Monday, February 4, 2013

Trailer Rear-Bunk Makeover

We decided to re-work the rear bunk area of our Jayco Jay Flight 28BHS to make it more convenient for our use (two adults, two sleeping areas).  Danielle suspected we would need to change this area before we bought the trailer.  After our first camping trip, I was sure of it.

This stock image we found on the web shows configuration prior to the remodel. Ours was identical except for the color of the curtain and mattress, which was even uglier than the one shown.  From our point of view, there are a number of problems with the configuration:

As we don't need the upper bunk for sleeping, we used it as a big storage shelf. There is actually much more room than we need even excluding the back corner which we cannot reach without standing on the bed, which is pretty awkward.

The bottom bunk is a full-size bed, but with a notch taken out of it.  This makes it difficult to replace with a more comfortable mattress, and it means that no standard sheets will fit , though a minor inconvenience because we normally use sleeping bags.

The biggest problem is that the head-space in the bottom bunk is very limited for an adult.  It's easy to bang one's elbow or head on the upper bunk when turning over.  There is no room to sit up and read, either.  In addition, unlike the front sleeping area, there is no place to use as a nightstand (except for reaching up to place things on the upper bunk, which is not very practical).

At first, we thought that the shirt wardrobe was a nice feature, providing additional storage in the unit.  However, we found that we could barely reach the bottom shelf and could only reach the top shelf when standing on the bed, rendering it pretty useless.  It ended up as just one more thing to bang one's head on.

A less obvious problem with this configuration relates to access to the bathroom, which is tight. Since the bathroom door opens up right against the bunk, there is no place to step out of the way when someone needs to get past.

To address these complaints, our plan was to make the following changes:
  • convert the top bunk to a narrower shelf, raising it up higher as well
  • convert the lower bunk to a standard twin bed
  • use the extra space for a nightstand
  • recover extra floor space in the bathroom area

The first step was to remove the shirt wardrobe. This is not a pre-assembled cabinet unit.  Rather, the top, back, and right sides are actually the walls of the trailer, not separate cabinet walls.

It was pretty simple to take apart.  From inside, we removed several dozen screws.  The tricky part was discovering that some of the screws can only be accessed after prying off the false bottom of the cabinet, as shown in this picture.

We removed everything, keeping the laminated plywood and the door for possible future projects which might require matching material.

The next step in the demolition was to remove the padded rail from the top bunk.  The trick here was to pry off the three fabric "buttons" to reveal the screws which fasten the rail to the bunk.  These were really long screws; a power screwdriver was handy here!  Without the cabinet in place, the rail was not long enough to span the length of what will become a shelf so we were not be able to reuse it.

Next, we tackled the bunk itself.   The first step was to carefully slit the caulk bead on the under side of the bunk as shown in the inset picture.

Once this was done, we were able to pry off the decorative plywood covering the under side of the bunk by starting at the front edge. We got this panel out without damaging it or the wall. An annoying bead of caulk was left.  I have not found a product that will loosen it without damaging the finish on the wall.  I am still trying to think of a creative way of covering it up.

Once the panel was down, the screws which fasten the bunk to the walls were revealed (see main picture) and easily removed. At this point, the bunk was free and we took it out and put it aside.

The next job was to tackle the bottom bunk.  Here is the demolition partly in progress.  We removed the hinged plywood deck to expose the framing, such as it is.  The notched front edge of the bunk turned out to be a free-standing partition screwed into the floor, also easily removed. The partition stub still remaining in the lower-right of the picture is integrated to a long 2x2 attached to the wall and which supports the plywood deck.  We removed this as well with a bit more effort.

The bit of framing around the water low-point drain in the top-right corner is part of a barrier that I created to help prevent shifting cargo from hitting the plumbing.

There is not much other framing supporting the deck.  The one "joist" shown was not even screwed into anything.  The plywood itself is a very thin and, disconcertingly, bows considerably when walked on.  All these short cuts were intended to  reduce weight, no doubt, but it seems that Jayco never seriously considered how adults might use this space.

Here is the new framing.  I used lightweight 2x3 pine studs I had on hand to replace the board along the bathroom wall and to create a pair of free-standing "walls."  These walls frame in a corner leaving more interior floor space than the previous diagonal wall.  This does reduce some of the cargo space, but the added maneuvering room this creates in the bathroom area more than compensates for the lost storage.

I did indulge in a heavier grade of plywood for the deck by using 5/8" material.  This gives a much more solid surface to build on at the expense of about 10 extra pounds.

This picture shows the new decking in place.  This is one single piece screwed into the framing.  I dispensed with the hinged assembly which previously allowed one to access the cargo space from inside the trailer.  I found this access cumbersome and, frankly, unnecessary given the new, super large cargo door used for 2013 models which provides ample room to access the full cargo area from the outside.  This new door, which you can see in the earlier pictures is a real winner. Thanks, Jayco!

The upper bunk has now been turned into a heavy-duty shelf.  I took the previous bunk which was 30" wide and sliced both it and the decorative under panel in half, lengthwise, and reassembled the pieces to create a 15" wide shelf of the same construction.  I put one half of the decorative panel under the shelf and one on the top.  I remounted this about 6" higher than the original bunk bed (I couldn't go higher because of the placement of the upper window.) I then trimmed with stained quarter-round molding, top and bottom.  This gave a very finished appearance with no exposed rough plywood and no fabric to get dirty from the junk stored up there.

This next picture shows the replacement rail for the upper shelf.  Rather than the padded fabric used originally, I created at solid wood version from a 1x4 board of red oak, stained with Minwax English Chestnut stain and coated with satin polyurethane.  This color seemed to give a good match to the existing wood laminate.

This picture also shows where I installed a new 12V DC plug in the wall to power a fan, charge a phone, etc.  It was a simple matter to drill through that interior wall into the cabinet over the dining table and tie into the existing circuit which supplies the CD player.

The last step was to cover the new partition walls with 1/8" birch plywood and to create a removable nightstand. The latter was constructed as an upside-down box from 3/4" plywood panels, also in birch. These were joined together with glue and biscuits. Simple corner molding, stain, and polyurethane complete the nightstand. I would have preferred to build something similar to the laminate-top nightstands in the front sleeping area but decided to skip on the hassle of trying to acquire matching laminate.

It was important that the nightstand remain removable because it blocks the existing access panel used to repair the shower faucet plumbing.

The remaining sleeping space just fits a twin mattress, in this case a Sultan FlorvĂ„g foam mattress from IKEA which is thin, firm and inexpensive.  I learned that XL sleeping bags fit twin-sized beds. This particular model, with flannel lining, is from L.L. Bean and fits nicely in the space.

One remaining enhancement that I am likely to add is to install another 12V DC plug over the nightstand, tapping into the circuit in the light fixture shown on the wall and running the wires down under the bunk.

This picture shows the completed project.


  1. I love what you did here! Do you think that the lower bunk could be completely removed without too much mess being made of the existing walls and floor? I'd like to put in an office area but I'm scared to pull everything up just to find out it won't work.

  2. I don’t see that being a problem. The lower bunk structure is screwed onto walls and floor but wallpaper and linoleum should still be continuous behind that stucture.


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