Old home get new life as homes for birds
By Rob Hedelt
The Free Lance-Star
CULPEPER, Va. (AP) ó John Bailey knows that some of the people who buy his unique birdhouses aren’t putting them up in the backyard.
They’re hanging the handcrafted houses, made from recycled building materials, on porches or in living rooms as decorative art.
Either one is just fine with the 56-year-old newcomer who, less than a year ago, followed relatives to Culpeper.
“I like knowing that they work well as homes for birds but have no trouble with people using them as decorations,” said Bailey, originally from Abingdon, Mass. “It’s a compliment that they want to use them that way.”
Bailey, who lives with his wife, Patricia, in a home near the middle of town, said making birdhouses and doing carpentry work wasn’t the original plan when the couple moved to Virginia.
“We had this notion of opening an ice cream or sandwich shop or something like it,” he said, noting that he loves the atmosphere here. “We were down for a wedding and spent a lot of time walking around. We just fell in love with the place.”
But finding the right spot, perhaps with living space as part of the building, didn’t go as planned.
“Plan B was going back to the carpentry work and craft work I’d done in Massachusetts,” he said.
While the carpentry half of his business, “Yankee Clipper Fine Carpentry,” has been slow at times, the craft work has been a bright spot.
He made his first birdhouse after being asked by a friend, using materials he was replacing on a job site. The houses have turned into a lucrative side business.
Made to suit bluebirds or other local birds, the houses look like miniaturized people’s homes, and all are different.
Some have porches, railings and decorative trim. Others are narrow, tall and feature wide roofs or moldings mitered around the edges.
“Some will hold one family of birds while others are several stories and can hold several families,” he said. “All are made to be opened and cleaned, with bottoms that won’t rot.”
The carpenter, who loves to bass fish and will never quit being a New England Patriots fan, is proud of the materials that get recycled into his birdhouses.
“There’s lattice work that dates back to the late 1700s, and siding that was put up in downtown in Culpeper in 1908,” he said. “I leave it the way it is, and it gives the houses character.”
Construction can take a few hours to a day or more for the large houses with lots of detail.
“Each one is different,” he said, “because I don’t do them from plans or in an assembly line. They take shape as I do each one.”
The houses he crafts in his basement workshop have ranged in price from $40 to $200 and have been sold various ways.
He’s had some success selling them at the farmers market in Culpeper and sold more than $500 worth at an office Christmas party.
He’s developing a Web site that will operate under the name Bird’s Eye View.