New project – the Blackbird Bar roombox

After working nonstop on the Victorianna almost all year I decided to distract myself with a smaller project. In the early 2000’s I had a grand but short-lived plan to enter one of Miniatures.com‘s annual contests with a bar roombox. I bought some furniture and mini bottles but never got around to doing anything with them. Then in 2014 I found a handmade bar for $15 at a mini flea market — I bought that and a Chaplin Roombox to put it in.

These have been sitting on a shelf untouched ever since, until a few weeks ago I started thinking it would be fun to put little people in the bar. Houseworks makes these resin figures (or at least, they used to — they’re discontinued now) that are very lifelike, but never appealed to me in a dollhouse because of how staged they are. Here’s a scene HBS/Miniatures.com featured on one of their holiday catalogs:

I tend to think of dollhouses as living places — not frozen moments in time — so there’s something weird to me about having frozen people in the house. (I made an exception in the Little House Cabin, but those dolls are much more doll-like.) I work in the video game industry, where the subject of the “uncanny valley” often comes up — it’s when 3D characters look so close to human, but not quite, that they’re creepy. I’ve always felt that way about the resin dollhouse dolls, too.

Still, the idea of adding them to the bar got me excited. I liked that each of these people can have a little story that you can piece together based on what’s going on around them. And I’ll admit, once I found out they’re discontinued, finding each of the dolls I wanted to use became an irresistable challenge. I made a few impulse purchases the week before Thanksgiving, and the Blackbird Bar is now officially under construction.

This roombox was ridiculously easy to put together. The walls, floor, and ceiling are MDF. An MDF patio gets glued to the wooden front piece, which is then held onto the box with magnets. Before gluing the box together, I added tape wire along the back wall.

This wraps around to the back wall, where I put the junction splice.

The pieces fit together with pegs that slip into pre-drilled holes.

I glued the walls, ceiling, and floor together with tacky glue, and clamped the box while it dried.

Next I ran tapewire around the top of the roombox. I’m planning to electrify the bar with fluorette sockets like I did in the Christmas breadbox.

These brads were a bit tough to get in, so far up in the corner. In retrospect I should have made this connection while the walls were still separate, leaving long tails of tape wire on both sides, and then stuck those down to the side walls after the box had been glued.

Around the time I bought the bar and roombox, Geoff and I took a vacation in Portland where we went to a bar that had a gothic black, white, and red color scheme. I liked it, and bought this scrapbook paper soon after intending to use it in the roombox.

I’ve had this red scrapbook paper for even longer — I think I bought this way back when I was working on the Westville! I like that it looks like linoleum but never wanted to use it in a kitchen because it has some black smudges and words printed on it that make it look dingy. In a dollhouse I have a hard time making anything look used or “lived in.”

In a roombox that doesn’t bug me, again because it feels less like a living, “ongoing” place and more like a frozen moment. And it totally stands to reason that a neighborhood bar is going to have some grime on the floor. I was able to position the paper so the printed words are covered up by the bar.

The resin figures are top-heavy and tend to fall over. The seated dolls may need to be glued to the chairs, and the standing dolls will need putty on their feet to stick to the floor. (I’m also planning to glue down the bottles and accessories on the bar. The earthquake risk is just too high in this miniature neighborhood!) Putty tends to leave marks on scrapbook paper, and I didn’t want the floor to get all smudged up. (Ironic, considering what I just said about the dingy floor…)

Geoff has a package of lamination paper that he occasionally uses to, well, laminate things. I “borrowed” it.

The lamination paper is letter sized and the bar is slightly deeper than that.

So, there’s a seam at the very back. It’ll mostly be covered up by the bar and the bathroom door, and with all the people in place you’re never going to notice it.

The lamination makes the floor nice and shiny. I can think of other uses for this stuff… it would make a nice glossy stone countertop, for example.

For the ceiling, I’ll use this patterned styrene sheet, painted copper. I don’t usually work in 1:12 scale, so projects like this are great opportunities to use up stuff from my packrat stash. The slim door in one of the photos above and this styrene sheet were both flea market purchases that only cost me a couple of dollars each.

I’m still thinking about electricity — in addition to the fluorettes, I think I want to add some lights to the bar itself — so I can’t glue in the wallpaper until that’s all figured out. In the meantime, I painted the front edges of the roombox black (you’ll see these when the front piece is lifted off) and the edges around the ceiling copper, just in case there are spots where the styrene doesn’t reach all the way to the edge. I’m not planning to add crown molding since that would interfere with the fluorettes.

I’ve also made some upgrades to the bar itself and purchased a jukebox Christmas ornament that I’m planning to modify to make it look more realistic. I’ll go into more detail in later posts. For now, here’s a sneak peek of some of the people who stopped in for happy hour.

(That guy in the chair is held in with a twist tie right now. He’s going to have to be glued or screwed into the chair somehow, otherwise he falls right out.)

As much as I like the dolls’ detail, I’m not happy with how homogeneous the clientele is. I came across a few black dolls but they were all doing things that weren’t really conducive to the bar atmosphere (mixing cake batter, carrying school books, holding a pile of towels…) and I really haven’t been able to find any other ethnicities at all. Shopping for dolls hammered home how frustrating it must be for non white people to try to find themselves represented in mainstream media. (This also comes up a lot in the video game industry!)

They’re also pretty clean-cut and preppy. All of the ones in these pictures are from the Houseworks line. I have a few dolls coming from the UK that seem more youthful and grungy (but they’re still all white). If anyone has leads on non-white resin dolls in 1:12, please let me know! They don’t have to be meant for dollhouses, as long as they look like people who might like to stop in here for a drink.


  1. Sheila

    I really like your ‘grungy’ floor. Looks great in the bar if a bit shiny for something that’s supposed to be a bit dirty and old.

    • Emily

      My theory is that the grime is caked in from years of use, but they still mop and wax the floors every night. :)

  2. Jodi Hippler

    What a fun new project Emily! I think it’s great to mix in a smaller build while in the midst of a large project – keeps the creativity moving with the ideas. I wonder if you could add some flavor to the dolls yourself. Might be fun to pick up some non bake type porcelain paints in interesting skin tones and test them out. You may just be a people Picasso!

    • Emily

      Yes, I was thinking of that. I’ll look into porcelain paints. Also, the doll I ordered to be the bartender is supposedly a teenager, so I want to give him a beard and maybe a tattoo…

  3. Samantha

    Love this project! What a great idea :) Hmmm.. now to your diversity issue.

    What about Teresa? Maybe she dropped in after work.

    And James…

    This guy is cute but he is holding a newspaper… you could pretend it’s a menu.

    I like this lady too.. Maybe she’s just been shopping and stopped in for a pint on the way home. :D

    This one is a white guy but his outfit seems a bit more bar-ish.

    • Emily

      Yep – looked at all of those! The guy in the jacket is one of the ones on his way from the UK. I might end up with some of the others too (I especially like Teresa and James) but I keep overestimating how much space I’ll have inside the bar so I think I should wait and see how crowded it is before I order any more. I was thinking about adding a bouncer outside the door so there can be a line of people waiting to go in.

      • Samantha

        LOL.. maybe it’s Saturday night and the bar is packed. :D.. I agree on how difficult it is to find diverse dolls though.. I could not find one Asian or hispanic resin doll.. and the other types you do see all play into typical stereotypes. So annoying!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2023 The Den of Slack

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑