Hampton Bays Hotel Owner Provides Shelter for Feathered Friends

Steve Poulakis builds birdhouses in his spare time.
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At the Hampton Maid hotel, Steve Poulakis designs and sells birdhouses made of recycled weathered cedar and pine. Photograph by Doug Young.

Any innkeeper knows that constant maintenance, renovation, and rebuilding requires a lot of sweat equity—and a lot of lumber. “We’ve taken apart so many things over the years that there’s always a surplus of slightly used wood,” says Steve Poulakis, the second-generation owner of the Hampton Maid hotel in Hampton Bays. “Even a weathered board, once you plane it, can still be useful.”

So just what does one do when presented with a surfeit of extra wood and a little spare time during the Hamptons off-season? Make birdhouses, of course. Poulakis uses lots of pine and is especially partial to recycled Western cedar, since exposure to sun and rain heightens its grain and growth rings, giving his birdhouses a rustic charm. (The cedar, he says, is “God’s gift to man, like tuna in the ocean.”) The more weathered pieces (“the knottier, the wartier, the more holey, the better”) often become the front façades of the birdhouses, which Poulakis makes in his basement during the wintertime and sells in the hotel’s gift shop. His family deems his hobby “birdhouse therapy.”

In addition to using what material is at hand, Poulakis also sources salvaged split lumber from Riverhead Building Supply. “I typically make 12 to 20 birdhouses at a time, first deciding on which boards to use for the fronts, roofs, and floors,” he says. “Then I’ll start by cutting fronts, backs, and three-inch-wide sides by making marks on the chop saw.” The fronts are then placed in a clamp and drilled with a seven-eighths-inch hole, its edges softened with a rasp. “I make the holes small for wrens and chickadees so that more aggressive, larger birds can’t access them.” Using nails and industrial bonding agents, he assembles the shells on top of slightly wider (four-and-a-half-inch) floors. “Most of the roof angles on the buildings at the hotel are 45 degrees,” he adds, “and the birdhouse shapes are intentionally similar.”

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Finished birdhouses, some including roofs embellished with succulents, hang throughout the hotel’s property. Photograph by Doug Young.

The finished structures are then branded with the Hampton Maid logo—a Colonial-style maiden holding a tray of steaming food, originally sketched on a napkin by Poulakis’s mother, Marion, who founded the hotel with her husband, John, more than 60 years ago. Poulakis often adds a few scratches below the back of the entrance hole so that “baby birds can crawl up more easily to have a look at the world. But usually, their parents have already taken care of that for me by filling the birdhouses with just enough nesting material.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: For the Birds.