When Williams-Sonoma launched their Agrarian line of garden and homesteading products this past spring they pretty much nailed the growing DIY gardening zeitgeist. Their collection of raised beds, bee-keeping accessories and fire escape seed kits really capture the energy and enthusiasm circulating around all matters green these days, whether your garden is three acres of bucolic Missouri farmland, a suburban Philadelphia backyard or a Brooklyn stoop. Call it yuppies-gone-homesteading if you like, but I see it as a positive sign that the mainstream is adopting gardening and healthy eating as a passion.
But the one element of the Agrarian catalog that has really set my heart a-flutter and made me want to take the chicken-raising plunge are the custom made-in-Michigan chicken coops. So in addition to supporting homesteading hobbyists, these coops are supporting American small business: I call that a win-win.
So adorable they evoke an idealized playhouse for poultry, the coops are created by an art student-turned-craftsman Dan Cohen. Cohen started his business as a hobby and has since — as the chicken craze has exploded — grown it into a poultry empire.
Cohen’s Alexandria Chicken Coop, the Range Rover of chicken cribs, features wheels so you can transport your birds to greener pastures and a cedar shake roof that gives it the ambiance of a Wes Anderson doll house for your feathered friends. The mellow sea foam color is an especially nice touch, striking just the right note of Depression-era folksiness.
But I wanted to hear more about Dan’s inspiration.
How did you happen upon the colors and design for the coops? They have a lovely vintage look.
My inspiration came from restoring old houses and buildings which I did in Baltimore in an area called Fell’s Point. The green color was a color my wife picked out for her coop originally and I just kept it. I liked it. And the red color is an Amish color that I matched up to an old Amish barn here in Michigan.
Have you heard of anyone customizing their coops? Any interesting features people have added?
Yes, a lot of customers send me pictures of the coops as they set them up. Some people plant planters around the run or they’ll build a stone sort-of foundation to set it on. Some people add their own little knickknacks like flower pots, or just little design things. Maybe they’ll add a rusty, country-looking star or whatever they like to embellish it with.
You went to art school with conceptual art star Jeff Koons. Can you tell me a bit about your art school background and how it might play out in the coop design?
I went to Maryland Institute College of Art. And that’s when I was, I guess you could say, buddies with Jeff. Graduating with a degree in sculpture really taught me how to look at things, how to design and how to produce art. Also around that time, Baltimore was being redeveloped, especially the inner-harbor area. I took a fancy to that 200-year-old period of architecture and it gave me the idea to design chicken coops in a similar style.
How do you like your eggs?
I cannot eat eggs unless they are my own. I don’t really trust commercial eggs. I enjoy my eggs fresh as fresh can be, from my own backyard garden.