Mel Sebastian has always dabbled in art, and was busy running her own art studio – that was until 3.5 years ago, when she witnessed her stepfather building a doll house for his granddaughter. His creation inspired her to create her first miniature room – and she has been creating ever since.
Rather than building full doll houses, Mel focuses on standalone boxes that display a single room.
“My aim is to capture the vignette of one room,” she says. “Other than the fact that it is a lot less time consuming than creating a whole house, it is a great way of designing a space without costing a bomb. Clients also have the freedom to mix and match different rooms this way.”
All of the décor items featured in Mel’s miniature rooms are handmade from scratch.
“I use anything that encapsulates the particular mood I am after. From industrial material recyclers to op shops and fabric stores, I can spend hours sourcing the perfect materials. A broken cell phone can hold treasures once you open it up. Nothing is too precious – I have been known to sacrifice vintage skirts to upholster couches.
“I love to use wood, concrete, steel and textiles – materials that not only look, but feel authentic.”
Her inspiration comes from many things, fuelled by her obsession for creating beautiful spaces.
“I am a great consumer of interior design images, and am constantly trawling through Pinterest and online publications. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from the materials themselves, such as the timbers prevalent in Scandinavian design. Sometimes it is a certain technique that will spark the excitement, like ‘Shou Sugi Ban’, the ancient Japanese art of charring wood.”
Coming from an art background, creating miniature rooms has not been without its challenges.
“The whole process is hugely time consuming, because a lot of it is about sourcing the actual materials. Then there is patience – waiting for glue to dry, for example – and the ability to think outside the box (pardon the pun). There have been a lot of YouTube videos along the way.
“It’s very similar to what interior designers do, just on a smaller scale. And scale is extremely important to create the illusion. There have been times where customers have bought off my Etsy shop, thinking it was the real thing.”
Hailing from Brisbane’s west, the majority of Mel’s clients aren’t children, but rather adult collectors.
“Within every person there is a child, engrossed in creating their own miniature décor space. The doll house concept has undergone a major revival. My room boxes are popular with offshore collectors who buy for their own enjoyment. I have even been approached by clients who want to capture a space they are renovating, to get an idea of how to furnish the real deal.”
Her favourite project so far has been her most recent – a series of replicas of some notable designers’ work (she can’t give too much away yet), due for a launch at the upcoming London Design Festival.
“They found me through Facebook, and the challenge was to create 60 exact replicas in less than 30 days, and have them approved by the actual designers. I definitely feel like a bit of a trailblazer. Working in modern miniatures is a specialist niche discipline.”
If you loved this story, check out more on the modern dollhouse trend here.