Originally created 07/10/98

Birdhouses fit for feathered royalty



PINE MOUNTAIN VALLEY, Ga. -- When Karl Derums makes a birdhouse, he doesn't just drill a few holes and tack some boards together.

He makes plastic penthouses fit for feathered royalty.

At his Harris County workshop, Mr. Derums produces a line of birdhouses using time-honored architectural concepts.

There is the Savannah, which features Grecian-style pediments, pilasters and molding; the Atlanta, which features Greek columns, copper roof and an elevated rooftop ornament; the Milledgeville, with its Victorian elements; and the Athens, inspired by a Grecian arch on the University of Georgia campus.

"I don't copy architecture," Mr. Derums said. "I get a feel for a structure I see, then make it into something that will work as a birdhouse."

Other models were inspired small-town railroad depots, a coastal sun shelter, a gazebo and a European village home.

Mr. Derums' grandfather, a Latvian artisan furniture maker for the last of the Russian royals, taught him how to hold a chisel.

But it wasn't until the family migrated to Columbus and Mr. Derums served a tour of combat duty in Vietnam that he became a full-time craftsman.

During World War II, Mr. Derums' father was conscripted by the Russians and then the Germans. He was wounded, captured and escaped execution by feigning death before a Russian firing squad. He eventually made friends with an American officer, who got a brother in Columbus to sponsor the Derums family as immigrants.

His father set up a cabinetry and woodworking shop in Columbus, which Mr. Derums took over when he returned from Vietnam.

In 1986, Mr. Derums broke his back when a deck collapsed under him. He could no longer work as a carpenter but decided to try the smaller-scale construction of fancy birdhouses.

He borrowed money to take out an ad in a gardening magazine and sold about $5,000 worth of birdhouses. The birdhouses became a full-time business.