Narrowing your focus to the type of miniatures that grab your attention is the best way to start. Start with a small display, which can be expanded to a room in a finished house and work from there. Follow the steps below to keep your miniature collection on display and out of storage.
Choose a Focus, Period or Theme
Dollhouse miniature collections usually follow one of three types.
A Period of History: Victorian and Federal/Georgian are very popular periods with lots of furnishings, dolls and accessories to collect but other periods are available as well. Many collectors will showcase a favorite novel in this style of collection.
A Particular Passion: Items we collect are widely available in common dolls house miniature scales. Switching to miniatures of your favorite may let you have a larger collection! Needlework, vintage and modern fashion, quilts, knitting, crochet, dolls all have miniature versions which are highly collectible and can be gathered in shops or showcases.
Telling a Story: Many miniaturists start with a project dear to their heart, local or family history, a favorite building due for demolition, a scene from a favorite book, television show, or movie. When working on this type of collection it helps to decide if this will require several buildings or just one scene.
Storage or Show Space
What space will your dolls house collection need? A collection of miniature shoes can go into a small windowbox showcase or frame to hang on a wall. A series of detailed period rooms may need to be in a doll house. If you've decided you eventually want a miniature village, what scale do you have room for?What will work best for your chosen focus from step one; a display box, a building, or a room full of glass cases?
Collecting for a Small Display or Display Box: - Smaller dollhouse miniature collections can stay in a themed display box until you have enough pieces to showcase them in a larger structure (house or shop). A display box protects collectibles from dust and sunlight. Many collectors decide roomboxes are the route they prefer. Roomboxes can contain several rooms, or just a single one. There are some wonderful examples of collections housed in display and room boxes, see the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Choosing a Dollhouse Kit
A dollhouse collection involves more choices and expense than a display box. Do you want a building with a front opening that closes to keep out dust? What scale miniature house fits your space? Will one be enough? Is there a particular period/style of house you want? Are kits available in your style and price range? Will you scratch build, or buy something already wired for electricity or partially finished? Will you be happy if rooms stay unfurnished for years while you collect? Study the range of dollhouses and styles at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London.
Ask yourself: Do I wish to tell a story or create a scene?
If you don’t want to tell a story or create a scene, a showcased collection may work best. Theresa Yu has an enormous collection of dollhouse miniature items housed in showcases. (This can be a slow link as it is a huge private collection.) Hers is an impressive example of how large a miniature collection can grow! Imagine if it was all housed in miniature buildings!
Map out Your Scene
If you have a vision from Step One, and an idea of how to house it from the steps above, now map out your plans and decide which direction to take your collection. This is where you let your creativity shine. I'll use a display box as an example in the points below, but the same process applies to a building if you treat each room as a separate display. If you have decided on a showcase, you can ignore the following steps.
When you see your scene in your mind, what is the first thing you notice? Lots of detail and texture? A calm, peaceful feel? Do you want colors and design that create excitement? Write down the details of how you want your display to appear, use descriptive language, moody, peaceful, bustling, bright. this will give you the overall direction to design your display.
Take the Viewers Eye Into the Scene
With this step you choose how your eye will focus on the collection in your display. Will you need the viewer to focus on one corner, the back wall? Several layers and heights within the box which focus on a particular collection (i.e. shoes). Brooke Tucker’s Put Abouts draw your eye in to a multi layered scheme to showcase detailed collections. Plan your view and decide if you need windows for backlight, a doorway to draw your eye through, levels to change height and draw the collection upwards.
Choose Colors and Lighting
These need to work together. Plan how your light source will look most natural and how you will achieve that in your box (wiring, glass top, battery operated, natural light?) Choose colors that will work with your detail and lighting. (If this is a whole house display your colours and lighting will need to work with adjoining rooms.
Plan Plan Plan!
With the main concepts in place, a box, backlit via an open doorway in sunny colors to display a collection of kitchen miniatures. Or an Edwardian house, in soft greens and creams, focusing on period embroidery in each room. Now you know what you intend to build, the colours you will use, and what you will use as the focus for each scene, list what you can build and what you must buy in order to build your scene. Make sure you include all the construction materials to build and light the actual box, finish the front edges and provide a base for the display.
Find the Right Pieces
With a vision of your scene in place you can focus on tracking down any essentials you are missing. Stick to a plan when you go shopping. It is easy to be drawn into adding more detail than the display can manage. Go with a list, a group of possible colours and fabric/wallpaper swatches and a simple photo of any pieces you already have. Divide your list into the sections following (main focus, supporting cast, background, and construction materials) and check they all work together.
Determine the Display's Main Focus
What is the central display focus? List what you have and what you need to find. These are the main draw for your eye, so the quality of these should be as high as you can find, create, or afford.
Select Supportive Display Pieces
To showcase main miniature pieces what supportive pieces do you need? Is there a main color you need to accent by placing it somewhere else in the room? An example; you want a farmhouse kitchen style pine table to place your collection of dollhouse crockery and food items on, but it could be painted plastic as most of it will be covered with a white tablecloth. A small pine butcherblock you want as a secondary focus will need to be made carefully from real wood, as all of it will be on view.
Select Background Elements
Everything not a central focus or support for the central focus is background. This might include rugs, furniture, even figures. They must be chosen to continue the mood and add to the overall feel/color/design but shouldn’t be what you notice first. Find color swatches and experiment with fabric and paper samples to make sure your background choices stay out of the limelight but add the right effect.
Go out and find all those pieces to make your collection shine!
- Even three items make a collection.- Begin a collection of dolls house miniatures with items you love. Often the things you collect in real life are also available in miniature versions.
- Be Patient - Finding the right items takes time. It is better to buy what you really enjoy, than to buy a large number of inexpensive, poorly built items you will need to throw away later.