Photorealistic 3D design — in miniature!

Posted by Kathleen Moore, CastleView 3D:

awe-inspiring scale miniatures showcase true photorealistic 3D design

Christmas is coming!  And in honor of the upcoming holiday, I want to share an aspect of 3D design that has made many of my Christmases merry and bright.

I have had a lifelong love of dollhouses and miniatures.  As a very little girl, I got one of those two-story metal dollhouses with plastic furniture, and thought it was the greatest thing in the world.  I used to catch tiny toads, dress them in bits of kleenex, and make them live in the dollhouse.  (They were not amused.)  When I was a bit older, my dad made me a sturdy wooden dollhouse, which I kept for many, many years.  Troll dolls, not toads, lived in that one, and my helpful little brother drew electrical outlets on all its walls with black magic marker.  Grrrr.

But there’s one Christmas that really stands out in my mind.  I was 10 years old, and for months I had been drooling over the seductively lighted display in the Sears store of “Petite Princess Fantasy Furniture,” made by Ideal Toys.

Petite Princess Fantasy Furniture store display(If you’re interested, you can read more about the history and construction of this unique set of 3/4″ scale dollhouse furniture here.)


I was hoping with all my might that Santa would bring me a couple of pieces of this beautifully-made furniture.  Maybe the grand piano, and the satin bed, and the brocade sofa?  Well, Santa didn’t disappoint — I got up on Christmas morning to find not just a few pieces but THE ENTIRE SET. Yes, I got every piece pictured in this display, and more! I’m sure you can imagine my total delight. The manufacturers described Petite Princess furniture as “The fulfillment of every girl’s dream,” and it certainly was mine.  Thanks, Santa (and mom and dad) for a breathtaking Christmas morning that’s still vivid after all these years.

I actually still own this furniture, and lately I’ve begun to think about selling it on eBay.  But I’m not sure I could ever bear to part with it.

As I got older, my life went in other directions, and my love of dollhouses and miniatures was put on a back burner, except for an occasional trip through the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The Thorne Rooms are an absolutely awe-inspiring 1″ scale collection documenting in miniature all the major periods and styles of interior design — probably my first brush with true photorealistic 3D design and modeling.

photo of Thorne Room:  "English Dining Room of the Georgian Period, 1770-90" - an example of photorealistic 3D design in miniature!

1″ Scale Thorne Room: “English Dining Room of the Georgian Period, 1770-90”


House of Miniatures scale reproduction furniture kitsWhen I was in my mid-30’s, someone who loved me and knew me well gave me a build-your-own-dollhouse kit for Christmas, and my passion bloomed again.  In the intervening years, the field of miniatures had become much more popular, and more sophisticated.  There were magazines like Miniature Collector (I think I still have the original issue, plus many more, of this magazine.  Will probably try to sell those on eBay as well.)  There were regular miniature shows and workshops around the country.  One-inch scale was everywhere.  I discovered the Xacto “House of Miniatures” mail-order kits and built and finished a number of beautiful, 1″ scale wooden reproductions.  (Apparently these kits are now considered “vintage” since the HoM line was discontinued in the mid-1990’s.)

A few years ago I created a 3D symbol of my current dollhouse and included it in this rendering of a little girl’s dream room:

CastleView 3D rendering of a little girl's room with dollhouse


Photo of "The Oysterville" 1" scale miniature house created by Pat & Noel Thomas - exceptionally photorealistic 3D design!

“The Oysterville” 1″ scale miniature house created by Pat & Noel Thomas (click to enlarge and see the incredible detail)

Amidst the “mini-mania” of the 1980s and 90s, when everyone and her sister was making and selling miniatures of sometimes dubious quality, there were some real stand-outs, true artisans creating museum caliber miniatures.  And two of the best were Pat and Noel Thomas, masters of the craft of creating photorealism in miniature. Their particular genius was in realistically aging the beautiful miniature architectural masterpieces they created over a span of about 20 years.

Here are just a couple of examples of their work, showing the incredible attention to every detail, from handmade bricks to hand-cut gingerbread trim to the careful “aging” of their structures using all kinds of natural materials.  The image below is the basement of their “Bear River House.”

photo of "Bear River House" basement -- 1" scale miniature by Pat & Noel Thomas

Pat and Noel recently retired from the world of miniatures, but Pat is now sharing stories and photos of their creations over the years in a very entertaining blog called smallhousepress.  I encourage you to check it out for great stories and more examples of their wonderful “photorealistic 3D design.”

This post was fun to write (and turned out a lot longer than I expected).  I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour down my “miniature memory lane.”  Did you ever have a dollhouse?  What kinds of experiences shaped your own passion for architecture and 3D design?

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5 responses to “Photorealistic 3D design — in miniature!

  1. Kathy –
    OhMyGoodness!! I loved reading this post – your interest in the architectural and interior design has the deepest of roots, doesn’t it?! I didn’t realize. This is cool. The story about the Christmas of the Petite Princess was particularly moving. (In kind of a sad way: I too sometimes had something I wanted very much for xmas, and my parents invariably got me something else, totally weird and wrong. Which is why I hate this time of year. But I digress.) Anyhow: this was fascinating – I’m GLAD it was a long post, the whole thing was great! 🙂

  2. Life Should Be 3D

    Thanks, guys.

    @Suzanne — That was usually the story in my house as well, which is part of the reason why that particular Christmas was such a stunner. That was also the year my baby brother was born, so maybe they wanted to make sure I still felt loved? Anyhow, it was great — and you’re welcome to come over and play with my Petite Princess furniture anytime!

  3. OMG that thorne room!!!
    I can’t begin to imagine how much work went into that.

    • Life Should Be 3D

      I know — they’re all incredible!! You should try to go visit the collection at the Art Institute if you ever have a chance.

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