Monday, May 25, 2009

furniture, chickens, architecture and sustainability

What do chickens, architecture, organic gardening and sustainable furniture have in common? We are committed to green or sustainable furniture at work, but we also take those principals home with us. Our ideals are not an 8-hour a day job. This is a little story about what happens after hours at home.

Building furniture takes a certain kind of mental planning and rigor. For one thing, plans have to be made and each cut on the saw or pass on the shaper must be set up to get the precise result. I was trained as a sculptor, and so I occasionally look for the informal process of building with a goal in mind, but in a manner that allows for improvisation along the way. Backyard architecture is one of the activities that I enjoy for this reason. I would not plan a house this way (at least I don't think so) but a chicken coop seemed like a perfect project to tap into that energy. After clearing the legal isssues on keeping chickens in a city, the only hurdle was how to satisfy the requirements of these birds that I had never before kept.

I wanted to create a triangular structure and also be able to reuse playhouse components that were no longer needed when my kids had outgrown their little "house" that I had previously built. The mental plan included a sloped triangle and a post-modern feel. But it also had to be useful. One of the features I thought to build in was that the front wall where the chicken entry door was located would swing open entirely so that my daughter could get access to the interior for cleaning. The free range chickens bed down on wood shavings that come from my shop. We don't have to dump the wood waste in our trash which is an important component to our sustainable pledge. If we were a much larger operation we could sell our wood waste, but we don't create that much.
The coop has an interior room that contains the roosting bar and a nesting box with a lower level where the droppings drop for easy cleaning. My wife "plastered" the interior with a mud plaster over an insulation board so the chickens are safe inside over the Ohio Winters with only a light bulb as a heat source. The floor is raised off the ground to be resistant to rodents and easy to insulate. I wanted to reuse as much material on hand as possible so I utilyzed scraps of wood from a demolished deck, corrugated roofing leftovers from a storage shed project and the before mentioned playhouse parts like a window and siding. It also had to look "decent" and "neat" to fit into our suburban property as much as possible, and cause minimal distraction to the neighbors (not sure if we have achieved this).
(Egg access door is small but visible just under the roof above) The exterior room contains the feeder and waterer with room for the girls to walk around if we want to secure them behind the chicken wire fencing. But there is no grass or plant matter growing "inside"the pen and they love to roam outside in the garden and on the lawn looking for seeds and bugs. They provide fertilzer to our organic garden as well. The eggs are a deep shade of yellow-orange. I understand that the dietarily important omega-3's are naturally high in eggs from chickens who are allowed to range over green plant matter like grass. Not all free range eggs are created equal!

Perhaps the greatest benefit to raising chickens, designing a coop, recycling wood waste and obtaining organic free range eggs rich in Omega-3's is not any of those issues but the fact that my daughters take care of these chickens as pets. They have learned where (some of) their food comes from and have taken a role in contributing to the house hold. Having the "job"of taking care of "livestock" gives them a sense of responsibility beyond the care of a dog or gerbil. They have a pet who performs a useful role in their lives, which they especially appreciate when I serve them Challah French Toast on Saturday mornings.
We started out with three hens; a Rhode Island Red, a Barred Rock (pictured with my daughter) and an Americauna. The Red died over this last winter from some sort of infection at the age of two but the other two have just been joined by four peeps who are still living inside under a heat lamp as they are only about a week old. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by some time for some eggs!


  1. What a delightful post! When I grow up, I would like the have a chicken coop and a vegetable garden! I was just reading about the Four Seasons in Florence and how they get their eggs from this farm in Pisa. They nourish their chickens with goat's millk among other goodies. The yolks come out creamy yellow and has an almondy aftertaste. Perhaps something you can experiment on?
    And yes, if I am in the area one day, I will come by for some Challah French Toast!

  2. I must say that I really like how you switched up the feet. The little bun feet look as if they've always belonged. Good job! office furniture