Maker Faire: Chick-in-a-Box

Energy & Sustainability
Maker Faire: Chick-in-a-Box
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There’s certainly no shortage of high tech gadgetry and fantastical creations coming to this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, May 22nd and 23rd at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. But the magic of Maker Faire is rooted in the variety of projects present, everything from science to craft to robots to food makers, and beyond. Take, for example, the Chick-in-a-Box chicken coops (pictured above) designed and handmade by Kevin McElroy and Matt Wolpe, who run Oakland-based Just Fine Design/Build. We caught up with these fine gentlemen to chat about the classy hen houses they’re bringing to the Faire.

1. Tell us about the project you’re bringing to Maker Faire.

Chick-in-a-Box is our uniquely designed and handmade backyard chicken coop. It is our goal to weave sustainable lifestyles with well-thought-out design. Our coops are not only a statement on food access and security, but an architectural statement as well. In addition to the chicken coops, we design and build furniture and other custom projects as Just Fine Design/Build.


2. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?

We first came to Maker Faire in 2008 with The Crucible, where we both work, teach, and fabricate. We want to showcase our nice chicken coops and also give our 2 hens a field trip to San Mateo.

3. Tell us about yourselves. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?


Kevin McElroy: My dad is a builder in Monterey so I have been around his job sites my whole life; in fact he built the house I grew up in. My childhood was about remote-controlled cars, bicycles, skateboards, tree houses, and sand castles. As a student I studied photography and industrial design (among other subjects). More recently I have been fixing up old sailboats and experimenting with using repurposed wood and scrap steel to make fine pieces of furniture. I have been making stuff all my life and I don’t see an end in sight!


Matt Wolpe: I was first introduced to building while working in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, doing small experimental design/build projects that were relief structures for people in need. The process of designing and then realizing the design by building it was truly revelatory and has led me to where I am today. Between then and now, I have built sets for the Public Theater in New York, worked on natural building projects in Vermont, made furniture, and taught woodworking.

4. Is your project strictly a hobby or a budding business? Does it relate to your day job?

Just Fine Design/Build is a business that evolved from our informal creative endeavors. We realized that what we liked doing in our spare time was something we can turn into a business. We work at The Crucible in Oakland, where our skill set is constantly being expanded and refined and is extended to our work at Just Fine. We love the challenges of designing and building custom pieces, so we are hoping to meet Maker Faire patrons who want a custom backyard chicken coop.

5. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?

Matt: Reading the book Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford really resonated with me in terms of articulating the virtues, values, and holistic experience that working with your hands can offer, and how they are not fully appreciated in our larger consumer culture.

Kevin: I recently started roasting my own coffee at home. You can do anything yourself if you want to!

6. What is your motto?

Small scale projects from conception to completion.

7. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?

Make mistakes and reflect upon them. Get used to the process of being frustrated with something new and then have it slowly make sense. Get involved with a supportive community. Talk to people who have skills you want to learn. Collaborate!

Thanks, Kevin and Matt! Hope your hens enjoy their field trip to the Faire. There’s still time to get discounted tickets to Maker Faire until midnight tonight. Buy your tickets online and avoid waiting in line at the Faire. See you there!

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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