Debra Prinzing

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Chicken Coop Sightings . . .

August 6th, 2009

A vintage EGGS sign hangs in Kathy Fries's fanciful coop

A vintage EGGS sign hangs in Kathy Fries's fanciful coop

Fresh eggs, how can you argue with that idea? I love cooking with fresh, organically-grown eggs produced by free-range hens. Thank goodness that I can buy them at my local, Thousand Oaks Farmers Market every Thursday! 

I wonder how long it will take before I graduate from growing backyard herbs, fruits and vegetables to raising chickens? Let’s see. . . maybe after my children leave for college, and perhaps after my beloved Lab, Zanny, has passed on.

Poultry fever has smitten many of my friends, though. I love the way they’ve integrated chicken culture into horticulture (get it?). And I really love the chicken coop architecture created by inspired hen owners.

Bonnie Manion's hens live in a renovated children's playhouse!

Bonnie Manion's hens live in a renovated children's playhouse!

My blogger friend Bonnie Manion, who writes at Vintage Garden Gal, often shares stories of her hens, advice on raising chickens and even the care an maintenance of coops. She has just inherited a couple of charming gals – Buff Wheaten Marans. You’ll want to read more of Bonnie’s chicken adventures (and see more photos of her charming coop, which is a re-purposed children’s playhouse, shown here ).

Recently, a writer friend of mine paid me what I think was a lovely compliment. She said, “Debra, I want to create a book just like Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways – but about chicken coops!”

And my response: Go for it!

Bill Wright, my fearless collaborator, would love to photograph a chicken coop book. I call him “fearless,” because how else could you describe a guy willing to get inside a coop with half-a-dozen chickens, two youngsters and a lot of feed flying around . . . just to capture the perfect shot!!!?

Here is that photograph, of our dear friend and shedista Kathy Fries, along with her sons Xander and Jasper. We documented a moment in their daily routine, when mom and boys feed and water the chickens, gather eggs, and generally putter around the coop. That coop, by the way, is no ordinary henhouse. You’ll see what I mean about “poultry fever.”

”]Kathy, Jasper (left) and Xander feeding their chickens [William Wright photo]Kathy’s chicken edifice is called the Palais de Poulet. She worked with Seattle artist-builder John Akers to create the magnificent chicken abode, complete with a jaunty turret and a brick entry path lined with boxwood clipped into a fleur de lis pattern.

We included the Palais in Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. I documented Kathy’s chicken obsession in my chapter called “Suburban Follies”, although space constraints kept the description shorter than I would have liked. Here is the full, original narrative:

Vintage sign letters artfully spell Kathy and Ed's names

Vintage sign letters artfully spell Kathy and Ed's names

First, came the chicken coop, something this Minnesota native had always wanted. She enlisted John Akers, a Seattle craftsman, to transform a two-sided shed into a grand Palais de Poulets.

“We wanted you to come down the path and say ‘Wow,’” Kathy confides. Akers, who works with salvaged and recycled materials, sketched a 10-by-16 foot building, complete with turret, cupola and leaded windows.

Kathy ordered vintage knobs and hinges from eBay and quizzed local feed stores to determine specifications for the coops and nests.

Not one to do anything ordinary, she tracked down a rare breed hatchery on the Internet, ordering 10 types of exotic poultry, including French Salmon Faverolles, Sicilian Buttercups and Egyptian Fayoumis. Each morning, Xander and Jasper help their mom feed the chickens and gather eggs from the nests for breakfast.

As a finishing touch, Kathy personalized the rustic structure with a collection of antique sign letters, spelling out “Ed & Kathy Fries” in a hodgepodge of colors and font shapes.

“Inside is a working sink, my garden tools, a collection of cast iron farm animals and my chicken paraphernalia,” she chuckles.

Here are more inspiring ideas from Kathy’s garden:

Castiron Hen and Chicks are part of Kathy's amazing menagerie of vintage farm animals

Castiron Hen and Chicks are part of Kathy's amazing menagerie of vintage farm animals

Palais de Poulet, a happy coop for happy chickens

Palais de Poulet, a happy coop for happy chickens

On my journeys, I’ve been fortunate to discover other creative chicken architecture. Thought it was time to share some for those of you in search of inspiration. I’d love to see your photos, too!


Sydney holds a bowl of fresh Arucana eggs

Sydney holds a bowl of fresh Arucana eggs

Bill and I met Santa Barbara landscape architect Sydney Baumgartner and spent a lovely morning photographing her studio, garden and stone-faced potting shed-chicken coop. It is just so beautiful you won’t believe it! Of course, Bill’s images are fantastic, seen here.

Sydney keeps her “working garden” hidden behind a long, mixed hedge of Escallonia bifida, Luma apiculata and Duranta stenostachya, all evergreen flowering shrubs from South America. In addition to raised beds for flowers, vegetables and herbs, she established her garden’s functional elements. But openings in the hedge partially revealed a compost bin, potting bench and chicken coop – features she had hoped to camouflage from the adjacent strolling garden.

“I was sitting in the garden one afternoon and thought, what I need is to make this look like a wonderful stone building with two doors.” Sydney designed a six-foot tall, 25-foot-long wall that resembles the façade of an old stone barn seen on her travels in France. “It looks like the side of a building and it hides all the accouterments of the garden that shouldn’t be seen because they can never look perfect.”

French blue doors adorn this elegant stone-facade that houses Sydney Baumgartner's potting shed and chicken coop

French blue doors adorn this elegant stone-facade that houses Sydney Baumgartner's potting shed and chicken coop

 Stonemasons first built a concrete-block wall and covered it with local Santa Barbara stone as a “veneer.” 

An ironwork panel serves as an open-air window

An ironwork panel serves as an open-air window

Openings in the random-cut stone accommodate two arched doors, fabricated from wood planks and finished with black wrought iron hardware. Each leads to a hidden work area (one contains compost bins and the other leads to a glasshouse for seedlings).

Sydney stained the doors a weathered shade of French blue. “They’ve aged beautifully, especially where my hand has soil on it and I pull back the latch.”

Iron scrollwork “windows,” created from doormats, lend a timeless quality to the structure and allow for good air circulation.

In order to connect the “wall” to the chicken coop, she added a stone column at its far edge. “It has become a wonderful vehicle for wisteria and white trumpet vines,” she adds.


Cross-sections of small logs form the lower walls of the Williamses' coop

Cross-sections of small logs form the lower walls of the Williamses' coop

Our friends Sylvia and Steven Williams live in Bertram, Texas, which is in the famed Hill Country west of Austin.

Here's the inspiration: Steven and Sylvia's potting shed

Here's the inspiration: Steven and Sylvia's potting shed

Featured in the pages of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, their fantastic garden shed is built from traditional Texas limestone block with a red tin roof, cupola and rooster weathervane.  This creative couple designed their shed to serve myriad purposes – from potting up seedlings and doing home repair projects to hosting garden tea parties or serving cocktails for their friends.

When they hosted a garden book party for Bill and me last spring, Sylvia and Steven told us they had a surprise. And that surprise was the new chicken coop they were nearly finished constructing!

The structure has the same cheery red rooftop as that of its big sister-potting shed’s, but what impressed me was the construction method they employed.

The lower wall sections are hand-built with mortared cross-section slices of logs, creating a very attractive, organic pattern that fits the country vibe of Stonebridge Gardens, their property.

Here are some photos I snapped last May when we were there. I can’t wait to return and see what else they’ve dreamed up for this beautiful place:

Finishing details: vintage windows, nesting boxes and a charming cupola

Finishing details: vintage windows, nesting boxes and a charming cupola

I love the irregularity of this construction method

I love the irregularity of this construction method


Kathy's mosaic designs

Kathy's mosaic designs

Bruce and I were guests two weekends ago at the home of Kathy and Tom LaFleur, garden friends in Ranch Santa Fe (near San Diego).
I met Kathy about 18 months ago when she graciously hosted fellow writer-speaker Lorene Edwards Forkner and me when we gave talks for her garden club.

Kathy is an amazing mosaic artist and gardener who never tires of teaching herself new techniques and trying new projects.

Case in point: her poultry paradise! The facade is adorned with beautiful mosaic tile, most of which Kathy has made by hand, glazed and fired.

She shared these photos with me, including the interior mirror patterns, literally cast from her hens’ eggs:

In the end, I have to say that chickens are enchanting. If you love fresh eggs, you’ll want freshly-raised backyard hens. I know there’s a chicken chapter in my future. Not now, but sometime down the road.

I’d love to hear your chicken stories, though. I need ammo for when I spring this idea on my husband.

17 Responses to “Chicken Coop Sightings . . .”

  1. Bonnie Manion Says:

    Debra, great scoop on the “coop”!
    .-= Bonnie Manion´s last blog ..VintageGardenGal Gardenin’ Survey =-.

  2. John Says:

    Those coops are great! Lots of personality. You can see pictures of our chicken coop designs here. We’re in Portland, Oregon, but you may spot variations on these designs popping up around L.A. as well. Thanks for the article!

  3. Lorene Says:

    Kathy Fries is a gal with an impressive garden vision. I recently spoke “Chickens” with her and was amazed at the depth of her poultry knowledge…I’m wavering but I think chicks are in my near future!

    Is Kathy LeFleur still doing the faux bois as well? What an amazing artist – I would love to see more pictures of her egg mosaics!
    Thanks Deb,
    .-= Lorene´s last blog ..Yes we CAN, freeze, dry, pickle, salt… =-.

  4. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    That photo of her with her children and the chickens brought back memories. Did you know I raised chickens for many years? I did, and the kids loved them when they were little. I had a little flock of Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Black Australops and some heavy breeds. It’s not hard to raise them. I’ve been thinking about adding them back to the coop next year. I also want bees, but . . . I’m a wuss about getting stung. Thanks for the memories.~~Dee
    .-= Dee/reddirtramblings´s last blog ..Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder . . . =-.

  5. Living in the Garden Says:

    Thank you!
    Total inspiration…. I love the idea of a chicken coop book, especially if it’s along the lines of what your showing here, fun stuff

  6. Recent Writing On Chickens and Backyard Chicken Coop Trends Says:

    […] Debra Prinzing, author of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways and blog, Shedstyle, wrote about Chicken Coop Sightings, and how utterly charming, beautiful, and creative chicken coops can be. Thank you for including […]

  7. Linda Lehmusvirta Says:

    Debra, what an artist you are in every way! Bill’s photographs lovely too. The CCC (chicken coop craze) has hit Austin big-time, so CTG is going to have its first chickens ever in the studio!
    .-= Linda Lehmusvirta´s last blog ..From Linda: August 6, 2009 =-.

  8. admin Says:

    Hi Linda, so great to hear from you! You and your farm animals! I seem to recall some rabbits in your life, too. Hope I can come and see you again in Austin some day. I loved being a guest on Central Texas Gardener last year, Deb

  9. Kamela Cody Says:

    Some girls dream of diamond tiaras, I’d like to have a chicken coop filled with beautiful hens & a shed as awesome as the photos above! Okay, maybe I still want the diamond tiara, why not? Great post & I’m glad I discovered your blog! Cheers!
    .-= Kamela Cody´s last blog ..Shopping Around Town: Painted Furniture and Desk Accessories =-.

  10. Chicken Housing Says:

    This is a wounderfull post. Keep it up…

  11. M Parker Says:

    Really like your info – as I’m a fellow chicken spirit will be back!

  12. Ryan Says:

    Great coops! Much more beautiful then one I rigged up with 2x4s and 1/2 inch mesh. I’m saving up for one built by Stuga, a Seattle-area company that builds beautiful and durable coops.
    .-= Ryan´s last blog ..Hot New Coops =-.

  13. Chicken Coops Says:

    Nice and beautiful coops. These pics shows your creativity. Thanks
    .-= Chicken Coops´s last blog ..Ways of Building Chicken Coops Housing for Hens =-.

  14. egglovermummy Says:

    Awesome ideas there, thanks. I actually took the plunge and got me some chickens last week! Now I have so many eggs like you wouldn’t believe. You might like these egg recipes.

  15. Dennis Daryl Shamblin Says:

    You have a great poultry blog. Please read mine.

  16. knight H. Says:

    thanks for this great blog! I really appreciate everything the writing the colors and the layouts.

  17. Dave Says:

    Incredible poultry & art featured in this post! Looks like I’m a bit late to the party but I just found the article today. My favorite is the ironwork panel, I’d love to find something like that here! Thanks again, Dave.

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