HER PERSEPECTIVE: The original Vanagon closet was a great cavernous space. One which allowed random socks, underwear, and whatever I wanted most to slip to the bottom - kinda like my purse, so you'd think I could have handled it better.
Anyway, on our trip we used an old hanging shoe organizer in an effort to keep stuff from becoming a giant pile in the bottom of the closet. Didn't work. We knew there had to be a better way. With two dogs in the van, they invariably want to be wherever we are, so having to move them to open a door was going to be annoying, if not impossible. After much, much searching I found this great idea. Brandon's dad came out for a visit and the two of them built our own version. I'm still searching for the best way to keep it all organized... stay tuned for updates!
HOW HE DID IT: (Apologies for the lack of in-process pictures, this was done before we started the blog.) This one took a bit of brainstorming. I found the link above, but I also found this one. We really like the concept, as storing things in the forward closet was a fiasco for a number of reasons. The thing I didn't like about it was that the doors sat proud of the cabinet face. I wanted doors that were flush, like the original ones. Both doors, not just one. We went to the usual big box stores and got 1/4" (actual size) plywood and finger pockets (or whatever they're called), but we couldn't find anything to act as a channel for the doors. My dad had the genius idea to go to a glass shop, since they should have something for sliding glass shower doors. We ended up finding stainless steel channel that was for refurbishing worn out aluminum channel (I think). Either way, it was the perfect size. Two strips side-by-side were the same thickness as the existing wood, and the ID (if you will) was just a little loose on the wood. Perfect!
Once that was figured out, we cut a giant hole on the van's cabinet. First, we laid out masking tape so that we could scribble on the cabinet without leaving anything permanent. This also helped prevent chipping in the veneer. We let the top and bottom of the existing rear closet door define the top and the bottom of the opening, and set the forward cut at a distance that seemed appropriate (in our case, 2" from the front of the closet). We used a hole saw that most closely matched the radius of the original rear door, then cut the rest of the opening out. Cutting the bottom and side were easy - we set up a guide to ensure a straight cut then used a circular saw with the depth carefully set. The top was more of a pain. We used a handheld saw and hacked it out as carefully as possible. This would've been easy if we had removed the cabinet altogether, but that seemed like more trouble than it was worth. The cut we made isn't perfect, but it's not terrible.
We then screwed down the channel. We used flat head screws (so they would be flush) and used a sacrificial screw to hammer a countersunk shape into the channel so that the screws wouldn't sit proud. We didn't completely secure the channel at this point, as it needs to be pivoted out in order to install the doors. It did have to be in place enough to ensure that we got the correct result from the next step, though.
We then got out the cardboard. We traced the door for the rear edge, but it wasn't exactly right since we weren't using any rubber trim on the door itself. There was a bit of trial and error, but we eventually cut out the appropriate shapes.
The wood doors were a combination of too loose and too tight. There was a lot of sanding of the vertical edges, bringing it down little by little so it wouldn't be too loose. I did have to squeeze the channel slightly in one area so that the forward door wouldn't rattle while we were driving, but that's it.
WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Since we used such thin plywood, it bows out slightly. It's not bad, and it certainly doesn't outweigh the usefulness, but it's slightly not-perfect.
The doors will sometimes catch a little bit. I'm not sure what to do about that. Plastic channels might help, but I doubt you could find any that would be narrow enough to match the existing wood but be wide enough to put the new doors in. We have since finished the doors with the same paint we used on the cabinets, but it doesn't seem to have made them much easier to slide.
With the reno of the rest of the cabinets and building of the new closet (details coming soon) we removed the shelf supports we installed originally and replaced them with adjustable options.
Overall, we're both very, very happy with this modification. This space is now useable, whereas before it was almost wasted space.