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Business News/ News / She Spends $1,000 a Month Decorating Homes No One Will Ever Go Inside
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She Spends $1,000 a Month Decorating Homes No One Will Ever Go Inside

wsj

Newcomers are upending the once-fusty dollhouse scene—decking out wee abodes that could belong in the (mini) Hamptons

Michael Hogan says the hobby is a way for him to use his knack for decorating, on a very small scale.Premium
Michael Hogan says the hobby is a way for him to use his knack for decorating, on a very small scale.

So far this year, Michael Hogan has spent more than $5,000 on metal bar stools, a curved sofa and other modern décor to furnish a newly built home he’ll never live in. That is because the dwelling is so small it is better suited for a resident the size of a mouse.

Hogan is among a new cohort of dollhouse devotees who are shaking up how grown-ups indulge in the classic children’s hobby. Instead of outfitting old-timey homes with old-timey décor, they are assembling contemporary miniature abodes packed with tiny versions of trendy trappings sold in stores such as IKEA and West Elm.

For Hogan, whose real domicile is a late 1970s colonial in Columbus, Ohio, the pastime he took up a few years ago has become a practical way for him to live out his penchant for decorating, at one-twelfth scale. “I’m 45 and not about to change my career," says Hogan, who works in communications. He also spent $5,000 on the frame of his wee, 12-inch high house, which is in the style of a New York City brownstone. With modern dollhouses, “you’re doing a lot of the same things as an interior designer," he says.

Many recent entrants got into itty-bitty décor while homebound during the pandemic, reeled in by social media and reality shows such as “Best in Miniature," which made its debut on CBS last year.

“They’re not interested in the same stuff their grandparents had," says Glen Anderson, of the customers who patronize his online business, which sells dollhouse items, including a tiny $169 apothecary chest and a yea big $145 nonworking electric guitar.

Dollhouse enthusiasts today are also younger than the much grayer crowd Anderson, who lives in Ontario, Canada, used to see at dollhouse conventions. “Before it was all walkers and electric scooters," he says, while now attendees in their 30s and 40s are common.

The online marketplace Etsy features nearly a half-million listings for dollhouses and accessories. Searches there for dollhouse kits are up 29% from a year ago, and up 22% for miniature furniture, according to the company’s data.

Part of the hobby’s appeal is that it serves as a relaxing creative outlet, says Samantha Wolov, a 39-year-old photographer and dollhouse enthusiast in San Francisco. “It’s no different than having a stressful day and going for a run," she says. “With everything going on in the world, the opportunity to lose yourself even for just a few hours is such a privilege."

Dollhouses date to the Renaissance era when upper-class European women sought to show off their wealth by commissioning so-called cabinet houses complete with tiny versions of their possessions, according to Darren T. Scala, a curator of miniature exhibitions in Yonkers, N.Y. Some of the largest, most intricate collections are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and housed in museums around the globe.

These days, some dollhouse newbies are also shaking up tradition by embracing artisans who use 3-D printers, design software and laser cutters. Proponents say the technology allows for more precise work in less time.

Building miniatures by hand is “very tedious and it is next to impossible to make six to eight identical chairs," says Paris Renfroe, a Las Vegas-based designer of contemporary dollhouse architecture and décor.

Others prefer to stick with only classic tools such as tweezers, razorblades and glue. Working with a computer would be “like cheating," says Ron Stetkewicz, a dollhouse artisan in Cairo, N.Y.

He cringed at a recent industry convention when he saw another vendor selling a miniature dresser with a marble-like top for $40. “It was made of plastic," says Stetkewicz. “I sell the same but with real marble and charge $250."

Since discovering dollhouse groups on Facebook a few years ago, Nancy Pulsfort, 62, has been spending about $1,000 a month on Midcentury Modern furniture and accessories for the dozen dollhouses, 20 roomboxes and six dioramas on display in her den. “I went deep down the rabbit hole," she says.

It takes Pulsfort two to three months to furnish a dollhouse from top to bottom. She starts by purchasing old ones from online auctions, then guts them and installs new flooring, wallpaper and working lights before furnishing it.

Though pricey, the pastime is at least cheaper than refurbishing the conventional brick home in Winston-Salem, N.C., that she and her husband have lived in for the past 20 years. “I can’t redesign my house every weekend," she says. “But I can do miniatures all the time."

Emily Brouilette, 46, grew up in a four-floor Victorian built in the 1800s. When she got into dollhouse collecting a few years ago, she invested in an ultra-industrial domicile resembling stacked shipping containers. “I’m like, I’m an adult. I have money and I’m going to go do it," she says.

Brouilette, a financial planner who lives near Chicago, says she spent about $10,000 on the project. Her most prized miniature purchase to date is a framed poster of her favorite band, the Rolling Stones, that measures a little more than an inch in height and width. A tiny copy of her husband’s favorite book, “Moby-Dick," rests on a tiny night stand. “I wanted my mini house to very much reflect me and my husband living there, though mini versions of us would be kind of weird," she says.

Brouilette has finished decorating her doll-less dollhouse, but she still makes occasional changes and enjoys just looking at her creation.

“It’s like the perfect house," she says. “I wish I could live there for real."

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at Sarah.Needleman@wsj.com

For her mini dwelling, Brouilette spent $275 on a mini Akita, a breed of canine she wishes she could accommodate in her own home. ‘I just don’t have the space or resources to have a 100-pound dog,’ she says.
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For her mini dwelling, Brouilette spent $275 on a mini Akita, a breed of canine she wishes she could accommodate in her own home. ‘I just don’t have the space or resources to have a 100-pound dog,’ she says.

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