From Cafe Seating to Recliners

After spending six months in our caravan last year, we decided that we weren’t going on another long trip without doing something about the seating. A huge percentage of caravans come with cafe seating – which is fine to sit on for ten minutes at a caravan show, or for a meal, or when you’re using a laptop or playing cards.

But when it comes to trying to get comfortable to watch a movie on TV – forget it! Turning sideways and using the wall as a backrest just didn’t work for us. There’s no lumbar support, and we had a choice of either watching TV set so high that we ended up with a sore neck or one of us looking over half over one shoulder. There were other problems, too: I didn’t have enough room to comfortably knit or do other craft (which I do almost every night while watching TV) and an angled kitchen meant that there was no room to walk past someone standing at the cooktop. And getting stuff out of overhead cupboards meant standing on the seat for short people like me.

We decided the comfort was king, and that we wanted recliners. After some discussion we decided on recling office chairs rather than lounge-type recliners, because we could adjust the height and the angle of the back. (If I wanted to work at a table last time we owned recliners, I had to put a cushion behind me to push me forward to use a laptop. Reclining office chairs offered comfort for both watching TV and for sitting upright to work.)

When we started the modifications we intended to put back the drop-down table, but decided at the last moment that the space would work better if we didn’t have a fixed table. It would be easy enough to put up a folding table if we wanted one, and the new long counter-top is fine for snacks and drinks or to hold craft materials.

The under-table cupboard was so hard to reach that we never really used it (and why would you put a powerpoint behind closed doors anyway, caravan manufacturers????) We changed this to open shelving, and even though we decided not to put back the table we like the handy shelves there anyway.

For anyone who is contemplating doing the same thing… here is a series of photos that tells the story!



We removed all the screws and took the seating apart. Some sections were secured with screws that came in from the other side of the wall. We just worked at the timber until it came away and then cut off the screws level with the wall (we didn’t want to remove cladding from the van to get at them.)




We created a rough plan of what we wanted to hand over to our son who was doing the cabinetry. This plan ended up being changed (no table; right-hand cupboards changed to a drop-down leaf to access the lower cupboard and a hinged flap in the counter top to access the top shelf, forming a handy bin).

We put aside some timber and doors to re-use, and ordered charcoal laminex and wood-style laminate to match the existing colour scheme. We also bought MDF, screws, glue etc.



Our friendly family tradie, Liam, got to work sawing and sanding and hammering and drilling etc while Rob acted as his apprentice. He started by removing the old drop-down table, removed the doors from the cupboard underneath it (we wanted open shelves) and we were ready to go. Here are the stages:



I’ll come back and fill some of the last touches later – as I write this there’s still a little work to be done with the trim, the corner near the door has not yet been rounded, and the hinged counter-top needs to be completed. But it’s looking pretty close… as these photos will show. We did need to add a laminex kickboard to the bottom of the cupboards because the chair castors kept knocking against the cupboards. We used an iron-on trim on the edge of the counter.


We went to Officeworks to actually sit in and try out chairs rather than just relying on online descriptions, and we’re glad we did. There was only ONE chair that had a reclining back which actually could be locked in place – the others were a spring action and if you put your feet up, you couldn’t keep the back in position. We chose a chair that had four levels of adjustment: height, seat tilt, back tilt and arm height. We particularly wanted chairs with an adjustable height because the recliners we had in the last van were too low for the table, which was a nuisance. As it turned out, we decided against the table, but even if I bring in a personal table to use for craft work, I’ll want a chair with adjustable height – and also a chair that has back support when I’m working at craft or with a laptop. NOTE: For travel, we plan to lay the chairs on their backs.