Cabin Retreat with Mind Tree Arts – HTH 022
back to another episode of How to Home Podcast. My name is Aaron Massey
alongside Tracy Pendergast, and today we’ve got artist, Peter Staley here with
us, and we’re going to talk about ways that we can blend creativity and
makes some really interesting cabins and really interesting art, and we’re
going to dive into all his different projects.
have some hokey things, I sometimes call them shrines to nature, but-
need one of those.
I feel like those kinds of statements don’t really capture what my like. They
seem a little more pretentious than I actually am about them.
don’t think it’s pretentious. I feel like I need one now that you’ve-
unique. I mean, they’re visually cool, but they’re also natural. I mean, they
tie into the landscape a little bit, which I think is cool.
before we get into that, we just have to take a quick second to thank our
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thank you so much for being here.
so much for having me.
us how you got into what it is that you do, and your background as an artist.
yes. I studied art. I went to art school, and never had any inclination for
woodwork or anything like that. I am from New York City, so there was never a
garage or a backyard with my dad and power tools, nothing like that. I never
had any notion of building anything. Initially, my first woodworking was
building stretchers for paintings, and then my art became a little more
sculptural. So, when I left art school, I wanted to continue in that direction,
so I started working in the set shop world in New York, where I just learned
that craft of everything from building flats, stage flats, to some of the more
sculptural stuff they do, and then I also got a lot into just working for
contractors, doing apartment renovations. I learned kind basic construction
through that. I did that kind of work for a pretty long time, and then about 14
years ago or so, my wife opened a children’s clothing store.
minute she said that, I had a vision in my head, like, oh, I know exactly what
this is going to look like. I could just see it like it was this nature world,
all wood walls, wood everything. And so, it was my first real job for designing
and building something, and I was my own client. So, I built our store, which
was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Then, from there on, people just kept seeing
that store and asking me to build them stores, and I was very lucky in that
they would come to me because they liked the look of that store, so I got to be
very creative with it. I always had this mission to have a sort of feeling of
nature inside, and one of my trademarks, I always built dioramas in stores with
a little miniature natural history museum features in stores, and used a lot of
real trees and stuff, and everything’s kind of very woodsy.
then, about four or five years ago, we decided to move out here to Los Angeles,
and we opened a store here, and I built that store out. And then behind that,
there wasn’t really room for an office for that store, but there was a space
behind it. So back there, I built a little cabin for my wife to use as an office,
and then it was a similar thing that people … because it was a public space,
people were seeing that, and then I just went from there, and I guess I’m about
five or six cabins in now, and they keep getting a little bit bigger and more
elaborate than the last one I built. You could really live there.
so cool. So, it’s been like a long evolution to get you to this point right
But it really feels like this is the point, this is what I’m supposed to be
doing. And even in my early art and painting stuff, I was always drawing little
cabins, and landscapes, and stuff, and it just feels so super right for me to
get to go into these pretty naturey areas, and build these structures.
do you think it is that sparked your love for nature, and cabins, and the
outdoors? Is it something in your childhood or-
Well, as I said, I come from New York City, so it’s super urban, but I spent a
lot of my summers in the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York, which is-
like ground zero for the American canon in a way. There’s a really long
tradition of these rustic camps and cabins from early trappers. There’s a real
aesthetic that goes with those places. A lot of people have heard of the
Adirondack chair as a design feature, but there’s a real style of cabinets from
there, and I always loved that stuff. I never really felt like a city person, I
always felt I was supposed to be more … And I know L.A. is still a giant
city, but coming from where I’m coming from, this is the countryside.
yeah, it’s a huge difference. I mean, we both have made the move from-
but I came from more when he’s talking about, Upstate New York, not the
Adirondacks. I’m from western New York, so it’s very flat comparatively. But I
know exactly what you’re talking about because I’ve spent quite a bit of time
in the Adirondacks growing up as well. You’re more city style New York, you had
that experience, and I never really had that. I didn’t even make it to New York
City until I was 18, it’s the first time I was ever there. So, it’s all
different, but coming into the West Coast is certainly a change.
drew you to come to L.A. in the first place, from there?
I’ve wanted to live here my whole life, I’ve always had this voice in my head
like, you should be in L.A., you should be in L.A.. I applied to come out here
for art school, and I didn’t get into. I was trying to go to CalArts, I didn’t
get in. And that was always my plan, was I would just stay out here, and then
my life just kept me in New York, and I think my whole family had what you
might call a collective midlife crisis, where we’re just really, is this is
going to be our whole life living in the city. My wife and I came out here for
a wedding, and we’re just like, oh we want to be here, and so we just did it.
a huge exodus of people leaving New York right now.
so expensive, and it’s so hard to get ahead out there, and even as an … I
don’t know, I remember the day that I was like, I have to move, my husband and
I need to move back. I was getting off the subway, and I saw mom carrying the
stroller with the baby up the subway stairs and struggling, and I was like,
“Oh my gosh, I cannot do that, it’s crazy out there.” Things are a
bit easier out here in a lot of ways.
more spread out. I mean, it’s a huge city, but it’s more spread out. It doesn’t
have the high rise structures so much. Talk to me about your building process.
What inspires you to do the cabin builds, or how do you go about building it,
and do you work primarily by yourself or do you have a team?
I usually just have one other person that works with me. Sometimes if we need
… I mean, if we need real plumbing and electric, we get real plumber and a
real electrician, and some of the smaller stuff, I could do myself. I’ve only
ever done them with one other person. As far as what inspires them, it’s not
like that sound like Hokey, but I get visions …
I think that’s creative.
you point to a spot, and you say, “I want a cabin there.” And we’re
standing in the woods, I’ll just see it in my head, like, oh yeah, I could see
exactly what … And it’s not even just … When I was doing retail stores, it
was the same, if I’ve stand in the store, if I’m physically in the space, I
have a really good sense-
have a visual mind.
visual mind, and I have this ability to react to a space and know exactly, I
could feel how the energy would flow in there, and what would make this space
special, and I have the same experience outside in nature areas. It’s almost I
could see a cabin through the fog, and I could make out the shapes of it, and I
then … I do a lot of my thinking just with a number two pencil and paper, and
just doodle, and doodle, and doodle, and I do try keep it open too, I don’t
ever know the exact outcome until it’s completely finished. I try, and leave it
open to make as many creative choices along the way and just respond to what’s
happening and seeing what’s working.
in your sketch process, are you figuring out, looking at it from how it
interacts with the trees or the landscape around it? You’re completely tying
everything in from a visual perspective and then figuring out the build afterwards?
Is this more of a design thing and then trying to figure out how you’re going
to execute it?
Well, obviously, any client is going to have some needs. Someone wants a
sleeping loft, or an outdoor shower, or this one has a bathroom, this one
doesn’t have a bathroom, and size, so I keep the logistics in my head, but I do
my design … Aesthetics are very important to me.
were talking before the show about, you have just finished up a cabin, and it
was such a big part of your life and such an experience for you, can you talk
about, on an emotional level, or a spiritual level, what is the process like
for you from beginning to end, and then what does it feel when the project’s
because I’ve been lucky to be able to design everything I do, I see it as
basically making artwork, and artwork for me is a spiritual process. I am very,
very involved in it, and went up … Like this last cabin I did, it was my
biggest one yet. The whole time, I was unable … Going to bed at night, I’m
just figuring out how every piece fits together, I never really stopped
thinking about it, so I get extremely attached to it and involved in it. And as
I was telling you, when I finished this last one, I felt empty inside, but now
it’s there and people are enjoying it.
People living in that most recent one? How big is it? You said it’s the largest
one you’ve done.
about 200 square feet. It’s got a sleeping loft, and it’s got a indoor bathroom
with an outdoor shower, that is being used as a guest house and a music
practice space, and I think a little yoga might happen in there.
So, it’s like a little, tiny home or guest home or something like that?
is that primarily what your clients are reaching out to you most for, is the
guest home or shed type detached-
an extra space for the house. A lot of them I have done have the ability to be
like someone can sleep in it, it could be a writing cabin, a yoga studio.
a little retreat.
you see yourself evolving into … Now that you’ve built that one as your
biggest one? Do you see yourself building bigger and bigger ones, or do you
like that more intimate environment?
like the intimate environment. I don’t know, I mean, obviously, it’s a little
late to become an architect, I think.
have the same thought, because I find the same thing. I’m very drawn to the
process and the design, and I love the software programs and all that stuff,
but now I’m like-
you love the software programs?
do. I’ve talked about every episode.
know, that’s what I’m saying.
guess I’m thinking, maybe I should have become an architect, because I do get
my ideas, get a little bigger and bigger … We’ll see what comes along. I
assume that if I do get bigger projects, I can partner with architects. It’s
fun making big stuff.
you ever done a tree house or a cool kid’s play house?
I’ve done a couple. Well, I have one in my backyard.
collaborate with you on … I want to build a cool tree house in my backyard. I
haven’t started it yet obviously, because I’ve got a billion other things
the tree house is for my daughter, and I just built my son up a half pipe in
the backyard also for escape or the canon. But it’s in my style, it’s all
cedar, and it matches the tree house and the backyard.
your kids realize how cool you are yet, or is that-
a really nice [crosstalk 00:15:28]. It’s pretty gourmet, and your kids never
they will eventually.
They’ll be like, “Oh, my dad made something like that one time.”
I’ll tell you, my son, he appreciates the half pipe, he knows that was pretty
you have favorite materials or anything that you like to work with, or typical
types of … favorite types of wood or anything that you like to use?
I do. I love cedar, I feel it’s got some pretty magical qualities, and as far
as something that you could use outdoors and not really have to worry about
what’s going to happen to it over time. I really like this Shou Sugi barn,
Japanese word. I’ve done a couple of projects with that, and I find that really
fun to work with, and I think the appearance of it is pretty amazing. It’s an
old … I don’t know if this qualifies as ancient technique, but pretty old, at
least a couple of hundred years old technique of Japanese that Japanese use,
where they burn the wood as a sealer. So, it’s this scorched looking wood, but
it makes it fireproof or somewhat fireproof, and helps it with being bugged
proof, and it’s-
rot resistant, and it looks amazing.
looks almost like an alligator skin finish when you’re done with it. It’s like
a charred black skin, but it burns out the sapwoods. It’s cool, it’s very cool
like a pre-burnt down house.
much. It looks better than it sounds, but it’s really interesting technique. I
haven’t actually done any of that stuff myself, but I’ve seen a lot of people.
It’s definitely become a lot more popular of late.
somebody that would like to build something, and start with a shed, or start
with a tiny house, or something for their kids, but they don’t really have the
confidence, what would you encourage people to do with in terms of where to
start with honing these skills?
a good question. I don’t know. YouTube tutorial.
know a great channel.
guess you would have to just get some tools and start playing around, make a
box or something. I really believe it’s all doable. One problem is having space
to cut wood without making a mess, and you’ve got to have the tools. I don’t
know, maybe you could volunteer your time to help me out.
obviously very multi-passionate as an artist, although you say this is where
you feel you belong, is this the medium you feel most comfortable in, most
confident in, or would you-
definitely the medium that connects with people the most. Some of my personal
painting art can seem a little crazy and dark, and I understand why not
everybody is necessarily gravitating towards it, but for some reason, whenever
I build something out of wood, when people are in the space, around the space,
they’re always like, “Oh wow, I love this.” So yeah, I feel like I
have a way with wood that can really connect to people, so I do think that
gives me confidence with it.
little more universal.
mean, if you haven’t seen Peter’s art, it’s really amazing. I love the bodies
that have the maps. What are those inspired by? Are those maps all over this?
guess I kind of like nature inner person, I guess maybe one way to describe it.
want one of those in my house. That’s so incredible. But the art is really
great. Where is that all posted? Where ca people check out your art?
@p_staley, which is S-T-A-L-E-Y, @p_staley.
yeah. Definitely check out his art as well.
cabin building thing, has that transitioned into becoming your business, your
full time business?
you’ve done, you said five or six at this point, what do you have coming up
down the pipeline? Do you have any cool projects lined up or anything that you
can talk about?
Well, I do have some things that are in early conversation, but I wish I knew
exactly what I was doing.
is my least favorite question in life, whenever I would come home from New York
or whatever, people would be like, “What are you working on?”
What’s happening next?
just wrapped this last one, and I’m working on putting together some stuff for
the next one, but nothing I can really say yet.
And then you are also still working on your art as well. Do you do that at home
or do you have a studio?
have a studio in downtown L.A., which is also used as a wood shop as well.
do you source all of your materials for everything that you do?
I’ve moved to L.A., I get as much as I can from Angel City Lumber, which is
this … I know you’re aware of. It is a lumberyard where they find trees in
L.A. that would either have been … that have fall naturally, or people are
having removed that would usually just go into a wood chipper, but they harvest
them, and turn them into lumber. So, it’s a completely, almost completely green
process. I’ve called that recycling, up-cycling or some-
I think it’s [crosstalk 00:21:29]. It’s like urban lumber rescue airway. It’s
like this wood would have just been destined for landfill, or mulch, or
whatever, and they take these old trees, and-
they provide an amazing service, and this have just unbelievable inventory.
Anybody that’s into wood just to go check that place out.
and they’re only a couple of years old as well. I mean, they’ve only been
around for a few years, all the guys there are great. I mean, we use them a lot
for soquel wood shop, and I go down there a lot for some of the stuff that I
do. They’re great guys, I definitely suggest people, if you’re in L.A. area, go
check that out. But it’s cool that you can then take basically local, natural
materials that were here, that had been salvaged, and then reuse them in the
same environment, and repackage them into a new cool cabin or art piece or
I mean, it feels good morally, and clients love it, and it feels right. I mean,
I don’t like killing trees. I mean, obviously as a carpenter, some trees are
going to die, but I’d rather avoid it where we can. When in New York, I was a
bit of a scavenger and all. I would just find a lot of my materials, I did a
lot with just collecting old wooden pallets and converting them into just
about when you went to art school? What path did you see yourself on? Did you
want to be a painter or did you have a focus that you were-
I was on the Picasso track.
Like abstract art?
necessarily abstract, but yes, I just always wanted to be a fine art painter,
which I still am, but I do a lot of sculpture, and I do everything in between
like building a cabin and making an abstract painting, I do everything in
between. So, there’s a direct through line all the way, because some of my
sculptural stuff gets to the border of design and then I have some design stuff
that gets to the border of art. And so, I do a lot of different things, it’s a
little all over the place.
the art vision and the structural needs, do they ever not match up when you’re
there’s obviously things I’d to do, then when it comes time to do it, it’s not
realistic. But I think, because I’m so aware of how stuff is actually put
together, it’s embedded in there in my creative process. So, when I’m seeing
something like a vision of what I’d like to do, I’m also seeing little matrix
behind it of how it has to happen.
as somebody who evolved into the building space, are you trying to figure out
where are your contractor hat, in terms of, you’ve got to figure out the
material cost and all that? How much one of these things is actually going to
cost? Or you wear all those hats?
definitely. Maybe not the most fun hat to wear, I have recently been working a
lot with an interior designer who handles a little bit more of the business
side of it, so whenever you don’t have to talk about money with the client, I
find to be a real luxury, because I’m not the best, best business person-
don’t think most creatives are.
are different types of brains. There’s a creative brain, and then there’s the-
always think it’s great to be able to deal with the client without having the
money conversation with them. There’s a lot of logistics, and a lot of these
things I built, they’re not so close to where the road ends, so just-
getting the materials in there?
So, if you picture all these cabins are on hillsides or up a mountain, and
basically the whole thing has been carried up there by hand, and you have to
figure how much hours it’s going to be, of just caring into a cost, and-
long did the last one, the 200 square foot one, or I think you said it was-
was three months.
months, okay. I mean, it’s a substantial investment of time to get one of these
that’s two people working a little bit more than full time.
lot of man hours involved in building something like that.
it felt pretty quick. I mean, for how substantial it is, and just two people
doing it, it didn’t take too long.
you have a sketch idea on paper in mind, do you do then go back and actually
mock it up in a more formal plan, or do you just wing?
so, yes. This last one, I had to, because I was a little bit more substantial,
I had to do that and that’s fun. Those programs that are pretty fun. I forgot
the name of the one, because I have an iPad Pro, and I was a little frustrated
because you can’t really use SketchUp on that, so I had to find a new program,
Shaper, I think it’s called.
not familiar with that one.
as I was saying before, I work best with pencil and paper. Using those programs
on or traditional laptop or computer, I have a hard time with, but with the
larger iPads, and you have the pencil, that’s much easier for me. So, I had
been using SketchUp, but you can’t use it on there, so I found one that seems
to be working.
the stylist type planning?
more of the mouse and that kind of guy, because I’m not a great artist.
asked for show suggestions last week, and actually a couple of people wrote in
wanting to talk about small, tiny living, and just creating a functional space
in a small area, which just living in New York, I think we all have a little
bit of experience with that. But are there any systems that you like to
incorporate in your design to make smaller spaces more functional?
think it’s really just going into a space and laying stuff out with blue tape,
measuring out, just getting the shapes in a space and trying to feel what it
actually would be to move around in that space.
similar to what Kat, from NEAT method had recommended, just basically laying
out everything you have, and then figuring out a home for it. What is your own
home like? How would you describe your own home?
lot of wood. I live in a California post and beam modern house built in 1959,
and I did do a lot of work to it, when we moved and it was all covered with
white carpet. So, it’s a lot of Baltic birch, I did the floors in Baltic birch,
I did a bunch of the walls in Baltic birch. I find that when floors and walls
are wood, you just get such a warm comfortable feeling.
your wife … do your styles align?
must be in heaven.
likes … well …
from Ireland, so she is not so comfortable with this kind of open spaces of
feeling like this California modernism style. I think she’d rather be in a
little cottage where it’s raining outside. She’s not as comfortable in the …
I love our house, and I think she appreciates the style and likes it as well,
but I think she wishes there was more rooms.
you find yourself drawn to a particular style of architecture, or is there
somebody out there … Frank Lloyd Wright as an example, is there somebody that
your work is based off of, or that you’re inspired by?
hate the favorite question, my daughter’s always asking me, what’s your
favorite? I like everything, I like it all so much. I love Frank Lloyd Wright
obviously, but I would say maybe the Adirondack style is my touchstone of …
spend time in these camps in the Adirondacks when I was younger, and that’s my
you ever go back there to get new inspiration?
It’s been maybe almost 10 years since the last time I was back there. I don’t
know, I also love modern stuff, and futuristic stuff, and I’m not trying to create
… Well, what I make doesn’t necessarily look Adirondack style. Ideally, what
comes out is its own style, and doesn’t look like-
But I mean, obviously, that’s not going to happen, 1 million people have built
every shape of cabin ever, but I try to have something that’s unique to me, and
… A lot of my lines and stuff are on the modern side.
on unique, I know you don’t like the favorite question, but is there one of
your cabins that stands out, is one of the more unique builds that you’ve done?
last one I think really is … Honestly, each one I’ve done, I’ve been like,
oh, this is my best one yet. I feel like I’m getting much better at it, so the
last one I’ve made is always my favorite and I feel most successful.
your philosophy or the energy behind your work?
is another lofty idea, but just transcendence. I would like someone to enter a
space I made and have an almost spiritual experience, be like, there’s
something more to life. I feel like it can be achieved through these wooden
structures that when you make something and reverence to nature, you can make
these spaces that have a spiritual air about them, that when you enter them,
it’s there is this feeling of tranquility and peacefulness, and hopefully, some
sort of transcendent.
creating kind of like an escape, right? That escape from the daily life, or the
stress, or whatever, and if you have the space for that tranquil environment, I
would love to have something like that as an office, that creative space. Or I
could imagine as a studio, as an artist, or something like that, that’s the
type of environment you want, because that’s what’s going to free your mind to
do your best work, I think. When I saw your stuff, I was like, “Oh man,
that’s so in line with what I would like to create, is something like that. And
that’s why I was so attracted to having you on the show.
make something together.
all about it. I’ve got some space, we can figure it out.
my gosh, that would be amazing. Where would you to see the future of
architecture and design go? What kind of shifts would you like people to make
I think the obvious question that is … just everything just has to go as
green as possible. But I feel like that is … I mean, that’s pretty out there.
Since everything I make has this kind of handmade aesthetic, I don’t mind a
return to that. I feel a lot of design people are trying to make what they
think the future’s going to look like, and stuff can be a little pseudo science
fiction looking in the design world. I like things to feel natural and
comfortable, and I’d like people to get warmth and emotion from the furniture
and structures I build.
you feel you have a signature style? Meaning, is there almost a stamp that you
implement on all of your projects?
do feel that everything I make comes out looking like I made it, but I don’t
think that’s so intentional, is just that that’s how it comes out. It’s just
comes out me.
extension of you?
you mean in terms of natural lines and stuff like that, or do you mean, just
everything that you make feels handmade? Is that what you’re saying?
I feel like I do have a style, but I don’t think I am so conscious of trying to
make things that style, I just think it’s just my natural expression.
long is the planning process before you start your build?
too extensive, a couple of weeks maybe.
actually want to know what inspires your art, and do you just wake up and-
it’s just in there, I got to get it out. Stuff just comes to me and if I don’t
create it, I go crazy. I just have this creative fire hose that I need to point
somewhere. Some stuff, the process is pretty loose, and I can make something in
an instant, but some stuff are very material heavy, so I might have an idea,
and like, oh, no, I got to do that. That’s going to be a pain to do all that.
so interesting to me because I think most people’s perception of an artist is
someone just standing back and doing … You know what I mean? And a whole
process that’s very zen, and it’s not always like that, is it?
But I feel when I made the decision to have a family, that ship sailed. There
got these many hours in the day, I need to-
yeah, you got to make money at the same time, so it’s just … got to get it
it be weird for you to design a structure and come in and see it decorated in a
way that doesn’t fit your aesthetic or your intention for the space?
first, you’re just like, “Oh no, that’s not what I saw in there.” And
then you get used to it, and realize that’s fine. I mentioned earlier, I’ve
been working with this interior designer here, and she’s really great at what
she does, but sometimes when I first see something walk in the door, I’m like,
“No, I didn’t think of it.” But she’s always right.
a good collaboration.
she’s always right.
people who want to either get in contact with you, or find more of your art and
stuff, where do people go to see these cabins?
I have Instagram which is @mindtreearts. I have a website, mindtreearts.com,
which I think there is a link to get in touch with me, that’s how I heard from
you guys. For my artwork, you could see that at @p_staley on Instagram.
have the most amazing art too.
There’s a lot of cool stuff on both accounts, on both profiles, really cool. We
just want to say, thank you for being here, I hope you enjoyed it, and I think
our audience will definitely get some inspiration from checking out some of the
artwork and some of the cool meld of art and design and build all kinds of
coming together. It’s really cool.
Well, this was an honor for me. Thank you very much for having me.
you so much.
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This week Aaron and Tracy chat with artist Peter Staley about blending creativity and construction.
You can always call and leave your questions and comments on our voicemail!
QUICK FACTS ABOUT PETER’S WORK:
- Peter refers to his structures as shrines to nature.
- His first woodworking was building stretchers for paintings and then he moved on to set design.
- Once he built his own store (his wife’s kids shop), a lot of people had him start building their stores. He likes to bring nature inside.
- Recently he’s been building a lot of cabins, which was a natural progression after building a work cabin for his wife’s second store. His latest cabin is a liveable space, 200 sq ft with a sleeping loft and outdoor shower.
- His nature inspiration stems from his time in the Adirondacks as a child. https://visitadirondacks.com
- Peter can look at a space and visualize what he wants to do with it.
- Peter sees his builds as art and it’s a very spiritual process.
- His favorite materials are: cedar and shou sugi ban.
- He loves buying from Angel City Lumber- https://www.angelcitylumber.com
- Peter feels this medium is the one that connects with people the most, whereas his art doesn’t necessarily connect with everyone.
- Peter’s tip for creating a more functional small space is: laying stuff out with blue tape and seeing how it would feel to move around in the space.
- “I would like someone to enter a space I made and have a spiritual experience.”
- Peter’s suggestion for the beginner: “Get some tools and start playing around. Make a box!”
- Peter believes everything needs to go as green as possible. He’d like to see a return to natural and comfortable materials.
Q: Do you feel you have a signature style?
A: Not on purpose, but yes. Peter doesn’t try to make things in his style, it’s just his natural progression.
Q: How long is the planning process?
A: A couple of weeks.
Q: Where does your inspiration come from with your art?
A: It just comes to Peter and he needs to get it out.
Q: Is it hard to see a structure decorated in a way that doesn’t fit your intention for the space?
A: At first it is, but then you get used to it.
Website (Build) | https://www.mindtreearts.com
Website (Art) | http://www.peterstaley.com
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