Thursday, December 16, 2010
When the once-rollicking housing market suddenly collapsed, and took with it the livelihoods of many of its talented contractors and builders, many craftsmen sat frustrated by their sudden wealth of free time and corresponding dearth of regular income. Some folded up shop. Some went sideways. Some left the area in search of work in more fruitful markets.
Not Bruce Looram. His capable hands have been anything but idle, and bear the scars to prove it.
To take a stroll around the Carmel Valley Victorian Bird Homes production studio he and his wife Angie keep – smelling the distinctive peppy tang of redwood timbers, having a look-see at the myriad examples of the ornate constructs of a master craftsman – is to see how he’s kept busy. His business of building has gone to the birds.
The Loorams’ story is a tale of both following your heart and modern American stick-to-itiveness. As his construction business went from hectic to hardly breathing, the veteran contractor surveyed the Carmel art scene, and after seeing a high priced, shoddily crafted bird house passed off as Victorianesque, quickly realized that the skills which had allowed him to build showcase homes all over the nation – including Liberace’s Los Angeles mansion – could be useful on a much more intimate scale. And – bonus – it would get him out of the house, where he fidgeted so.
Bruce’s wife Angie agrees wholeheartedly with her husband’s solution to their income and irritation levels. “It helped keep our sanity,” she says with a wry grin, peering over the gabled roof of a birdhouse that she paints from a workbench that holds both cash register and painting implements.
“It started as a hobby,” Bruce says. “I saw other people building bird houses and I said, ‘I can do that!’ And with much better results, for a cheaper price.” A new business was hatched.
At first, the Loorams thought that they would work out of their house and sell their wares at street fairs. But soon the neighbors complained about all the racket that goes into building a solid bird home, and when the Loorams’ friend John Saunders offered them an empty retail storefront in the Carmel Valley property, the Loorams leapt at the opportunity.
Now, just a few months later, their mom and pop is overflowing with an impressive array of finely festooned floor plans for locals’ favorite finches.
Victorian-styled bird homes of all sizes populate the space, from ornamental little structures that cost $4 all the way up the block to the $750 “Winchester Mystery House” of bird homes, a 6-foot-tall creation complete with a copper roof and four separate rooms.
“It kept growing and growing,” says Bruce, shaking his wood shaving-dusted head at the landmark of avian luxury. There are also a few whimsical Jules Verne-y space rocket houses, plus an assortment of items that speak to the couple’s other tastes: Vic-era weather vanes, some neat digitally manipulated oil paintings, and some pretty cool “Monterey Coachworks” (an automaker in name and pre-weathered font only) t-shirts fill his walls, hang from hooks and balustrades, and spill out to the verandah, where a flock of approving future tenants chatter from the branches of an overhanging tree.
The bird homes – not houses, they insist – are exquisitely rendered, each handmade out of reclaimed redwood with Looram’s nine remaining fingers. (“That’s a story for another time,” Bruce says, scratching his missing pinky.) They are each decorated with Victorian adornments. Some have copper roofs in faux-aged patina, others have tiny shingles. Many have corbel brace work, elegantly angled box windows and soaring cupolas crowning the structures. The careful paintwork is consistent throughout, despite the exacting scale. The attention to detail is also apparent in the tiny picket fences.
Though the little landing pads average somewhere between $150 and $200, the Loorams have sold more than 100. Not just humans are into them. With small holes just big enough for the magically compressible winged creatures to slip into the hollow sub frame of the homes, families of birds can nest in comfort and class.
Much to their delight, the Loorams have found their own backyard – now something of a repository for experimental designs – teeming with dozens of happy quail. Do they puff their already proud chest plumage out a little extra when they snack on a fine course of seed and grain from the second floor balcony of their four-story Queen Anne? It’s hard to tell. But wouldn’t you?