I was mindlessly tapping my way through Instagram stories one day when something stopped me dead in my tracks: a gorgeous modern traditional entryway, complete with a Turkish rug, weathered black and white checkered wood floors and beautiful landscape paintings. Then, I looked closer and realized this wasn’t some blogger’s humble abode, it was a dollhouse and a very chic one at that.
Aileen Fitzgerald is a nurse who, during quarantine, decided to pick back up her childhood hobby of painting. Now, when available on her Etsy shop, the Austin-based artist’s dreamy depictions of the Texas hill country go fast. As if turning a hobby into a full-fledged business wasn’t enough, she also decided to use the downtime to remodel a dollhouse for her daughter.
Fitzgerald snagged her three-story vintage charmer off Facebook Marketplace. Like many older homes, the bones were good but it needed some updating. The exterior was a bright canary yellow with reddish-brown shutters, and, inside, there was wall-to-wall periwinkle carpet. One room was painted a deep maroon. But it had a few things going for it, too: a wrap-around porch, tiny corbels and a big bay window.
Room by room, Fitzgerald documented all the changes she was making—mostly during her daughter’s nap time. Through her Instagram stories, she relayed her vision and shared renovating mishaps. One of the things I love most about her project? She uses real interiors as inspiration, so even though she translates it into miniature form, you can still very much picture it in a life-size home.
“You know your Pinterest board that's titled "Dream Home"? This is where you can bring those ideas to life,” Fitzgerald told me, via email. “Creating a dollhouse is so much more than placing miniature furniture inside. It's a chance for ALL of us to design and explore styles. I have no shame in saying that the dollhouse I'm creating for my daughter is just as much of a gift to me as it is for her.”
When it comes to dollhouse furniture, Fitzgerald is a genius with everyday materials. Popsicle sticks become wood floors. A piece of clay, a toothpick and a toothpaste cap make for a lamp with a trendy accordion-style shade. In the kitchen, she handmade dark green cabinets, built around the stove’s backsplash created with tiny terracotta tiles. The shelves are styled, of course, with miniature bowls and copper cookware. She handpainted those aforementioned landscape paintings and even decorated the exterior for the holidays with wreaths and bottlebrush trees flanking the front door.
Her work is impressive, but she's humble. “There are people who create the most intricate dollhouses for a living,” Fitzgerald writes. “You will definitely fall into a rabbit hole when you see what they create.” And she was right.
Fitzgerald may have been my initial introduction to this fun-sized world, but it turns out there’s a bunch of makers infusing dollhouses with interior design magic and sharing them via Instagram. Here are a few of my favorite follows:
I can’t get over all the details in this neutral bedroom—the faux stone wall, the tiny crocheted blanket, that brass chandelier. When can I move in?
A retired designer turned grandmother is responsible for this dreamy French dollhouse. The interiors will make any grand-millennial-loving heart go pitter patter.
It’s as if Nancy Meyers herself designed this English country home. It looks straight out of the Christmas classic, The Holiday, with the cozy fireplace, needlepoint pillows and clawfoot tub. It even has its own mini dollhouse—how’s that for meta?
If you’re feeling inspired to create your own dollhouse, Fitzgerald’s advice is to “be creative in how to save money,” use what you have lying around and make most of your items.
“You'll be spending more time, but don't we all have a little more extra time at home these days? It's been such a respite for me to work on this,” Fitzgerald writes, adding that “I think the most appealing part of what I'm doing is that it's attainable and achievable for anyone of any skill level.”
On the rare occasion that Fitzgerald decides not to make something, she waits for sales. Her go-to sources are Amazon and Etsy. Favorite shops include Melvin's Miniatures, Minature Crush and The Modern Dollhouse.
“I can't tell you how many people have told me that they've gotten into miniatures/dollhouses since I started showing mine. I've seen pictures of people pulling out their childhood dollhouses from the attic to fix up for their kids, or even people without kids purchasing one to work on during quarantine,” Fitzgerald writes. “The ones without kids always ask, ‘Do you think this is weird since I don't even have kids?!’ and I always tell them, no, if you find interest in something, do it!”
Honestly, it sounds like the perfect quarantine—and post-quarantine—hobby.