For years, Mark Ellis built mid-century modern furniture. When it was time for a change, he transitioned to building houses in the same sleek architectural style … Birdhouses, that is.
“Anybody can build a square birdhouse, but that’s not what I was going for,” Ellis says. “I wanted to come up with a distinctive look. I didn’t want to copy a mid-century modern house, but I wanted the birdhouse to reflect that vision.”
Today, Ellis’s retro birdhouses have stylish sloping roofs and edges and perfectly polished perches — there’s even a design that looks like a 1950s camper — and Ellis builds each house with the same craftsmanship he once reserved for (human-sized) furniture.
We sat down with Ellis to learn more about his unique homes for feathered friends.
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OS: What are the steps you take when making a birdhouse?
ME: I start with the wood. I get half of what I use in Charlotte and the rest I get up in Weaverville and by Asheville. That’s one of the most important parts of the whole operation — finding good wood that’s interesting, that has colors and veining. That’s one of the selling points of the houses — the beauty of the wood I use. Then I’ll cut it up into various pieces, glue the pieces together, then finish it with a water-based polyurethane.
OS: What kind of wood do you use?
ME: I use about 20 varieties of woods. The local woods that I use are cherry and cypress; those take up probably 50 to 60 percent of the house. The rest are tropical woods.
OS: Why do you specialize in mid-century modern design?
ME: I used to work for a mid-century modern furniture company. I couldn’t build something square to save my life. But when it comes to curves — I can do that. I like the aerodynamics of my houses because, you know, they’re birdhouses! They’re for things that fly, so I want them to reflect that look. They also reflect my background in classic wooden boats, speed boats, sailboats — I used to do repair work — and I like the beautiful wood and curves.
OS: What makes your birdhouses unique?
ME: The first thing is the design. I haven’t found any mid-century modern birdhouses that even come close to mine. The second thing is the quality of the woodwork. I’ve been doing this a long time, and with every house I try to make it a little bit better than the last. I’m always striving to the make the house perfect. The third thing is the materials. I try to use the best materials and the most interesting woods, and I try to build them in such a way that they last a long time.
OS: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
ME: After I’m done building a house, the house can look pretty dull — it’s hard to tell what you’ve got. But as soon as I put that final finish coating on there, and the wood pops out, that’s exciting. As soon as I start putting those brush strokes on there, that makes it all worthwhile.
Join Our State, Mast General Store, and Visit Winston-Salem as we celebrate the 2019 winners of the Made in NC Awards.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
Mast General Store
516 Trade Street NW
Winston-Salem, NC 27101