Bill Studebaker of Round Hill, Va., custom designs and crafts scale houses and miniature furniture accessories, and also specializes in the restoration and repair of the items. The owner of Studebaker Miniatures emphasizes that, although his work is lighter and takes up less space than full-scale items, he still puts in a considerable amount of work.
“It takes as long to build an accurate representation of a miniature piece of furniture as it does to build it in full scale,” he says, joking that the easiest part is making the dovetail joints.
Studebaker’s work ranges from tables and chairs to music boxes, with particular attention paid to the Victorian era. He uses traditional joinery techniques, and is so skilled that he was recently awarded artisan status with the International Guild of Miniature Artisans for his working music boxes and inlaid furniture. However, his first attempts at building miniatures 16 years ago produced some rustic results.
“It’s like any other skilled endeavor, or like full-size woodworking. You plug along for a while and one day you realize your work has made a quantum leap, and you’re doing things you couldn’t even imagine that you could do.”
The craze started when he built his wife a dollhouse as a gift in the early ’90s, a model of what their house would have looked like in 1900. Not knowing at the time that one could buy moldings, doors and other ready-made items that were in 1/12th scale, he made planes and other tools to make every detail.
Some of Studebaker’s most intriguing work includes his working music boxes in 1/12th scale. He uses antique music box movements that really play and the boxes are made of exotic woods with ivory escutcheons from old piano keys. There are two limited-edition pieces — one in the Musical Wonder House, a music box museum in Wiscasset, Maine, while the other has been sold.
Studebaker spent 40 hours on his most recent project, a mahogany fireplace surround that features a built-in picture over the mantel. The picture has a glass lantern slide from the early 1900s, and a projector that ran with a kerosene lamp light. When it is installed in the client’s dollhouse, the picture will light and the fireplace will flicker. Studebaker designed the fireplace to accommodate the slide and added elements from the exterior of the client’s house.
Although he builds miniatures mainly for fun, Studebaker sells some items and hopes to make a living at it one day. He acquires clients and networks through miniature shows on the East Coast and is contacted on his Web site. His prices are based on the materials he uses. The music box movements, for example, are quite pricy and rare.