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Palaces for poultry

Erick Woods feeds bread to his chickens in front of the chicken coop he calls "The Prancing Poultry" at his home in Sebastopol. Woods and Linda Kryla, who built two houses for their hens themselves, find watching the antics of their little flock entertaining.

ALVIN JORNADA / PD
Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.

Erick Woods and Linda Kryla like nothing better on a lazy weekend than to kick back on lawn chairs with a glass of wine and proudly watch their brood.

With a tray table between them and a supply of bread, they toss out crumbs and watch the show, which typically entails a lot of scratching, pecking, dust rolling and clucking.

“It's an endless amount of fun. It's one of the most enjoyable things we do,” confesses Woods, an electronics technician at Agilent by day, and unashamed chicken spoiler by night.

He and Kryla built for their laying hens a pair of houses so princely they've been featured in two magazines for poultry lovers. Both have the half-timbered look of Merry Olde England, and are embellished with balconies, ramps, walkways, a stone stairway and even a wrought-iron porch light powered by the sun. A long exercise ramp they called the “gymnasium” provided an entertaining ramp until it rotted. Woods plans to rebuild it this summer. Nothing is too good for his girls.

It's a kind of lavish anthropomorphic excess that would have shocked Petaluma's old-time chicken ranchers, whose idea of a coop was a shack with a shed roof.

But the growing popularity of backyard homesteading has given rise to a redefinition of the old chicken coop, from ramshackle outbuilding to design element in the landscape. Williams-Sonoma now features an “Agrarian Line” of upscale coops, including a custom-milled cedar barn complete with planter box for $1,499.95.

There's something about a chicken coop, however, that inspires the creativity and whimsy of weekend do-it-yourselfers, who are having fun designing and building their own henhouses.

Jacquie Lee painted her Redwood Valley chicken coops in homage to the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose style has been compared to Antoni Gaudi. Yoga therapist Gayatri Shelton-Ostadi has in her Sonoma County backyard a chicken stupa, reminiscent of a Buddhist reliquary. And then there is Sebastopol permaculturist Erik Ohlsen, who took an old boat trailer and built his “SS Chicken Ark” on top of it, capable of housing 100 chickens and rolling them from field to field that they can help fertilize.

“The most fun part was the architecture and design element. It had me lying awake and thinking of coop design,” said Jacques Janson of Kenwood, who works in finance for major companies. “I must have drawn 20 different diagrams for what I wanted to do.”

He figures he pored over more than 100 pictures of barns on Google Images before settling on a chicken coop that resembles an early 20th-century dairy barn with a gambrel roof.

The financial pragmatist in him fought the economics of spending several hundred dollars in materials and countless hours for a handful of fresh eggs every day.

“It just popped into my head that I've got to make it kind of an art piece,” he said.

Architect Mark Quattrocchi designed a chicken coop for his wife Tina's flock that fits in seamlessly next to his vintage 1930s English Country style home and gardens in Santa Rosa's Montecito Heights. Quattrocchi worked his way through college assisting his father with cabinetmaking and framing. He applied both his design and building skills to erect what he and Tina affectionately call their “Poultry Palace,” incorporating elements of the English Arts & Crafts era, with a cedar frame, shaped rafter tails, natural wood and salvaged stained-glass windows for which he made new frames.

In keeping with the brickways around the property, he laid a brick path that extends into the coop, where he built a little room for collecting eggs from the nesting boxes, storing feed and cleaning the eggs in a hammered copper sink.

But Quattrocchi, like other hobbyists, is not just focused on appearances. He wanted a coop that is functional as well, with abundant natural daylight to promote laying, natural ventilation to keep the hens from overheating and a shaded enclosed run — with a roof that slopes to spare an old oak — giving them a place to scratch and dig, safe from predators.

All that for four chickens.

“I do recognize it's a lot of money to spend on eggs,” he said. “I spent a couple thousand dollars and when you think about that it's just crazy. But I just loved the weekends I worked on it, spending all day on a Saturday just building a couple of window frames.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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