CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Jim Pesce’s dream studio has a well-worn armchair, a writing desk and an armoire filled with art supplies.
It’s also about 8 inches tall.
Pesce, a retired interior designer, creates rooms and entire houses in miniature, right down to the pictures in the books and the cookies on the kitchen table. Some are replicas of existing homes. Some are re-creations of places long gone. Others, like the studio, were shaped in Pesce’s imagination.
The hobby had its roots in his fascination with the village of little paper houses his mother used to display under the Christmas tree. “I thought, I want the village, but I want all houses of people I know,” he said.
He started creating miniature versions of friends’ and relatives’ houses more than 10 years ago, but invariably those people would become enamored of the models of their houses, and he’d give them away. So he kept making more.
Word spread, and pretty soon people were asking Pesce to make models of their children’s houses, their friends’ houses or the houses they were moving from.
He’s built a couple of hundred over the years, he figures. Many are created as gifts. Some are commissioned.
Pesce’s houses are usually built from card stock, cardboard or foam core and held together with Elmer’s glue and occasionally dowels, if more reinforcement is needed. They’re all built to scale, ranging from 1 inch per foot — dollhouse size — to a teeny one-sixteenth per foot, which produces a house appropriate for a Christmas ornament. Some of the houses are designed to be lighted from the inside by a battery-operated tea light.
The houses are an extension of Pesce’s architectural and fine art training and his many years of interior design work at the former Marvin Interiors. His goal as an interior designer was always to create functional spaces that fit his clients’ wishes and lifestyles, he said. In a way, that’s what he’s doing in miniature.
But with the model houses, “in most cases, I have all the control,” he said. Even when he creates a replica of a real house, it’s still an artistic interpretation rather than an exact rendition, he said.
He likes to start with photos, preferably those he takes himself so he can capture the angles and details he needs. Sometimes, though, he just has to work from people’s memories.
He’ll draw up a floor plan, just as he did in his interior design work. He follows that with a rough three-dimensional sketch, and then construction begins.
The designs are thoughtful and the details exquisite. A replica of his backyard cottage, for example, has a roof and front wall that lift off to show a fully furnished interior. A log cabin — the “logs” are newspaper rolled on pencils — has an interior that slides out from the cabin’s bottom. He might use handmade mulberry paper to create the look of stucco or corrugated paper to add texture.
He often makes two copies of his creations, one to give and one to keep. The “keepers” are perched on surfaces in his house.
There’s a replica of a friend’s cottage in Chautauqua, N.Y., with a flag fluttering out front, chairs on the porch and flowers in the window box. There’s a teardrop trailer — a downscaled version of one Pesce used to dream of owning — that’s outfitted with a tiny bed, a compact banquette and a wee kitchen complete with an impossibly small red dish towel draped over the counter. There’s a model of a backyard pavilion that Pesce created to show a friend what could be done with the wood swing set her children had outgrown. Pesce likes to add personalized touches to his houses, little surprises that reflect something about the recipient or the people who lived there.
A replica of his old kitchen has a ketchup bottle on the table, because he said his partner, Tim Parkinson, puts the condiment on just about everything.
A model of his aunt’s house has a floor edged with a zigzag border inspired by the rickrack on one of her dresses, and a tiny, undressed chicken on the kitchen counter — a reference to her method of making stock for wedding soup from a whole chicken.
A dollhouse he built for a longtime friend and his wife contains details Pesce recalled about his friend’s childhood home and things the friend’s wife had mentioned about the house she grew up in, such as a round table with a top that tilts to turn it into a seat and an apple butter kettle like the one the woman’s mother had owned.
Some of the smallest houses are encased in snow globes, minus the water. Some of the rooms are fashioned in boxes that resemble open books. The extent of detail depends on the scale — the larger the replica, the greater the detail.
The larger houses and rooms are furnished, often with purchased dollhouse furniture and accessories and sometimes with items he makes himself. A dollhouse he made for a neighbor’s grandchildren, for example, has a stair runner he made by photocopying a picture of an Arts and Crafts rug from a magazine. A replica of Emmett Kelly’s dressing room included an album filled with tiny photos of the famous clown. The kitchens he creates often display breads or cookies he fashions from clay.
The houses inspire a childlike wonder, but they’re too delicate to stand up to the rough handling little ones might dish them. “Children can play with these … but older, with supervision,” he said.
He hopes that, with proper care, his houses last for generations. And so will the memories they represent.