Turning Junk into Stunning Treehouses
LAURA LING: You build these really cool, unique structures of these tree houses and these campers. And they’re smaller dwellings. JAY NELSON: Yeah. LAURA LING: Is there something about the simplicity of it all? JAY NELSON: Well, originally that’s why I started doing it. I mean, I was right out of college. I wasn’t really making any money at that time. And I wanted to be an artist. And I wanted to figure out how to live a lifestyle that was just as minimal as possible.
I had a Honda Civic CRX that a friend of mine, his mom had totalled it. And she gave it to me. I, for a while, just drove it around. And then eventually, I just thought, well, maybe I’ll build a box over it. And then I was like, actually, maybe I’ll build a camper, like a little place to sleep up top. What really did excite me about it was that it was kind of like I was driving this artwork around.
And I mean, it was really exciting the way people reacted to it. And I guess I saw it as like, wow, this is a real kind of direction I can go with my work. LAURA LING: Tell me about the first tree house you built. JAY NELSON: I built one when I was 10 years old. And then my friends and I all through high school, that’s what we did. We just built forts. We weren’t really interested in girls or– [LAUGHS] we just weren’t. We were interested in building forts and surfing. We never really grew out of it. And they just became more and more elaborate. LAURA LING: It’s amazing.
These trees are beautiful, first of all. JAY NELSON: You can come this way. Watch your head. LAURA LING: Wow, we’re so high up. JAY NELSON: Yeah, it was pretty crazy working on this thing. I fell off the roof once. Luckily, I had a harness on. So it was OK, but– LAURA LING: Super, super cool and beautiful. So tell me about the vision for this tree house. JAY NELSON: For me with tree houses, I don’t really like to come up with a total plan. Like, we had an idea what it would look like. But I really like to be able to come up here and just start building it and kind of see where things go. I think it’s really hard without actually being up in the tree to really understand the type of tree house you want to make, and what you want people to see, and the landscape you want to showcase.
LAURA LING: What was the biggest challenge in building this? JAY NELSON: This was a really hard project. Building the roof was really, really hard for me. I mean, every single piece has a different angle. It was really one piece at a time, figuring out the angle, cutting it. No, wrong. Go back. Do another one. Cut it. And it took forever. LAURA LING: Tell me about the materials that you use.
JAY NELSON: I’ve always used found materials. I mean, everything has a story and comes from somewhere. And then also not just that I know the story, but they’re also visually, they have a story. Well, this is a pretty nice piece right here. It was a piece of the floor from this firehouse, which I thought was cool. And it’s a really beautiful piece of wood. It has all sorts of wear. And it’s really nice. So I saw that. And I thought, oh, that would be perfect to create this loft up here.
LAURA LING: One of the most striking things about your work in these structures is that you’re taking this worn, discarded material, and then you’re giving it new life. JAY NELSON: Like to me, going to the lumberyard and buying wood, it just feels like dead trees. But old wood that you find and it’s like this exciting hunt, that has life. Right away, it has life. Well, the cool thing is, like, I’ll find a piece of wood. And it will just look like junk. It will have nails on it and paint. And then I’ll take it home. And I’ll just start working on it. In a couple hours, it’s like the most beautiful piece of wood you’ve ever seen. LAURA LING: What do you hope people get out of your work and your art? JAY NELSON: I would like people to feel inspired. But I hope that it helps people, kind of changes their perspective a little bit on things, and kind of opens their life up a little bit to new possibilities.
LAURA LING: Be sure to check out this next episode. KELLEY LEWIS: All the things that I have used, such as the windows and doors and the stove, have all been recycled materials..
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