Home » These Custom Camper Vans Are Like Taking The Apartment Of Your Dreams On A Road Trip

These Custom Camper Vans Are Like Taking The Apartment Of Your Dreams On A Road Trip

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Throughout my life of loving campers, I’ve found myself gravitating toward certain builds. I adore fiberglass campers and I’m always captivated by how imagination and craftsmanship result in fantastic custom homes-on-wheels. You’ll see things in converted school buses and campers that you’ll never see done by the big RV guys out in Indiana. One company that stands out in the pack is Brooklyn Campervans, a new company building custom camper van builds look like a swanky New York City apartment meticulously stuffed into a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

Camper vans have shown to be a popular choice in today’s RV market. In 2022, most classes of RVs lost sales ground while truck campers and Class B camper vans both saw healthy gains. The camper van is so popular that Ford is taking its own slice of the Class B market with the Transit Trail van. It’s easy to see why people love vans and truck campers. Both classes of camper aren’t big like a Class A and are easier to manage than a travel trailer. Camper van builds allow you to travel the country without tons of extra baggage and sometimes, they’ll even take you off of the beaten path. Of course, social media is chock-full of digital nomads dotting the country from sea to shining sea.

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Camper vans are also a blank canvas to let your imagination run wild. You could build a budget camper van for $10,000 or less, have a van with a modular interior, or have an electric off-grid home away from home. Brooklyn Campervans creates vans on the high-end of the market. The least expensive van the company offers is $191,000 while the most expensive tops $255,700. These vans are also custom-built to your specifications, so the final price can vary.

These prices blow right past the likes of Thor Motor Coach and put Brooklyn Campervans in the crosshairs of Airstream’s Interstate vans and Winnebago’s Sprinter-based models. New York-based Brooklyn Campervans offers a compelling reason to choose one of its vans over those others.

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What Is Brooklyn Campervans?

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Matt Hardigree and I got to speak with one of the company’s founders, Arthur Wei. Brooklyn Campervans is a new name in the RV world, but its founders are bringing some experience to the table. Arthur told me that he’s a traveling filmmaker alongside the company’s other founder, Oliver. The pair have traveled through 35 countries around the world while making their art. Arthur told me that while the hotels were lovely, nothing quite gave them that feeling of home with a familiar bed and kitchen.

The pair eventually found out that camper vans gave them that feeling of home that they were missing. Unlike a hotel, a camper van is a home that you can take with you. As the two continued their travels, they opted to stay in camper vans instead of hotels, bringing that feeling of home wherever they went.

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Then the pandemic hit. Lockdowns and social distancing suddenly meant that Oliver and Arthur suddenly had a ton of spare time on their hands and not much to do with it. Arthur told me that he began talking with Oliver and they concluded that it was about time to make their dreams a reality. The duo have been sitting on camper ideas for years, if not decades, and now was the time to make them real. Arthur told me that one of their inspirations was a converted Chevrolet van they saw that had a flip-out panel. Out of the ashes of the pandemic came a new camper company.

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Brooklyn Campervans is not like a manufacturer churning campers out of a factory in Indiana. Arthur tells me that building these vans is an involved process. An artist designs the interiors and then the Brooklyn Campervans team builds it out by hand. The small company starts out with regular vans and then carves them out into living spaces. The team takes a bare van and transforms it into a custom home fit to your specifications.

How It Works

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Since these vans are custom, there’s a process to turn your ideas into reality. It starts with a consultation where Brooklyn Campervans will ask you questions about how you will use the van.

From there, you’ll use the company’s build tool, where you’ll configure what features your van will have. Once you have a good idea of what you’ll want your van to be like, Brooklyn Campervans has you secure the van for the project. Currently, the company recommends Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 144-inch wheelbase and 170-inch wheelbase models. Once you have a van, you then secure your spot in line with a $10,000 non-refundable deposit.

From there, you get to design your van’s aesthetic, which gets transferred into a 3D model with the company’s build tool. Once you have everything locked in, Brooklyn Campervans has you sign an agreement and you pay half of your van’s cost upfront. After you’ve gone through all of that, now you just wait.

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Arthur told us that his company builds four vans at a time and the builds take about 11 weeks. Brooklyn Campervans builds about 16 vans a year and has completed 25 projects thus far. The highly-customized process has a lot to do with this. No two vans are the same and since all of the important parts are built by hand, it takes a long time.

The Vans

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While you can custom order vans from Brooklyn Campervans, the company also has an inventory of completed vans for sale. The one Arthur showed me is the Zen Artist Van. This one was designed by Chinese artist Wei Jia and here’s what Brooklyn Campervans has to say about his design:

Art & design: Xuan paper is a semi-translucent rice paper that is traditionally used for Chinese calligraphy and landscape paintings. Thin and delicate as xuan paper is, its strength can sometimes distort a whole wooden frame. Wei Jia, fascinated by the paper’s versatility and texture, has been primarily using it in his art the past 30 years, which has shown in over 17 solo exhibitions in the United States.

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In this campervan design, Wei Jia lets the texture speak for itself – its fibers reconnecting the van with nature. The subtle off-white rice paper walls in the van provide a calming zen feel that goes well with light wood tones of the countertop, ceiling and flooring. The backlit Shoji upper cabinet door faces provide beautiful diffused accent lighting, like peaking at a traditional home.

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As a daily practice for over 15 years, Wei Jia practices calligraphy daily for over 3 hours a day as a meditative practice. One of his favorite poems to practice calligraphy on is the “Peach Blossom Spring” – a story about an off-the-beaten-path ethereal utopia stumbled through spontaneous serendipity. The poem will be written on a small panel on the Passenger Sliding Door, and he hopes that one day when the door is opened, you too will discover the Peach Blossom Spring.

I’ve never quite seen an interior like this before and I love it. There’s a lot of attention to detail going on here from the textured rice paper walls to the rice paper-lined cabinets. I also like the consistent use of bright materials, which keep the interior looking bright. So many of the Class Bs I’ve been in at shows used materials so dark that the interiors felt dreary to be in.

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In addition to the stunning interior, the Zen Artist Van features a 10kWh of EcoFlow power station and 560W of solar panels. Feeding from the EcoFlow is a Dometic RTX-2000 12v air-conditioner, which Arthur tells me will run for 25 hours from the power station alone. Other goodies include a Weboost internet signal booster, a 360-degree security camera system, automatic running boards, an automatic movie projector screen, a monitor for the van’s systems, a camera-based rearview mirror, and more.

Bkc Panels

Brooklyn Campervans’ highlight feature for its vans is what it calls BKC Panels. These are swing-out hatches that let the outside in. Windows like these do already exist, but Brooklyn Campervans plans to make them available for DIY builders in the future.

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The It’s-Got-Everything Van

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The other van Arthur showed us was the ‘It’s-Got-Everything Van.’ Here’s Brooklyn Campervans’ description of it:

Like its name suggests, this campervan is packed with amenities from walkable solar roof deck, custom Starlink mount, with top and bottom flood lights, and much much more. This camper is made to go off-road in luxury. The interior includes open and airy white walls and cabinets with wood accents and a beautiful marble-like waterfall countertop and terracotta shower tiles that makes a statement when you open the door.

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This van takes on a more luxurious apartment vibe. Burgos terracotta brick tile can be found in the shower and fixtures are finished in brushed gold. The floors are said to be gardena marble and the kitchen surfaces use avonite waterfall countertops. Brooklyn Campervans says that its vans are made with a minimalist design and clean aesthetic. “Clean” in the RV world seems to mean a lot of white materials, which is fine, I can get behind that. I would love to see a bit more color. Give us some turquoise, yellow, and pink!

This van comes with the same features as the Zen Artist Van, but adds a walkable solar roof panel deck, off-road lights, a ladder, an awning, a bull bar, and Starlink internet.

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In terms of standard features, every Brooklyn Campervans build comes with a Laveo dry flush toilet, a 2.5-gallon water heater, a 40-gallon fresh water tank, a 10-gallon gray water tank with an automatic dumping feature, and a Webasto space heater. Cooking is handled with a Dometic 80-liter fridge, a two-burner induction cooktop, a sink with running water, and a microwave.

Brooklyn Campervans says that its vans are four-season-capable thanks to Rock wool (R15) insulation used in walls and ceilings. The floors use quarter-inch XPS foam insulation for corrugation, another 1-inch XPS layer, then a subfloor. The van’s electrical system is also integrated with the home portion. That way, the engine charges the house battery and you can also use shore power if you need to.

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The backbone of these vans is a 2023 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500. It’s riding on a 144-inch wheelbase and features a high roof. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four making 211 HP and 332 lb-ft torque. Brooklyn Campervans notes that both of these vans are off-road-capable. It should be noted that while Sprinters have been notable for their off-road capability, Mercedes has switched from a four-wheel-drive system with a low range to an automatic all-wheel-drive system. That said, the vans do retain a 5,000-pound towing capacity. And in case you’re curious, just the van itself eats up at least $59,350 of the purchase price.

Great Levels Of Detail

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I really like what appears to be an incredible level of detail here. Earlier this year, I took a tour of the $210,292 Winnebago Revel. This was a van from Winnebago, a household name in RVs. Yet, the interior almost felt like it was tossed together from spares from the factory floor. Some material choices didn’t make sense and the fit seemed unbefitting of a van asking well into the six figures. The vans I’ve been in from Thor Motor Coach were similar, but at least their six-figure price tags start with a one and not a two.

These vans? At least to my eye, it looks like every inch of the interior was thought about before it was slapped into place. Brooklyn Campervans seems to go the extra mile to make the van feel like a home away from home. I suppose how I’d describe it is that the Winnebago Revel felt like a van trying to be an apartment while these are apartments crammed into vans.

[Ed note: I had the chance to poke around one of the Brooklyn Campervans campers at the New York Auto Show and thought that the quality, layout, and attention to detail seemed above par. It certainly can compete with an Airstream Interstate, which is probably its closest mainstream rival. It’s also far more unique – MH]

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As I said before, Brooklyn Campervans serves the high-end of the RV segment. The company’s cheapest van on deck is the $191,600 Mothership Van, which has most of the bits from the other vans, but a darker, different interior. The Zen Artist Van is $213,000 and the It’s-Got-Everything Van is $243,000. There was also a Flagship Van for $255,700, but it sold.

If you’re interested in having a custom van built, Brooklyn Campervans says that it has two slots open for July builds. After that, you’ll have to wait for the next wave. As I said, just 16 vans get built by this company a year, so there’s not much volume. These are vans that we hope to try out this summer and tell you if they’re actually as cozy as they look.

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Ryan Friesen
Ryan Friesen
1 year ago

Thank you all for helping me calibrate my sanity. When I read these pieces, I always assume the horror I experience is a sign that I am old and sad, but then the comments restore my sense of balance.

Liamlunchtray1
Liamlunchtray1
1 year ago

After a trip out west a couple years ago my wife and I were immediately smitten by all these cool campervan builds. Luckily we realized that they are for the most part non-functional for any sort of actual use by real humans. We ended up buying a used 27′ Born Free (one of the many small builders of cool and weird RV’s that have gone under in the past 10 years) and have been modifying it as needed. It’s way more practical than a van and looks dope. I love that thing.

Chris Lindquist
Chris Lindquist
1 year ago

Between what I read here and the RV updates I sometimes get from New Atlas, it appears the sweet spot for campers these days is something priced for the people who never need to look at the prices. Maybe it’s time to stop fetishizing this kind of BS?

Sean Ellery
Sean Ellery
1 year ago

These are bigger than some New York apartments aren’t they?

DadBod
DadBod
1 year ago

Yeah I really want to pay top dollar for the depth of experience filmmaking brings to camper construction.

Peter d
Peter d
1 year ago

Hmm, in today’s world with CD’s paying 5%, $200k would result in $10k a year to spend on vacations – assuming a difference of $200/night for a mid-grade hotel (think Hilton Garden Inn) to your campsite, and it looks like the break-even point is about 50 nights/year. So if you are still working, and are not doing lots of weekend trips you are probably better off just using hotels. This is super simplistic, but directionally correct. Not sure if campground availability is better in high demand places like Zion, etc. where lodges have to be booked way ahead, if so that may help drive the Campervan choice.

Gerontius Garland
Gerontius Garland
1 year ago

I have nightmares about living in an apartment. Though at least with this I can park it where there aren’t any people around, so it’s only half a nightmare.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

EUREKA! I have finally figured out what has confused me all year. We got city dwellers writing stories about cars and RVS & campers talking about roomy and apartment sized this and that. I just realized it they just dont get it (farmersonly.com). We flyover people have apartments with 2000 sqft. So city dwellers who share a studio with 3 other people and a family of rats dont get our view vs their view. So it anyone or group of someonrs from autopian get to western pa around Ebensburg give me a heads up. I can probably put the whole staff up with more room (except beau) than you are used to. Good food at restaurants but not as much variety as you are used to. I have 3000 sgft with a stream in my back yard and a detachef garage. Do if 1 or all of you are coming close let me know i will put you up. With large space, clean air, friendly people, and $3 beers.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

And if any of you strangers are willing to bite at that tragic sounding invitation, have I got a place for you.
It’s right outside Shamrock, Texas.
Just a big ole family property We like to invite people over to.
There are a few overgrown storage containers to sleep in.
They get hot in the summer, but you’ll get used to it.
You’ll get used to the zip ties too.
It’s not so bad.
Stop crying!

Liamlunchtray1
Liamlunchtray1
1 year ago

Shamrock is always a favorite dystopian hellscape of mine.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 year ago

“Cuz I live in a VAN down by the RIVER!!!”

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

Yup, I’ve always dreamed of having an apartment so small that the toilet takes up most of the space in the shower.

And what could be better than being able to reach for a hot spoonful of baked beans from the stove without having to get out of bed.
It’s perfection. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in their kitchen? Sounds great.

Is there a tiny sink somewhere in there so I can wash the shame of living this way off my hands constantly?

Did a bunch of lazy London landlords design this thing?
Seems so, cause it’s just as gross, disturbing and expensive as many available flats in many major cities.
No. Just, fucking no.

Living that way isn’t a dream, not even a bad one.
It’s a distopian nightmare coming true.
Is it a valid option to simply continue to exist in some modicum of comfort?
Sure.
Is it an answer to the problem of affordable housing so many people are struggling with?
Fuck no.
Just, fuck no!

Last edited 1 year ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

It’s the answer to a few terrible questions.

Can I combine a bad dealership and/or manufacturer experience with a slumlord experience?

Can I increase my depression and feelings of instability by going further into debt to keep up with the society around me?

Is it a bad sign that “social media influencers” whatever the hell that means can buy these for fun while a (sober, I’ve talked with them, both kids are enrolled in and go to school) family of four lives in a tent in a park near my apartment?

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 year ago

I can’t drive it on adventures, but I live in a 720 sq. ft. condominium that I purchased in 2019 for under $100k – effectively half of what these cost. And I don’t have to empty my toilet manually. These vans are toys for the very wealthy.

Newcarpetsmell
Newcarpetsmell
1 year ago

Must be nice to rough it in a $200,000 van

Last edited 1 year ago by Newcarpetsmell
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  Newcarpetsmell

I know right.
I lived out of a 91’ Mazda Protege for two years in my early twenties.
Kids these days..

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 year ago

I am impressed. But wonder about the resale value a few years down the road. A few years ago my nephew and girlfriend built out a Sprinter and toured the world in it for a year. When they returned he started building more of them for rental and resale. Last year he sold out to his partners. For 2 million bucks…at 32 years old. His plan now is to go worldwide with the same concept.
But yeah it seems like everyone and their brother are building these things. It does not seem to be a sustainable plan though. Eventually people or the economy runs out of cash.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

And then companies start repossessing people’s “homes”.
It’s a decent business plan.
But it’s not gonna look good in its endgame.
It’s going to be very sad for a lot of people.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago

These appear to better thought out than the tiny house builders short bus conversion I derided as “a machine for looking at”. Personally I prefer the aesthetic of a circa 1990 Westfalia or a modern Sportsmobile. Based on the number of dressed up vans I see around Bend,there’s currently a significant population of junior plutocrats an influences with $200,000 to drop. This may change and I may be able to afford a fancy in a few years when some crypto bro needs cash.

Scorp Mcgorp
Scorp Mcgorp
1 year ago

clearly my life choices are deserving of review if I’m not able to practice calligraphy in my $200K+ campervan. My parents towed us around campsites with a shitty 30+ year old hard sided pop-up camper every summer because camping was the only sort of vacation we could afford on less than $30K a year. being able to afford one of these monstrosities, let alone being able to live out of them like that is so foreign to me that i actually feel a little sick thinking about it.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
1 year ago
Reply to  Scorp Mcgorp

Yeah these camper vans seem really cool, I much prefer the idea of going small and not towing a massive camper when it comes to these things.

But the prices are so gross that they’re veering into the realm of being socio-economically problematic to me. These go for around the median home price in my small city (yes it’s a cheap area I get that, but this is a goddamn van with some cabinets built into it). It gets to a point where if the only people that can afford this stuff are trust-fund babies sick of repeatedly diving into their Scrooge McDuck pool full of gold doubloons, well, I sort of lose interest.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 year ago

I wonder how that Rockwool insulation will handle the vibration and twisting motions of an RV.

Last edited 1 year ago by Cheap Bastard
Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

since rock wool is,very flexible it should be fine, and be less irritating than fiberglass batting and less polluting than Styrofoam or spray foam

Charlie Hartman
Charlie Hartman
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

The rockwool should be fine. The tile however…

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
1 year ago

Yep, the rockwall and shoji screens are great idea but using heavy marble and tile even some of the joinery and fixtures will add a lot of weight to the van.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
1 year ago

Honestly… how many of these “custom camper van” companies can really be sustained by the market. Seems like there are new ones popping up all over the place. I wish them all success, but the market seems to have become oversaturated so I don’t know how that will be possible for longer than the next 1-2 years.

Chassis allocation from the OEMs is probably also a big issue as well, still.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
1 year ago

Agreed. The RV industry has a long history of boom->bust->consolidation of companies.

Unless you are truly offering something unique, or amazing value, it’s going to be tough. Even if I had the money to afford a high-end van… I’d still want to just have a simple/removable/minimalist build so that it could still be used as…. a van. I don’t want to worry about messing up fancy wood panelling/shiplap while hauling shit from home depot.

It’s like boats, I went out on the lake in my father-in-law’s small early 90’s boat that he paid $4k for but was in pretty good shape. Next to us at the boat ramp was a guy in a new/lifted Tundra towing some brand new ski boat that the owner was openly bragging “well it lists for $100k and I got it for $80k”.

Both boats went around the same smaller lake for the day, and we both were at the boat ramp at the end of the day and I said to my father in law “I don’t think the other guy and his family had $76,000 more fun today than we did”

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
1 year ago

Chassis allocation won’t be an issue for this RV company at least, since they require you to source your own van before the process begins.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
1 year ago
Reply to  Lockleaf

Wouldn’t it still be a chassis allocation problem for them, still? Just one degree separated?

Ian Case
Ian Case
1 year ago

I know that there’s a bigger push for more sustainable living and van life stuff now than there ever was before, but not for $150K+. The reason a lot of people end up doing it is strictly because they DON’T have the money. You can buy an older van and build it out yourself for $20K and do it over time after the initial purchase. If people had $150-200K for a van, they’d likely just buy an apartment or a house and be done with it. There aren’t a ton of people who WANT to live in a van for any other reason than ‘its economical for me.’ It’s not as comfortable, it’s got lots of moving parts that can break at any time, people can just plow into your dwelling with their car and it’s just completely fucked. But if you have an OK job, no attachments/family, it makes a lot of sense economically.

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