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.