Teeny Tiny Houses
If you’ve been priced out of the housing market, consider the dollhouse market.
Millennials™ aren’t buying houses. They’ve been priced out of urban areas like San Francisco and New York. Even smaller cities like Austin and Portland have seen real estate prices skyrocket. Many potential first-time home buyers have chosen to continue renting instead, sometimes committing to long-term relationships with roommates in the process. If they are buying houses, it requires huge financial support from parents to make all-cash offers in competitive markets. Other Millennials are getting more creative. Interest in prefabricated homes has increased, RV sales are booming, and let’s not forget about the Tiny House craze.
There has been plenty of reporting on the realization that many young adults have come to: the traditional dream of home ownership is no longer possible. (Or, at least, the dream must be significantly delayed, unless you are willing to relocate to, say, Boise. Actually, never mind.)
At the same time, interest in home buying, remodeling, and interior decorating hasn’t slowed at all. HGTV’s roster of Property Brothers, Flip or Flop, and the O.G. House Hunters has made it the fourth-most watched cable network (ahead of channels like TNT, ESPN, and CNN). Former HGTV stalwart Fixer Upper helped Joanna and Chip Gaines basically take over Target. Despite being coconspirators in the 2008 financial crisis, HGTV and other aspirational lifestyle brands have continued driving the national desire to own a home — and in the process, unfortunately, have magnified the disappointment and depression felt by those who can’t.
Build a dollhouse. (Seriously, yes.) It’s the next logical step in the aforementioned Tiny House trend; let’s call it the Teeny Tiny House phase. Now, before I make the case for why constructing and decorating dollhouses can inspire all of the design creativity of buying and remodeling a 1:1 scale home, without inflicting nearly as much financial ruin, let me say that these aren’t your grandmother’s dollhouses I’m talking about here.
(Although let’s pay our respects to the mad crafting abilities of grandmothers everywhere. They knew that you could buy quilts, sweaters, and dishware made by other people. But they opted out of that economy. They were interested in raw materials and manual labor. They were Makers out of necessity and principle, not to participate in some reality show.)
(Which, by the way, is excellent.)
Dollhouses have come a long way from the Victorian aesthetic you might associate them with. Don’t believe the slander of movies like Hereditary. Dollhouses aren’t creepy anymore. (Unless it’s on purpose.) They’re modern. They’re mid-century. They’re mid-century modern. They’re bright and playful. They’re architecturally creative. They’re urban. They’re rural. They’re Parisian. They’re whatever you want them to be, at a fraction of the price (and scale) of a “regular” house.
A quick note on scale: the majority of dollhouses are built using a 1:12 or a 1:24 conversion, with the former being most popular. That means that everything in the dollhouse is shrunk down to one-twelfth its original size. Therefore, one foot becomes one inch, which is why this ratio is also referred to as one-inch scale.
My wife recently dove headfirst into the world of miniatures. Her grandmother’s house is filled with dollhouses, and she was gifted a few items as inspiration to continue the family tradition. (You can follow her mini adventure here.) It’s been an eye-opening experience so far as we’ve discovered the plethora of options available to miniaturists today, how many incredibly talented craftspeople are out there, and how much fun it can be to join in yourself.
Should other Millennials really consider investing in dollhouses to fill the McMansion-sized void that HGTV has carved in our hearts? Of course we should! Plus, there are some additional benefits that dollhouse owning provides over traditional home ownership.
You can truly afford a house. And you can avoid the real estate game entirely. No need to suffer the stress of securing a bank loan, the anxiety of placing a bid, or the uncomfortable interactions with realtors. Your all-cash offer for a dollhouse is guaranteed to be accepted—without having to deplete your entire savings account or deal with the passive-aggressive judgement from your parents when they agree to help with your down payment.
You can actually get your dream house. Dollhouses come in traditional layouts, but they also come in all kinds of contemporary and custom designs. Open floor plans. Or not. You can even buy single rooms if you like. No need to compromise or settle or resign yourself to accepting some weird man cave or impractical skylight. You can have the exact house that you’ve always imagined, whether you build it yourself (from scratch or with a kit), or commission it from someone else.
You can construct the perfect interior. Without dealing with contractors. Your dollhouse can have parquet flooring and marble countertops. Built-in bookshelves and kitchen islands. Balconies and an attic. Plus, these customizations will actually cost what HGTV shows pretend real renovations cost. (Redo your entire kitchen for under $500? Sure, Design on a Dime. Only if you do all of the labor yourself. Which is actually realistic at one-inch scale!)
You can be an interior decorator without compromising. It’s only in dollhouse proportions that Design Within Reach literally applies. Any piece of furniture — from beds and sofas to Louis Ghost Chairs and La-Z-Boy recliners — can be found. You can order custom appliances, cabinets, fixtures, and everything else you need to decorate in your personal style. Of course, there are plenty of expensive items to be found, but relative to what these would cost at a 1:1 scale, you won’t be limited by your budget nearly as much.
It’s easy to get a second home. If you get bored of your original house, or just want a new challenge, then buy another. You don’t have to worry about selling your previous house or carrying a second mortgage.
You can still pass down your property to your children. But they don’t have to wait until you’re dead to enjoy it!
There is a community of support. Miniaturists have some stellar Instagram accounts. Follow crafting accounts that model their own food from clay, fashion enthusiasts who sew their own clothes and cobble tiny shoes, or designers who upload plans to 3-D printing services that fill custom orders. There are incredibly talented dollhouse builders and miniature craftspeople all over the world. They can provide inspiration and suggestions, or offer items for sale. But they don’t push unrealistic expectations and demoralizing aspirational content. (You know who you are.) It’s ultimately a very supportive and encouraging community.
You could start your own business. Everyone tells you what good design sense you have, and you really enjoy interior decorating, but it’s risky (and expensive) to try to make a career as a designer. Instead, why not start an Etsy store for miniatures?
You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Full-scale houses are money pits, no matter how talented of a homemaker you are. Even without remodeling, houses are in constant need of repairs, maintenance, and upgrades. Not to mention the financial obligations of mortgages, taxes, and association dues. But there are no ongoing bills with dollhouses, only upfront costs. And once you’ve built and decorated your dollhouse — it’s finished. You can of course make changes whenever you like, but you can also just step back and enjoy your work. No leaky roofs to fix or busted pipes to repair. Simply the satisfaction of a job well done.
So how do you get started? Buying a kit is probably the easiest way for most to begin building your dream dollhouse. You can add custom flooring and cabinets as you get more comfortable. Then pick a room and start collecting some furniture. Take some design risks. Why not? It’s easy to change your mind and go another direction.
Above all, have some fun. Miniatures are an opportunity for you to express your creativity and craft a space that is uniquely you. This isn’t a stressful financial burden pushed upon you by society and the HGTV-industrial complex.
Make this house something you love.