Eichler Butterfly Inspires a Young Builder

A handmade Eichler-style birdhouse by Cooper Scott houses a toy bird right across from the home Cooper shares with his parents. His birdhouses have proven a real success. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Nail gun in hand and eye protection properly adjusted, Cooper Scott holds a piece of pre-planed redwood against a piece of Douglas fir. Ka-chunk. Another Eichler birdhouse is nearing completion.

Cooper may only be 13 years old, but he’s got the skills, tenacity, stick-to-it-tiveness, and most importantly, the motivation, of an adult. A successful adult.

Over the past two years, with the help of his dad Mike, Cooper has built and sold 50 combination birdhouse-birdfeeders inspired by the very early Joe Eichler homes in Sunnymount Gardens in Sunnyvale.

Sunnymount Gardens, built in 1949 and Eichler’s second subdivision, has models you won’t see in his later subdivisions – including some with butterfly roofs, a design Eichler never used in his mature work.

Cooper's birdhouses may not look like typical Eichler homes -- because they are based on the homes in one of Joe Eichler's very earliest tracts, where the Coopers live. This is their home.

What prompted Cooper to get started with butterfly-roofed birdhouses? This blog had something to do with it, we are proud to suggest. We ran into Cooper and Mike while delving into the butterfly-roofed homes in their neighborhood.

“After your visit about two years ago, Cooper was inspired by your interest in the butterfly-roof style Eichlers,” Mike wrote.

Cooper was also, coincidentally, taking wood shop at school, where he was in the sixth grade. The teacher told students to build a birdhouse – but to stick to the standard plan in order to learn basic principles.

“I wanted to make one like this house, but he wouldn’t let me,” Cooper recalls. Then Cooper recalls the main motivation for the Eichler birdhouse project:

“I was looking to make money, because I was trying to buy a skateboard.”

Eichler Homes was a family business -- and so is the operation run by Cooper and his dad, Mike Scott.

It helped that Mike, who works in facilities maintenance for the city of Campbell, is a skilled woodworker himself. He also had access to tools at the city’s shop, in historic Campbell High School, and to a supply of wood – leftover pieces that would otherwise go for nought.

Cooper did the basic design, and he and Mike evolved a routine. They cut and plane the wooden pieces – a form of prefabrication Eichler would have blessed – at the city’s shop.

Then Cooper assembles the birdhouses in their home garage.

The birdhouses are simple – two rooms, a bedroom, and a dining room, where the feed is spread. When Cooper first designed the homes, he had planned to use wooden window posts, of the sort that are found in his home.

But that proved too complicated to build, Mike says.

Cooper's mother DeeDee appreciates other wares created by her talented son, including these coasters and the shelving.

The homes are built with redwood roofs, using “original Eichler redwood from our tongue-and-groove ceilings that I saved from our remodel,” a few years back, Mike says. (The front portion of their home retains its original ceiling.)

“I couldn’t get rid of all that beautiful redwood,” Mike says of the wood from the remodel. The rest of the birdhouses are made generally of Douglas fir.

To a degree, and much like Joe Eichler, Cooper has gotten down the construction process to a science, using wooden templates to cut each piece, and constructing houses – like tract homes – in groupings. Cooper makes six to eight at a time.

“The angles need to be very precise or it usually doesn’t look good or fit well,” Cooper says of fitting the pieces together.

The homes have evolved over the years. Cooper’s initial designs had two doors – the main entry to the birdhouse, and a second between birdhouse and feeding area. But Cooper, like Joe Eichler himself, has paid attention to livability and aesthetics.

Attention to detail and to function have proven crucial in the design and construction of the birdhouses, much as they did in the creation of Eichler homes.

“It didn’t look that great,” Cooper says of the two-door model, “and it seemed like the birds didn’t nest [in the birdhouse] because it was too open.”

Indeed, birds do take up lodging in Cooper’s homes, which all come with a supply of birdseed.

Buyers of Eichler birdhouses include Cooper’s grandparents in Santa Clara, who are retired and enjoy keeping an eye on the avians. “They tell us it’s well used by the neighborhood birds,” says DeeDee Scott, Cooper’s mother.

Friends in Florida who bought one found they had another sort of tenant – an iguana. But how Eichler is that? As a home seller, Joe was known, after all, for never discriminating.

Cooper began hawking the birdhouses by attaching a couple of them to his handlebars, then biking to the homes of friends. Word spread. Parents of friends bought them. One woman bought several for house-warming gifts.

Next came Facebook postings and eBay. Soon people were buying them from the Midwest, New York, Massachusetts. Most buyers do not live in Eichlers. They go for $20 direct from Cooper, or $22.50 on eBay, to cover eBay’s cut. Shipping is extra.

Cooper's friends have been impressed with how much he has earned to buy such devices as this E-Go skateboard (above).

“The modern design appeals to a lot of people,” DeeDee notes.

Cooper, who is thinking of pursuing engineering or home design “when I grow up,” has no plans to hire assistants in the birdhouse business. “It works well just with me and my dad working on it together,” he says. He is thinking of adding another model, perhaps more traditional in look.

He is also enjoying the fruits of his success. “I recently bought a PC with the money I accumulated, and I started a savings account,” he says. But the first thing he bought with his profits was a skateboard.

But unlike one wooden skateboard he’d built for himself, this one is an E-Go, with a battery that can take him up to 12 mph and carry him 12 miles, he says. DeeDee adds, “It speeds you on your way.”

Are Cooper’s friends impressed with his Eichler birdhouses? He answers, “Some of them are kind of impressed with the amount of money I’ve made.”

Interested in an Eichler birdhouse for your own backyard? Contact Mike Cooper, fishonmikes@gmail.com.

Reader Comments Box