For the Love of Small: a 1:12 scale conversation with Micheal Lambie

When you ask an interior designer what immediately comes to mind when presented with the word “miniature,” many would probably reference the now-ubiquitous miniature Vitra chairs seen in high-end design lifestyle stores, museum gift shops and on the desks and shelves of A&D studios everywhere.

“Exactly one sixth the size of the historical originals, the chairs are all true to scale and precisely recreate the smallest details of construction, material and colour,” is how they are described on Vitra’s website. “The high standard of authenticity even extends to the natural grain of the wood, the reproduction of screws and the elaborate handicraft techniques involved.” Their value now as prized pieces in the collections of furniture aficionados far exceeds any utility they may have had as case studies for universities, design schools and architects.

A love of miniature has been around for ages, but what is interesting is how much traction this hobby has gained in recent years. Social media has certainly helped, with hobbyists finding each other and showing off their skills and their creations, in particular miniature houses, a fascinating trend which has gone viral on platforms like YouTube and has over 795 million views on TikTok alone.

It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that this enthusiastic community of builders is getting the spotlight in a new 10-episode series that dropped on CBC Gem on February 11. Best in Miniature follows 11 competitors as they build their dream homes room-by-room in painstaking miniature detail, by shrinking life-size objects to 1:12 scale. While most of the contestants – six are Canadian, four are American and one is British – are hobbyists (although a couple have turned making miniatures into a full-time occupation), none of them have any professional experience in interior design or architecture. The challenges are judged by U.K. miniature expert, Emma Waddell, and Oakville, Ontario-based interior designer, Micheal Lambie.

Best in Miniature on CBC Gem. Emma Waddell (r) and Michael Lambie (l)

“For part of his career, Micheal developed commercials, print ads and graphic layouts. But it was his short stint in real estate, designing and flipping homes that made him realize his real passion for interior design,” reads his bio for the show. “He currently owns and runs Micheal Lambie Interiors, an award-winning design firm that creates elegant and contemporary spaces for commercial and residential spaces. Micheal is a regular design expert on City Line where he shares his knowledge and helpful tips on interior design. Micheal is an Ontario College of Art and Design alumni.”

We caught up with Micheal and presented him with a few miniature questions.

CI: Did you have any exposure or familiarity with the miniatures community before joining the show? I ask this as a lead-in to the main question, which is: what surprised you the most about the output of the contestants, especially given that none of them have professional experience in interior design or architecture?

 ML: I was aware of miniatures but didn’t really understand the depth and the extent of the passion for them until I was approached by the show to be involved. That is when I started looking them up and started to get sucked into the world of it.

What surprised me the most was the speed at which the miniaturists were able to work and pull off what was requested. I just didn’t think it would be possible with the quality they were producing. The craftsmanship that was displayed was a pleasant surprise. These are artists at work and it’s always inspiring to see other artists’ work. They had to be “jacks of all trades” and some of those trades include Contractor, Architect, Interior Designer. This was about more than just furniture.

Best in Miniature -Episode 2, Day 2

 CI: There is obviously a lot of traditional design methodologies going into these miniature house creations – composition, symmetry, balance, character, craft, to name just a few – but are there any interior design principles that for whatever reason cannot be applied to miniatures?

 ML: Great question! On the show, the world of miniature was more about visual appearance than actual touch, durability and build quality, so yes, there are a few things that we have to consider in real life-sized design that does not apply here:

  • Lighting: Although some of the miniaturists do incorporate lighting in their work it is more of a “cool” factor or a “nice detail” and not one of necessity. Lighting is a huge part of what I do in my clients’ space and no room is complete without paying close attention to the electrical plan as it can dramatically change the mood and feeling of any space. My spaces have to work with natural daylight as well as with the artificial light that I install.
  • Tactility & Comfort: How things feel is crucial in my world and not in this one. The quality of the fabric used in upholstery, bedding and accessories will change how a client enjoys and appreciates that item.
  • Practicality: Selecting the right material for the right uses is key. Durability is a real-life challenge that presents limitations that miniaturists don’t have to account for.

 CI: Since so much about creating miniatures is about illusion – for example, making materials look like other materials, like paint for fabric or cardboard for shingles – did you find you had to turn off parts of your professional interior designer brain in order to buy into the illusion?

ML: At times, it was a bit challenging, yes, and this does come up on the show more than once… seeing something made out of cardboard that still looks like cardboard but is acting like it’s stone can take away from the illusion and sometimes is enough to make the entire space feel like it was cardboard. So, the challenge they faced was to use materials that can mimic others well. We did have to keep in mind that they only had access to what was available to them on set… they couldn’t just up and go shopping, so we couldn’t be too hard on them!

Best in Miniature contestant Tom Brown

CI: Finally, be honest: how many chairs from the Vitra Design Museum Miniatures Collection do you own? Do you have a favourite?

ML: LOL… to be honest the only miniature that I have, in my collection so far, is the one that the production team made of all of us on the show! It’s a 1:12 version of myself that they had gifted me when we finished shooting. It was made from a 3D scan of us and is pretty accurate, real cool and kinda eerie at the same time!