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‘Quirky and Functional’ Is the Mantra Behind Malay’s Birdhouses and Wall Art

By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 08, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy

Chris Malay is quite familiar with trash pickup days and routes within Stafford Township and in surrounding towns, so if you ever see some big guy with big feet rummaging through the heap of waste outside your home one day, just wave and know some of what you just tossed is going to good use.

“I’m a shameless garbage-picker,” said the smiling 40-year-old and the man behind Bigfoot Birdhouses, which specializes in creative wall art and birdhouses made of reclaimed wood and other reusable materials. “I’m the guy driving by at 5 miles per hour, checking out your pile of trash to see what I can use. And if there’s wood or rusted metal, I’ll just jump out and grab it.”

Using wood of differing textures, old door hinges, rusty nails and screws, various types of hardware, and even rakes, pitchforks and vintage cheese graters, Malay enjoys designing and creating fish that can hang on walls – well, mostly walls.

“At the beginning of this summer, somebody bought one of his whales to use as a headboard for a bed,” said Denise Malay, Chris’ mother and “agent” and owner of Downtown Consignment, located at 762 East Bay Ave. in Manahawkin, where interested customers can find a sizable stash of Malay’s creations. “It was 8 or 10 feet. It was huge. It was hanging in the front window of the store, and somebody wanted it to be part of their bed. That was interesting.”

From mahi to marlin, wahoo to whales, there probably isn’t a fish species Malay hasn’t made out of wood and bits and pieces of metal. In fact, he’s likely come up with plenty of types of fish that don’t even exist.

“The first fish I made was supposed to be a mahi, but it may have morphed into something different. I’m not really sure,” said Malay, whose first fish hangs inside Speakeasy Pizza in Ship Bottom, which he owns. “I try to make some fish that are specific species. But mainly, I just make fish. Who knows what they are? Some are supposed to be stripers, but they don’t always turn out that way.”

Right now, the whales are hot. Denise Malay said she has five customers on a list, awaiting the arrival of a newly made whale. Of course, with Chris making pizzas most of the summer, those orders will take some time to fill.

“Every year, I try to make more of them, and as soon as I make one, it’s gone,” he said. “That’s a good thing, and I’m glad people like them. But whales take some time to make, and I need to have the right materials to do them.”

In between the occasional big-whale projects and making additional fish, Malay also continues to make the signature item of Bigfoot Birdhouses – that being birdhouses. And while the fish and whales are popular, he enjoys making the birdhouses because they serve an obvious dual purpose.

“Chris really likes the fact that birds actually use them and that something he makes benefits the environment in some way,” said his mom. “His backyard is a like a bird sanctuary. Birdhouses were his first love, so he really likes making them.”

For birdhouses, Chris not only uses wood and various materials already mentioned, but he often uses old license plates for the roofing. He’s even used a book, his mother said.

“I probably have hundreds of license plates in my garage,” he said. “But they’re getting expensive to get, so I’m limiting how much I use them now. Back when I started – 20 years ago – I used to be able to get a box of licenses plates for a buck. Now, some of them are $20 each, so I don’t buy as many anymore.

“But I don’t use anything new on a birdhouse. I might put one shiny screw on it, more as an attraction piece so a bird sees it. I even used a really old cast-iron frying pan on one. It’s fun to take a bunch of old stuff and build it into something a bird might live in.”

Which lent itself to this question: Does Chris make other wildlife dwellings?

“I’ve done bat houses, and they’re not quite as decorative because they need to be more functional for bats than anything,” he said. “I’ve done a butterfly house, and a toad house wouldn’t be out of the question. I can do anything, as long as I’m using old stuff to make it.”

He also needs the time to make them. Once the summer pizza-making season is over, Malay will start spending several days a week, 8 to 10 hours a day sometimes, churning out fish, whales, birdhouses and anything else he chooses to make.

“Mom’s asked me to do a mermaid for her shop, but I don’t know about that one,” he said with a laugh. “I really want to do a hammerhead shark soon, and I want to get into doing some welding projects that I haven’t gotten to yet. But pretty soon, I’ll be done with pizza for the season, and I can concentrate on making fish and whatever else. I’ll just get out there in the garage, crank up the music and get to it.”

And his mother can’t wait.

“He needs to stop making pizza and just do fish, whales and birdhouses,” she said, laughing. “I say that half tongue-in-cheek because I know he loves doing both. And I know his customers enjoy the pizza as much as our customers enjoy his craftwork. What he does with his craftwork, though, is really special, because it’s so unique. Everything he does has his personality in it. His pieces are quirky and funky, but they’re functional.”

However, if you want to see how quirky and funky they are and find just the right fish for the walls in your home or business, the main option is to stop by Downtown Consignment. Malay doesn’t take orders through a website, nor does he use Facebook to generate interest.

“My mom’s shop is where you find them and buy them,” he said. “We try to keep it simple. I make them. I give them to her. She uses the shop to sell them. As I make more, we put them there. Nothing fancy, just a simple show up and pick one. That’s how we roll.”

Downtown Consignment is on Facebook and Instagram, in case you want to connect via social media. Store hours are Thursday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The phone number is 609-978-3633.

David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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