Focus on the Windows

Lesson Learned:

Focus on the windows.

On my first two dollhouses, the windows weren’t much more than holes in the walls. For this one, I wanted to frame them up a little more. This turned out to be a really great feature, and I think it makes the whole house stand out a lot more than it would if I hadn’t done this.

For inspiration, I looked at the windows on the houses that I passed as I drove around town. I knew I couldn’t incorporate every detail that I saw, but I noticed that most of the windows had a sill, and some structural element under the sill. The triangle thing (pediment?) above the window is something you don’t find everywhere, but I thought it would be a nice addition to match the door.

Basically, what I wanted to build was not a window, but the icon of a window. I needed to find the elements that every window has in common, and then, add a few details to give mine some individuality. I don’t have to (and don’t want to) build full-blown insulated, double-paned, self-weighted fully-functional, locking windows. I want to build windows. And I don’t care about real-life details that will either be unseen, unneeded, or structurally impossible at this scale. Sure, I could technically build tiny rails for my window to ride up and down in, and I could use tiny springs, and tiny weights and thin cords tied to the counter weights, and I could bend tiny bits of brass to make the locks… but seriously. If all I was building was a doll window, maybe I could pull that off before Christmas. But I’m trying to build a whole house here.

Closeup of window
Here’s a closeup of the first window I made for this dollhouse.

There’s an old adage in art: “draw what you see, not what it is.” This same thing goes true for dollhouses – but on steroids. You aren’t building a house – you are building something that’s supposed to look like a house so that when kids play with it, they can pretend it’s a house. Keep in mind, almost every kid on earth can pick up bark on the sidewalk and imagine that it’s a nuclear reactor, or a space station, or a dollhouse. So, you don’t need your dollhouse to BE a house, you just need to kickstart a child’s imagination. Give them a launching pad, and let them fill in the details.

So what does this have to do with windows? Well, this dollhouse had a fair number of windows. I wanted to build them all to appear the same, but didn’t want to spend the whole year building windows. So, I had to find out what I needed to construct the ‘icon’ of a window, and then tack on a few architectural details that could be easily and accurately replicated. Then, I needed to build that thing, and then build it again, and again, and twelve more times. Trying as hard as I could to put as much attention into each window as I did in the first.

This is what building a dollhouse is all about. Find out what makes the thing look like the thing, then build it, and pay very very very close attention to detail as you are building it. Then, do that same thing over and over, until you run out of time – and that’s when you’re done.

I think maybe that’s part of why I enjoy building the dollhouses so much – at some point they become medatative, because you end up doing the same thing over and over, and for every little detail, you have to pay such close attention the whole time. If you don’t sand that one corner just right, that tiny little bump will end up looking like a swollen infected goiter. If one window is a sixteenth of an inch lower than the others, it will look like a drunk mason was fired in the middle of building the house. At a small scale like this, everything is magnified. Anything I screw up feels like a glaring failure, and anything I do well feels like a gutteral throat-shattering roar of victory.

(Ok, that’s a bit much… but you get the idea.)

What others have to say:

Here are a few folks who talk about zen and the art of dollhouse maintenance:

  • Here’s an article proving I’m not alone in the meditative aspect of hobbies.
  • PsychologyToday: has a whole article about how dollhouses can help kids reduce stress.
  • The Spruce of course has a post on how to build dollhouse windows… though I didn’t follow this – they do look really great.
  • has an article on building windows (and they seem to agree with the whole build-em-in-bulk idea.)
  • 1inchMinis has a post about how to build windows using mat board.