Build: Installing the bed lift
When we were planning out the interior of our future home, we really wanted to make the most of the small space. The bed is by far the largest item, so we gave it a lot of thought. We wanted to make sure we made the most efficient use of the space. We went through a bunch of design ideas.
First, we scrapped a fold out bed because it needs to be made and put away every day and takes away from some of the storage space. A permanent bed has a lot of storage space underneath, but the bed takes up 75% of your living space. So we let that idea go. We really wanted to make the most of the small space.
While we were researching online, we came across a van that had installed an electric bed lift and this seemed like the perfect solution. You don’t need to make the bed every day and there’s no complication in putting the bed away - you just press a button. This also opened up a bunch of opportunities for design below the bed. Instead of strictly storage, we were able to design a living space with ample storage. It makes the space feel a lot bigger than it is, adds a lot of flexibility and it's just really comfortable.
The bed lift we bought was from a company called Happijac. It’s designed for RV’s, so everything runs on 12VDC. Wiring is straightforward and easy to install. Ordering it was pretty interesting as they were asking questions that weren’t very relevant to installing into a van, but they were helpful and made sure I got close to the right setup.
The bed lift doesn't come with a bed frame, so you have to build that on your own. Every inch you add to the height of your frame/mattress takes away valuable head space. We wanted the frame to add as little height as possible while still being strong and light. We went with aluminum extrusions to accomplish this, but you could use steel (heavier) or wood (more height and heavier). Both of these options would be a bit cheaper though.
To finish the bed frame we used the Ikea Sultan Luroy Full Slatted Bed Base (we already had them), which are cheap, light and actually look pretty nice. We also decided on a thin (5”) latex mattress, which we were skeptical about at first, but with a memory foam mattress pad, it’s been extremely comfortable. More comfortable than our normal bed.
After the bed frame was designed and built out, next comes mounting the bed lift to a support frame. We used standard 2x4’s to connect the rails of the bed lift inside our van. The bottom is connected directly to our subfloor plywood (that’s mounted directly to the steel floor). In the back of the van, it was really straightforward to mount the top of the 2x4 directly to the frame, just above the back doors. Our original mounting in the front was also pretty straightforward, but with some last minute changes, it became a bit more complicated.
On our first installation of the bed lift, the shortest “connecting rod” that comes with the bed is ~1ft longer than it needed to be. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it makes a huge difference. The bed frame went past the opening of the sliding door. It our kitchen area shrank by 25%, reducing our counter space from a comfortable 4ft to a very cramped 3ft.
We decided to take the whole thing out and shorten the connecting rod, thereby shortening the entire bed frame. In order to do this, we ordered a steel tube that fits on the outside of the existing connecting rod. My workshop mate, who welds a bunch of aluminum scooter frames, helped with the welding. We shortened the aluminum frame to fit within the new shorter bed lift footprint. Removing that one foot of length made all the difference in the world.
Planning out the mounting for the correct length is also quite important. The original plan had the front 2x4’s mounted between two of the horizontal supports. This allowed plenty of space for mounting. However, after we shortened the length of the bed lift, we were right under the horizontal support beam. This made mounting really tricky.
We’ve gone through a couple iterations of mounting here. Mounting with L-Brackets to the side of the beam — very squeaky and not very robust. Mounting a 2x4 out from the beam, then mounting the bed lift support frame to this. More robust, but still very squeaky! We’ve gone to mounting the support to other pieces that are mounted to the floor and the walls. It definitely helps with the squeaking and appears to be strong enough and especially as we build around the frame, it will only add to the strength. If we were to go back, we would definitely plan out the bed lift support frame properly to avoid these issues.
It’s definitely been one of our favorite design choices so far.
The final product is about 80” long and fits a full size mattress. In the “up position we have ~5’ of headspace underneath the bed. In the “down” position the bed has enough headspace to sit up straight without hitting your head. It’s definitely been one of our favorite design choices so far.
Some other things to keep in mind if you decide to go with a bed lift:
- Plan out your personal item storage — having items accessible without crawling under the bed is really nice. We are planning to have all our toiletries and clothing stored in places that are easy to access whether the bed is up or down.
- An all electric bed lift isn’t necessary. The design of the bed lift itself isn’t super complicated, especially if the electric motor isn’t involved. If you’re worried about the cost (~$1,200), it might be worth looking into designing and building the lift yourself.
- Make sure you try to design everything to the correct length, which will allow you to plan out the mounting better than we did and give you the most usable space in your van. If you are thinking of buying from Happijac, ask them to make you a shorter connecting rod to save you the time, effort and $ of modifying this yourself.
- Plan out your vertical height requirements carefully. Finding the right balance between permanent storage, headspace and comfort is important. We’re happy with how ours turned out, but everyone has different requirements!
Overall, we're extremely happy with our design and implementation of the bed. It makes the space feel a lot bigger than it is, adds a lot of flexibility and it's just really comfortable. Let us know if you're planning on doing something similar or if you have questions on some of the specifics!