Kellogg's Dolls' Houses

From Dollhouse Miniatures magazine - July 1999

In a Snap...
Ned Kellogg turns favorite
photos into treasured keepsakes

by Rebecca Rhodes

From trendy San Francisco Victorians to elaborate New York City brownstones, Ned Kellogg begins his remarkable miniature replicas of real houses with one simple request: send photographs.

Three to be exact, showing the front and two sides. If the customer wants the back of the piece finished, Kellogg, of Cold Spring Harbor, New York, asks for a fourth photo.

Ideally, Ned likes to inspect the actual house to get a feel for it before beginning. Copies of schematics, architectural plans, and dimensions are also useful in getting the proper look; but the reality is that Ned often works solely from photos.

The cost and the technical difficulty of the project increase with the amount of detail the customer requests. "If the customer wants a house that just looks like their house, and they don't care if it is exact, it's a whole lot easier and cheaper to make," he explains.

"When somebody orders a Colonial or a Tudor, I do everything on the house that is on a Colonial or Tudor. Now, if somebody came in and said they wanted a Colonial, but it was an [exact] copy of their house, it would be a completely different thing because there are a lot of other details and architectural nuances I would have to get into.

"Some people have shown me some pretty complicated houses that they want perfectly duplicated inside and out, and I usually decide it's too much [work]."

But not often. His workload is tremendous and his output prodigious - Ned creates 150 to 200 dollhouses a year, including commissions and additions to his private collection.

All this from a man who admits that dollhouses were never a hobby for him.

A professional singer with a doctorate in basic sciences (anatomy and physiology), Ned's first love was the stage. "I made a living at singing," he says, "but the classical music situation was getting slower and slower, so I decided that we should have a supplemental income." To augment his performance salary, Ned and his wife, Sonia, opened a toy store. Dollhouse kits were part of the store's merchandise mix, but after seeing his customers' interest in them and what the kits contained, Ned decided to try his hand at creating his own structures. "Frankly, I didn't like the quality of the commercial dollhouses," he explains. "There was no substance. So, one day I decided to start making houses."

That was 22 years ago. The first project was to make a large red Colonial for his daughter, a job that hooked him on miniature architectural reproductions.

"I love old, empty buildings," Ned says. "That's where most of my interest in reproductions comes from." Besides exploring old buildings for inspiration, he scans architectural books for other ideas.

Many of his reproductions are conventional Colonials, Tudors, or houses with mansard roofs; but he's also made a miniature lighthouse, a windmill and a dove cote, a church, and a highly detailed 65-room brownstone apartment building (the original was located on East 83rd Street in Manhattan). The seven foot-high by six foot-deep brownstone contains seven flights of stairs, 90 windows, several fire escapes, slate steps with wrought-iron railings, a roof entrance, basement stores, plate glass windows, and sidewalks.

"I don't really even know how I did it," recalls Ned. "It was huge. I had to have a moving company move it."

Quality and product integrity are important to Ned, and that attitude is reflected in his work. "The houses [I made] in the beginning are embarassing," he admits. "I worked it out and worked it out and kept at it until I developed [a style and a standard] because I believe in giving the customers the best for their money.

"People think making dollhouses is simple," Ned adds. "It's not. The work is unbelievable. If you're going to do it right, it's very complicated.

"There are dozens and dozens of steps that have to be done right. If you complete a stage that later is going to have to fit in with some other stage, they all must be perfect or the entire piece won't work."

When replacing a full-size building in miniature, Ned strives to use authentic materials. Most basic structures are crafted from mahogany and pine. The frame is covered with the same materials as the original. For some roofs, Ned assembles hundreds of hand-made shingles, while others he covers with tar paper and sealer.

He tries to carry that authenticity through to the building's exterior.

Stone houses are covered with genuine stones and mortar. Wood paneling is made from separate boards, which are glued to the structure. If the siding on a full-size house was attached with nails, Ned uses nails to attach the miniature siding. Brick houses and chimneys are made from either clay bricks or small pieces of real bricks. Windows are plate glass, and fire escapes and railings are fashioned from miniature wrought iron.

Using original finished such as sandstone, brownstone, and concrete can pose complex problems, so Ned uses imitation materials.

"When using actual slabs of sandstone, you have to get it 1/16 inch thick," says Ned. "But, there's so many different ways to create that type of finish. There's new stuff on the market - a spray - that looks like concrete. I've been wanting to use it to create a concrete townhouse. Then there's sandstone spray. Or you can use stucco. You put it on with a palette, paint it, and score it so it looks like sandstone."

After more than two decades and thousands of houses, Ned is unsure of where his work will take him.

"I don't want to stop making houses because I like architecture, and I like to keep busy," says Ned. "Besides, I can't stand not getting things finished. If I take a day off, it really bothers me. I'm in the workshop six, sometimes seven nights a week."

Eventually he hopes to either find a buyer for his collection so it can be exhibited in a museum setting, or he would like to create a site to display his collection.

The interest his houses generate amazes Ned, who has found a great deal of personal satisfaction in his work. "I've accomplished all I've wanted to from life," he says. "All I want now is peace, lots of money, and a canoe." And, of course, the time to use it.