Posted: 17.05.2024 14:10:52

Nostalgia in miniature

Yekaterina Ustinovich from Vitebsk has learnt to shape nostalgia into a tangible object. Based on the photo, she can make miniature copies of houses and flats that sell like hot cakes. That is because there are only a few miniaturists in Belarus and even far beyond its borders. The master’s works have already caused a sensation at the presentation of a network of urban cafés. Yekaterina’s miniatures were ordered for a film set of a Russian fantasy series, and her TikTok videos fly into trends no worse than the content of the first magnitude celebrities.

A childhood home recreated by a woman from Vitebsk that makes unique room boxes with favourite interiors

Yekaterina Ustinovich, room box designer

From idea to action  

Many people are surprised that it is possible to create from improvised materials a miniature house that both externally and internally looks like a real home — the one from childhood. It is enough just to provide the master with a photo, and she will bring to life almost any idea.  
Yekaterina took up creating room boxes while on maternity leave. Like many young mums, she got bored with her daily household chores, “I started with dollhouses. It was something very basic. It worked for the first time, the second... I made a dollhouse for my friend’s daughter. And then, I liked it so much that I did not want to go back to work. During my parental leave, I learnt how to monetise my hobby.”  
Yekaterina held a highly paid position — she worked as a manager in an information security company. Yet, this did not stop her on the way to her dream. A lawyer by profession, she plunged into a completely new world. Now she feels like Santa Claus all year round, giving genuine emotions to those who are waiting for them.

Revealing the cards

Everyone has their own secrets of mastery. Yekaterina shared some of hers. In her hands was a room box with the plot familiar to millions of people — a Soviet flat on New Year’s eve featuring a Christmas tree, a festive table, and a TV set. To bring a person back to the happy moments of the past is the goal behind the creative and painstaking work.
“Just look at the glowing Christmas tree!” the master drew attention to the delicate object. Indeed, everything was shining like in a fairy tale. How did she do that? 
In the manufacture of room boxes, all things that needlessly clutter your home space and get dusty while not in use — cardboard, fabric remnants, paints — will come in handy. However, in order to create a really solid piece of art, you still cannot do without going to a DIY store. It is possible to buy the necessary materials for the creation of one room box in the range of Br50-100. It all depends on the imagination and the degree of detail.
The common room box scale is 1 to 12. Before implementing the idea, Yekaterina draws a future home on paper. “I outline an approximate façade and cut it out from cardboard with a stationery knife. The roof, the door, the windows and so on are all the obligatory details. Next, you need to carefully glue them together. Then paint with acrylic paints. Voilà!” the master demonstrated the sample.
As for the tiny elements, the work is more meticulous. Furniture is made of cardboard of different density. The most interesting thing is the dishes. The master sculpts them with polymer clay. After that, she paints them by hand and covers with acrylic varnish. 
According to our interlocutor, you can sculpt literally anything. The more experience you have, the more elegant the item will be. By the way, Yekaterina started her polymer clay sculpting experience not even with dishes but with pets. Cats and dogs of different colours and breeds began to work fine gradually, followed by other new elements. Now, the Vitebsk woman manages to make people miniatures out of clay based on photo.

Test purchase

It takes time to purchase the materials necessary for the future room box. Yekaterina sometimes has to wander around the shops for a couple of hours. “I select everything I need by comparing the items with the samples on my smartphone. It is enough to upload a snapshot of an existing house or flat, and you can safely search for fabrics for curtains, carpets, furniture upholstery. It is not always possible to find the exact hue, but I do not despair. I can colour the fabric myself with acrylic paints. Sometimes I immediately print the desired pattern on it. This is especially important for imitation carpets.”  
From several days to two weeks are required to produce one room box. The work is carried out for many hours. But it brings pleasure. 
“I can spend 8 or even 12 hours at my desk without even noticing the time, because there is a constant change of activity. So no special perseverance, as most people would think, is needed in my business. For example, one moment I am busy doing polymer clay sculpting, an hour later I already work on furniture layouts, after another hour I set up lighting in the room box,” the miniaturist explained. The last element gives a special flair. Technically, it is possible to highlight any object — a Christmas tree, a nightlight, a fireplace. The master uses a miniature garland that runs on batteries. The key point is to hide the power supply to ensure secrecy on how everything has been done.
“Lighting often plays a crucial role. When the composition glows, it creates a feeling of magic. I have read a lot of comments on my works on social networks with a similar idea, ‘It feels like I plunged into my childhood’,” Yekaterina noted. 
The interviewee mentioned that people often ask to reproduce the exact copies of their interiors — with a specific wardrobe, table, sofa... “Let’s say they need a bookcase, the same as in the photo. The first thing to do is to draw it and cut it out from thick cardboard. Then, insert the spines of mini-books. Glass is replaced by transparent plastic. The same story with the TV — cardboard, polymer clay or wood putty, paint on the top. Truly speaking, you need to get a knack for doing this. It is unlikely that you will get a decent room box from the first or second time.”  

Composure is above everything

Looking at miniatures is a therapeutic activity, it relaxes and relieves stress. One of the most popular themes that owners want to see in their future room boxes is a country house, like the one their grandmothers used to have. In order for the finished product to convey the right atmosphere, it is important to thoroughly think through all details. A rural house can hardly do without a stove. It is a symbol of cosiness. Yet, when making a miniature of a city flat, which Yekaterina reproduces based on a photo, a lot of details should be taken into consideration as well. The rule that helps her stay accurate and precise in her work is to find out in advance and in every detail about the customer’s most cherished childhood memories.
“Nuances are everything. In order for the room box to sink into heart and become a favourite interior piece, it is necessary to approach its implementation with all scrupulousness and attention to detail. The main thing for me is to elicit the information from the customer about the things or toys that were once more important for them than others. A teddy bear, a doll, a book of fairy tales — one detail can make all the difference, giving priceless emotions,” Yekaterina pointed out.
The room box designer believes that the work is finished only when it causes a strong emotional response.

Celebrities follow suit

People learn about the creative works of a talented Belarusian mostly from Instagram and TikTok. Some of Yekaterina’s videos and photo posts on social networks have gained millions of views and collect lots of comments from those who want to share their childhood story, admire the miniature plot or just leave emojis with smiles and hearts. 
Orders sometimes come from the most unexpected individuals, and even organisations. A couple of years ago, the producers of the Magic Police Station series approached the master from Vitebsk. They saw her project for a sushi bar chain where Yekaterina made miniatures of restaurants. Having trusted a professional with an impressive portfolio, they did not go wrong. Yekaterina sent extraordinary glass showcases — three miniatures of the dwarf’s room, one of the film characters — to Moscow by mail, and received a photo from the series presentation in response. “Room boxes perform a lot of different functions. They bring back the best moments of life, charge with positive emotions, or just make the interior unique. Knowing how important it is for most customers, it is a real joy to work. Also, it is not difficult to take up this hobby as it does not require art education or draftsman skills. Just give it a try!”

By Olga Nevmerzhitskaya

Photos by Anton Stepanishchev