If they weren't miniature, we'd move into them in a heartbeat.
Carmen Mazarrasa designs beautiful homes. Step inside and you’ll find meticulously-caned chairs, painted ceramics, and of-the-moment cantilever furniture. One wall hosts a Rothko, another a Matisse. All of which she crafts, rather painstakingly, by hand. In fact, we’d move right in if it weren’t for the issue of scale. The homes aren’t sized for humans; they’d more likely accommodate a mouse.
The jeweler-turned miniaturist (though that’s only one of her many skills) has been fascinated with the idea of miniature homes, specifically doll houses, since childhood. During a short stint living in Washington D.C. around the age of eight, she recounts journeying to a shop just for miniatures. “I used to go on Saturday mornings and spend my allowance on little tiny shampoo bottles,” Mazarrasa says. She understood early on that she wasn't the only one who had this intense fascination. “There is a huge community of people making doll houses."
Mazarrasa trained as a jeweler but continued to tinker with dollhouses on the side. "Every time I have a little bit of time, a break between work or a holiday, I always went back into that world," she says. Roughly three years ago, the craftsman quit her job on the corporate side of the jewelry business. She moved back into her parents' home in the Spanish countryside and returned to the world of miniatures.
Instagram posts of her work scored Mazarrasa a collaboration with jewelry brand Prounis in 2021. She worked with the designer to create a dynamic home (located in Dover Street Market) for rings, necklaces, and bracelets. The same year, Madrid’s El Chico gallery exhibited her tiny houses alongside their typical roster art. Mazarrasa is still flummoxed when she recounts this occurrence. “I had a hard time presenting it like that because it's not a very orthodox artistic practice,” she says. Mazarrasa would liken her efforts more to a hobby, with the emphasis on the process rather than the final product—in other words, the antithesis to the function of a museum. She still consults in the jewelry world and takes on just enough projects to generate the capital required to fund her tiny hobby.
Mazarrasa’s greatest challenge is finding a stopping point. Everything can always be improved in her quest for beauty. She’s more than happy to scrap something and start over, finding more pleasure in adding than finishing. “In the end, what you put into it has more to do with how you do it than what you're actually doing.”
Photo: Courtesy of El Chico
For the self-taught craftsman, there are two types of projects. In one, she recreates spaces that existed in a previous time. Piecing together thoughts, notes, and journal entries, she solidifies memories as she builds what she calls a “lost paradise” (a fitting title for her exhibit). In the other, Mazarrasa serves as a blend of interior designer and creative director. Here, she is constantly upgrading and scrapping pieces of furniture in the pursuit of aesthetic (and functional) perfection. “They're so fragile, they tend to get destroyed,” she says matter-of-factly before adding, “So then I start over.”
The miniaturist continues energetically, “What would you do if you could choose whatever you wanted?” Her miniature homes allow her to fulfill her wildest design dreams. “You just make it.” Mazarrasa shares this lore in the life-size home she actually lives in, but she can’t satisfy her desires to improve as quickly as she does with its tinier counterpart. Even so, “my houses end up looking like doll houses.”
When it comes to those itty bitty details, her background in jewelry comes heavily into play. “Those tools, you can translate them into other languages quite easily,” she notes. Mazarrasa learns this new vernacular by observing. She recounts watching experts in the archeological museum she once consulted for then figures the rest out as she goes. “There are a lot of tutorials on YouTube.”
Mazarrasa's preferred working hours are those when the rest of us are asleep. You don't have to eat or walk the dog or take care of anything,” she says. “You can really make the world stop.” And once it's stopped, she can sink into this place where scale swerves out of normalcy. “Anything you take out of scale immediately becomes a symbol just because it's not useful anymore. Even a knife, if it's not cutting, is just a symbol.”
Shifting from life-size to miniature, the process is largely the same, but with greater care exercised. “You have a lot of carpentry tools, a lot of metal smelting, a little bit of soldering, and a lot of metal bending. There's glass work, there's a lot of plastics and resins, some plaster, some painting, oil painting, ceramics. There's some embroidery, some painting on textiles, printing, digital printing,” she explains. “We don't have any plumbing, but I haven't ruled that out yet.” Plumbing, no. Electricity, yes. Those tiny lamps (and their lightbulbs) can turn on.
Though her designs are fueled by fantasy, Mazarassa cuts those whims with a reverence for reality. “It's not that I want it to look like anything. I open the cabinet and think what would be in this cabinet? Well, they need some cleaning supplies.” Purses hang from chair backs. A box of chocolates sits partially-consumed on the coffee table. Flowers spill from vases.
In doing so, she creates a feeling of absence. There are never any dwellers within her home, though it often looks as if they were just there. “There's traces of people,” she says. But there are exceptions to every rule.
After she lent one of her homes to El Chico, it went into storage in her parents' countryside house. There, a gang of mice infiltrated the space. They dug into the soft furniture and gnawed at the hardware. “You could just feel the fun they'd had,” Mazarrasa notes. “I imagined them eating the food and sleeping in the bed and calling each other to the staircases because I'd made such an effort so that they could climb from one floor to the other.” Finally, the equation of scale was solved.
Continue on for a glimpse inside one of Mazarrasa’s miniature homes.