From Barbie Dreamhouse to Handmade Hideouts, Tiny Houses Are Big

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Some homes are born out of fantasy, others are created from cherished memories. Miniature houses and their contents – right down to a small turkey and the oven to put it in – are more popular than ever.

Susete Saraiva, a Toronto-based artist who makes and sells miniature replicas of horror houses, describes herself as “a creepy fat cat.

“All of my scary stuff is in my studio,” says Saraiva, who makes and sells miniature replica horror houses and props under the “Monstress” name.

Meanwhile, The Little Dollhouse Company’s goal in Leaside is decidedly less scary. Some clients want to recreate their grandmother’s house or the house they grew up in, while other hobbyists are big-city professionals escaping to the small world, according to co-owner Maria Fowler who saw the interest mount for miniature houses.

A stressed executive said her craft “is the only time she can get away from the constant buzz,” says Fowler.

For Saraiva, who traded her day job as a stock analyst for a full-time craftsman six years ago, there’s joy in sweating the small stuff.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s the only thing that makes me happy,” says Saraiva, who beat 10 other artists to win CBC Gem’s ‘Best in Miniature’ series this year with her haunted house. 1:12 scale poltergeist ravaged.(Season two premieres Winter 2023.)

She specializes in spooky houses built from scratch, five to seven inches tall, from films such as “The Amityville Horror” and “A Nightmare on Elm St.” Her homes cost $1,000 and up, and smaller items start at $100 with everything “100% homemade,” Saraiva says.

The roots of his livelihood date back to 17th century Europe, when miniature versions of actual houses served as proof of wealth and social status. The English upper class called them “baby house”.

Toronto artist Susete Saraiva specializes in building creepy tiny houses, like this one from the 1979 film "Amityville Horror."

Plastic and metal dollhouses became widespread as children’s toys in department stores in the 20th century, paving the way for the world’s most beloved dream house, Barbie Dreamhouse, introduced in 1962.

Often mirroring architectural and design trends—but never losing the distinctive decor palette of her first cardboard residence done up in pink and yellow—Barbie’s house evolved into a three-story townhouse, then an A-frame and luxury castle. But it took until 2008 for Mattel, Inc. to give him a flush toilet, according to Redbook magazine.

In 2020, Barbie Dreamhouse was equipped with an elevator for wheelchair users. The latest model ($300 at Toys “R” Us) features a customizable indoor/outdoor space with pool and slide, puppy area, lighting, sounds, party room, and barbecue.

For the real pieces, Home Hardware’s BeautiTone celebrates the 60th anniversary of Barbie’s first real estate acquisition with a curated collection of paint colors — mostly shades of blue.

But for small-scale designers, it’s all about detail and realism, says Fowler, noting that The Little Dollhouse Company appeals to far more adults than children.

House hunters can choose between a $227 bungalow kit and ready-to-move-in assembled homes for $1,200 to $1,800. The highest sale price goes to a $95,000 handmade reproduction of a French chateau.

In 1983, Barbie Dreamhouse was a three-story townhouse.  Pink-themed decor has been a constant over the years, though interiors reflect actual design trends.

Miniature materials range from crown moldings ($7 to $10) and wiring kits ($40 to $297) to a handcrafted Swarovski crystal chandelier for $1,732. Many buyers are do-it-yourselfers who make their own millwork and furniture, says Fowler, a “crazy shopaholic” who scours trade shows for mini-facsimiles of almost anything in a full-size home.

But chances are the store doesn’t stock a type of flooring seen in the dollhouse that plays a key role in HBO’s “Sharp Objects” miniseries. The replica of the Crellin family’s Victorian mansion, meticulously decorated by teenage Amma (Eliza Scanlen), features a tiled floor made from human teeth.

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Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer who covers personal finance, home and real estate. She is a collaborator of the Star. Contact her by email: [email protected]

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