Small Stories: 24 Architects, Artists and Designs Model Their Dream Houses in Miniature

Small Stories: 24 Architects, Artists and Designs Model Their Dream Houses in Miniature

As part of a new exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., a group of 24 American architects, designers and architects have been commissioned to create "dream homes" in the format of the contemporary dollhouse. Part of Small Stories: At Home in a Dollhouse, in which twelve historical dollhouses spanning the past 300 years from London's Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood are being presented in the United States for the first time, these 21st Century interpretations intend to showcase a "diverse array of perspectives, demonstrating the limitless creativity of building in miniature."

Small Stories: 24 Architects, Artists and Designs Model Their Dream Houses in Miniature - More Images+ 20

The museum expects that visitors will witness a collection of designs that are "instantly familiar, completely fanciful, and even slightly eerie." Some have been made using traditional furnishings; others from materials such as clay, insects, and 3D-printing techniques.

Reverie of the Stars / Mars Tokyo Designs. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Reverie of the Stars / Mars Tokyo Designs

In my dream room, Reverie of the Stars, I chose to highlight two pieces from past series of my work. The walls are covered with one of my “Coastline” paintings-- the coastline of Turkey, to be specific. I cut the painting into pieces that would fit on the walls. The other is from a series of over 200 miniature theaters I created a few years ago. This one, “Teatro della Fantasma,” or the theater of fantasy is standing on stilts to benefit the lighting provided in the ceiling of the box. Inside the theater the figure of an old man walks, as if sleepwalking, between an open window frame and an all seeing eye. Also in the Dream Room stands a bed covered with a blue velvet and diamond coverlet referencing the stars on the walls. In the background stands a card of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of all creation; her halo is a diadem of stars. Nearby is an empty chair out of scale with the bed, and a tiny workman who paints the floor. Near the front stands a pedestal topped with a crystal gazing ball used for seeing into the future. From above, a key hangs in mid-air as if to provide answers to the puzzling questions of our dreams. The checkerboard floor adds a graphic element but also recalls a game of chess.

Combining these elements, in the manner that I have, creates a dreamlike air of mystery and foreboding. It is a place both within a dream and without a dream. Are we voyeurs looking in on the dream of another, or are we the dreamers ourselves?

Hideaway / Paige Hathaway. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Hideaway / Paige Hathaway

I wish that I had a room to which only I would have the key. A room apart from the restless, hectic world. A room where I could let my daydreams run rampant and uninterrupted.  A room that would fill me with a sense of possibility and hope and wonder. A room that would inspire me. A room where I could hide away.

Transforming Micro-Micro Apartment / Resource Furniture and Ollie. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Transforming Micro-Micro Apartment / Resource Furniture and Ollie

This micro-micro apartment is an artistic interpretation of an actual apartment in Carmel Place, a new micro-apartment building in New York City. Featuring transforming furnishings from Resource Furniture and an all-inclusive living experience from Ollie™, this apartment shape-shifts throughout the day, allowing the tiny little occupant to seamlessly move from sleep to work to entertainment without missing a beat. Carmel Place was built by Monadnock Development and designed by nArchitects.

Should All Dreams Come True / Eileen Doughty. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Should All Dreams Come True / Eileen Doughty

“Canopy bed” was the first thing to pop into my head when asked to create a Dream Room – that is, a tree canopy bed. Perhaps not surprising, as trees are my favorite subject, whether a forest landscape art quilt, or a teapot set of birch trees constructed entirely of thread. As a fiber artist, I had plenty of materials right at hand in my stash, and experience in making three-dimensional objects. My signature style of “thread sculpture” worked well for the tree-stump chair and potted plants.

The room evolved into a combination bedroom/playroom of a preteen who likes to draw. The world starts to open up at that age, and children begin to dream about their future – anything is possible. But awareness of bad events comes too. In addition to childhood fears of scary things in the closet and under the bed, there are fledgling fears of real dangers, represented by the tornado, flying saucer, and mushroom cloud. No wonder she has the covers pulled over her head.

Though this is intended to be the bedroom of any child, it became somewhat autobiographical. Astronomy has been a hobby since grade school (ceiling); The Lord of the Rings books remain favorites since 7th grade (on the dresser and nightstand); I worked professionally as a cartographer and married another cartographer (globe on the dresser); my son's drawings are included (reduced versions on desk and closet door); my daughter's artwork publications are also on the desk (she and her boyfriend have a page in the Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream book, cover courtesy Locust Moon Press). If you don't know why Little Nemo is so fitting for this Dream Room, please look him up. The startled rocking horse was made by her boyfriend, Jonathan Tune, an animation artist.

Banana Bath / Cuddles and Rage. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Banana Bath / Cuddles and Rage

Banana loves waking-up and starting his day off soaking in a cool tub of milk and cereal while devouring a great book. As a single banana living in Snuggle City, he embraces the morning quiet before heading off to a long day at work. Liz & Jimmy Reed are the husband and wife team behind Cuddles and Rage, a disturbingly cute comic about food and animals. They're best known for their mixed media style, telling stories through both illustrations and sculpted dioramas. Their work has been featured on HelloGigglesBuzzFeed, and The Huffington Post. Their debut picture book, Sweet Competition, comes out November 2016 with Harper Collins.

Apartment 6D / Nix + Gerber Studio. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Apartment 6D / Nix + Gerber Studio

Available now: Charming, self-supporting flat for single occupant in well-established, peaceful neighborhood. Conveniently situated on Level Six, above transit loop, between seed library and downtown community replicator. Features unique plasticated kitchen and dining area, like-new battery bank and recumbent power generator. Cozy sleeping loft connects to spacious, encoded workstation. Vintage 2040’s style throughout! Integrated security system and independent water collection module provided. Original native plant wall maintains average AQI of 4! Fully digital/retinal/voice enabled- continuous monitoring included! Owner must relocate. Won’t last long.

The Age of Magic / The Mouse Market. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Age of Magic / The Mouse Market

As a child, I spent countless hours lost in books, and the worlds within those pages were as real to me as the town we lived in. This room is my homage to the magic that shaped my childhood, to my fervent faith in the power of imagination—that, if only I believed hard enough, my toys really would spring to life and tiny worlds would tumble out of my wardrobe, from under my bed, and out of every bookcase. The belief that anything is possible has followed me well into adulthood, fueling the creation of businesses, books, and other projects that initially looked improbable when viewed through a “responsible,” pragmatic lens. So, even if talking sandwiches and wardrobe woodlands are merely a pleasant fiction, my faith in imagination has served me well, urging me to wander outside of the comfortable, mapped-out regions of life and to search for magic… everywhere.

Family Reflections / KUBE Architecture PC. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Family Reflections / KUBE Architecture PC

Reconnecting with one’s family history has become very important in recent years – understanding our family background and ancestry. Present generations are searching for generations of the past. This Dream House room spatially illustrates the structure of genealogy, a 3-dimensional representation of a family tree. 

Thin white vertical members support acrylic panels representing monitors with images of ancestors, which seem to go on infinitely through the use of mirrors on the vertical faces of the room.  Heavy black structural members hold a stepped pathway where family members experience the space. The living person, weighed down by gravity, is limited to the walkway, while the images and memories of loved ones, sit much more lightly in the space – almost floating.  The room becomes a living memorial, unifying the past generations with the present through shadow, light and reflection.

The Exile of Prospero / L. Delaney. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Exile of Prospero / L. Delaney

I find my zenith doth depend upon 
A most auspicious star, whose influence 
If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes 
Will ever after droop. 
Here cease more questions...
—The Tempest (1.2.182-85)

PEEPS Playing Poker / Rebecca Heaton and Suzan Maher. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

PEEPS Playing Poker / Rebecca Heaton and Suzan Maher

There is often a room in each home where people gather casually to chat and play cards or board games, whether it be the kitchen, den, dining room – wherever.  That is this “dream room”.

Inspired by the famous “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings by Cassius Coolidge, we decided to create the room using five marshmallow bunny Peeps and two marshmallow chick Peeps to represent the dogs.  In this case, we based it on Coolidge’s “A Friend in Need” painting in which the two bull dogs are cheating.  They have their pipes, cigars, beer – all just as in the original painting – except these Poker players are all marshmallow candy.  With the use of lots of balsa wood, wood stain, Sculpey, pipe cleaners, paint, and scraps from around the house, everything was hand-made to match the items in Coolidge’s famous painting – all scaled to the size of the marshmallow Peeps.

Since Coolidge’s painting does not show the entire room, we completed the scene as we imagined it should be by adding baseboard, crown molding, and hand-made wood flooring.  The poker-playing Peeps’ two favorite framed pictures are hanging on the right and left walls.  One is “Hidden Peeps” which won the 2015 Washington Post diorama contest, and the other is the painting on which the room is based.  And of course, what is a proper Poker game without a package of Peeps on the table to share?

An Ordinary Evening / Wendy Evans Joseph and Fleet Hower. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

An Ordinary Evening / Wendy Evans Joseph and Fleet Hower

Do you look under the bed before you go to sleep? Maybe you should look further? A child is sleeps soundly while surrounded by creatures looming in a crawl space surrounding the bedroom. Tonight is not a special evening. Tonight is an ordinary evening in an ordinary house, in an ordinary bedroom. There is an ordinary bed and an ordinary chair behind an ordinary door. Tonight is an ordinary evening.  In dreams, the child escapes the ordinary. The model is made of white, laser-sintered nylon. It is printed on an Eos Printer by Shapeways. 

Gothic Bath / Samuel C. Miller III. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Gothic Bath / Samuel C. Miller III

The original notion of the Gothic Bath was simply of an indoor space where family and friends could take a soak in the grandeur of a gothic setting and sing their songs with natural reverberation. A happy stained glass window would provide the light.  A house cat would provide a homey touch. I built the piece from polymer clay, wood and glass. The figures were based on live studio models and my cat, Annie.

Fairy Princess Bedroom / Debbie and Mike Schramer. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fairy Princess Bedroom / Debbie and Mike Schramer

We began creating our nature art in 1987 while living on a small farm in Washington state. We loved gardening and spent most of our time outdoors, so when winters came we missed our gardens and the inspiration they gave us. On our walks, we had collected many different kinds of wildflowers, grasses, wild herbs, leaves, branches and other “treasures” from nature and stored them in the rafters of our garage. We even hung dried hydrangeas from the ceiling in our living room, which created a beautiful garden-like feeling and reminded us of our many hours in our garden.

We felt so inspired by all of our lovely nature gatherings that we began to create little fairy furniture: small chairs, beds, tables and other intricate pieces. Soon, we had quite a menagerie of amazing little creations from natural materials. We began to do art shows and boutiques to sell our unusual pieces. In 1991, “Victoria” magazine published a wonderful article about our nature art. We received over 800 letters and hundreds of phone calls from excited collectors and from there, our art career with nature really bloomed.

Mouseum in a Box / Jill Orlov. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Mouseum in a Box / Jill Orlov

Remember the original Borrowers movie from 1973? A resourceful family of tiny people lived under the floor boards. This Mouseum in a Box is inspired by that movie. Within the wood stud walls and safely under the electrical wiring, away from the hustle and bustle of the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood’s Small Stories exhibit, mice have borrowed and scavenged materials to make their own museum. Tall glass enclosures showcase extra small dollhouses young mice played with throughout history. The roofs and staircases come in a variety of classic architectural shapes, just like children's dollhouses. One combines a barrel vaulted roof with a straight run stair and the other combines a gabled roof with a spiral stair. 

The Mouse Stories dollhouse exhibit is juxtaposed with ten 1” cube Rooms of Mouse Dreams – half display glorious cheese sculptures while the other half celebrate deconstructed mouse traps reconfigured into modern art. In the corner, across the terra cotta floor tiles, we peek through a hole in the wall into the National Building Museum’s Great Hall.

The Paper Trail / Patrick J. Baglino, Jr.. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Paper Trail / Patrick J. Baglino, Jr., ASID

A Family. Lives defined and documented. Three generations of certificates, clippings, correspondence, diaries, diplomas, emotions, feelings, ledgers, love letters, mementos, photos and remembrances. Treasures irreplaceable. What kind of Paper Trail will you and our forthcoming generations leave?

A Room to Dream / Olvia Demetriou. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A Room to Dream / Olvia Demetriou, FAIA

Rung by rung, I climbed to my aerie to await him, to gaze at night sky, to remember daydreams, and to warm myself by the fire without and my fire within. Then, my imagination summoned him. A lark winged in to sip the wine I spilled. She sang and whistled my passions large while embers glowed and night sky cooled. But I was warmed, then warmer still, then drowsy passion came fulfilled. Or at least I dreamed it. Stars and moon, lark and ladder, wine and sky, wind and him.Fire and slumber, blue and umber—all of this, within.

Time Warp through Coraline’s Door and into Treasure! / Sushmita Mazumdar. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Time Warp through Coraline’s Door and into Treasure! / Sushmita Mazumdar

When Sushmita left India to come to the US to marry her sweetheart, she had to tear herself away from a family, a place, a culture, and an identity that had formed over 29 years. As she started her new family in a new culture a new identity started to form. She was now also a wife, and immigrant, a foreigner, and a mom. And then, she was an artist and writer. When her friend asked her why all the stories she writes for her handmade artist’s storybooks were about a girl from India, Sushmita realized that a physical move hardly represents places where the soul resides.

In her Dream Room: Time Warp through Coraline’s Door and into Treasure! Sushmita imagines a place for the unfinished conversations, the constellations of untold stories, and the characters from her life that are lost in time. She dreams of a tiny Coraline’s door of her own that would take her into another world, through a tear in time, where she could meet people like they were “back then” so she could finish the conversations and record the stories from that vast treasure she left behind.

#ru4everhappyyet? / Kendall Dorman, Wiebenson & Dorman Architects PC. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

#ru4everhappyyet? / Kendall Dorman, Wiebenson & Dorman Architects PC

Solving the world's problems is an admirable goal – solving a problem for someone of limited means is a loftier goal. The goal of a dignified shelter for everyone has yet to be achieved no matter how small we make it... although we keep trying with rediscovered old ideas that are rebranded into new ideas with renewed fanfare - clashing together the latest fads, with recycled parts, modern technologies, hype and extremes. In time these ideas will be refuted and then retired until they are reimagined again with a reinvented name. We keep trying.

The Cupboard Under the Stairs / Louise Krasniewicz. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Cupboard Under the Stairs / Louise Krasniewicz

Poor Harry Potter had to live with his awful Muggle relatives, the Dursleys. They put him in this cramped cupboard under the stairs until he received his letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For fans of the Harry Potter story, leaving this cupboard was the beginning of Harry’s dream of a better and more exciting life. In my miniature reproductions of scenes from popular movies, I like to depict such moments which can suggest an entire story and the world that generates it. Rather than seeing miniatures as childish playthings, I like to see them as physical models of imaginary worlds that adults as well as children use to experience alternative realities.

#unicornsarereal / Bridget Sue Lambert. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Bridget Sue Lambert

#unicornsarereal is a self-portrait that recreates my personal dream space:  my artist studio. It is an homage to my studio at the Arlington Arts Center, where I recently completed a six-year residency. For an artist, the studio is, at various times or all at once, mystical, challenging, exciting, depressing, and ecstatic.  It is the place to which artists retreat to create, wrestle with inspiration, battle self-doubt, and search for calm. It can be a loving space, or horrible, futile, and frustrating. An artist’s studio is a snapshot of the tumult of magic, creativity, and inspiration battling within her soul, as much as the actual artwork that she creates. I am my studio and my studio is me.

My Castle and My Keep / Daisy Tainton. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

My Castle and My Keep / Daisy Tainton

This diorama reflects the artist's dreams and hopes for the future, influenced by recent developments and visits to Montsegur, France, where her fiancé lives. He is not, in fact, a beetle. The historic sites there are now under threat by the tourist industry, and Daisy is working on outreach to protect the land and archeological remains in addition to her other work. This is a dream/fantasy room in a place that really occupies every waking moment! The beetles shown are Chalcosoma atlas beetles from Southeast Asia. The castle doorway is a replica of a Dire Wolf jaw fossil. Can you spot the bumblebee? It was found on a sidewalk, naturally deceased.

Rejuvenate / Paris Renfroe, PRD Miniatures. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Rejuvenate / Paris Renfroe, PRD Miniatures

Bathrooms are not just a place for cleansing the body. They can be an escape, a sanctuary for renewal, or rejuvenation. In this room, the viewer becomes the user, drawn in by the clear, calm blue waters that lie just beyond. They might imagine soaking in the large blue tub for two. Maybe they are relaxing in the chaise lounge contemplating whether or not to take a quick swim. Or taking an extended shower in the indoor/outdoor shower equipped with body jets and oversized rain head. Picture your very own private beach getaway each time you step into your bathroom. As the viewer ponders the possibilities, the ‘Dream’ becomes reality.

White House, White Room / J. Ford Huffman. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

White House, White Room / J. Ford Huffman

The room is titled White House, White Room. (I had considered another title – A Woman in the White House – but opted for something apolitical during this election year.) The mixed-media assemblage borrows – in concept and composition – from architecture, theater and history. The works tries to respect for the host, the venue and the occasion: the National Building Museum, the Pension Building, and the Dream Rooms section of the Small Stories exhibition. “White House, White Room” is what I call a little theater, a dream stage, art that ArtSee DC describes as "typically playful, sometimes provocative, and always clever little theaters (that) take the viewer on a delightful journey into a tiny, magical world beyond his own.” Art Registry of D.C. says the little theaters are "sculptures in the form of assemblage shadow boxes . . . Enigmatic, and address the formal elements of art: Line, color and form." Sometimes my works might initially seem whimsical, and that’s all right. I like it when people smile. The longer a viewer looks at the art, the composition usually begins to communicate something poignant. The works tell or provoke visual stories, visual dramas.

Design Meditation Room / Marshall Moya Designs. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Design Meditation Room / Marshall Moya Design

Though the design process represents the freedom of artistic expression, at times working in the design field can become overwhelming and stressful. The dream room we created is a space where one's mind can rest and reflect. A room where one can take a step back, focus in a relaxing atmosphere, sort out the stress and calmly examine the problems that need to be solved in a design. The room itself is also a source of inspiration; the blank walls and simple furniture allow for a creative's mind to ideate without being distracted by color or unnecessary detail. The open window to a serene garden is there to provide natural light, and our main source of inspiration, which is nature and natural sound and movement. In a dream world, time would stop when one enters the room, giving a sense of calm and peace before stepping back into the fast-paced, hectic world of deadlines and demands

The materials used for the creation of this dream room are the same materials our studio uses to create our architectural models. Creating and envisioning ideas in white or blue, depending on the material used, helps us design the form and function for our projects. We create several different form studies that lead us to the final, more refined form in an architectural design.

Small Stories: Dream House is on display at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. from May 21, 2016 to January 22, 2017. The Dream Rooms are available for purchase at the close of the exhibition, which supports the Museum’s educational mission and programming.

Image gallery

See allShow less
About this author
Cite: AD Editorial Team. "Small Stories: 24 Architects, Artists and Designs Model Their Dream Houses in Miniature" 13 Oct 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London


You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.