For the birds
Harvard resident Dick Brouillette is an architect of sorts. He takes cues from existing buildings and scales them down to fit his clientele — usually the winged, feathered type. Brouillette’s birdhouses, marketed as the Harvard Birdhouse Com
pany, are featured in several area garden shows and at Woodstock’s Read Between the Lynes bookstore.
“Most of my ideas come from other people,” said Brouillette, a master gardener and retired custodian. His family and friends would come to him with pictures of buildings and ask him to faithfully recreate the structures in nest-ready form.
He’s constructed fire stations, restaurants, houses and, most recently, barns. His favorite design is a duplication of a birdhouse at Crystal Lake restaurant The Village Squire, which features a large central house with four smaller ones jutting
off from each side and a structure on top.
“This year has been all barns,” said Brouillette. Customers may be drawn to their rustic authenticity — the houses are made from lumber from actual old barns, some of which date back to the Civil War.
But Brouillette’s intention never was to profit from his projects, only to give him something to do in retirement.
“That’s how it started. I’d make this stuff for myself,” he said. “It was just a hobby, and it still is.”
Brouillette has a horse barn-turned-workshop on his property where he can escape and work for hours. Instead of making the pieces for one birdhouse, he’ll make hundreds of roof tiles, windows and dormers — generic pieces he can easily add to a new design.
“I’ve always been a woodworker. I knew I had to have a place to do this,” said Brouillette.
With a stockpile of generic pieces, fitting them together on a new birdhouse takes about an hour. He’ll use more common material to put the finishing touches on a birdhouse, like wooden coffee stirrers as the small boards on a steeple. Even though all of his birdhouses are built to withstand the elements, Brouillette said many people choose to keep them indoors and display them.
A random meeting with Studio One Zero Charlie owner Michael Stanard at the Woodstock Opera House, where Brouillette works, convinced him to take his birdhouses one step further.
Stanard suggested he start selling his product on a limited scale and designed some marketing material for Brouillette.
The craftsman began exhibiting his creations at garden shows such as Gardenfest at McHenry County College, Garden Party in Crystal Lake and other shows in Lake Geneva and Barrington. Most recently, he displayed 21 of his birdhouses at The Land Conservancy’s Art of the Land show Sept. 23 and 24 at the Starline Factory in Harvard.
“It’s a perfect audience,” said Brouillette. His more expensive birdhouses, which can cost around $100, sold well enough that Brouillette decided to make a less expensive line. Using the same basic patterns but cheaper materials, he created a model that could sell for around $15.
Despite branching out a bit, Brouillette still maintains the small scale of his operation.
“I don’t want it to be a job,” he said.
All of his proceeds go back into tools and materials for more birdhouses.
To see some of Brouillette’s creations, visit Read Between the Lynes, 129 Van Buren St., Woodstock.