DOLLHOUSE

October 6th, 2011

Jens Risom’s prefab weekend house was built for dollhousing.

Pretty positive this was his intent all along…

I want to go here.

Using this handy archived LIFE article, I figured out the basic dimensions and floor plan of the prefab in order to….

You guessed it. Be an insane person.

I designed a 1:12″ scale model in Sketchup in an attempt to discern how to properly build this little prefab sucker for the I’m A Giant Dollhouse Challenge.

Well, in computer land I am a master carpenter and wunderkind of miniature construction. In real life? Struggling desperately to build anything resembling a dollhouse – let alone something as complex as this seemingly simple prefab turned out to be.

I gave up after a botched build attempt that was wrought with many tears and loud obscenities and general fist shaking at the sky. Calmed down and regrouped, I settled on building a funky retro a-frame cabin instead.

Because that triangle crap was supposed to be easier.

Ta-Da.

Behold the start.

This little a-frame is about 22″wide x 20″tall x 30″deep. With the loft included, that’s a cozy 800 sq inch vacation home, well, if you were about 6″ tall.

In order to build this thang, I picked up a 8’x4′ sheet of 1/4″ luan plywood and a wide assortment of different molding and hobby wood from the Home Depot for about $50.

I even bought a cheap mini baby miter saw to help me cut all that mini lumber. Everything dollhouse is so teensy-tiny that I’m having trouble getting clean cuts with proper angles and still need to figure out a way to miter longer and wider sections of wood for furniture building.

Here is the underside of the cabin loft, otherwise known as a PAIN IN MY ASS.

Hey angles. I hate you.

Constructing the a-frame creates complicatedly annoying angles that I somehow failed to realize would be a huge building issue. Case in point, that ghost of a glue line? That is where I did some very bad math and dropped the loft to about 7″ above the floor instead of 9″.

Nobody wants 7″ tall ceilings, dammit. Nobody.

Beside construction, another major hurdle is my extreme lack of mini furnishings.

I did find this little ship in a bottle for a couple bucks at a vintage shop. This could work all by itself, right? Minimalism to the extreme.

Mini furniture – especially modern – is so unbelievably costly that it makes me want to lay down and give up. I am obsessing over those REAC mini chairs, which apparently have the cruel ability to fill my life with torment and longing and unrequited desire. This dollhouse thing has become soul crushingly complicated since these teensy modern furnishings hunger for dollars I don’t have.

Maybe, hypothetically, if a company had some mini modern furniture in 1:12 scale (that just happened to be a little dining set or couple of lounge chairs or fridge or whatever) and storage is running short and perhaps desperation sets in to free up some extra space…I mean…wink wink. HINT HINT. I could take some off your hands. For reals, I can easily help out with that. It’s no problem. At all.

(Shut up. I’m desperate and have been hand-building things from scratch that quickly turn into pure garbage. The despair of my constant failure can only be expressed by playing slow mournful melodies on a miniature violin while weeping uncontrollably)

This hand built furniture thing is turning out…well…there’s a learning curve.

This little bench didn’t work out quite how I’d hoped and is bit of a Monet (check out that sly Clueless reference – just keeping my cultural nods dated for your pleasure). It was a test-it-prototype and other ‘tests’ have been burned, buried and the earth slated where they lay.

Ever the optimist, I’m still trying to figure out what the right gauge wire is for bending into table bases, how to cleanly and sharply bend wire, how to attach brass tubes together for lamps and how to build and upholster a mini Toga sofa. Imagine brass table bases, raw wood, mini 1970’s Sciolari chandeliers, some Donald Judd modernism and rustic bits all up in here. My single ‘make this happen or burn it all to the ground’ goal is constructing the perfect brass hot tub for the deck.

Because that’s how my cabin rolls.

I still have to float the cabin up on a base, attach the deck + sun-shades, build out the interior walls, build the loft ladder + bathroom + kitchen cabinets, install windows, figure out doors, paint stuff, add roofing, build furniture and then so much more forever and ever. Good thing those wacky interior angles aren’t turning me into a complete crazy person and none of this is going to be an epic failure.

How do hardcore dollhouse people do this? It is (admittedly) really fun, but also, frustratingly challenging.

Props to you mini modern makers. Mad respect.

Maybe my personality is not a good fit for hobbies.

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    56 Comments

    1. simone on 10/06/2011:

      Hi Morgan; I don’t know if I wrote this in your last post about this doll house, but there are things like “Fab-Lab’s” all over the world, the concept is to make 3d printing accesible and affordable to everybody. On the internet you can find 3d-models for a lot of modern furniture (architects use these for computerrenderings etc.) scale them down to the nessesary scale and see if you can get these printed somewhere near you. Also you can laser cut things like wood/ plywood/ acrylic (up to 8 or 12 mm) so you could make a design in like 2 mm ply, have it cut out and then assemble it for this dollhouse. Just a thought. (First again jeah!!!)

    2. simone on 10/06/2011:

      This is wher you can find them: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/about/labs/
      The laser cutting is also available at the fablab.There are also 3d-printers you can buy as an assembly-kit online for about 500 USD. A very very laborintensive project though.They are quite pretty.

    3. The brick house on 10/06/2011:

      That just seems like it would cost a fortune. I remeber my school had one of those printers and it was crazy expensive…plus there’s no location near me.

      My goal is to spend as close to zero dollars as I can. Already failed, but hey, a girl can dream.

    4. simone on 10/06/2011:

      The fab-labs are non-profit.

    5. Florian on 10/06/2011:

      In university and as an intern in architecture offices I spent a lot of time building models and sometime even some model furniture. If you’d like some advice from a seasoned miniature builder, here it is:

      -Get yourself good tools and materials
      Stay calm and concentrated
      Don’t cut corners – if it’s not right, do it again
      Do some pieces very detailed, and some quite abstract.

    6. Florian on 10/06/2011:

      whoopsy, posted before I was finished….

      Find a decent shop with assistants who know their stuff.
      The right glue for the right job.
      Stay calm!

    7. Lunaluna on 10/06/2011:

      Tried the old doll house thing myself. Facinating, maddening, frustrating COSTLY !!!!! but so much fun. I ditto everything Florian said and would – ‘add measure twice, cut once’. Go for it, if anyone can do it and do it well, you can. (I love that little bench by the way :)

    8. Lunaluna on 10/06/2011:

      er… that should read……Florian said and would add ‘measure twice – cut once’

    9. sara on 10/06/2011:

      Wow. Impressive!

    10. bri@me you and a wiener on 10/06/2011:

      I’ve been making all of mine out of crap I already had. I don’t find it frustrating yet. I picked out pieces from 1stdibs I intended on building in mini. Im guessing that’s when the frustrating part will begin.

    11. Hana on 10/06/2011:

      Not to be a thorn in your side and stuff, but have you seen what’s Logan (at OneFortyThree) been doing? I want to buy every single piece he’s made so far (even though I don’t really want a dollhouse :D), and now he’s all “oh, I’ve made too many coffee tables; what shall I ever do with them?” Well I’m sure he’d want you to have them O:-) With some wire-bending advice to boot O:-)

    12. Susan on 10/06/2011:

      You really need to check out this guy: http://onefortythree.com/home/?p=1807. He might sell you some for a reasonable amount. His stuff is amazing and he’s doing the dollhouse challenge as well.

    13. The brick house on 10/06/2011:

      Of course I know Logan. He made the lamps in my den and bedroom. He is also making me jealous with his wire bending and geodesic dome.

    14. Suzy8track on 10/06/2011:

      Holy crap! I want to live in that!

    15. Ellen on 10/06/2011:

      I am officially a blog yenta.

      http://onefortythree.com/home/?p=1807

    16. big-dewey on 10/06/2011:

      I’m telling ya sister leave the miniatures for the architecture students. Get yourself some big-girl tools and build some real honest-to-god sh*t. By the time you’re done with this miniatures project you could have otherwise built a 1:1 scandanavian credenza, or a Nelson bench or that perfect wall unit or or or …

    17. Alan on 10/06/2011:

      Fantastic post. That mini miter saw makes my day.

    18. Carol Morehead on 10/06/2011:

      There is a blog called Raumfurrraum.BLOGSPOT.COM/ (roomforroom) where the artist makes minis from found objects and recycles stuff. Full of great ideas! C

    19. Laura on 10/06/2011:

      Barbie furniture? Too big? I can’t build crap but this is exciting to watch. All thrifting has now turned in to me looking in the small cases for stuff I would want to get, very cute teeny pink lamp and chair sighted yesterday in Tennessee.

    20. Trude on 10/06/2011:

      Dang girl, you’re doing a heckuva lot better than I would be! That inspiration house is amazing. Could you use actual hairpins or paperclips for furniture legs?

    21. Karey on 10/06/2011:

      if i shrink myself down, can i come live in your dollhouse? i LOVE a-frame cabins, and i think yours will turn out well. hang in there.

    22. kim on 10/06/2011:

      you’ve probably seen this but just in case:
      mini bullet planters
      http://modernkiddo.com/?p=5950

    23. Amanda on 10/06/2011:

      This is such a neat project. I admire your commitment. Can’t wait to see what else you’ll do!

      I’m still smiling about that mini miter saw!

    24. tracy on 10/06/2011:

      complete awesomeness. (i’ve had a tear-sheet of this prefab on my board for 10 yrs now…)

    25. What a pretty house and a great inspiration!

    26. Fran on 10/06/2011:

      Hi, Call of the Small pointed me to your post; I can relate to your frustration completely. It was/is my job (yes, my real job) to assemble and finish this A-frame: http://www.miniatures.com/Get-A-Way-Chalet-by-Houseworks-P22389.aspx. You are wise to make yours a little bigger because it was very challenging to make anything fit in this one! And one other tip: do not underestimate the time it will take to finish the roof, it is huge!

      For making modern furniture, I point you to Pinch of Pepper’s blog, Mitchy Moo Miniatures (another lead from CotS). Here’s a link to one tutorial: http://mitchymoominiatures.blogspot.com/2011/04/four-modern-chairs-for-under-10.html
      but you will enjoy others as well; she makes wonderful things.

      Good luck!
      Fran (FranMadeMinis on Etsy)

    27. THE BRICK HOUSE on 10/06/2011:

      Kim – no I didn’t – thank you! They are perfect.

    28. Kris on 10/06/2011:

      I would try 16 and 18 gauge wire for your mini table bases. 20 gauge will be too thin, 18 might be too, 14 will be too hard to work with. if you find it, make sure to get “dead soft” brass wire. available on riogrande.com

    29. emily henderson on 10/07/2011:

      this is sick. in a healthy way, of course. and to think i was making a capiz shell chandelier out of capiz shell buttons. Well, i still am, but this is looks rad.

    30. The Wits on 10/07/2011:

      I wish I could go all Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and live in this. Nice! Crazy good inspiration right there. I have enough problems repairing/refinishing normal sized furniture. Bravo!

    31. The Wits on 10/07/2011:

      I wish I could go all Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and live in this. Nice! Crazy good inspiration right there. I have enough problems repairing/refinishing normal sized furniture. Bravo!

    32. The Wits on 10/07/2011:

      Umm…yeah so I liked it so much I said it twice.

    33. Richard Beall on 10/07/2011:

      This post made me laugh for the first time today! Kudos, you! :) You do amazing work

    34. B. on 10/07/2011:

      Superglue a length of stiff wire to a thimble. It’s way easier to get that tool into tight spaces to manipulate things than using your fingers. Also, tweezers.

    35. J on 10/07/2011:

      You are my kind of fanatic. Here’s a stupid (could be brilliant, often close so why not ask it) question from someone who knows nothing about the contest or dollhouse furniture… Since you are such a pro with the 3d rendering couldn’t you make essentially a paper doll/origami-like version of furniture? You know, printed on great paper with tabs and slots on the furniture edges, as in paper dolls, kind of build them like origami paper doll… um…furniture? Its not like the 6″ high people would crush them when they sat down.

    36. Logan on 10/07/2011:

      Damn, that framing is legit. This thing would pass building inspections in most states. This is gonna turn out way cool.

    37. Jsea on 10/08/2011:

      Just saw this on Fab.com. http://fab.com/sale/1311/
      Designer dollhouse decor on sale!! woot!

    38. Donald on 10/08/2011:

      It’s not free, but it’s modern and dollhouse specific, and sick, but just today a sale of modern dollhouse furniture opened up at fab.com. It’s a flash sale site, you have to register to look, but at the least it might be good for inspiration. And it’s on sale.

    39. Donald on 10/08/2011:

      It’s not free, but it’s modern and dollhouse specific, and sick, but just today a sale of modern dollhouse furniture opened up at fab.com. It’s a flash sale site, you have to register to look, but at the least it might be good for inspiration. And it’s on sale. Crap, just like what the person above me said.

    40. Dulce@lavitapetite on 10/08/2011:

      It’s looking really good! Your craft is incredibly good especially for someone who did not go through years (major torture) of model making. I am an architect and we were graded on how perfect our models were…along with the design. I am also joining along btw-never thought i would miss my model-making days, lol
      I chose to build a very classic colonial house. I love that it’s a big unpretentious box. To be honest, if i had designed the whole thing by scratch-i would have taken years to ‘perfect’ the design. A pre-designed house was the only way to make it a deadline friendly project :)
      Here is my progress:
      http://lavitapetite.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/im-a-giant-here-i-come/

    41. pam on 10/09/2011:

      Hey, I have a Vitra miniature tulip chair that I’ll trade you for…hmmm, what do you have that I could _possibly_ want? Maybe that cheap-o new coffee table of yours? I’ll even pay the shipping costs to Texas, or come pick it up. (What a pal, huh?)

      Seriously, I would, and seriously, I can’t wait to see the finished-and-furnished A-frame. I’m sure it will be fabulous.

    42. christina on 10/09/2011:

      The house is looking amazing so far! I can’t wait to see what you will do. I’m hoping someone will come up with a working arc lamp mini, since I haven’t been able to figure out how to make one yet. This rug would look great in your tiny house-
      http://www.elfminiatures.co.uk/Kilim+rug%2C+natural+PWt6TjRFRE14b0RkalZIWnZKSGM

    43. Megan on 10/09/2011:

      Damn Morgan. I am SERIOUSLY impressed at how fast you built this and how good it looks. KUDOS. I am jealous. :) Can’t wait to see more.

    44. Silje on 10/10/2011:

      Hi.
      Have you tried molding furniture out of Cernit?
      It’s cheap and very flexible.
      Here you have some home made furniture, not made by a carpenter:
      http://blog.brinja.dk/category/miniature/
      Good luck!

    45. abby on 10/11/2011:

      duude, i’m having flashbacks to my childhood aka the mini mental ward (which started when my parents built me a townhouse from a bookcase). oh stories.

      tick tock tick tock, you are getting sleepy and your mind is scaling down: finials become baulstrades, spools become stools, doilies become molding when painted over. oh lordy, tripping. xoa

    46. Debbi on 10/13/2011:

      Love this!! I share your frustration with failed attempts-but oh, how sweet it is when something works!! Instead of wire for your table bases, lamps etc., try metal tubing. Check out 1inchminisbykris.blogspot.com and look for her “how to make a metal tubular kitchen chair” for what to use and how to bend it, etc. She has TONS of great tutorials there-I’ve learned a LOT from her! I’ll keep checking back to see your progress! It looks far more professional than any of my stuff so far! You’re inspiring me!

    47. snowfern on 10/15/2011:

      oh but the results are so satisfying, i share your pain with the angle thing, but look at how amazing it is….*sighs wistfully*

    48. bigBANG studio on 10/16/2011:

      MORGAN. We already knew this, but DAMN are you are my kind of woman.

    49. kim on 10/25/2011:

      Loving it, especially the furniture!

    50. The Tiny Keyhole on 11/02/2011:

      Quite breath taking, absolutely stunning!

    51. tara on 11/02/2011:

      I was just in Naples, they have a street in the historic centre where they have tonnes of shops that sell mini things!!
      I’ve yet to look into the craze & why it exists, but I think it has something to do with nativity scene diorama obsessions – though, I note there were loads of other crazy & profane things you could buy …
      di Michele pizza & mini things – go Naples!
      Sweet project.

    52. jack on 03/02/2013:

      Can you possibly send me the dimension or the sketchup file?

      Want to build a full scale summer place along these lines.

      I would be so grateful!

    53. 婦人靴 通販

    54. Marion on 03/22/2014:

      have you finished the house? I am wondering how you assembled/left open the spaces/walls/roof so that one can look into the rooms downstairs? or did you just work with being able to take the roof off?

      jack: I drew the plans and send you a pdf.
      marion@mrd.ch

    55. 3Up Beth on 03/23/2014:

      Can you send me the sketchup file too?? I know that’s a ton of work!!

    56. Melissa Johnson on 11/14/2014:

      Hey there! OK. I have decided to try my hand at an a-frame dollhouse. Before you yell at me “NOOOO” I was wondering if you could tell me how you cut the angles (ie: did you use a jig saw or table saw) (ground to roof point) and what angle you used. I think the 20 inch base sounds good. I think my jig saw will be used (I can move the plate into any angle). I haven’t even started on this and it is keeping me up at night! Any advice you have will be greatly appreciated!

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