, while making sitting up in bed easy and comfortable. But, if this is the case, do look carefully at how much room there is around the foot of the bed when it’s fully extended for sleeping.
The best island bed floorplans feature an en suite washroom with the shower on one side and the toilet/washroom on the other, with a door that closes across the aisle to create a generous full-width en suite. Here, again, it’s space that separates the good from the not so good.
Also, look for a second door that gives privacy between the bedroom and the bathroom, especially if you’re intending to use your motorhome as a four-berth.
There are also layouts with island beds running across the vehicle (mainly now from UK manufacturers), though bathroom facilities are then rarely as good. Itineo has come up with one of the best transverse island bed designs yet seen, which also incorporates a large garage beyond the bedroom.
Another variation is the semi-island or offset island bed, where there is more limited access to one side of the bed – this is a space-saving compromise between a true island bed and a French bed.
Finally, if you don’t want your bed taking up this much room, you could go for one of Bürstner’s drop-down island beds.
Fixed single bed motorhome
Buy a fixed single bed motorhome because:
- Flexible sleeping as singles often convert into a double bed
- Huge storage on high-bed models
- Plenty of choice of new models, especially from German brands
Top fixed single bed motorhome choices of 2021: Adria Coral Supreme 670 SLT, Knaus Van TI Vansation 650 MEG, Malibu Charming GT 640 LE RB (campervan)
Maybe you have twin beds at home, or perhaps you prefer to sleep apart in the Mediterranean summer heat, or you just want flexibility for use of your motorhome by different family members or friends. If any of this sounds like you, then fixed single beds are ideal.
Bedroom specifics aside, these layouts are typically fitted to motorhomes of around 7m to 7.5m. However, there are also van conversions with fixed single beds, some even as short as 6m overall (though many more are around 6.4 metres) and single bed layouts feature in a number of compact, narrow-bodied low-profile coachbuilts, especially from German manufacturers.
There are two basic types of single bed layout. Most common are models with their beds mounted at the very rear of the motorhome. Usually, these have a big, full-width garage beneath, although a minority of manufacturers offer the choice of high or low beds. In ‘low bed’ form, night-time access is easier but the garage/storage space below is considerably reduced.
Most of the layouts with beds right at the rear of the motorhome offer the possibility to convert the singles into a giant double with a centre infill, giving you the possibility of cosy double bed sleeping in winter and separate beds in summer. But access is rarely anything like as easy in double bed format and often requires the use of a ladder.
Wardrobes are typically placed under the foot of the beds in high bed versions, while ablutions sit forward of the beds with the same opportunity for en suite facilities as in island bed models.
Secondly, there are layouts with across-the-rear bathroom facilities, with low beds placed immediately forward of the ablutions. These work best for couples, as bathroom access is through the bedroom. The facilities will feature a separate shower and a wardrobe, too, so it can also act as a dressing room.
Again, bed sizes can be an issue as feet cannot usually overhang. Remember, too, that many have unequal-length mattresses, typically dictating ‘his and hers’ sleeping. Look out, also, for cupboards that are uncomfortably low above your pillow, preventing sitting up in bed.
High bed versions are mostly approached by stair-style steps but not all suit those with shorter legs and some leave inadequate headroom to sit on the bed.
A particularly clever variation on the single bed theme is the Chausson 630 with electric single beds that lower individually over its front lounge.
Front lounge motorhomes
Buy a front lounge motorhome because:
- Drop-down bed models offer the best of all worlds for couples
- Spacious front lounges suit meeting up with friends
- End washrooms can be a big hit with the ladies
Top front lounge motorhome choices of 2021: Auto-Trail F-Line F60, Bailey Adamo 69-4, Pilote Evidence P626D
All the types we’ve described so far have a lounge at the front. But here we are referring to layouts without a fixed bed, so you’ll need to convert seats to beds at night, unless the main bed simply lowers from the ceiling.
Drop-down beds have transformed this sector, especially when the mattress lowers electrically, right down to seat height.
Some drop-down bed models are super-compact at just six metres long but proving more popular are longer versions (still under 7m) that have XXL-sized rear washrooms and garages.
These make great use of space for couples but, although marketed as four-berths, that means sleeping in double bunks, which probably won’t appeal…
Chausson also offers drop-down twin beds, so you can go to bed at a different time to your partner. In fact, the French firm is a dominant force in this part of the market, offering a choice of front lounge/drop-down bed layouts.
That market position could be threatened by the new Bailey Adamo, though. And, if you’re looking for a sub-six-metre low-profile, Auto-Trail’s F-Line F60 (formerly called Tribute) is definitely worth a good look – as long as you tick the drop-down bed option!
More traditional layouts are long-serving British designs with an end kitchen, corner washroom and parallel settees. Usually found in smaller low-profiles, this layout is a design classic that still works for couples seeking a compact motorhome without any rear travel seats.
Auto-Sleepers’ Nuevo and Auto-Trail’s Tracker EKS are both long-established examples. If the corner washroom looks too small to work for you, though, consider longer models with an end washroom.
Bailey and Elddis are amongst those offering rear washroom layouts, but it’s the drop-down bed models highlighted earlier (from Adria, Bailey, Bürstner, Chausson, Pilote and others) that have seen the renaissance of this type of motorhome.
Rear lounge motorhomes
Buy a rear lounge motorhome because:
- You like the triple-aspect views of a rear lounge
- Campervans can open the rear doors for indoor/outdoor living
- The cab is quite separate on site
Top rear lounge motorhome choices of 2021: Auto-Sleeper Broadway EL, Auto-Trail Expedition 66 (campervan), Carthago Liner-for-two 53 (A-class)
If you’re a former caravanner, this format may look appealingly familiar. But remember, these are (with very rare exceptions) pure two-berth designs that can never be used to carry more than a single passenger (in the cab).
The majority of rear lounge layouts are found in British models, including larger campervans, but some older continental motorhomes offered rear lounge layouts, too (even in A-classes – a combination that has been making a minor comeback, especially in larger, super-luxury models).
Lounge settee lengths vary, with larger lounges converting into either single or double beds (lengthways); shorter sofas making just a transverse double. Larger lounges that make single beds will also have plenty of room to put your feet up in the day.
A few have a caravan-style chest of drawers under the rear window, while more common is wrap-around U-shaped seating. The newest type of rear lounge is the C-shape, where the sofa curves around to face in all four directions, but this has only been seen – so far – in top end A-classes from the likes of Carthago and Frankia.
Moving forwards, kitchens in coachbuilts tend to be quite well equipped, while those in van conversions (as they span part of the side sliding door’s opening) are smaller, with less storage and work surface, as a result.
Today, it is van conversions that dominate this type of layout and a particular appeal is to be able to open the back doors and enjoy indoor/outdoor living. However, some prefer a cosier layout with the back doors blocked off and several firms offer this format, which was initially an IH Motorhomes innovation.
Opposite the kitchen is where you’ll find the washroom, wardrobe and, sometimes, the fridge – the first offering everything from basic ablutions to bathrooms with separate showers.
The cab often plays little part in on-site living (although swivel seats and a coffee table are sometimes fitted), but advantages of the rear lounge design include plenty of relaxation space and views out through windows on three sides.
Disadvantages include a rather enclosed feeling up front (between washroom and galley – check out the aisle width here). Also, with the washroom or wardrobe directly behind the driver, check that the seat moves far enough back to achieve a comfortable driving position, especially if you’re tall.
Twin lounge motorhomes
Buy a twin lounge motorhome because:
- Completely separate seating areas give you two lounges to eat and relax in
- Family-friendly models with up to six seatbelts
- The possibility of two drop-down beds
Top twin lounge motorhome choices of 2021: Bailey Adamo 75-4DL, IH 630 RD/S4, McLouis Fusion 330
If you’ve been tempted by a rear lounge, but need more than two travel seats, here’s the solution. It’s been around for decades, so there’s plenty of choice in both campervans and coachbuilts. Arguably, this is the most popular van conversion layout in the UK.
Whether you are a family looking for two separate seating areas or a couple wanting more room to sprawl, this layout can deliver. Remember, though, that with no fixed bed, storage space for holiday clobber can be tight for family touring – especially if there are six of you.
The layout consists of a front dining area and a rear lounge, with the travel seats fitted in the front – the best offering four three-point belts in a crash-tested pullman dinette, although campervans are more likely to have only a half-dinette bench up front to provide two extra travel seats, with cab seats swivelling to face the rear as part of the front lounge.
Most coachbuilt models are over seven metres long and made in Britain. Continental firms have dabbled in the sector, with both low-profiles and A-classes. If your funds will stretch, models like Rapido’s 8094dF have the big advantage of a drop-down A-class cab bed.
You’ll see several models with a rear L-shaped seating area, rather than the traditional ‘U’ (check out the Bürstner range), while another innovation in this sector is drop-down beds.
Bürstner, Benimar and Rimor have models with drop-down beds over their front and rear lounges, but the key new challenger in this sector is the Bailey Adamo 75-4DL, which also squeezes in a useful bicycle garage under the end lounge.
Many place kitchens up front, opposite the dinette. These are often equipped with full-sized cookers well suited to preparing family meals, but, owing to a lack of space, they can come up short in the areas relating to storage. Fridges, too, can be modestly sized under-counter units.
Bathing departments can cater well for families if there’s a separate shower (as in every Auto-Trail). But some models (including Swift’s Edge and Escape) are much more compromised in this area with all-in-one bathrooms that are too confined for family use.
Bunk bed motorhomes
Buy a bunk bed motorhome because:
- Kids love bunk beds
- Good storage for family touring
- Up to seven berths in some models
Top bunk bed motorhome choices of 2021: Dreamer Camper Five (campervan), Hobby Optima OnTour A65 KM (overcab), Itineo SC700 (A-class)
If you’re looking for a family motorhome, bunk bed layouts are streets ahead of any other layout. Historically, they were mostly found in entry-level overcab coachbuilt models, but the advent of the drop-down bed has seen an increase in low-profile models (see Benimar, Chausson, Hobby, Rimor and Roller Team). There are bunk bed van conversions, too, from Dreamer and WildAx.
This is also the domain of the entry-level motorhome as value is high on the list of priorities for parents. Hire companies, too, rent these for similar reasons, so why not try before you buy? If you’re tempted to purchase one, remember that an ex-rental model might be a good-value buy, but has most likely had a harder life than a privately owned one.
Lounge areas are usually formulated around a pullman dinette, but bigger models may actually have a four-seater dinette on one side and a two-seat arrangement alongside. Belted seats are crucial, so check that the number of belts and the number of berths match (some seatbelts may only be lap straps). Up to seven berths are possible.
The bunk beds themselves are most commonly arranged transversely across the rear, while some have them lengthways at one side; both types also offer large storage, thanks to the fact that the bottom bunk usually folds up, creating garage-like locker space. The best bunks will have a window and a reading lamp each.
The Chausson 720 has a hideaway bunk that stows in the roof by day, while a couple of Itineo models have a separate area for the kids (with bunks and seating).
There are also van conversions with double bunks at the back – one double bed atop another. These are usually an adaptation of transverse bed models with a second (sometimes removable) bed added above, but pay careful attention to the headroom between bunks, which is likely to be very tight indeed unless the base vehicle is the taller (H3) Ducato van.
Important things for families to check on any bunk bed motorhome are the adequacy of kitchen worktop and the fridge size, and you’ll almost certainly want a separate shower. If you’re restricted to 3,500kg by your driving licence, look carefully at payload, too. The more people you carry, the more payload you’ll need – and then there are toys, scooters, bikes…