By Laura DeSisto
Photography by Sarah Hinchey
Hair and makeup by Lisa Grisolia
ingham’s Diana Cousineau Aveni has a dizzying array of credits on her resume. A talented fine artist and accomplished home chef/cookbook author turned interior designer (she’s the owner of Hingham Furniture & Design and Framing Concepts) Aveni has never shied away from a challenge or a chance to expand on her skills. But there’s one thing that she herself didn’t see coming – the fulfillment that would come from raising chickens in her backyard. The inspiration for her new hobby arose after Aveni noticed that eggs from commercially-raised chickens were making her feel ill.
“Concerned that I might have an egg allergy, I spoke with my doctor,” says Aveni. “He explained it most likely isn’t an allergy. Conventional eggs from chickens raised in close quarters can release toxins from stress that seeps into their eggs and causes inflammation in the human body,” says Aveni. “I thought, well, I love eggs so I guess I’ll just have to build a chicken coop in my backyard and then treat my chickens like queens so they are happy!”
As with everything she does, Aveni meticulously designed her hen house. Were it not for the wood shavings on the floor, the cedar plank-sided coop could easily pass for a home office or a “she shed,” with its double French doors and brick herringbone walkway. An automatic door lifts up at sunrise and closes at sunset to allow the chickens access to an attached outdoor run.
“Chickens have poor vision and their internal clock tells them to go inside at dusk for their own safety,” says Aveni. The coop is also fully heated and air-conditioned. “Nothing but the best for my girls,” she laughs.
In order to serve up fresh microgreens for her hens, she also commissioned an adjacent 20-by-32-foot pine-sided greenhouse. In addition to greens, she grows fruits and vegetables for herself and her husband, Steve. Polyacrylic walls and roofing help to capture warmth and sunlight, allowing Aveni to grow produce in every season. An oversized, 12-bulb pendant light with aged brass rods and hand-blown glass hangs high from the ceiling and anchors the open, airy space. “That light fixture reminded me of a dandelion, which seems so appropriate for a greenhouse.” says Aveni.
Standing in front of the chicken coop, the designer points to a hand carved sign above its double doors, which reads: Hooha’s Cluckingham Palace.
“My husband Steve nicknamed me Hooha a long time ago,” laughs Aveni. “And the palace part is a nod to the fact that my chickens definitely get the royal treatment.” Not surprisingly, those chickens – a mix of Rhode Island Reds, Isa Browns, Australian Ocelots and the largest of all, Brahmas – have monikers to suit their noble status. There’s Queen B, Duchess, Highness, and My Lady, to name a few.
This new endeavor has added even more to Aveni’s already jam-packed daily routine of zipping between her warehouse in Weymouth and client appointments. “I feed my girls first thing in the morning and do a daily clean up in their coop,” says Aveni. “Even though it seems a bit much, it actually feels like I’m slowing down because I am connecting to the natural rhythms of the day. People really cannot believe Diana Aveni is cleaning out a chicken coop! They know me as the Gucci-wearing lady who is always impeccably dressed.”
But those closest to Aveni know that this new venture is not as much of a departure as it may seem. “I grew up in Connecticut where we had an enormous backyard garden,” she says. “I have professional culinary training and worked my way through college at high-end restaurants where I was inspired by quality ingredients. By building a greenhouse I am now able to step right outside and get that same quality.”
Before her days as an interior designer, Aveni wrote and illustrated a series of three cookbooks titled, “Cooking to Please for Good Health and Happiness.”
“That title was actually pretty foretelling,” says Aveni. “Because my own health has improved so much since I started raising chickens and growing my own produce. Besides being able to eat eggs again, my asthma and other allergies are so much better.”
The free-spirited designer isn’t exactly sure what’s next for her, other than her determination to embrace a more relaxed pace after a very hectic and stressful COVID period. As for her husband, Aveni says he is always supportive of her sometimes ‘wacky and creative energy.’
“I never question my wife,” says Steve. “I could come home to a giraffe in our backyard and it wouldn’t surprise me.”
And that’s a good thing, because a few weeks after our interview, without her husband’s knowledge, a box of baby ducks arrived at the Aveni’s home. “What can I say?” she laughs. “Duck eggs make the fluffiest pastry!”
Hooha’s Stracciatella Soup
Serves 2 to 3
2 large, farm-raised eggs
4 cups low-sodium chicken bone broth
4 teaspoons finely grated, lightly packed Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon panko breadcrumbs (toasted for added flavor) or semolina flour
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Handful spinach leaves, sliced into 1/2-inch ribbons (can also use chard, arugula, sorrel, or any tender green)
Place broth in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer.
In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and black pepper. Once the stock is simmering, stir in the sliced spinach.
Pour the egg mixture into the soup. Do not stir. After a few seconds, stir the mixture gently into the soup. Cook at a gentle simmer for another minute.