Made in the Berkshires: Filling the 'Empty Nest' with funky creations


PITTSFIELD — Ann Phillips and Jody Tierney took a course around 10 years ago to learn the proper way to cut wood.

Phillips was interested in making wooden birdhouses. Tierney was thinking of other projects. They had immediate access to the tools they would need — Phillips' husband, Martin, is a woodworker who built the couple's house. But they didn't have the technique.

After learning how to properly operate a miter saw, a drill press and a table saw — "We learned how to use the power equipment there," Phillips said — the two women decided that making wooden birdhouses would be fun. But something was missing from their first attempts.

"When we first started making them we were painting them," Phillips said. "But they were a little too fancy."

So, instead of painting the wood, the two women decided to decorate their birdhouses with "stuff that we find," Phillips said.

Phillips and Tierney, recent retirees who live nearby and have been friends since they attended high school together, took their hobby into a business that they've called "Empty Nest."

"It was at a time in our lives when our children were leaving the house and going to college so we were becoming empty nesters," Phillips said. "Because the kids were gone we had a little free time on our hands."

They make wooden birdhouses and decorate them with all sorts of eclectic items, everything from bed springs to drawer pulls, from pieces of electrical transformers to parts of a white picket fence that was destroyed when a car drove through it.

Lots of places

They find these items everywhere: At flea markets, in relative's cellars, even debris left over from car accidents that they might happen to walk by. Once they found a small piece of metal — they believe it came from a car — that looked like the breast cancer symbol.

"Half the stuff we put on we don't know what it is," Tierney said.

Their funky creations, which range in price from $45 to $75, are mostly built to be used.

"A few of them are made to be decorative, but the majority are functioning bird houses," Phillips said.

They sell them at craft fairs. Empty Nest will be at Hancock Shaker Village's Country Fair Sept. 23-24, and at the Berkshire Botanical Garden's Harvest Festival in Stockbridge during Columbus Day weekend.

The ideas for their birdhouses come from everywhere.

"Every once in awhile I'll make a birdhouse with something in mind," Tierney said. "Most of the time I'll build a house and then I'll just look around in my box for something, what's going to look nice on this."

Phillips and Tierney have decorated many of their birdhouses with items taken off an old bed frame that while walking in the woods many years ago. That bed frame still "had all the old springs and cords," Phillips said.

"We dragged it out of the woods and took it apart, and used those pieces," she said. "I still have some of that stuff down in the cellar."

The pieces of that white picket fence? It came from a friend's house.

"A friend of mine had a white picket fence all around her house and somebody drove through the fence," Phillips said. "I would drive by her house all the time and I'd see this fence down, so I said to her, 'What are you going to do with that broken fence?"

Phillips started to laugh.

"She said, 'Well, the insurance company is going to take care of it.' I said, 'can I come and take the broken pieces'. And she said, 'Yes, you can.' And there you have it."

The wood they use frequently comes from scraps that they obtain from people they know.

"A friend of mine's neighbor took down a slatted fence that was about 5 1/2 inches wide and had all these gray pieces," Phillips said. "We've had it for about three years."

Their husbands view this hobby turned business with bemusement.

"They're just happy we're busy," Phillips said. "It keeps us out of their hair."


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