Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fancy Cottage Chicken Coop

This custom chicken coop was  fun to build.  The customer wanted a chicken coop that looked really nice, like a kid's playhouse. 
Fancy Cottage Chicken Coop
 They wanted something their neighbors would not complain about.  Chicken coops are notorious for looking run-down and dirty, aren't they?  So we decided to build one that dispells the myth that chicken coops have to look grungy.  We patterned it after our Cottage Playhouse: 
Cottage Playhouse

Chicken Run

Chicken Door

Our Fancy Cottage Chicken Coop turned out down right classy!  I love the wood shake shingles on the roof and the hand carved trim around the door and windows.  It has a cement floor which can be easily cleaned and a cute little door for the chickens leading out to the enclosed welded wire mesh chicken run.  Check this out:  We even buried the wire mesh 18" underground, curved outwards.  Why?  To surprise any enterprising dogs who try to dig under the coop...Ha!  I'd love to see the looks on their faces when they hit that chicken wire! 

Decorative Carvings

Shuttered Window

On the side there is a large window with a shutter that has decorative carvings on it.  Inside there is a wire screen covering the window which can also be lifted out of the way if needed. 

Cupboard, Roost, Happy Chickens

Nesting Box, Chicken Feeder

And of course we built nesting boxes (the top lifts up!), a sturdy chicken roost, a chicken feeder and a large cupboard on the inside.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to School Tips

Fall means study time
Oh, back to school. It means many things to many of families. Whether your kids are headed back to public school, or you're starting another year of homeschool, or if you're facing an empty nest and sending kids to college, fall is a time when family's usually hit the books in earnest. This can mean precious moments watching your children finally understand various principles and a lot of aggravating times chasing your kids around nagging them to study.

In honor of this universal family experience, I thought I would share a few tips we've used to make school work more productive and less stressful for everyone.

Make time for play. I've written before about how the decline of unstructured play has contributed to ADHD and behavioral problems, but this is where the rubber meets the road. It's easy to over program our families, shuttling from soccer to karate to dance, but just like those things are important, so is the chance for kids to be kids. Make sure that after homework, lessons, and chores, there is time each week for kids to let their imaginations roam and their bodies be active. Of course, we think one of our playhouses is the best for this, but just turning kids loose in the yard is a great start.

Create a special place for homework. It's so easy to be distracted by younger siblings, video games, and TV shows, so help your children focus and create a place where they can go to do their school work. Help them stay on task with necessary supplies: pens, pencils, erasers and if you have the space, you can even let them set up a small desk/chair. Show them that their studying is important. We can even help you build fanciful and playful furniture to create a place any child would look forward to hanging out in.

You are your kids most important teacher. Regardless of where your children go to school, moms and dads are children's first and most vital teacher. Measuring the ingredients for dinner can become an exercise in addition and subtraction. Weeding the garden can be a great discussion about Earth Science. Open your mind to the educational possibilities surrounding you.

Here's to a successful and happy 2010/2011 school year!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brown's House: 40% off for Christmas Pre-Orders

The Brown's House
Fancy Builder is located in beautiful Payson, Utah a growing rural community in southern Utah County. Each Labor Day weekend, our community gathers for Golden Onion Days. This civic celebration includes a fantastic parade, a carnival, a vendor area, and lots of fun. This year our family not only got to enjoy the festivities, but show off one of our newest playhouses in the parade!
Fancy Builder's entry in the Golden Onion Days parade
The reason we were so excited to share this new playhouse design at Golden Onion Days (we call it The Brown's House), is that we developed it at the regular price of $3,500 but have decided to offer it to our friends and customers at over 40 percent off..... just $1,999!  This special Christmas price is available for a limited time. To receive this discount, your order must be placed by Saturday October 30, 2010.

You're probably thinking, "Well, that must be a just the beginnings of a cute playhouse." No way! This price includes:
Working peephole in the front door
  • A footprint that is 7' wide x 10' deep (including the 2' front porch) and it is 11' tall.  A really nice, extra large playhouse.
  • Features hand carved trim around the doors and windows and decorative hinges and latches.  
  • Includes a darling heart shaped sliding peep hole in the door. 
  • A loft inside. 
  • The floor is sanded pine wood planks treated with Thompson's Water Sealant. 
  • An entryway door and three windows of your choice of style (either opening shutters or plexiglass) 
  • Your choice of colors for the main house and two accent colors. This is in addition to the white trim color. 
  • Roof made of quality, durable corrugated PVC.
  • Porch made of white vinyl, which is wonderfully low-maintenance. 
  • Includes delivery and set-up anywhere in Utah.
  • Extra windows can be added for $65 each. An extra door is $85. 
Get started on your Fancy Builder playhouse. Email us at  or give us a call at (801) 592-1153. We would love to help your family's Christmas wishes come true! 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pocatello Farmer's Market Gets a New Barn

This week we made a trip to Pocatello to deliver a new 'office' for the Pocatello Farmer's Market.  The farmer's market is in a cute downtown area next to the railroad tracks called "Old Town."  It's been running for 20 years straight! 

The people at Swore Farms who run the farmer's market called me a couple of months ago with their requests.  They wanted a fancy, traditional red barn shed that could function as their office and storage area.  They wanted to be able to lock everything up tight for the night.  So we designed a lightweight awning that can fold down over the windows and be locked from the inside.  The middle window is made of 2 plexiglass panels that can slide apart when they are open for business.  It also has a customer service counter. 

The top half of the dutch door can also be opened to reveal another customer service counter.  And the back side of the door can be used to post announcements.  The final touch: a fancy copper rooster weathervane on top of a traditional barn cupola!

Our new friends at Swore Farms are very happy with their new office/barn/shed. And we are very happy to have discovered the quaint farmer's market in downtown, old town Pocatello!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Featured Project: Fancy Shed

Cuppola with weathervane
Last year a horse-loving local dentist called asking for help to solve a delimma.  He had just installed a huge metal building on his horse property in Mapleton.  The building was totally open, like an enormous carport where he keeps his tractor and hay for his horses.  But because he doesn't live very close to his little ranch and the structure is so wide open he just didn't feel comfortable leaving anything of value in his building.

The customer wanted to build a shed that would be a secure place where he could store tack and other valuables. He wanted it to be fairly large, strong enough to withstand the elements, and taller than a regular shed so it would blend well with his barn. For colors, he wanted a traditional red barn with white trim.  He wanted it to look really fancy with a cupola and weather vane on top as well as a loft inside.

Matching cupolas
The customer also requested that we help spruce up his big red metal building by putting a matching cupola on top of it too.  We were able to find an exact color match in the Behr Brand Premium Solid Color Deck, Fence and Siding Weatherproofing Wood Stain that we use for all of our sheds.

Special delivery!
In just a few weeks, Fancy Builder was able to solve this horseman's dilemma.  The shed was so tall we knew when we delivered it on our trailer, it wouldn't fit under the power cables. To get around this, Fancy Builder simply produced it in two parts.  When we finally put them together, they fit just like two puzzle pieces.

Our customer loved the shed so much he is even planning to insulate it later on so he will be able to camp out in it when the mares are foaling.  Here is a little from the last e-mail he sent to me:

"Just wanted to thank you for the shed.  I am very happy with it and look forward to putting it to use.  I love the cupulas on both the shed and barn.  Thanks again." -Horseman from Mapleton, UT

The perfect shed for this customer

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Get Outside and Play! 6 Ideas to Enjoy Summer With the Kids.

Childhood is a magical and irreplaceable time for your kids, but it can be lots of fun for parents to let loose and laugh with their families. Playing with your kids helps create great memories as well as develop important social skills. Are you enjoying the long summer? Here's our family's top six ideas to play together while it's still warm outside.

Laughter is the best medicine,
preventative and otherwise. 
1) Are your kids lucky enough to have a playhouse? Go the fabric store and pick out fabric for curtains and ribbons for tie-backs. Use nails with large heads and let the kids help hang them.

Still waiting for your dream outbuilding? Any doorway, window, or opening can become playful when your kids hang fabric, stringed beads, weighted down ribbons (hot glue pretty glass 'rocks' to the ends or tie something on the ends like metal nuts or beads), or even paper chains from doorways.

2) Choose a shady area for a sand box. Spoons, garden implements, and plastic dinnerware can all be part of the fun. Don't forget the buried treasure!

3) Build or buy some kid-sized furniture. Giving kids a place to eat, sit for for tea-parties, or just hang out on a couch can spur creative make-believe and fun.

4) Teach your kids old-fashioned games, like "Off the Ground Tag." You can use cardboard boxes, blankets, or anything to make an area to play. If you step on the ground, you're it! "Freeze Tag" and "Ghost in the Graveyard" are two more fun choices.

5) Sleep outside (or in the playhouse) on a hot summer night.

6) Hang up a 'zip line' for transporting things from the play set, deck, or designated area on the ground.  Send secret messages to each other.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

3 Ideas to Feed Your Family Healthier Foods

It seems like today's world is filled with news stories about unsafe food, movies about how food has become immoral and mechanized, economic hardship making it difficult to feed our families, and a confusing array of products that may or may not help any of these situations. Rather than navigate grocery store aisles deliberating between cage-free or organic eggs, locally grown, seasonal or year-round shipped produce, many people are taking their food into their own hands. From small-scale vegetable patches to backyard chickens, the options for growing and harvesting your own food has become an increasingly popular and smart way to take back your family's food.

Regardless if you have a tiny patio or acres of land, here are some ideas to get you thinking about ways to begin providing your very own food. 

Mmm... fresh peppers
for salsa and casseroles
Grow a vegetable garden. Often the afterthought of a landscape plan, vegetables can be beautiful and functional. Free plans from Better Homes and Gardens make it easy to plan and plant something that will feed your family healthy food and be a joy to look at. Since we've talked so much about the importance of play with your children, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there's even vegetable gardens are a great place to involve your kids. This plan offers a simple children's vegetable garden with plants that will continue to produce and require minimal upkeep. Think of the fun and lessons after an entire summer of growing and eating from your very own garden. 

Keep backyard chickens. Eggs from backyard chickens are different from the eggs you buy at the store. The fresh yolks are tastier and colored bright orange, thanks to the hens' access to greens and the bugs and other goodies they snatch up in their scratching. Needless to say, even when fenced out of the garden itself, they keep pest populations down. At season's end, you can turn your chickens loose in the garden for a time-honored solution to clean it your garden and prevent pests from overwintering. If you're concerned neighbors may not like chickens are much as you do, try ducks. Ducks lay delicious eggs without making such a ruckus. You do not, contrary to popular belief, need to provide them with a pond. Their manure is less conspicuous than that of a chicken's, sinking effectively into your increasingly green, well-fed lawn. Finally, your coop can serve double duty to enhance your landscape and house your egg-producing darlings. 

Grafting can make one apple tree
bear several varieties of fruit

Plant a fruit tree. While it will take a few years for your tree to bear fruit, you'll be rewarded with a remarkable supply of fruit for twenty to fifty years to come. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees make it possible for anyone with an average-sized yard to grow fruit trees. Plant trees in the spring or fall and begin to enjoy the fruits of your labors in three to five years.

Visit for pictures and pricing on playful outbuildings to enhance your landscape including coops, gazebos, playhouses, and more.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Featured Project: Krohns Castle Playhouse

Krohns Castle
Three two-story, connected structures. A princess tower with pointy roof. A castle tower with turrets. Could you imagine a more unique and amazing playhouse to let children's imaginations run wild? I'm not sure we could.

Sketch of Krohns Castle
Fancy Builder was contacted in 2009 to construct this play castle worthy of a young Queen Guinevere. The Utah family requested an extra-special structure with lots of additions to encourage imagination and active play.

After several conversations, Fancy Builder provided a playhouse drawing including three structures with a climbing wall, a drawbridge between structures, a swing set, and several other activity areas. The family was thrilled and signed a contract to move forward.

Krohns Castle in the yard
Sergei set to work building the playhouse while the family anxiously awaited delivery. After about a month and a half, the beautiful Krohns Castle was finally complete. Fancy Builder delivered the custom playhouse to its new home in the backyard. The family was delighted.

It took a few extra days to get all of the different elements perfect (we had to make a minor change to the swing set, waterproof the structure, and tweak some minor details) but when we were finished, everyone couldn't have been more pleased.

Some of the features the family were most excited about include the rope bridge between structures, sure to be the best spot for speeches and tricky escapes from dragons.

We also added a pulley system with a bucket to create a way to send secret messages and play silly tricks on each other.

Last we heard, the family was loving their playhouse and creating great lifelong memories there. We wish them well!

See more of our playhouses and prices by visiting Fancy Builder's website.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

2 Quick (and Cheap) Projects to Encourage Play

While (of course) we think every kid should have one of our playhouses in the backyard, we understand that's not realistic. But it's still important to find ways to play.

We already wrote about the great book The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative, Activities Lead to Healthier, Happier Children here, but here's a quote that really sums it up:

"Over the past two decades, children have lost 12 hours of free time a week, including 8 hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities.  In contrast, the amount of time spent in organized sports has doubled, and the number of minutes children devote to passive spectator leisure, not counting TV but including sports viewing, has increased fivefold from 30 minutes to over 3 hours. The health consequences for children resulting from the disappearance of play (obesity, attention deficit disorder) are already apparent."

So what are some things you can do to to encourage important, imaginative play? There are lots of ways using things you already have around the house or simple inexpensive materials. Some are even things we do in our playhouses. Here's our two simple ideas you could do today.

Chalkboard paint. It's not quite as functional as a "real" chalkboard, but chalkboard paint is an inexpensive and easy way to add playful elements to your house. Our current favorite way to incorporate it is to give each child a place to write themselves reminders or draw pictures. This can be in their rooms, lined up in a mud room, or anywhere you have the space. Here's some easy instructions: 
Ung Drill from Ikea

-Grab a cute frame (we found this Ung Drill frame at Ikea for $24.99)
-Roll painter's tape into rolls and put on the back of the picture template from the frame. Position the frame where you want it to be. (Alternatively, you can use the template to cut a piece of MDF or plywood to avoid painting your wall.) 
-Tape off the area around the template. Paint inside the template. Let it dry and apply another coat. Repeat once more for a total of three coats. 
-Allow to cure for 24 hours. Frame. 
-It's handy to add a small molding ledge or a nail to hang a cute bag off of to hold chalk and an eraser. 
-Watch your kids' artistic sides shine! 

A quick and easy play area
Create a mini-retreat. You don't have to have a giant area or a specialized structure to give your children a place to let their imaginations run wild. Something as simple as hanging a canopy in a corner of a bedroom can create opportunities for adventure and make-believe. 

So go play! It's good for you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Featured Project: Kendall's Coop

Kendall's Coop
Even chickens need a fun place to live, right?

Fancy Builder was contacted by a retired Idaho couple who wanted a chicken coop, but not just any chicken coop. For the outside, they wanted nice-looking building that would be an enhancement to their property. They also wanted a sturdy wood floor that could handle being moved and a barn-look for the structure.  For the inside, they wanted ten nesting boxes. Five on each side with identical nests on both sides of the coop so it could be separated down the middle.

As a sidenote to anyone considering a chicken coop, it can be handy to isolate a group of newly purchased chicks from older chickens who may peck at strange newcomers. It's nice to have a barrier but keep the chickens where they can see and hear and get used to each other.  Eventually, when the chickens are all friendly, the barrier is no longer needed.
Inside of Kendall's Coop

Based on all the family's requests, we developed plans for a chicken coop. The coop was designed more like a shed, complete with enough height for an adult to stand up. For the outside, we used vintage barns as our inspiration, complete with red siding and white trim.

Ready for delivery
The family loved the plans so we set to work on the project.

One of the requests for the design was a door with a window on it. I called around and managed to find this French door which everyone liked better than the original door. 

Once the structure was complete, we loaded it up for delivery and headed to the coop's new home in Idaho. 

Sergei and I never get time alone together, so the delivery was almost like a date for us. When we arrived, the family had invited about 20 friends and family members to watch the delivery.  
Complete chicken coop

When Sergei climbed up onto the roof and attached the cupola and weather vane everyone cheered.  Everyone said it was too fancy for chickens but they seemed to appreciate the quality of their new "Fancy Coop."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Considering Backyard Chickens? Read This.

A hen nesting
One of the most common questions asked by people who are new to the urban chicken concept is, "Why would people in a city area want chickens?" The answer is surprising a sympathetic combination of two ideas: to bring back a simpler time with healthier food. This great article from the Examiner discusses some of the education needed to convince city-dwellers that backyard chickens are not a crazy fad. In fact, chickens fit pretty well with a busy lifestyle and a smaller yard. They are inexpensive to keep and can provide endless entertainment for a family with a sense of humor.

So you're ready to try it? This helpful guide offers a good overview of the steps involved, but make sure you're ready by asking yourself some important questions.

-Supplies. Am I willing to invest in the tools I need to raise chickens healthfully and successfully? You'll need chickens (of course! Be sure to check out the "Henderson's Handy Dandy Chicken Chart" to research what breeds to buy), a coop (we like ours quite a bit!) to house them in, and quality feed. You may want time-saving tools like egg washers. Are you ready to purchase all of these supplies to get your backyard chicken adventure off to a great start?
-Time. Just like the family dog or cat, your chickens need you for food and water. This article in CNN Money even profiled chicken babysitters for people taking summer vacations. Your chickens will likely be fine for a weekend if you leave them food and water (they don't need human companionship), but you might need some help for a week-long trip.
-Goals. Are you being realistic about what your backyard chickens will be providing? If you're picturing them as the final piece of of your idyllic farm life just like living in the South of France, you might need to adjust your expectations. Chickens can be comical, economical, and fun. They can provide manure for your gardens and eggs for your kitchen. They also can be noisy and messy. Make sure you're going into things with your eyes wide open.

Still game? You'll love it! Now allow me to introduce you to a great resource, the so-called Chicken Whisperer. He is a great resource for education, entertainment, and community.

Drop us a comment and let us know your thoughts on the backyard chicken phenomenon!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Featured Project: Bavarian Playhouse

Bavarian Playhouse by Fancy Builder
We've been hard at work finishing up the playhouse for the 2010 Salt Lake Parade of Homes, a Bavarian-inspired playhouse for a lucky 4 year old boy and a 1 year old girl in Herriman, Utah.

When the family contacted Fancy Builder in February, they knew they wanted something fun for the kids but weren't sure if they wanted a fort, a train station, or something more playset-like with swings and a climbing wall. We exchanged emails with photos and brainstormed together. After some time, they decided to go with something whimsical and Bavarian. Something perhaps a gnome could possibly live in. How fun! I drew up some ideas and sent them over.
Drawings for the Bavarian Playhouse

The family LOVED the sketches and had the perfect spot on a hill for the house and its tower to sit on a hill overlooking the valley. They sent over landscaping plans and together, we worked out some finishing touches for the details.

Some of the fun and functional elements added were a sandbox under the tower, a slide coming from the tower, a patio (perfect for little ones to greet tea party attendees), and a flower box to plant with cheerful summer blooms.

Play area layout
After the playhouse footprint was established, we set to work on the interior layout. Every kid needs a loft with a secret door, right? We designed one with a framed picture to disguise it. We also designed peep-holes, opening window shutters, multiple doors, and other fun elements to inspire creative, active play.

The interior is built out of solid pine, which makes the entire building smell like a Christmas tree. Not only does pine smell great, but it's also a great choice because it is a sustainable resource. Pine is also naturally decay and rot resistant, and it resists wear and tear well (which playhouses get plenty of!).

When we went to drop off the playhouse, we got some pictures of some of it's best features. Here's the darling peep-hole (sliding) on the front door (hilarious for little girls, as you can see).

Door peep-hole

Exploring the secret door
And remember that secret door we mentioned? Turns out it's pretty fun to explore. You climb into the loft and when you push the panel under the picture, you can get to a secret little area perfect for storing treasures, books, and treats. Here are our two little tester girls checking it out.

We climbed up and down the ladder, to and from the loft, and played with all the windows and doors. When that was all mapped out, we moved over to play in the tower, complete with slide.

Bavarian Playhouse with Tower
The tower is a fun area where you can slide down a wavy slide, play in a sandbox, or just survey the land. The girls loved it.

We're excited to see all the great things that happen with this playhouse. These kids definitely have the best environment for make-believe, fun, play, and learning.

We wish this family well and hope to see you at the 2010 Salt Lake Parade of Homes!

Kids wave goodbye as we leave

Monday, July 19, 2010

Play: It's More Than Just Fun and Games

The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children
We've all heard the criticisms: kids watch too much tv. They play too many video games. They're over-programmed and don't get outside enough. But is it really true? And why does it matter?

According to David Elkin, author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activites Lead to Healthier, Happier Children, our moms and grandmothers had some things right. Our kids are too plugged in and it's impacting their development.

For centuries, kids used play to develop social skills, hand-eye coordination, and even academic skills, like math. As an example, by playing with blocks children develop concepts of addition and subtraction, size, length and location. And among the most important life-skills developed through play is called "executive function," the ability for a child (or adult) to self-regulate his or her actions. Children with developed executive function do better in school and in life. Perhaps because of the changes in play, this important cognitive skill is diminishing in children.

According to NPR, "A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.

"Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."

So play is important. But what is play, exactly, and how can we support it as parents? According to Elkin, it's unstructured, unscheduled, and flexible. It's not as much a toy as an activity, or a healthy balance between the two. It's make-believe and what can look like "doing nothing."

So play a game of freeze tag with your kids. Spend a day pretending you're princes and princesses. Your kids will thank you for it.