My 1:4 Scale Parisian Apartment, Part 1

Sybarite DioramaThere’s nothing like the promise of a dolly shopping spree to motivate me to get my butt moving on a dolly project.

When I saw the blurb about FDQ’s Interior Design contest in their digital 2014 Spring issue, the blood rushed to my head I was so excited. My husband was sitting next to me. “FDQ is having an interior design contest.” I said out loud, to no one in particular.

“What’s FDQ?” my husband asked.

“It’s a fashion doll magazine.” I said.

“Great.” He moaned.

Sybarite Diorama

This might make my husband seem unsupportive of my doll habit, which isn’t entirely true. He’s actually usually pretty tolerant. It’s just that it was already the end of January and I had finally taken down a diorama that I had originally set up to take some Christmas photos and then decided to leave up to do a New Year’s party and “day after” shoot. None of this would be a big deal, except we live in a 600 square-foot apartment. So my husband was understandably a little weary of living with a banquet table set up with a gigantic box on it in the middle of our tiny living room for the past 2 months.

“Poor man.” I thought…and then I proceeded to feverishly brainstorm my action plan to win the contest.

My FDQ Contest Entry

1:4 Scale DioramaI’ve always loved décor that manages to combine lots of different styles without looking awkwardly mis-matched, cluttered, or forced. I especially admire how Parisians manage to take the very formal and classical interior architecture of the historical buildings they live in and turn them into spaces that are open, contemporary and sophisticated, yet warm and homey. I am also a huge fan of American Pickers on the History Channel, who specialize not only in antiques but gritty old stuff that most people might throw away. Watching Mike and Frank’s show for the past year has taught me how to recognize the beauty in rusty, worn-out, every-day items, even those that were originally made for industrial use. Such items bring texture and interest to a décor, not to mention that it’s a good way to recycle, which is a cause that I’ve always been passionate about.


For my FDQ contest entry, I was determined to create an interior that paid homage to all these concepts. So, working in my favorite 1:4 scale, I constructed a great room of a Parisian apartment. It consists of 4 walls that are 2-feet in height configured into a box with a four-foot square footprint. Inside the box towards the back is an additional wall with a doorway cut out that creates a hallway to give the project more depth. The walls, floor and ceiling of this mammoth structure are made out of Gatorfoam, which is very similar to foamcore but is much more durable.

I discovered Gatorfoam a few years ago and I’ve been using it for my dioramas ever since. Like foamcore, Gatorfoam is extremely lightweight. However, whereas you can cut foamcore with an exacto knife, you need powertools to penetrate Gatorfoam’s harder surface. Gatorfoam can be sawed or routed and the resulting cuts are nice and clean because of its harder shell. The drawback is that Gatorfoam is quite translucent, something I realized for the first time doing this diorama since I used only paint instead of some kind of opaque wall covering like I usually do. The light penetrated through the Gatorfoam and through 2 coats of paint, which made the walls glow unrealistically and competed with the natural light I wanted to come through the windows. To remedy the problem, I covered the backside of the diorama with lightweight poster board.

fullThe interior walls of the diorama are painted with Behr Premium Ultra Interior Matte base in a medium white. They are trimmed with over 60 feet of wood baseboard, chair rail and crown molding from Manchester Woodworks painted with Behr Premium Ultra Interior Satin Enamel in a medium white. When I initially found Manchester Woodworks’ collection of fashion doll-scaled trims online, I was not entirely confident they would work for a 1:4 scaled interior. It was a bit of a leap of faith, but I placed a very large order including a variety of trims hoping some of them would work with the much larger scale. When I finally saw the pieces in-person, I was very pleased to find that many of the trims scaled for Barbie were not too dainty and could be repurposed for my use.

The Living Room

fireplaceThe focal point of the diorama is the Bespaq fireplace that I sanded and refinished in faux marble using leftover trim paint. Special thanks must go to Charlene McDougale of Four the Girls whose “can do” attitude was absolutely elemental in helping me realize the rest of what I had in mind for the seating area of this living room.

FDQ ContestThe pair of club chairs by the window are a custom variation of Charlene’s popular wingback chair. They are done in a gorgeous olive satin and feature Charlene’s fabulous handmade cabriole legs. The very small occasional table between the chairs was also custom made by Charlene, following a design I found online. The working vintage-style spotlight lamp with telescoping tripod was made by me and features woodwork also by Charlene.

Fashion Doll LampThe coffee table at the center was made from a Euro pallet I designed and had Charlene construct. (Notice that it contains magazines and books I reproduced in miniature, including an issue of FDQ magazine!) The modern white sofa opposite the club chairs is the only piece in this group of furniture that Charlene did not have a hand in making. It is the very popular “Modern Sofa” made by Horsman and inspired by a design by Le Corbusier.

The Artwork

JAMIEshow CameronFor this space I wanted edgy artwork so searched the Internet to find pieces that conveyed themes that were close to my own heart. The central piece of the living room is a painting entitled “Next” by Jackson Thilenius. To give it the look of a real painting, scaled-down to 1:4 size, I ordered a canvas reprint of it from and mounted it myself on a wood canvas frame custom constructed by Charlene. On the opposite wall hangs an original work of acrylic on canvas by Etsy artist Sheri Wilson called “Flower Flutes.” Another one of Sheri’s original paintings of a tree hangs to the right of the fireplace. The remaining art pieces on this wall were all cut from custom greeting cards ordered from Fine Art America and then framed in actual photo frames for added realism. They include two pieces to the right of the fireplace, “A Valiant Attempt” and “Rest in Grease” by Jann Paxton. To the left of the fireplace is “Pretty Colors” by Catherine McElroy.

The Contest

JAMIEshow CameronTo enter the contest, entrants were required to send only 3 photos of their diorama: 1 full shot of the set, 1 full shot with the doll to show scale, and 1 close-up shot showing clever styling and propping within the room. The judges for the contest this year, interior designer Sheila Bridges, architect Terry Hudak, and home blogger Pam Kueber, as well as FDQ editor Maryann Roy, of Welcome Home, offered their advice and experience to select the winner. Each vote in descending order was given points, with the greatest point holder being designated the first, second, and third prize winner.

The living room is just one part of the great room I constructed and I am pleased to announce that it garnered me the 3rd place prize in the contest…and my marriage survived, intact!

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts with details of the remaining two areas of this diorama: the dining room and study. Also, be sure to look for the complete article about the contest and the other winners in FDQ’s Summer issue online.


My 1:4 Scale Parisian Apartment, Part 2


  1. Angel wrote:

    Love your diorama! When I saw yours, I figured I wouldn’t have a chance. I was surprised you didn’t grab first price. Really, totally, completely awesome!

    • Tori wrote:

      Thank you so much, Angel! I loved your entry too. Your collection of tiny American Indian artifacts is amazing and so perfectly scaled for FR! And that spiral staircase? To die for!

      Congratulations to you on your 2nd place win! 🙂

  2. lynda wrote:

    I was thrilled that you won…I have been encouraging Charlene to do more for the 1:4 scale…..we need it…everything in furniture is for Barbie or American Girl. Charlene is one very talented, energetic lady and you both did a wonderful job designing & crafting this diorama. I am very impressed with your talent to create such a lovely home for you dolls. I love it, love it, love it! Congratulations! Looking forward to reading more on the other rooms.

    • Tori wrote:

      Thank you for your very kind comments, Lynda!

      You are so right–it is very difficult to find realistic furniture that is just the right scale for 1:4 fashion dolls. Everything is either too small or too big!

      Charlene was a joy to work with–she is so affable and accommodating. It was truly a dream-come-true to work with her to create all the things I wanted for this space!

  3. Terri Gold wrote:

    Your entry is wonderful. The attention to detail is precise. The setting looks incredibly realistic. It’s truly a winner in every way. Congratulations.

    • Tori wrote:

      I definitely try to shoot for realistic, so you could not pay me a better compliment! Thank you, Terri!

  4. Sylvia in Fl wrote:

    Truly impressive. I find Dioramas intriguing and I am always in awe of people who have the patience and talent to create their vision and then seeing the amazing details. Kudos to you for a wonderful project. Loved reading about how you went about constructing it. Would you mind sharing how you did the windows?


  5. lan wrote:

    just amazing !!! i want tha sameeeeeeeeee!!!!

  6. Debra in TX wrote:

    Outstanding!!! I love each and every detail of your rooms. They are just incredible.

  7. GeorgeG wrote:

    WOW! really amazing, and the lighting and lights are amazing! I am blown away!

    • Tori wrote:

      Thank you for your nice comments, George! I’m so honored you like! 🙂 Your dolls are a big inspiration to me!