It’s a scooter, a buggy, a . . . ??

[Photo from Jay Nelson’s website]

If you’re hanging out in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset one day and see a wooden geodesic dome on bicycle wheels trundling down the street towards the ocean, with crystalline windows and a surfboard strapped to the top, smile and say hello: it’s local surfer/artist Jay Nelson and his electric “Golden Gate.”

Originally a painter, Nelson dove into construction a few years back with all the experience of an elementary-school-fort-builder — yes, he fashioned driftwood huts on the beach as a child — and five times the enthusiasm. “I like the idea of not knowing how to do the project and learning as I go,” he said in an interview with Fast Company’s Co.Design. “I’m a lot more inspired by structures that are made without an understanding of any traditional building technique.” The results of this off-the-cuff approach are quirky, multifaceted spaces with clean lines, rustic plywood finishes, and a good dose of whimsy.

This duck-billed boat reminds me of the kayaks my dad built when I was a kid — designs that could be cut out of a single sheet of plywood, sealed with strips of fiberglass, and paddled around the bay by a ten-year-old on an adventure. There may be some nostalgia in my attraction to Nelson’s grown-up-sized fun-mobiles and play-houses.

[Photos from Jay Nelson’s website]

“I start by imagining what I want to make. I then . . . try to imagine how I will build it as I’m drawing. The first step is to build a skeleton. While building the skeleton I make somewhat final decisions about what the shape will be . . . I play with the form adding and subtracting pieces of the skeleton.”
[Co.Design interview]

To experience full immersion into Nelson’s world of hand-carved surfboards, perfect breaking waves, and worn denim work shirts, head to the new Voyager Shop in the Mission [a “retail collaboration” between Mollusk Surf Shop – where Nelson built free-standing tree houses out of scrap wood, complete with painted wooden leaves, while living in the attic and working the store – and another clothing store and art gallery]. It’s just a few blocks from my new sublet, so I went to check it out today. Through a door propped open with a stack of books in a back corner of the store, Mollusk’s section is a Nelson-made submarine.

Do I need to explain how awesome this is? Complete with periscope, bunk bed, and a swirling blue view out the windows, it’s an otherworldly escape where you could shut the door, squint your eyes to fuzz away the shelves of t-shirts, spin around ten times to add the necessary disorientation, and feel the weightless rocking and vast uncharted freedom of the deep sea.

“Instead of coming up with something practical, I dream up what I want to build and do it,” Nelson says. When those fantasies turn into a camper top for a modded Honda hatchback, a three-story tree house for friends in Hawaii, or a surfboard-carrying moped parasol, we could use more dreamers like him . . . See the article in The Bold Italic for some more great photos of Nelson and his work.

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