Monday, October 22, 2012

Tiny Gargoyle

How could I build a tiny French house and not put a tiny gargoyle on it?

(By actual count, there are four - squint and you might see the second one on the far roof corner.)

These little gargoyles are among my best, and cheapest, mini finds of all time - I paid maybe $1 each for them in a bead shop at least 10 years ago and have been waiting to use them all this time. (I was in the same shop earlier this year - no more gargoyles.)

Friday, October 19, 2012


I still have some artwork, furniture, and other accessories to sort out. However, the house itself is complete, inside and out.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How I Wired My Dollhouse for Sound (and TV!)

As a child, I was enchanted by Caroline Hamilton's clever use of a sound chip in her miniature pub, intended to create the illusion that the pub's melodion (early juke box) actually played.

Two years ago, I was equally enchanted by Eloise Moorehead's "miniature flat screen color TV", aka an iPhone in a specially made frame mounted over her dollhouse mantel. The frame can also hold an iPod Touch, but Eloise notes that it won't have any sound.

Well...a smartphone would cost me more than building, decorating, and furnishing this house. And I'm not about to fork out $100 and up for a working dollhouse TV (they do exist, but are basically mp4 players in a TV-shaped casing). However, I already have, and use, an iPod Classic.

I have far less talent than either of those women, but I am good at problem solving.

To wire my dollhouse for sound, I used:
  • One false wall (must be easily accessible from a wall that is open, or that can be opened)
  • One scratch-built fireplace box (I didn't make the mantel or coal grate, I am nowhere near that good)
  • One pair of earbuds in working condition
  • One sheet of card stock
  • Tape and glue
  • Some tiny scraps of netting
  • One large picture for the wall
  • Molding or trim
  • One piece of Tyvek, i.e. from an old mailing envelope
There are no pictures of the speaker-building process because I made them before I'd decided to build the house (I was experimenting with a similar situation in a room box). However, the process is easy enough to understand:

Take one pair of earbuds you don't mind not being able to wear (I had an extra pair that I'd retired from use because they were too uncomfortable - I never throw away anything useful). If there are foam or rubber pieces on the earbuds, remove them.

Templates for cardboard or paper speakers are readily available on the internet - Google it and find one you like. Shrink it down until the speaker box is just big enough to enclose the earbud. Print two onto card stock. Cut them out. Paint them the color of your choice.

Also: If the template indicates where to punch holes in the paper, ignore that and trim out the entire punched area. Glue scraps of netting on the back sides so it covers the resulting hole in each speaker. (It's hard to see, but I hope someone notices I used purple netting to coordinate with my tiny purple sofa.)

Use scraps of the card stock to create a tiny funnel around the end of each earbud - you want the sound to amplify a bit, just like a full-size speaker. The card stock should also be painted to match the rest of the speaker box, unless you prefer a two-toned retro look.

Fold the speaker boxes around the earbuds, and mark and cut out small holes at the back or bottom so the cord can pass through. Make sure the funnel fits neatly inside the box - if it doesn't, trim it down or roll it a little tighter. When it's the right size, glue in place, and glue the finished speaker together.

As you can see from this in-progress shot, I cut V-shaped holes in the false wall to thread the speaker cord through, then fitted the wall into place. There is also a strategically-placed hole cut in the wall so the iPod screen can double as a TV - it will be covered by a tiny painting when not in use. I still need to make the painting, but this is the frame I'm using - I tried various ways of making it swing out from the wall on a hinge, but it's just too bulky for that. Instead, the top of the frame (which is hollow) simply rests on a wooden ledge I glued to the wall.

Inside the wall, you can see where I've taped the cord in place, and added a little shelf inside the firebox (not visible from inside the living room). This is where my iPod will rest when in use as a dollhouse sound system.

You can also see that I've created a tiny side wall to cover this, and used a strip of Tyvek as the hinge (thank you, Otterine and Fran for introducing the world of miniatures to this wonder material - it's thin, flexible, tear-proof, and very easy to use). I can simply open and close the side wall as needed.

Next step: Pop in iPod, plug in earbud speakers, and test the sound system. This may require cranking the volume, so do take care to make sure you turn it back down when you remove it and turn it off. I have yet to give myself an unpleasant surprise by forgetting to turn the volume down, thankfully.

If it all looks and sounds good, glue the molding to the top of the wall, linking it to the ceiling and covering up the V-shaped holes. Adjust the speakers' positioning, and (optional) glue them into place.

Please humor me by ignoring the glare in this shot, which shows my tiny TV/stereo setup through one of the side windows (another reason I added two side windows on the middle floor - easier to look in).

Sometime this week I'm going to have a mini screening party in the dollhouse. I'm either going to show the Portlandia episode "No Olympics" (Portlandia fans will get this one) or the Doctor Who episode "Night Terrors" (Doctor Who fans will get that one).

I must admit this method is hardly elaborate or impressive, but the good news is that it's so simple any miniaturist can do it, and if you already have an iPod and an old pair of earbuds, it's very inexpensive. This house is small enough to justify only having one sound system (in real life, it would be 837 square feet), but if it were larger, I could simply repeat the process in a couple other rooms, thread the cords through the walls and behind the fireplace, then plug them into an earbud splitter (which connect up to three pairs of earbuds per mp3 player).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Music in a Tiny House

Vinyl enthusiast that I am, I could not resist this Phoenix Miniatures portable gramophone. The kit called for brown and black paint, but come on...brown and black? Boring! I used some leftover glossy white paint instead.

When I was still a young girl, gazing with envy at the perfect miniature worlds pictured in Caroline Hamilton's book "Decorative Dollhouses", I marveled at the electrification of Ms. Hamilton's houses - and at the fact that, through the clever use of a microchip, she'd managed to add music to her miniature Duke of York pub as well. I wished I could do something like that.

Well...I did.

Between modern technology and a little re-purposing, I found a way to wire my house for sound. It's fully installed, it works, and anyone can do it. I'll detail the method used and materials necessary in a future post.

Stay tuned...