A group of Outerlands friends flee the fog to build their fantasy surf shack.
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Wild roosters scampered around the clearing, and six-inch centipedes slithered among the lumber stacks. “It’s still very local and very Wild West,” says filmmaker Jess Bianchi.
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Builder Jay Nelson designed the 12-by-16-foot beach shack for efficiency. ”When you’ve only got 200 square feet, everything has to have its place,” he says.
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Nelson framed jungle views with oversize glass portholes. “I think of windows as a way to direct a person’s experience of a place,” he says.
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The frame under construction.
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One of the joints.
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Though the building’s footprint is only 200 square feet, it includes 15-foot ceilings and a sleeping loft.
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Friends, family, and fellow builders from the Sunset flew out to celebrate the completed home.
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“We wanted the house to be as simple as possible,” says Bianchi.“Just a place to surf, make art, and get away.”
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Five guys building a house in five weeks? Easy. Getting the wood from San Francisco to an overgrown patch of paradise on the northern shore of Kauai? Not so much. When Outer Sunset–based filmmaker Jess Bianchi bought this quarter acre of hawaiian jungle just five minutes from the beach, he called fellow surfer Jay Nelson, an Outerlands artist known for his elaborate tree houses and custom campers. The two share a similar aesthetic: “smaller spaces,” says Bianchi, “simpler living.”
So the pair packed a 40-foot shipping container with 30,000 pounds of lumber and sent it across the Pacific. They sourced salvaged wood from Arborica in Marshall: redwood for the frame, Douglas fir flooring, and recycled fenceboard siding. “Jay sees the potential in really messed-up wood,” says Bianchi. “You can’t get this kind of grain at Home Depot.”
“Once we got the wood there, the building part was super-easy,” says Nelson, who’s used to working 20 feet off the ground. Transporting it across the island was more problematic: “The roads kept getting smaller and smaller,” says Bianchi. “We had to leave the wood in several towns while we figured out how to get it to the next place.”
Because Nelson is a builder, not an architect, the scale of his projects is limited. Luckily, in hawaii you can build a dwelling smaller than 200 square feet—technically a shed—sans permit. Nelson drew up plans for this 12-by- 16-foot beach shack and put together a lean crew of three other San Francisco carpenters. He brought his wife (artist Rachel Kaye) and their three-month-old baby along, and other handy Outer Sunset friends flew in for short stretches to pitch in and surf. “San Francisco provides so much creative stimulation,” says Bianchi. “There’s nothing to do here but surf, soak up sun, maybe do some gardening.”
The completed home contains a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a sleeping loft in 200 square feet. Generous windows create a sense of roominess, particularly in the loft, where oversize glass portholes offer jungle views. “it’s like waking up in a cross between a birdhouse and a sailboat,” says Bianchi.
Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco