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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Berze brings experience to large and small projects

Monday, March 8, 2010

Craftsman Bill Berze, right, talks with Roachdale resident Bonnie Yarhaus about his newest projects--Cozy Cat Habitats. The one-of-a-kind cat condos can be custom ordered to fit the lifestyle of any pampered feline.
GREENCASTLE -- Bill Berze doesn't own cats. He is a dog lover, but his newest creations are designed to provide felines with their own luxurious condos.

Called Cozy Cat Habitats, these homes feature garages, heat lamps, two stories, windows and carpeting in many models.

The 89-year-old Latvian craftsman custom creates the habitats to fit individual taste of cats and owners.

Berze was born in 1920 in Riga Latvia and immigrated to the United States in 1951. He began working as a carpenter in Chicago on the second day after his arrival in the states. He has never stopped working since.

For 45 years, he has built homes, remodeled buildings and designed award-winning furniture.

After retiring he moved to Indiana and continued to work on remodeling projects. In 2001, he moved to Greencastle and kept busy with remodeling projects, new home builds with his son Robert and craftwork in his home workshop.

The Cozy Cat Habitats are a result of his daughter wanting a cozy spot for her cat.

The base model with an asking price of $80 includes a food drawer, window and curtain door. For an additional $15, a flat roof can be added.

Removing "knock out" doorways in both sidewalls can interconnect all the units. All front walls are removable for easy access to the interior.

The luxury home can hold up to three cats and includes two floors with convection heat. It retails for $240.

He has built several custom furniture pieces for homeowners like Ted and Bonnie Yarhaus who live in 150-year-old home outside Roachdale.

Bill Berze custom-built the piece, above left, that covers the radiator in the 150-year-old home of Yarhaus and her husband Ted.
"We had a space where we needed something that fit with our furniture but would cover a radiator. Bill built this amazing piece that is not only gorgeous but completely functional," said Yarhaus.

Berze noted that he considers this piece one of his best if not the best of his handcrafted furniture.

The carpenter has also created trim to match the outside of the Yarhaus home as well as other furniture items.

His numerous projects were created in his mind and sketched out before their creation. Berze is a notable artist.

A chair he created for his daughter was exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute and an award winner.

Another project of his was Big John's Distillery Restaurant, built in the John Hancock Building in Chicago.

"The door was all handmade copper and the bar had copper bands, also handmade," explained the carpenter.

Berze is an artist who thinks outside the box. He built a one-of-a-kind home in Putnam County where the entry door is at an angle.

Bill Berze designed the front entry of this home to be built on an angle. It is a one-of-a-kind home in Putnam County.
"There is not another home here with such an entry," said Berze.

His home in Chicago included a cave size fireplace that rotated at the push of a button to a bar. It also featured a suspended staircase.

The craftsman had four children, including one son whom he didn't see for 30 years.

"In 1943 when Latvia was occupied by Germany, I was sent to Germany to be part of their army," explained Berze.

Berze's young son was only two years old at the time. Conscription or forced entry into the German army was a common practice.

"I didn't see him for 30 years after," Berze said.

After surrendering to the allied forces, Berze was sent to a detention area in Germany. Later he was sent to a British prison camp in Belgium and much later released in Germany.

He worked for the British Control Commission of Germany as a transport officer until he immigrated to the U.S. in 1951.

The creative Berze hasn't just built things of wood and brick; he also built a special piece of equipment for his physician son-in-law when he was practicing at Chicago's Children's Hospital.

"He needed something that would move the hips of his patients after operations to keep them from stiffening up," said Berze.

The solution came in the form of a machine that would move the hip joints for the patient. Berze still has the patent for the machine, even though he discontinued making them after Medicare refused to pay for them for patients.

In addition to his craftsman projects like the cat habitats, Berze provides free advice to people on new home and remodeling projects.

"They just need to call me and I will use my 40 years of experience to help them figure out what to do," said the octogenarian.

A sample of his free advice came from a homeowner who had cabinet doors with strong magnets.

"She couldn't get them to open easily and couldn't remove the magnets. I came up with what I call an 'Indian trick.' I took duct tape and cut it to fit the magnets so they wouldn't hold so tight," chuckled Berze.

For information about his Cozy Cat Habitats or if you need free advice on a project, call Berze at 721-1340.

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