Awesome Tiny Houses

Geek Culture
Image: Brick Maier
Image: Brick Maier

Brick Maier, creator of the Tabletop Movie Studio, has now come out with a series of laser-cut chipboard houses called Awesome Tiny Houses. Not matchbox-sized, but certainly quite small. Great for moviemaking, doll houses, part of model train set scenes, or anything you want them to be, these very affordable houses come in 14 different styles.

Being chipboard, they are ready to paint or decorate in any way you like. Brick is also toying with the idea of selling already-colored versions. Combine several different styles to make a city street, or use one to be the center of your story. There is a starter house, a cottage, a Shire house, canal houses, a corner market, a garage, a theater, and more.

I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with Brick about these really cool structures.

Image: Brick Maier
Image: Brick Maier

GeekDad: What gave you the idea to create these tiny houses?

Brick Maier: The idea came from my work with LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) in developing film curriculum and moivemaking training for teachers. I generally get a sneak peak at upcoming exhibits and this one was inspired German Expressionist cinema. Part of the exhibit has these elaborate sets built for Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I started tinkering with the idea of a miniaturized house that was one piece and could easily film an interior or exterior shot. Once I started designing, the template was really versatile and I was able to create a number of structures to complete an entire city block of buildings.

GD: In what ways do you anticipate people using these?

BM: Originally I designed them to work in conjunction with my Tabletop Moviemaking set up. The 3D structures create interesting shadows and a sense of depth. However, when I brought a set of these for my 5 year old nephew to build and play with, he revealed to me they are the perfect size for Lego Mini-figures. So, while they are really cool for filming in miniature, I think they stand on their own as a fun buildable activity for kids to have some hands-on experience with creating a little structure. It is simple and fast and messy. Fingertips will be smudgy after building one of these, but it washes up with soap and water. I think a little mess is good think.

Image: Brick Maier
Image: Brick Maier

GD: What kind of response have you gotten so far?

BM: The response has been good so far. I have had students build them in my film camps and create little stop motion movies. The 3D lends itself to a faster stop motion process as opposed to claymation.

Here are two examples:

Mermaid (28 seconds)

The Robot (21 seconds of awesome!)

Currently I am planning a writing workshop around the buildings with 826 Seattle where students will build a little neighborhood and writing stories about the different people that live and work there. I recently had the opportunity to present my work and projects to some people at DreamWorks Animation and they really liked the little houses.

GD: How do you keep the costs so low?

BM: I chose a durable heavy duty chipboard as my main material and this helps keep my costs down. I also own the laser cutter so I don’t have to rent time on one which can be very expensive. That said, the more intricate the model, the higher the cost because it takes longer to cut.

Chipboard also turns out to be a super versatile material for drawing, painting or collaging on. Ultimately I view these blank buildings as three dimensional canvases that people can adapt with their own creativity. Early mocks had pre-made interiors and exteriors, but I backed off that because I wanted people to not be limited by my designs.

GD: Do you have plans to offer laser-cut furniture in the future?

BM: I have created a whole set of tables, chairs, rocking chairs, a porch, fences, street lights, telephone poles, a moped, cars, trees and shrubs. I am in the process of finalizing the laser cut files, photographing them and making them available on my site. They look really cool and add the detail of the houses.

GD: Where do you see this venture heading?

BM: I would like these buildings and accessories to form the core of a larger ecosystem of products that center on hands-on buildable structures. As a kid I would cut up cereal boxes, egg crates and toilet paper rolls to create new things. I found cutting the cardboard to be the hardest part sometimes, my scissors would just mash the cardboard and my hands would hurt. These houses take that concept and refine it with some ready made structures using a precision laser to do the cutting. I like to use cost-effective and recyclable materials that are non-toxic and renewable. I like the idea that the chipboard was recycled from something else and then has a second life as a little home.

If you’re interested in Brick’s Awesome Tiny Houses (I know I am), visit his website and order some! They cost between $3 and $5 each (plus $2 for a light), and there is free shipping on orders $75 and up. What towns can you assemble?

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