Types of campervan and motorhome layouts
Once you’ve decided on the size, weight and type of motorhome or campervan you’d like – click here for more information on the types of motorhomes and campervans available — it’s time to think about motorhome layouts. And, as with everything in the world of motorhomes, the options are almost endless!
Do you want a fixed bed or do you mind making beds from various sofa cushions every evening? Are you a former caravanner keen on the idea of having a familiar rear lounge? Or are you looking for a family-friendly motorhome with plenty of space for the kids or grandkids to bunk up at night? Factors such as these will determine the type of motorhome layout that’s right for you…
If a fixed bed is for you, a traditional French bed motorhome layout is a good place to start, especially if you’re in the market for a secondhand motorhome. This layout refers to a fixed double bed arranged lengthways against a side wall of the motorhome. The design is most commonly seen installed inside low-profile motorhomes.
Most French beds share space in the rear with the washroom alongside, so 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 loo.
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 are far worse in this area 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 7.5m or more.
So, you want a permanent double bed, but you can’t live with the access issues posed by a French bed? This is the answer. An island bed is like your double at home, with access to the mattress on either side. Typical overall lengths are 7m or more but more compact designs do exist.
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 (mostly in big A-classes). A small number have bed raising/lowering mechanisms to change the locker-size-to-bed-height ratio.
Buying Your First Motorhome – now updated for 2021 – has an in-depth guide to the wide range of campervan and motorhome layouts available on the market. Buy your copy here.
En suite washrooms often have the shower on one side, the toilet/washroom on the other, with a door that closes across the aisle to create the en suite. Here, again, it’s space that separates good from not so good. Also, look for a second door that gives privacy between the bedroom and the bathroom.
There are also (less common) layouts with island beds running across the vehicle, though bathroom facilities are then rarely as good. And 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.
Maybe you have twin beds at home, perhaps you prefer to sleep apart in the 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 the way forward.
Bedroom specifics aside, these layouts are typically fitted to motorhomes around 7.3m to 7.5m, so you’re looking at a longer motorhome. However, there are also van conversions with fixed single beds, some even as short as 6m overall.
There are two basic types of single bed motorhome layouts. 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 some manufacturers offer the choice of high or low beds. In ‘low bed’ form, night-time access is easier but storage space is 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.
Secondly, there are layouts with across-the-rear bathroom facilities, with low beds placed immediately forward of the bathroom. These work best for couples, as bathroom access is through the bedroom. The bathrooms will feature a separate shower and a wardrobe, too, so it can also act as a full dressing room.
High bed versions are mostly approached by easy stair-style steps but not all suit those with shorter legs. And, when converted to a double, these steps are covered, so check that a ladder is provided.
The longest-established of all fixed bed motorhome layouts, transverse fixed double beds live in the rear of all types of coachbuilts, but here the layout is as much about the storage below the bed as the bed itself.
These models will often be usefully shorter than fixed single bed or island bed motorhome layouts but they will boast some of the most commodious garage storage available.
Bed length, too, is a factor: where lengthways beds can sometimes be rather too short, these widthways berths — occupying the full breadth of the vehicle — are habitually more than two metres long in coachbuilts. While a transverse double is a good option if you’re tall, don’t forget that the person sleeping against the wall will have to clamber over their partner if they need the loo in the night.
Beds in high-top van conversions are shorter, but still usually achieve lengths of more than 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. More traditional coachbuilts have garage access doors on one or both sides, while a handful also have a door in the rear.
OK, all the motorhome layouts we’ve described so far have a lounge at the front. But here we are referring to motorhome layouts without a fixed bed of any sort, so you’ll need to convert seats to beds at night — even if that means just extracting bedding to place on top of long settees that act as near-instant single beds. Unless the main bed simply lowers from the ceiling, either manually or electrically.
The latest variation on the front lounge theme, the drop-down bed has transformed this sector, especially when the mattress lowers electrically, right down to seat height. Many of these models are just six metres long but all of the best are continental designs (Bürstner, Chausson and Rapido lead the way).
Even newer are longer versions that have large rear washrooms and garages, and some of the latest models have lengthways (rather than transverse) drop-down beds. Chausson also offers drop-down twin beds, so you can go to bed at a different time to your partner. Of course, if you’re looking to buy used, there are long-established A-class models with generous front lounges and drop-down beds over the cab seats.
Much more traditional are British designs with an end kitchen, corner washroom and parallel settees up front. Usually found in smaller low-profiles, this layout is a design classic that still works for couples. Families should look for overcab coachbuilts with a similar design in the stern but a pullman dinette and a lengthways side sofa up front. This once top-selling design used to feature in every brochure but is now quite rare. Still, there’s plenty of them on the used market, and they can make a sensible first buy, but check these older models have sufficient travel seats and a powerful engine under the bonnet.
Whether it’s a pullman dinette or side settees at the front, it is the kitchen that remains the constant, arranged across part of the rear wall, but it’s the unit located forwards of the door on the nearside that makes the whole thing work. This often houses the fridge, while its top surface provides a large slab of cook-pleasing work surface. If a corner washroom looks too small to work for you, though, consider longer front lounge models with full-width end washrooms.
Are you a former caravanner, dipping your toes into the world of motorhomes as you look to forsake towing? Then 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.
Sizes vary, with the larger lounges converting into either single or double beds; the smaller ones offering just a transverse double. The larger variety will also have plenty of room for you to put your feet up. Some models have a caravan-style chest of drawers under the rear window, others have wrap-around U-shaped seating.
Moving forwards, kitchens in coachbuilts tend to be quite spacious and well equipped, while those in van conversions (as they span part of the side sliding door’s opening) are smaller and more basic, with less storage and working surface, as a result. Opposite the kitchen is where you’ll find the washroom, the wardrobe and, sometimes, a fridge – the first offering everything from basic ablutions to full-blown bathrooms with spacious separate showers.
Advantages of the rear lounge design include plenty of relaxation space and great views out through big windows on three sides. And van conversions are even better as the rear doors can be left open to let in plenty of fresh air and sunshine on a hot summer’s day.
If you’ve been tempted by the spacious feet-up sprawling you’ve seen in rear lounge layouts, but you need more than two travel seats, a twin lounge layout is the solution. And it’s a format that’s been around for decades, so there’s plenty of choice. Remember, though, that with no fixed bed, storage space can be tight for family touring — really tight if there are six of you.
The layout consists of a front dining/lounge 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. Beds can run to six, with a double above the cab and another made from the dinette, and the last pair of berths in the end lounge — either two singles or a double.
Nowadays, you’ll see several models with a rear L-shaped seating area, rather than the traditional ‘U’ (check out the Bürstner range), while the Chausson 711 has four captain’s seats that double as a dining area. Another innovation in this sector is drop-down beds. Both of the aforementioned newcomers have lowerable beds over their rear seating, while Bailey, Elddis and Swift include drop-down double beds above their front lounge/diners.
Most 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. Bathing departments can cater well for families if there’s a separate shower, but some models are much more compromised in this area with all-in-one bathrooms that are too confined for family use.
This layout can be good for kids as they can be put to bed up front, leaving mum and dad some adult time, relaxing in the rear lounge.
If you’re looking for a family motorhome, bunk bed motorhome layouts are the most child-friendly. 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 here (see, especially, Benimar, Chausson and Roller Team). There have been bunk bed van conversions, too, though these will still be harder to find on the used market.
This is also the domain of the entry-level ’van as value is high on the list of priorities for families. 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 ’van. Click here for our guide to hiring a motorhome.
Lounge areas are usually formulated around a pullman dinette, but bigger models 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 matches the number of berths. The best will feature four belted places in the pullman dinette (but on rear-facing seats they may only be lap belts). Check, too, that there’s enough room to get everyone around the dining table.
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 Chausson 716 motorhome has hideaway bunks that stow in the roof during the day, creating space for a fold-out table and bench seats below, while the Itineo SLB700 A-class motorhome features a separate bedroom and a playroom for the kids.
The best bunks are wide and long enough to take the lankiest teenagers. They will also have a window and a reading lamp each, as well as storage pockets. Important things for families to check here are the adequacy of kitchen worktop and the fridge size, and you’ll almost certainly want a separate shower. If you’re restricted by a 3,500kg limited licence, look carefully at payload, too.
Now you hopefully have a much clearer picture of the types of motorhome layouts available, it’s time to think about the buying process. Read our ultimate guide to buying a motorhome here, which includes money-saving haggling tips and advice on where to buy your perfect motorhome.