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Build your own coop

'Reinventing the Chicken Coop' teaches how to build a number of new variations on an old theme
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The book “Reinventing the Chicken Coop” by Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe, teaches how to build a coop. Erin Kunkel/Storey Publishing | Los Angeles TimesMCT
 Posted: 2:00 AM April 16, 2013

LOS ANGELES — When designers Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe unveiled their mod Chick-in-a-Box chicken coop at a 2010 Bay Area Maker Faire for inventors and indie designers, they thought they were onto something. Chickens had moved from the farm to the backyard, after all, and coops had become popular projects for architects and artisans alike.

But McElroy and Wolpe, co-owners of Just Fine Design/Build, found little interest in their $1,200 handmade chicken coop, regardless of its post-and-beam composition or striking butterfly roof that doubles as a water catchment system. Because of the abundance of prefab chicken coop kits online, Wolpe said, their coop was seen as a luxury item.

Chick-in-a-Box, however, was the catalyst for something else: a DIY book, "Reinventing the Chicken Coop," published this month by Storey. It shows readers how to build chicken coops in a variety of styles. The 14 featured coops are by different designers, including McElroy, 33, a graduate student in Stanford's industrial design program, and Wolpe, 29, who works in the fabrication shop at the University of California-Berkeley's architecture school and teaches furniture design.

The chicken coops include a log cabin, an A-frame, a Midcentury Modern design and a rustic structure.

"We wanted the book to appeal to a broad range of people," Wolpe said in an interview. "There is a new demographic tending chickens: urban people with tastes rooted in certain traditions of architecture."

Unlike a lot of DIY books that condense detailed projects into a page or two, "Reinventing the Chicken Coop" lays out each project in a dozen or so pages with material lists, illustrations and assembly instructions. Wolpe said he and McElroy consulted several how-to books and met with technical writers in an effort to make complex building instructions as easy as possible.

"We wanted the drawings to do most of the talking, with the text as a reference," Wolpe said.

The book offers insights into egg access doors, cantilevered nesting boxes, worm compost bins and rooftop vegetable gardens. One coop, made of shipping pallets, even has a chalkboard to keep track of egg production.

"Chickens are a symbol of the local food movement," Wolpe said, explaining their surging popularity. "We wanted to design chicken coops that would make a statement and that people would be proud of."

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