Surf 'N Turf: S.F.'s Coolest Artist Couple Shows Off Their Beachside Crib

Think waking up and hitting the Ocean Beach waves, drinking java at Trouble Coffee, grubbing at epically tasty Outerlands, and then making some utterly rad art in an equally awesome setting is the stuff of dreams? Us, too. But for one of S.F.'s coolest artist couples, architect Jay Nelson and fine artist and stylist Rachel Kaye, it's actually the stuff of pure reality. The two Outer Sunset dwellers and CCA grads invited us into their extra-upgraded beach shack a few blocks from the ocean (they share the property with Outerlands' owners), as well as their studio space, housed in a revamped barn, to give us a glimpse into their work-home lives. Both spaces are anchored by a common aesthetic that is totally original and goes hand-in-hand with the feel of their beachside 'hood. Want to see what effortless cool is all about? Click through for a serious dose of inspiration.
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Where did you both grow up and go to school?
Rachel: "Jay grew up in Los Angeles and I grew up in San Jose. We both went to California College of the Arts for our BFA's and Jay got his MFA at Bard College. We met in Santa Cruz in 2001."

Jay, Rachel, and their dog Johnny sit on the steps of their revamped beach hut.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What's the history of the property?
Jay: "It was built in the early 1900's. We don't know for sure, but our place may have been someone's beach shack."

A look at the living room and dining area.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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How would you describe the aesthetic of the space?
Rachel: "Our home is small, so we built custom cabinets to make the most efficient use of the space. With the rest of our furnishings, we chose objects that felt airy in their shape or color, and painted the walls white to allow light to bounce through the space."

A tabletop display in the living room.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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Jay, you are building the greenhouse out front, storage hutches, and more. How would you describe your job today?
Jay: "I do custom projects for clients. Cabins, tree houses, and interior work on restaurants and stores."

Jay shows a sketch for his soon-to-be-revamped truck.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What are your favorite aspects of your home?
"The natural light, the wood stove, the porch swing, and the yard. We share the property with our best friends, Dave and Lana, who own Outerlands."

What are you favorite objects in the house?
"Our art collection."

Johnny warms himself in front of the wood-burning stove.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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How would you each describe your personal style?
Jay: "I like to have good style, but I don't want to think about it in the morning, so I keep a uniform that I wear most every day."
Rachel: "Always comfortable with a sense of play. I don't wear a ton of color, but I'm drawn to patterns and texture. I love a big sweater or scarf."

Jay and Rachel in their charming and light-soaked kitchen space.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What are your favorite restaurants and bars in San Francisco?
"Outerlands, Pizzetta 211, Una Pizza Napoletana, and Tartine."

Tea time!

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What are your favorite shops in San Francisco?
Rachel: "Eden & Eden, General Store, Reliquary, Mollusk Surf Shop, and Gravel & Gold."

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What three pieces in your closets get the biggest workout?
Jay: "V-neck T-shirts, a vintage Levi's jean jacket, and an Inis Meáin cardigan."
Rachel: "Rachel Comey boots, Court Denim black skinny jeans, and a Steven Alan cardigan."

Rachel and Jay at their dining nook.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What's an ideal day in the Outer Sunset involve for you guys?
"Surfing in the morning (Jay), yoga (Rachel), brunch at Outerlands, an afternoon in the studio, a sunset walk on the beach with Johnny, our dog, a home-cooked dinner with fire in the wood stove, and maybe catching a movie at the Balboa Theatre."

The couple's bedroom and one of Rachel's large drawings.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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Does living in the Bay Area influence your work? What about living in the Outer Sunset, specifically?
Jay: "I'm so lucky to live so close to artists and makers who inspire me and to have an ongoing dialogue with them about art and design."

A ladder heads up to the guest room in the attic.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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Why do you love making your home in this part of the city?
Rachel: "Having a home half a block from the park and four blocks from the beach. And having so many of our good friends within a 10-block radius."

Johnny welcomes visitors.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What projects have you done around town that folks might recognize?
Jay: "The treehouses, car, and boat that exist inside Mollusk Surf Shop. Also, the submarine room at Voyager in the Mission, which is now the Needles & Pens shop-in-shop."

Jay leans against the studio he built on the shared property for his best friend and neighbor.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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How did you develop your signature style?
"I built my first treehouse in 2004, and since then each project has informed the next, and there has been a slow progression in the development of my aesthetic."

Rachel and Jay's shoes stacked up at the entrance.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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A pretty display of plants, chopped wood, and found objects.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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Rachel stands at the entrance to the shared property, which includes two homes, a studio, a greenhouse, and storage units for surfboards and other equipment. Although the original structure of the homes remains, the add-ons are all Jay's creations.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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The studio Jay built for his neighbor Lana includes some of his signature design elements, including colored glass, portal holes, and reclaimed wood.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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How did your find your studio space?
Rachel: "Jay was taking a walk around the neighborhood looking for vacant spaces, and ran into a friend. It turned out she had a storage space on the top floor of her home and offered it to us to rent. Supposedly, it was once a barn."

Rachel, and her glitter sculptures, in the shared workspace.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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Some of your artwork is named after fashion designers like Missoni and Givenchy. How does fashion inform your work?
Rachel: "I'm inspired by textile design, the use of color, and the way fabric moves. Whenever I look for painting inspiration, I always look at Missoni, Givenchy, Prada, Marni, and Proenza Schouler first because of their strong use of color and pattern."

An in-progress work of art by Rachel.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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That said, what would your dream closet look like?
Rachel: "If I could pull together my dream closet, the designers I just mentioned would be in there alongside Carven, The Row, Band of Outsiders, Isabel Marant, Cacharel...and the list goes on!"

Art supplies stuffed into a charming cocker spaniel mug.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What are your favorite aspects about your joint art studio?
Jay: "The natural light, the views of breaking waves from the windows, and the open A-frame ceiling."

A wide view of the open-format space.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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What projects are each of you working on right now?
Jay: "A new treehouse for a client in Marin."
Rachel: "Paintings and sculptures."

Jay in his artful smock.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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Do you guys ever collaborate on art projects?
"We collaborated on our home. And with our studio practice, we're always sharing and brainstorming ideas, which is a type of collaboration."

Art supplies and tiny small-scale paintings.

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
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To see more on Jay and Rachel's work, visit and

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux