Jake’s Chop Shop in Tempe is about as far away from Pottery Barn as you can get.
At the custom furniture studio, a white dentist’s chair with red flames sits near a painting of a piranha, which is illuminated by eyeball lamps the size of basketballs.
"This promotes good posture. I don’t like that," artist Jake Shelton said as he sat on a bright blue couch he made for No Regrets tattoo parlor in Tempe.
Drive by Shelton’s studio in the evening and it resembles an unfinished movie set, with car parts on the floor and Shelton’s gritty, 1976 Cadillac hearse parked in front.
The artist — a former body shop owner — anchors almost every piece of furniture with old vehicle parts, or at least simulates the aesthetics: Candy colors, chrome, hot rod flames.
The cars he uses to create the couches chairs, and bed frames are all beyond repair and donated by friends who know Shelton isn’t after classic models. He has made a couch out of parts from a 1960 Chrysler 300-F, but never a 1957 Chevy.
"Anything that’s oddball," Shelton said about the cars he uses. "Nothing cliche."
There’s an eight-week waiting list for one of his creations, which cost $75 for smaller pieces to a few thousand for larger ones.
Shelton relies on word-of-mouth and the allure of the studio to bring business — mostly younger customers and car enthusiasts. He also does work for commercial clients, designing the bars at Club Freedom in Tempe, a keg tap for Rio Salado Beer in Tempe and a home show display for Hot Metals in Phoenix.
"I found Jake by driving through Tempe and seeing a garage door open (with) a very interesting chair inside," said Joe Polish, owner of Piranha Marketing in Tempe.
Polish has bought several of Shelton’s pieces for his home, including a bed made out of a 1960 Lincoln.
"His stuff is very unique, very active," Polish said. "It comes to life."
With the help of three assistants, Shelton does all of the metalwork and painting. He works when he feels like it — sometimes through the night, listening to what he calls "haunted house surf music" and talking with friends who drop by. Most of his mornings are spent sketching ideas at Starbucks on Mill Avenue.
While most designers might perfect a signature piece and then base future designs around it, Shelton’s creations are distinct. One bed may be built from a car’s front (with working headlights); another may make use of a car’s trunk door. A couch can be made from a vinyl car seat and decorated with a flame backboard, or maybe the backboard is a front hood.
That doesn’t mean Shelton doesn’t have a stylistic ethic.
"It’s gotta have natural flow," he said.
To the dismay of his parents, Shelton has been taking things apart since he was a child. At 12, he deconstructed the family lawn mower in hopes of making it into something — anything — else.
"If I got a bicycle, the very first thing I would do is dismantle it and make it into a chopper," Shelton said.
For more information about Jake’s Chop Shop, call (480) 227-8883.