Artist Turns Secondhand Cars Into Whimsical Geometric Caravans

Photos: Jay Nelson

The general misconception of small spaces is that they must be bland and minimal for the sake of functionality and efficiency. But like other green building myths, that's not necessarily true, as San Francisco-based artist and designer Jay Nelson proves with the artful living quarters found in his quirky geometric campers, all of which are built up around modified, scrappy secondhand vehicles. As an avid surfer, Nelson's vehicles resemble angular beetles with wooden carapaces that wouldn't look too out of place on a sunny Californian beach -- complete with handmade, laidback interiors to match. Take a look inside:




As Fast Co. Design recounts, one of his first experiments was to modify a beat-up Honda civic with a broken rear window, which he purchased for $200 before adding on a curvaceous, wooden shell in the back.


Starting from that fateful prototype, Nelson has now progressed onto customizing mopeds and motorcycles and more. Calling his structures "accidental artwork," Nelson prefers the challenge of refurbishing old vehicles to starting from scratch, and usually finds each project's unique evolution by going through the process in a tactile, hands-on fashion:

I start by imagining what I want to make. I then draw the project, and I try to imagine how I will build it as I'm drawing. To start construction I just jump right in it and try not to overthink things. I've found that if you think too much you tend to never start or become intimidated by the project.

The first step is to build a skeleton. While building the skeleton I make somewhat final decisions about what the shape will be. As I'm building I play with the form adding and subtracting pieces of the skeleton. Then I cover the skeleton with plywood. Next I fill all the cracks with filler and sand all the edges clean. After that I fiberglass it. When the fiberglass dries I cut holes for all the windows and build in windows and waterproof.

In addition to his land-lubbing structures, Nelson has also created a boat dome, treehouses and apparently even a submarine.


So forget about believing that you have to spend several grand or more for a mobile camper of your own. Functional yet imaginative, Nelson's vehicles suggest that small living can have big character, and can be done yourself from whatever materials are at hand. Check out the rest of his work on his website.

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