The ceiling is classic and simple, but artfully crafted. Crafted from Walnut, Sapele and Redwood it is reminiscent of an classic wood surfboard. We definitely could have chosen a different style or material, but we both knew that we wanted to have something beautiful to look at when we woke up and went to sleep.
This arguably was one of the longer projects due to the perfectionism we both have to create perfectly spaced reveals and contours along the edges of the ceiling. We first bought ⅛” birch 5’x5’ panels and quickly decided that this was not the material or design we wanted. Our creative constraints to building this roof were the depth, weight and aesthetics. We couldn’t afford to lose any height on the interior because we purchased a low roof Delica with the hopes of installing a poptop. Yet after its arrival, we determined that the $15,000 price tag (cough) to do so was not in our budget. The high roof Delica gains an additional 7” of head space which would have proved to be valuable for designing the interior. However, the high roof Delica is not a candidate for adding a poptop. Thus, our creative constraint for installing a ceiling with the least amount of depth; so as not to lose any head room.
As for weight, well we comprised for the aesthetics of the beautiful Walnut and Sapele. We did choose Redwood for the majority of the ceiling planks which helped us counter the heavy weight of the Walnut.
Lastly, the aesthetics. There are so many van builds these days and the internet can be quite deceiving when it comes to quality of craftsmanship and attention to details. We wanted wood, but we wanted something a little different than common cladded ceilings. We also had the issue of not losing any space, so we couldn’t build traditional stringers because it would lower the ceiling more than we wanted. We only had about 48” from floor to ceiling to work with and 34” of that space we wanted to dedicate to head space so we could sit up in bed. It definitely was a challenge, but Colin has a gift for woodworking. He meticulously designed and installed this ceiling over the course of a couple weeks and it turned out amazing.
The ⅜” Baltic birch stringers were strategically placed across the metal crossmembers and attached with self tapping screws; taking care to not puncture through the roof panel. From side to side the roof is concave and the stringers had to bend to match the curvature in order to maintain the most headspace in the van. The roof is not entirely flat from front to back either, and the stringers at each end needed extra sanding and shaping to fit snugly into the folds of the metal.
Each ceiling piece was planed to the same thickness of ½” and then cut to width according to our calculations of how wide each piece needed to be in between each ⅛” reveal. The Walnut was the trickiest to cut because it is 1 ½” wide and the wood wanted to twist and bend right away.
When all the pieces were cut, we sanded and finished three sides with a water based polyurethane. We left the back unfinished so we could sand each piece during the install to match the curvature of the ceiling. Another reason we left the back unfinished is for the best bonding surface between the waterproof wood glue and the stringers. The first piece took the longest because we had to also cut holes for the LED lights and run the wiring through them.
The installation took about an hour for each ceiling panel because for each piece we had to cut it to length, sand the back to match the ceiling contour, finish the ends to match the angle and curve of the front and back, mark the areas for the application of wood glue, apply wood glue and finally finish nail into place. And in between each of those steps we had to dry fit it to make sure everything lined up. We also painted the ⅛” reveal along the stringers in black to blend in with the black space created by them.
The last piece we left unfinished for a few weeks until the solar installation was complete as we had to drill a hole in the ceiling to install the wiring along the edge of the ceiling. This way the wiring is more discrete and hidden along the wall.
The finished project looks amazing and adds so much character to the interior of the van. It’s definitely one of our favorite modifications we did.