When I started pursuing this hobby, I kept coming across the words “dollhouse scale. They were usually written as ratios like 1:24, 1:12, and so on. I had no idea what they were (except that they were ratios) or why they mattered. Everything miniature is small. That’s all I need to know.
Except that, once I started really getting into it, I learned dollhouse scale matters. A lot. Unless I’m creating some kind of Salvador Dali house (which could be cool), scale is important. It makes everything look realistic and, frankly, doesn’t mess with our brains.
Allow me to explain dollhouse scale and why it matters when you’re building miniature anything.
What Is Scale?
The word scale can mean something that measures weight, something that covers animals, or something you play in music. Scale is also (and this is the important one) “a proportion between two sets of dimensions.”
Which means what exactly?
Scale helps humans estimate the size of things in relation to each other. For example, we all know that twelve inches equal one foot. Therefore, whether something is 2 or 10 feet long, we know approximately what that means because we all know how big one foot is.
It’s all relative
Scale, though, is relative. A single building against a plain white background tells you nothing until you add other elements. If you add, say, a gorilla to the picture, you’ve created scale. Your brain is measuring the size of the building in relation to the gorilla and vice versa.
If the gorilla is small, say the height of the front entrance, your brain thinks “OK. Normal size gorilla out for a walk.” If, however, the gorilla is too big for the door, and is, in fact, the same height as six of the building floors, your brain says “Hmm. That is not a normal gorilla. It’s gotta be King Kong.”
No matter what we are looking at, our brains will always try to size things up in relation to other objects. This helps us make sense of what we’re seeing. Sometimes, though, things don’t make sense to our brains. Have you ever looked at a picture or a room and felt that something was off, but you couldn’t put your finger on it? There’s a chance that things in the room were out of scale, and that was messing with your brain.
Here’s an extreme example.
Take your average kitchen setup. You’ve got a table and four chairs. Someone comes in and sits in the chair. However, this person does not fit in the chair. Their knees are bent so far up that they are practically in their nostrils. The back of the chair is only up to the small of their back, and their butt is hanging off the seat.
Beyond the fact that this person is clearly uncomfortable, you might feel uncomfortable, too. Why? Your brain is trying to figure out why this person looks so out of place at this table in this chair. Is the person a giant? Or is the chair too small? Are the table and chair a child’s play set and not a regular kitchen set?
That’s what scale does. It helps us make decisions about things in relation to everything around them.
What is dollhouse scale?
When dollhouses became popular, there was no rhyme or reason to how they were built. There were no standards for sizing (or anything else for that matter). People built them as they saw fit. So, things from dollhouse to dollhouse were different sizes. Sometimes, in fact, different things in the same dollhouse were a different scale.
What’s the big deal, you might be thinking. Phoebe did it.
(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch this:)
That’s true. And while Monica did not like Phoebe’s dollhouse for many reasons, one of the reasons she didn’t like it might have had something to do with scale.
(Side note: I love Monica’s dollhouse. Does anyone know what that is because I want it!)
While Phoebe’s house is imaginative and interesting, the scale is off. Objects in the rooms are different sizes in relation to each other, and this messes with Monica’s brain (which loves order and rules). Monica’s house follows scale. Everything is the right size relative to everything around it. Her house might be perfectly boring, but it’s also perfectly scaled.
Understanding, Converting, and Calculating Scale
When we talk about converting scales for miniatures, we’re talking about shrinking things. Take, for example, a door. If there’s a door you like in real life and you want to recreate it for your dollhouse, you need to shrink the door measurements to fit the dollhouse. Make the door to big or too small and it, obviously, won’t fit.
Since shrink rays don’t exist (yet!), you have to measure and calculate it yourself. The down and dirty of it is, you are trying to take one foot of the door in real life, and turn that one foot into an equal measurement of the miniature door.
But, here’s where scale comes in. Let’s say you make the door too big and you decide that instead of redoing the door, you’ll just cut a bigger opening. That’s fine. However, now the door is too big and out of scale. It won’t look right in relation to the windows, the furniture, or even the front of the house.
Converting and calculating scale is not that complicated. I say that because there’s plenty of tools out there to help you figure it out. Simply tell the tool what scale you’re working in, input your measurement (9 feet, 2 inches, etc.), and hit “calculate.”
Sometimes, though, you don’t have access to a tool. All you’ve got is a calculator, or, gasp, a pen and paper. There is, however, an easy way to calculate and convert real-life measurements to dollhouse scale measurements.
Let’s start with an easy one. Say you want to scale down the height of a tree. You divide the height of the tree by the scale you want to convert to.
For example, 1:12 is a popular dollhouse scale. This means that for everyone 1 of the measurement in real life, it’s been shrunk by a factor of 12 in miniature life.
To convert our tree to 1:12 dollhouse scale, we divide the height of our tree in real life by 12.
Assume our tree is 12 feet tall in real life. We want to shrink that tree down proportionally by 12. So, we divide 12 feet by 12, and we get, drum roll, 1 foot, or 12 inches.
Let’s try a different one. Say you’re building a miniature dollhouse replica of your real house. And, let’s say that you’ve got nine-foot tall ceilings in your house. To maintain the height of the rooms when you replicate them, divide 9 feet by 12 to get 0.75 feet, or 9-inch tall ceilings. (And yes, there are conversion tools to calculate feet to inches to centimeters to whatever.)
No matter what dollhouse scale you’re building in, just divide by that scale. If you’re working in 1:24 scale (another common dollhouse scale), you divide everything by 24. So, our 12-foot tall tree would be 0.5 feet tall (12 feet divided by 24), and our 9-foot tall ceilings would be 0.375 feet tall, or 4.5 inches (9 feet divided by 24).
The trick is to remember your outputs. Using the ceiling example, we divided 9 feet by 12 and ended up with a fraction. Obviously, that fraction isn’t equivalent to whole feet, hence the conversion to inches.
Why dollhouse scale is important
If you’re building a dollhouse that’s 1:12, you want to make sure the furniture is 1:12, not, for example, 1:24. Why? Because the furniture will be half as big as it should be, and it won’t look right in your dollhouse.
In real life, if something is 12 inches wide, when you’re building something — anything, in fact — in 1:12 scale, that “thing” will be 1 inch wide. So, for example, if you’re building a floor tile that in real life is 12 inches square (12 inches on each side), your miniature tile will be 1 inch on each side. That’s scale.
But, if you build a dollhouse in 1:12 scale, and use floor tiles that are 1:24, the tiles will be 1/2 inch on each side. Which is half an inch too small.
For floor tiles, this is probably not a big deal. In fact, it might look kind of cool. But, it won’t look cool with furniture.
Let’s say you’ve got a stool that’s bar height. On average, a bar stool is 23 to 28 inches tall. For the sake of math, let’s call our bar stool 24 inches tall. If you’re building in 1:12, the bar stool will be 2 inches tall. However, if you build the stool in 1:24, it will only be 1 inch tall.
You’re probably thinking, so what? It’s just one inch. Sure. But, the average bar is 41 to 43 inches tall. Let’s say ours is 42 inches tall. If I build the bar in 1:12, it’s 3.5 inches tall. Which makes a two-inch tall bar stool just right. A one-inch bar stool? Not so much.
In case you’re a visual person, here’s a visual aid (since I haven’t build any furniture yet):
As you can see, the stool on the left is a lot better height wise to the stool on the right. In fact, I’m not even sure the bartender would see you if you sat in the stool on the right.
Dollhouse Scale Guide
That’s why scale is important. And, that’s how to convert real-life measurements to any scale. But there are a lot of scales. Below, are explanations of the most common dollhouse scales (and a few less common ones). Impatient? There’s a handy quick guide at the bottom of the post.
1:6 scale AKA playscale or fashion scale
In case the name didn’t give it away, 1:6 scale is mostly found on fashion dolls like Barbie. Every six playscale inches is equal to one full-size inch. Fun fact! Playscale was introduced to the world by Hasbro in 1964 with the first GI Joe dolls. Thanks, Joe!
You won’t find this used in miniature dollhouses very often. It’s not a popular scale for hobbyists and if you’ve ever seen Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse, not very miniature. As a scale, though, it survives because of its size. Playscale is perfect for kid-sized hands while they’re building their fine motor skills.
1:12 scale AKA one inch scale
This is the most common miniature dollhouse scale. It’s a long story, but it has to do with Queen Mary’s 1924 dollhouse, imperial rulers, and the metric system. All it means is that every 12 inches in real life is equal to 1 inch in miniature life.
While it’s popular for miniature dollhouse enthusiasts (raises hand), it’s not popular for other miniatures. I don’t know why. So, when you’re working in 1:12 scale, keep in mind it may be hard for you to find things like cars or trains if you want to include them.
1:16 scale AKA 3/4 scale
While this was a common scale for dollhouses from the 1930s to 1950, it’s not seen as much anymore. One foot in real life on this scale is 3/4 inch in miniature life.
1:18 AKA Lundby Scale or 2/3 scale
It’s not often that a type of dollhouse (or anything) has its own scale, but Lundby has that honor. The 1:18 scale is Lundby scale, named after the Lundby dollhouses made in Sweden. I do not know if Ikea has a line of Lundby scale furniture (but I bet you could hack some).
1:24 AKA half scale or half inch scale
What comes around goes around. This scale was popular in the 1950s, then it wasn’t, but now it’s becoming popular again in the UK and Europe. It’s still a bit of a niche, though. In this scale, one real-life foot is 1/2 inch in miniature life.
1:48 AKA quarter scale
This scale is similar to the railroad “O” scale, which means you can use O scale model items in your dollhouse building. One foot in real life is 1/4 inch in miniature life.
1:144 AKA microscale
Lots of people call this scale “dollhouse for a dollhouse,” and it does not get any smaller than this! It’s 1/12 the size of the 1:12 scale. In English, that means “super tiny.” Here’s the math. One foot in real life is 0.0069 feet, or 0.0828 inches, or 0.2103 centimeters.
Or really small.
Size Is Relative to Everything
When I picked the Keeper’s House, it was mainly because it looked like an easy first project. (Spoiler alert, it’s not, but I’m having fun!). It happens to be 1:12 dollhouse scale. Which, at the time, meant nothing to me.
But, now, I see why it’s important that I know that information. As I continue with the project, I have to make sure I get the right scale of furniture and everything else. Otherwise, I’ll end up with a King Kong size door and teeny tiny chairs.
What about you? Any thoughts on dollhouse scale? Any disaster stories?