Van Build: DIY Headliner Shelf…with a TWIST!

Having removed our headliner last episode, we now go about installing our very own headliner shelf, complete with insulation and 4-way-stretch carpet...but we're going to do it with a twist.

Written By Freedom Strider

On April 25, 2020

Storage is key in a small space and the over the cab space in a van is a lot of space. Headliner shelves in van conversions are quite popular now, as they provide a massive attic like space to store whatever. Great for spare bed stuff, duvets and stuff that you may not use on the daily basis even.


Reposition vital cables

The wires powering the back lights, reversing camera and any other electronics in the back of the van had to be moved out the way, beneath the metal bracket on the side, so it did not interfere with the shelf we were going to install.

headliner shelf - van conversion


Trial and error

We spent a whole evening trying to measure out the size of our headliner shelf, where it was going to sit and how to support it.

We bought a contour gauge and tried to use cardboard as a template, but this did not work out – the contour gauge was fiddly to work on such an intricate curvy section of the van, and the cardboard was far too flimsy for that big a platform.

So eventually we went with the more mathematical method of measuring a grid that we then transposed onto our ply… 📐

headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion


Measure, cut, fit, repeat

In the end we just went out and bought our 18mm softwood ply, got it cut to the largest width and depth we had measured (153 x 81 cm), and decided to just refine the shape by trimming off pieces, and fitting it and repeating said process until the shelf fit into place.

In order to get the curving shape, we drew on a centre line, and took the width at different stages (it started at 153cm, then slowly curved inwards getting narrower). We halved that width measurement and marked it out equidistant from the center line to get an even (ish) shape.

Since our shelf was sitting up against the front curve of the van as well, we used the flat side of the front of the shelf, and marked the depth along the distance to cut this curve.

This got us the right shape, but it still took quite a few dryfit and sanding rounds to chisel away all the little corners that kept getting jammed. And of course, this results in quite a few bruised fingers/heads. 🤕🤬

headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion


It is best to cut semicircle recesses for the wires on the side and at the back of the shelf (for the radio antena). Try not to cut the antena recess in the front of the shelf like we did. 😅


Slice up the headliner

Due to our unique design, we only needed to retain the bottom section of the original headliner.

So we first roughly cut it with a jigsaw and a wood cutting blade, so it was easier to manage.

Once the rough shape was done, we brought the shelf back into the van, dry fitted the headliner with the shelf to mark on the actual line we needed to cut.

The shelf was to rest on top of the original headliner, all the way to the metal brace which would support it.

Another round with the jigsaw and some smoothing out with a mini sander, and it fitted like a glove.

headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion

Numpty alert

Whilst cutting the headliner, we accidentally sliced off the side arms of the headliner. After a few attempts to fix it, we had success with wood glue and metal nails which stitched them back together, like nothing ever happened. It was actually a pretty good finish considering.

headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - headliner repair - van conversion
headliner shelf - headliner repair - van conversion
headliner shelf - headliner repair - van conversion


Custom paint job

Instead of leaving everything grey, we broke out a few cans of black spray paint and went a little crazy. 🎨

We spray painted all the plastic trim pieces we had removed from the van black, along with attempting to spray paint the newly repaired headliner black as well, although the fabric did not accept spray paint that well.

Instead, we finished the day off with buying some black 4-way stretch carpet

headliner shelf - van conversion


Insulate the area

Before making the area inaccessible to insulate, we used trimfix spray adhesive to stick some recycled plastic insulation to the van cab roof, and also in the side bits. Over the top, we stuck a layer of reflectix and covered any gaps with aluminium foil tape to create a seamless moisture barrier.

This should also keep us cooler in the summer as that area radiates heat like crazy. 😓

headliner shelf - insulation - van conversion


Polly gets a workout

Once the 4-way stretch carpet arrived, we immediately took to slicing it up with scissors and stretching it over the top of the reflectix.

We’re not sure how exactly to do this in the most elegant or easiest fashion, but Polly resorted to becoming a spiderman gymnast for the afternoon, supporting herself by the headrests and sun visor mounts as she pulled and stretched the fabric to eliminate any kinks or bumps as we stuck it down with spray adhesive.

headliner shelf - van conversion


We left the area around the wires for the backlight adhesive free, so that if we need to repair or replace a cable in that area, it is easy to reach rather than having to unstick all our hard work.


Bolt in the shelf

We slid the shelf back in, and used some L brackets (which we had also spray painted black) to attach the shelf to the van. 

We had 2 different sizes of L brackets, the larger ones we attached to the bolthole where the coat hook screwed into, and the smaller ones attached to one of the side mounts which is where the sun visors screws into. 

We lined up the brackets, drilled a hole in them so we could attach the L brackets at the right level, and marked the underneath of the shelf with a pen through the existing screw holes onto the shelf.

We took everything inside on a flat surface and screwed the L brackets into the shelf, went back to the van and bolted the brackets to their mounting places.

Hurrah! The shelf is in! 👌

headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion


More black fabric (and more gymnastics)

To finish up the shelf to leave it looking nice, we stretched our black fabric firstly over the piece of headliner that still remained, and bolted this back into the van, securing it in place by putting the sunvisors and central light in (without detaching the fabric roll).

The sun visors presented a problem, as we had increased the thickness of the headliner by 1 layer of fabric, and we actually ended up buying longer, 50mm M6 hex bolts in order to secure them back in.

Then we proceeded to stretch the fabric over the underneath of the shelf.

We can tell you now, it is much easier to stretch the fabric when you are not upside down with glue and hair in your face, but we were aiming for a seamless finish between the shelf and where it joined the van.

We again used trimfix spray adhesive to attach the fabric to the shelf, and we pulled like crazy to stretch and smooth out the fabric so it didn’t kink.

Editor’s note: Sam’s forgetting the part where I was arching my back over the seats with my head upside down as I was pulling with all my bodyweight!!! 🙄🤣

After trimming the fabric, we re-attached all the now-black plastic pieces in, and stood back to admire our week-long battlefield.

headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion
headliner shelf - van conversion


quick look

Quick Steps Overview:

  1. Measure shelf area roughly
  2. Measure, cut and test ply until it fits
  3. Remove excess headliner material
  4. Insulate cab roof
  5. Attach fabric to roof area
  6. Bolt shelf in with L Brackets
  7. Stick fabric to headliner
  8. Bolt headliner in
  9. Stretch and stick fabric to shelf