Campground Design at Mendocino Magic

The opportunity to take a designer in residence position at Mendocino Magic came as a surprise. I had gotten used to thinking of myself as purely a digital designer. But when I got to talking to the property manager about the kinds of things I could do at the 600 acre property with one of Northern California's largest private lakes, I got excited!

I moved out to the property and began at once building up a shop, talking to guests, clearing out clutter, and putting together new solutions for known customer issues.

  • Role: Design & Build
  • Client: Mendocino Magic
  • Tools: Notebook, woodshop, talking to guests and watching them
  • Duration: 3 months
  • Year: 2019
Street Presence

The name "Mendocino Magic" implies something special is happening here. However, the existing sign was a simple white background painted with the business's name. It didn't even use the brand's typography or logo.

Here, I lead a project to use CNC Router cut lettering and logo over volunteer-produced colorful pieces of wood for a mosaic background. I added retroreflective safety paint, so this will light up in headlinghts. (The original plan of using solar powered spotlights failed when these lights were stolen the same day they were deployed!)

Friendly Welcome

Because the property's gate is down a very short county road (even though the address is on the main road!), it was an obvious problem that guests pull off the main road and start to think they are lost. Basic navigation problem. This friendly sign helps and offers a friendly mode, spot on for the brand. Dreamed up, designed, deployed, and maintained this.

Boat Tie-Up

Many little problems at the property could be addressed with easy-to-implement designs. Here we address the problem that guests leave their kayaks, which eventually drift off into the reeds far away and must be hauled back by staff. Having all the kayaks in one place makes the recreation area look much more together. Here is our self-service kiosk solution. Done with a team of three.

Plans for a Table My sketches of different ways to build bases for new coffee tables for glampsites
A Nice Table

One of a series of coffee tables I built and painted. Like many designs that actually get implemented, the key here was that the critical part was already available: the very pretty table top. It was a windowseat in the 60s and eventually ended up here, forgotten in a pile of lumber. Now it's a lovely improvement to a key upsell opportunity: the glamping tents.

Railings for a Bridge

To a large extent, the opportunities for improvement at the venue (like at most businesses) are just cleaning things up and adding finishing touches. Design for delight. Here, we add in a decorative lower rail and paint the whole handrail with the brand's trademark barn red.

This bridge is visible as soon as guests arrive, so a polished look is particularly important. I designed a brand-centric solution (MM on the rails), implement it with an assistant, then scrapped it halfway through for this much simpler design.

Nature Appreciation

As a small business bootstrapping its operation, the organization tends to focus on utilitarian projects exclusively. Guests, however, come for the titular "magic" and to unplug in nature. The "forest box" project included half a dozen distinct installations that draw attention to natural beauty, local history, and the delightful magic of this place. Boxes are distributed on minor paths across the property. This project was solo, with some objects donated by others.

Water Access

In the bootstrapping process, the perfect is quite often the enemy of good. The organization had to demolish existing docks that were old and unsafe. However, new docks would ideally be large, float with the seasonally changing water level, and provide ample space for kayaks, swimmers, and fishing. This ideal would be very expensive and was not in budget this season.

This simple design for a water access point used existing scrapwood onsite and should last 3 years or more, helping guests walk on uneven ground in and out of the lake. It's also a nice place to put on shoes without getting mud in your socks or just to have a sit. (Cinderblocks moor the deep end.) Done with a team of three.