Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

A Swivel Passenger Seat as a Computer Workstation in a Ford Transit Van

There’s not much living space in a cargo van. A swivel passenger seat can help fix that. As I built out the basics, I turned the passenger seat in my Ford Transit van into a mobile office, and a place I could even get work done.

Extra Cabin Space

Swivel seats can rotate 180 degrees so that a seat is facing backwards. In the case of a van, this increases the effective living area by turning the cabin into more seating for the living room.

a swivel passenger seat in a ford transit van
The passenger seat, turned around 180 degrees.

It’s hard to capture just how much of a space difference this adds, so allow me to fall back upon numbers. The cargo area of the van has approximately 9 feet of usable length. The cabin area adds about 2-3 feet, depending on how you look at it.

This is about a 20% increase in usable space.

Swivel seats are only available after-market for most vehicles, like my 2018 Ford Transit.

Related: Building a Wood Cabin Steampunk Van

When I bought my van, I had almost no experience in carpentry, construction, or electrical engineering. Yet I was determined to build it all myself. Two years later, here are the plans for my cozy steampunk wood cabin van.

Swivel Passenger Seat Parts

I purchased the after-market swivel-seat adapter from SwivelsRUs. I found this after research on the Ford Transit forms. The SwivelsRUs website leaves a lot to be desired, but the part itself worked well.

  • Price: $374 (including tax & shipping to California).
  • Delivery time: about two weeks.
  • Special concerns: the part is a few inches tall, which increases the height of the seat.

I had some concerns about the safety of the passenger, as well. It should go without saying that the van may not be driven with the passenger facing backwards. In the “locked forward” position, I found that the plate was well constructed and bolted down well. Without the ability to do any serious crash-dummy style tests, I trust in the safety information available online. Indeed, the part seemed totally stable after being installed.

Tools

  • Socket wrench set.
  • Jigsaw with both plastic and metal blades.
  • Metal file.

Installation

Time: ~3 hours for two people.

It’s surprisingly easy to un-bolt the seat from the existing mount.

The harder part was the fact that my van has power & heated seats. This means there was hanging plastic panel on the right side of the seat, which also included a steel bar which would prevent the seat from turning.

The tracks running top to bottom in the above photo are those which allow the seat to go forward and backward. It’s the few inches above his fingers which would prevent the seat from swiveling.

We may have been able to work around this problem by raising the seat all the way up every time it was to be rotated. But that sounded annoying. Instead, I took a jigsaw with a plastic (and, later, a metal) blade to the panel.

Conclusion

I’m still a bit dubious about cutting a huge piece off my car, but it cleaned up well. Later, when I put the couch in place, it became more obvious how the swivel seat could transform the space to something more like a living-space.

van mobile office desk and computer workstation office
In another post, I explain how I turned this into a full-blown mobile office with fast internet, power outlets, and space for two people to work.

My ultimate goal is to turn the passenger seat into a work station when facing backward. After all, the seat is highly adjustable, meant to be used for many hours on-end, and even has built-in heat. It’s perfect for long time spent in front of a computer, if I can just set up the screen, keyboard, and mouse appropriately. But, that’s a topic for a later post.

About the author

(zane) / Technically Wizardry

I've been a game designer, startup founder, and @Airbnb for 6+ years. This blog documents my hobbies of building a vanlife van, "magic" home automation, and interesting software to control it all.

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