Smallsea: an Edwardian town in miniature

In Carmel, California there resides a miniature town called Smallsea that represents what an Edwardian English seaport would have looked like in the 1900’s. The brainchild of Diane and Howard Birnberg the dollhouse town includes the basics of any town such as a church, shopping areas, a river, an old Mill, a brewery, town hall, bakery, and a farm. The tiny metropolis also includes more than 1,500 dollhouse dolls, miniature horses, carriages, and examples of early cars and buses. A variety of miniaturists, artists and dollhouse vendors have contributed to this work of love. Located in the Barnyard Shopping Center in Carmel, the miniature collection can be seen Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5:00 PM or by appointment.


The display has drawn notice from around the world and has been written about by such publications as Dollhouse and Miniature Scene Magazine, American Miniaturist, Dollhouse Miniatures, Dollhouse Magazine (UK), Miniature Collector Magazine, Carmel Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Monterey County Herald.


Smallsea came about after one of the creators Diane Birnberg fell in love with miniatures on a visit to a dollhouse shop in London called the Singing Tree. Diane was in London for a business trip connected with her money management business in Chicago. During the visit to the dollhouse shop, Diane spent time talking to the owner of the shop about the world of miniatures and dollhouses and a new passion was born. She particularly became enchanted with an English Georgian dollhouse. After returning home she told her husband, Howard, about her new enthusiasm and he promptly bought her the Georgian dollhouse for Christmas. The Georgian dollhouse became the inspiration for Smallsea. Nine new dollhouse buildings soon followed all created by Carol Olsen and Leon Pitt of Think Small in Chicago. Soon after, Diane who has a degree in art history and her husband, Howard who is an architect decided to try making the dollhouse buildings themselves. They started with renovating old miniature buildings and dollhouses then moved on to making them by hand from the start. Their first unique miniature is the Explorers’ Gentlemen’s Club which remains part of the Smallsea collection. In addition to creating the miniature town, the couple also created a story to add to the romance of the collection, about the inhabitants known as the Twelfths whose existence was discovered by nine year old Lady Anna Truloe Lamson in 1905.


After retiring from the financial world in 2008, Diane and Howard relocated to Carmel, California and they continued with their avocation for miniatures which now has 36 buildings. All of the miniature buildings are based on what real shops, homes and buildings would have looked like in the London area in the years from 1900 to 1905. The full collection contains newly constructed miniatures and a few antique dollhouses and buildings the couple picked up at auctions in England. Future buildings are expected to include a rectory, restaurant, department store and a schoolhouse. A virtual visit can be made to the town of Smallsea at At the website one can also read about the history of the imaginary miniature inhabitants of the town, the Twelfths who according to the website have lived in different areas of the earth since the beginning of time before coming to Smallsea.

Kim Saulter: A Miniaturist in Profile

Kim Saulter of Healdsburg, California is known as a fine miniature sculptor who creates all kinds of things miniature using polymer clay. Ms. Saulter is also a confirmed miniature lover who has been collecting and creating her own miniature dollhouses, shadow boxes and other small buildings for more than twenty years. The mother of five, she still found time to begin experimenting with polymer clay as a sculpting medium for miniatures about five years ago and has been busy ever since. Her favorite miniature buildings are shops that she fills with her handcrafted small items.


Kim has now become the author of a blog on miniatures where she provides updates on her latest projects so her many admirers can see what she is working on. Her main focus is on kitchens which are the perfect background for all the small pieces of art that she sculpts. There is incredible attention to detail in her miniatures and in her dollhouse settings. With a focus on shabby cottage interior design, the rooms just make you want to move right in and enjoy the delightful repasts of pies, cupcakes, fruit and blueberry muffins.


She loves miniature kitchens so much she even wrote a book about them called Miniature Kitchen Loves and Sweet Inspirations that depicts the most wonderful dollhouse kitchens you have ever seen filled with her own miniature masterpieces including baked goods, utensils, food, cookbooks and even appliances large and small. The book is a wonderful inspiration if you are looking for ideas to decorate a dollhouse kitchen. The color photos make you want to go just that little bit farther to make dollhouse rooms come alive.


For further inspiration, you will want to check out her incredibly adorable miniature campers. Campers could be the next big thing in dollhouses – everybody is going to want one after seeing Ms. Saulter’s fun miniatures. Her dollhouse sized campers – (all of her creations are in the popular 1:12 scale) are pink, girly, vintage and filled with roses and polka dots. She has created a vintage trailer and a portable pastry wagon with miniature balloons! Even the hubcaps are pink.


In addition to her blog, and her book and her postings on Pinterest this miniature artist has now started her own publication called MINI-OLOGIE MAGAZINE. At this point the new magazine is not available as a subscription but is priced per issue. MINI-OLOGIE is issues four times a year with the most recent issue being her Holiday 2013 Keepsake issue. Check out the magazine at


You can visit her blog called It’s a Miniaturists Life at or visit her postings on Pinterest at

Heroes and Dollhouses

There are some magical people out there who spend their free time constructing dollhouses for children who are sick or disadvantaged. This includes our friend Anne at Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer and a growing number of individuals around the world who have learned what a dollhouse can mean to a child when struggling with a disease or poverty in their lives.


Consider Earl Hurshman who as a retiree and a widower found he had too much time on his hands. According to Earl after fifty years of marriage to his wife Bernadette he is still in the habit of asking her advice. He visits her grave on an almost daily basis taking her favorite flower a red rose and at 81 he found himself asking her what he could do with his time. He claims her advice was quick and responsive and told him to get off his bum and do something worthwhile. As a retired steel fabricator who had always been good with his hands and loved wood working, Earl came up with the idea to build dollhouses so that low income parents and grandparents could give them as presents to their special children. At this point he now uses almost his entire Social Security check for the dollhouse kits, paints and miniature items he needs to make others happy. Earl states that he needs very little for himself, “I live modestly and I don’t need anything, I don’t want anything.” He considers his dollhouse giving a mission and he doesn’t just hand them out without getting to know the individuals he is creating the dollhouses for. Earl finds families for his dollhouses through flyers that he puts up around town and through referrals from friends. According to Earl, once I find a family, “I meet with them first and find out a little bit about their situation.” And he loves the hugs. In 2013 Earl created twelve completed dollhouses to give away. He makes sure to include fire stations and barns for boys in addition to more traditional dollhouses.  Earl thinks Bernadette would be proud of how he spends his time.


Another individual who is creating his own magic with dollhouses is Ken Christopherson who builds dollhouses and miniature barns from the start to give away to sick children in hospitals like the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas where he lives. His idea to make dollhouses for children who are gravely ill comes from seeing children in the hospital when he was visiting his wife Cecelia who is a survivor of breast cancer. To date Ken has created 62 dollhouses and barns cutting each piece of wood including every piece of furniture. The completed dollhouses stand approximately two feet tall and each one takes approximately 100 hours to complete. The barns which are a big hit with boys do not contain traditional farm animals but dinosaurs and other scary creatures. Both the dollhouses and barns are specifically made so they can fit easily on a patient’s tray table so they can be played with from their beds.


Recipients of the miniature masterpieces include Kenedi Groves age seven who is awaiting a heart transplant who states that, “I love my dollhouse, it’s special to me.”


Making your own dollhouse dolls & doll clothing

There is a plethora of information out there if you are handy and want to create your own dollhouse or adapt a dollhouse kit to make it unique. If you are interested in having a one of a kind dollhouse family for your dollhouse it can be hard to find helpful resources. What if you want a family of dollhouse sized bunnies or bears or correct period dolls at the right scale to fit your dollhouse? You might want to think about making your own dolls or in creating clothing for your dollhouse dolls that individualizes your dollhouse family.


If you want to try your hand at making your own dollhouse family of dolls it helps if you have either artistic skills or sewing skills or both but there are resources for the beginner. There is a wonderful vintage book called Dollhouse People: A Doll Family You Can Make by Tracey Campbell Pearson. Using fairly basic sewing skills and the directions in this book you can make simple dolls either in a realistic mode or in whatever style or animal you like. The basic supplies include scissors, needle, straight pins, pencil, paper, ruler, and an iron along with fabric, trim, thread and yarn. Pearson’s book does give very good instructions on how to sew using the assumption that you have never picked up a needle before. There are also patterns that can be traced and then used for cutting out the fabric shapes for the dolls. She includes patterns for a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and two children and an infant. In addition to dolls, Pearson also supplies instructions for making clothes for the doll people.


Maybe you are better with clay than fabric. Then you will want to check out directions on creating dollhouse dolls using polymer clay or epoxy putty provided by Lesley Shepherd on the Miniatures page. Lesley provides instructions on making either fixed or posable miniature dolls. The basis of both types of dolls is a wire armature and then the head, feet, hands, and torso are created separately. Instructions include information on sizing, proportions, and ideas for padding the doll and for making wigs for the dolls. Some experience in working with clay and artistic talent is required for this project.


Another resource is the book Making & Dressing Dollhouse Dolls in 1/12 scale by Sue Atkinson. This book details how to sculpt porcelain dolls using modeling clay and pipe cleaner bodies. There are also great patterns for miniature doll clothing covering many historical periods. Even if you are not up for creating dollhouse dolls you will get great ideas for making doll clothing in historical periods that fit your dollhouse style adding realistic detailing to your dollhouse. In addition, the great color photographs are perfect to use for ideas for a dollhouse with authentic period style.


Top Selling Dollhouses/ Miniatures for 2013

Want to know what’s hot in the world of dollhouses and miniatures? We have the latest figures on the top sellers by volume for the Magical Dollhouse for 2013.

Dolls looking for homes turned out to be the top seller at the Magical Dollhouse, with the Modern Doll Family, the easy care vinyl doll family with movable arms and legs, coming in first. This popular item includes a mother, father, daughter and baby girl. There must have been a lot of dollhouses out there without tenants.


Next up are a couple of traditional dollhouses in the Victorian style which remains the most popular type of dollhouse hands down in dollhouse sales across the country. The Beacon Hill House Kit from Greenleaf is the most sought after with its mansard roof, and myriad ornate Victorian details, three stories, all in the 1:12 scale. Buyers love the winding staircase, bay windows, three fireplaces and the elegant porch.


The Arthur Dollhouse Kit is the next most popular purchase in dollhouses. It is also by Greenleaf and appeals to buyers because of its smaller size having only four rooms, easy build instructions, lower cost, while still being an elegant Victorian home. The Arthur Dollhouse is recommended by the Magical Dollhouse as a great first dollhouse for collectors. The dollhouse features silk screened windows, Victorian gingerbread detailing and precut parts. The dollhouse being a smaller size is much easier to use for display purposes in smaller home where a large dollhouse would overwhelm the space.

Also in the top list of best sellers is the grander Pierce Dollhouse kit. Also a Victorian style of home, the Pierce contains six rooms, an attic and a secret tower room. It also offers a winding staircase, two fireplaces and a wrap around veranda.

The next most popular dollhouse in volume sales is in another arena all together. The Majestic Mansion Dollhouse by Kid Kraft is definitely a child’s dollhouse and is meant to accommodate fashion dolls such as Barbie. The dollhouse stands over four and a half feet tall and is perfect for multiple children to play with together. It is sturdy and durable and contains both wood and plastic in its composition.

Other dollhouses on the top ten list include Greenleaf’s Victorian Buttercup Dollhouse, the Finished Colonial Dollhouse and the Finished Farmhouse from Real Good Toys both in the ½” scale. To furnish all these dollhouses buyers overwhelmingly chose the economical Full House of Dollhouse Furniture kits and the sturdy Wooden Block Play Furniture set.

Make sure to share pictures of your completed dollhouse project on our Facebook page and let us know if there are different types of dollhouses, dollhouse families or miniature items you would like us to add to our inventory.

300th Dollhouse created for Kids Battling Cancer

“My daughter grew up in that dollhouse,” says a mother who lost her child to cancer. The dollhouse which was donated by Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer, allowed this child and her mother to play out events such as the daughter’s graduation from high school, her prom, her wedding and her children in the miniature walls of the dollhouse, events the daughter did not live to enjoy in real life.


Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer is a one woman effort started by Ann (who likes to remain anonymous) after hearing what children go through while dealing with cancer from her daughter Faith, an experienced nurse and soon to be nurse practitioner in the field of oncology. According to Ann, the stories of bravery and the pain of the procedures children endure in the fight against cancer broke her heart and she wanted to do something that would help bring a little happiness to their lives. In January 2014, Ann created her 300th dollhouse which will be donated to the Hope Foundation in New York. Ann started her first dollhouse for kids with cancer in 2006 and she has been making these miniature versions of hope ever since. Ann’s goal with her dollhouses is to provide children with a toy that can stimulate their imagination and help take their minds off the procedures and pain they are dealing as their bodies fight cancer.


Working in partnership with The Magical Dollhouse and its generous patrons, Ann gets to work on a new dollhouse for a child with cancer as soon as a customer donates a dollhouse for the cause. According to Anne, she can create a completed and furnished dollhouse in a week’s time. Each completed dollhouse is painted, decorated, furnished and provided with a dollhouse family before delivery. Dollhouses are created for both boys and girls though in general, there are not as many donations of miniature buildings appropriate for boys as there are for girls. To personalize the gifting, all dollhouses are first donated to doctors working with children with cancer. Each child that receives a dollhouse believes it is their doctor who is giving them the dollhouse further cementing the bond between doctor and child. Dollhouses are also donated to play rooms in children’s oncology wards, Ronald McDonald Houses, Bereavement Centers and for fundraisers for cancer research. Therapists at bereavement centers use the dollhouses for role playing with children who have lost siblings to cancer.


Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer is not an organization or a nonprofit. Ann does not accept financial donations and because of the expense and difficulty she cannot ship dollhouses to individuals or organizations. Most of the dollhouse kits are donated through the Magical Dollhouse website with the price of dollhouses subsidized and shipping of the kits to Ann being donated by Greenleaf Dollhouses. Once a dollhouse is complete they are driven to their destination by family and friends and other volunteers. One individual volunteered to drive from her home in Chicago to pick up a completed dollhouse at Ann’s home in New York and then drive it to its final destination. To purchase a dollhouse kit or other items for the cause go to Dollhouses for a Cause. You can also follow Ann’s mission on her facebook page

People Sized Dollhouse Furniture

This is an instance where a love of dollhouses may have gone right over the edge. Slovakian artist Silva Lovasova, while working on her degree in Design at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, came up with a novel idea for her senior design project. Billed as the 1:1 Collection in furniture Lovasova decided to bring the dollhouse world up to scale. Many of us upon seeing a wonderful dollhouse wonder what it would be like to take up residence in the miniature world. Lovasova decided to do it but create full size furniture based on dollhouse miniatures including all the imperfections that might be found in miniatures.

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Using software that allows designers to scan and create designs in 3D, Lovasova scanned in miniature furniture of the type found in dollhouses for very young children – rounded edge mostly plastic furniture in bright hues. The whimsical soft looking furniture that she created as a result either resembles space age furniture or a dollhouse nightmare but it is also lots of fun. It is the imperfections when brought back to life size scale that give the former dollhouse items such an interesting look in 1:1 scale. According to Lovasova, “Furniture found in various dollhouses is inspired by real elements of an adult world. Deformations and disproportions often occur in miniature. By bringing back the miniature furniture to a human scale the circle seems to close.”

The miniature items that are part of the 1:1 collection include a porcelain tea set, an armchair, bookcase, a lamp and a sideboard. The full size tea set was recreated in porcelain while most of the large items were recreated in extruded polystyrene. According to Silva the concept came about through a desire to use digital technologies in a new way, one in which the natural character of the scanned items come through. She states that without the use of a 3D scanner and CNC tools it is impossible to make exact replicas of dollhouse furniture in full size. As the result of her project, Lovasova found that one can create something entirely new with new aesthetics through copying them in an exact way.


To see more of Silva Lovasova’s designs you can visit her website at


The information in this blog comes from an article in De Zeen Magazine.

Create personalized soft furnishings for dollhouses

Toy companies and dollhouse manufacturers such as Melissa & Doug, Aztec, and others increasingly produce quality miniature furnishings for dollhouses. To really make a dollhouse special it can be rewarding and fun to create miniature items that personalize the house. Soft furnishings such as bedding, rugs, upholstered furniture, curtains or drapes, pillows, wall art, seat cushions, tablecloths, and towels are just a few of the items that can be created to customize dollhouses and add touches of realism. You can choose from simple projects that can be done with children to miniature works of art based on your skill level and determination.


If you have any sewing skills the world is yours in terms of the types of projects you can undertake to make a dollhouse stunning. Start simple with bedding coverlets from fabric pieces that is simply hemmed or straight unlined curtains that can be attached with miniature curtain rods or with Velcro. Rugs can be created from scrap pieces of upholstery fabric along with matching pillows or cushions. You can find instructions for sewing dollhouse curtains and other items on YouTube or there are some great books to get you started such as Dollhouse Furnishings for the Bedroom and Bath by Shep Stadtman.


Maybe you like to knit or to do embroidery or needlepoint. These craft skills can be used to make all sorts of unique items for a dollhouse from a needlepoint rug or wall hanging, to knitted bedding, afghans, or even fabric for upholstering furniture. For individuals who really want to create miniature masterpieces take a look at the book Dollhouse Décor: Creating Soft Furnishings in 1/12 scale by Nick and Esther Forder. This wonderful resource supplies pages and pages of inspiration for dollhouses in different styles including contemporary styles, Tudor, Georgian, Regency, Asian, Victorian, early 20th century, and Country looks. You will find detailed directions and information on different techniques that can be used.


For those of you who aren’t particularly crafty you may want to try some ideas for making soft dollhouse furnishings from upholstered pieces to bedding and cushions that are all no-sew projects. A great resource for ideas is the book Soft Furnishings for Dollhouses by Lael Combe Furgeson. The book includes information and directions for 215 projects.

The idea is to look at a dollhouse and make it as individual and interesting as your own home. A dollhouse provides a way for young budding designers to understand interior design on a small scale. Dollhouses are also a great way to try out new ideas in decorating that you may not want to try in your own living space. By creating your own personal soft furnishing touches you are adding to the value and interest of your dollhouse that will be a family heirloom for generations.

When a hobby becomes an $82,000 obsession

Peter Riches has been a fan of models and miniatures since the young age of five. Now divorced and retired from his construction business in Hove, Sussex, he is able to dedicate every day to his hobby turned miniaturist obsession of creating dollhouses. His first dollhouse which took him eight hours a day for fifteen years has now sold for approximately $82,000 to a Canadian dollhouse enthusiast. The only reason Peter gives for selling his miniature labor of love is that he needs more room to start his next dollhouse project. He also is planning either major world cruise or trips to see places on his bucket list including Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls and the Grand Canyon, for a little rest and relaxation based on his dollhouse earnings before diving into his next dollhouse creation.

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Peter Riches traditional English style dollhouse is comprised of twenty three rooms, ten bedrooms, servant’s quarter, a games room, complete with a snooker table, a library containing more than 1000 delicately bound books with individual pages made from newspaper, and a music room with a grand piano.  When Riches began the miniature dollhouse he was still running his construction business and would put in another full day on his miniature house after working on full size homes and buildings all day. Now retired, he has continued to work a full day on his miniatures. According to Riches, his family thinks him quite mad but he contends that the pastime is “perfect for me.”  “I’ve loved building it. I have found it very therapeutic and will often stay up until 3:00 AM doing it,” said Riches. He does seem a little surprised that it took fifteen years to complete the meticulously created miniature.


Every item in the dollhouse and the dollhouse itself is created to scale – something he ensures by using a magnifying glass and measuring tools. Riches was also very imaginative and green in terms of recycling in the products he used to complete the dollhouse. Snooker balls were created from necklace beads and each window in the dollhouse was handmade from plastic bottles that he flattened and cut. The basic shell of the house was made from plaster, and the 5,000 roof tiles were hand cut from cardboard. The 32,000 bricks in the dollhouse were all hand etched by Peter. His next project is reportedly a miniature castle from medieval times.


All photos are by BARCROFT MEDIA


Great Dollhouse Books for Kids

It is the holiday season and books about dollhouses make great gifts for children. If you are giving a dollhouse to a special child add a children’s book about dollhouses as an added treat. There are great fictional story books for kids about dollhouses that are fictional stories on dollhouses in addition to books on the history of dollhouses, how to books on creating dollhouse furniture or for decorating the dollhouse of their dreams. You can also find dollhouse books for children on particular architectural styles – why not think about giving a book on Victorian dollhouses with your gift of that style dollhouse or a Victorian style miniature? Here for your perusal are some wonderful classics and new fiction with stories about dollhouses that your children or grandchildren are sure to remember.


A fairly new entry into dollhouse fiction is A Christmas Dollhouse by Richard Rudnicki who also illustrated the book. Published in 2012 by Nimbus Publishing the book is a story of a young girl named Dot who lived during the Great Depression. The family is struggling financially and Dot’s mother is very ill. It is Christmas time and there is no money for presents but Dot has her eye on a special dollhouse in the window of the town’s drugstore that will be given away in a contest. A testament to the strength of the human spirit A Christmas Dollhouse is a wonderful story for children. The book is aimed at children in the preschool years.


Another delightful children’s book is entitled the Dollhouse Fairy by Jane Ray. Published in paperback and hardcover by Candlewick Press the book provides readers with the story of a fairy who comes to visit with Rosy and takes up house in her dollhouse. It seems the fairy’s wings have become injured and the dollhouse is the perfect place for small mischievous fairy to rest up. The book is perfect for children in grades 1-2.


Rumer Godden’s The Doll’s House with incredible illustrations by the famous dollhouse lover Tasha Tudor (check out Tasha Tudor’s Dollhouse: A Lifetime in Miniature) is a book many adults will remember from reading it in school. Not a book for young children as the classic book has a tragic ending, the tail of the doll Tottie, a gift from Aunt Laura to her nieces Emily and Charlotte will enthrall older children. The story tells of the entry of Marchpane, an evil china doll, who arrives in the dollhouse and threatens the entire dollhouse family. It is a wonderful story for children ten and up and adults will enjoy it too. The book was originally published in 1948 and has been republished many times and also produced as an animated series.


As a gift suggestion think about pairing the book the Dollhouse Fairy with one of the dollhouses from Le Toy Van – perfect home for a dollhouse fairy.