Most of us are familiar with dollhouses and miniatures, and have likely admired a tiny, detailed replica. But how many of us have ever considered the special lighting that made our admiration possible?
Meet Carl Sahlberg—a whiz with a soldering iron—who lights up dollhouses and other miniatures and is nationally known for his work, which includes handmade—and fully functioning!—miniature ceiling fans.
Carl has been using his CraftOptics glasses to see the “doggone” tiny components that go into his lighting circuit boards. And now that Carl’s seen how much easier they make his work, he can’t imagine how he ever lived without them. Meet Carl!
My tagline is “Bring your dollhouse to life, light it!” And it’s really true. When you have miniatures, it’s all about the tiny, fine detailing and you can’t appreciate that without good lighting.
People are so thrilled to see their miniatures come to life and I get a lot of joy out of making that happen.
I made dollhouses for my daughter and nieces when they were younger—my daughter’s is now 50 years old! At some point I started adding lights with tiny light switches to turn them on and off. And then I designed and made my own miniature ceiling fans, which actually work.
About a year after I’d started making the ceiling fans, I heard about a dollhouse show in town and decided to check it out. I was amazed that there was an entire industry of miniaturists. I picked up some supplies for my projects and by the next year, I was one of the booths at the show. That was 20 years ago. I brought along my current dollhouse and the thing people were most interested in was how I did the wiring, especially the little wall switches. That got me thinking about the opportunity in the electrical aspect of it, but I continued to make furniture and other things too.
A few years later, I moved to Florida and I crossed paths with a famous miniaturist, Jimmy Landers. We got to be friends and he’s the one who encouraged me to focus on the electrical aspect of dollhouses. It was the best decision I ever made!
The dollhouse and miniaturist industries haven’t changed in a long time, and I thought I could bring some important updates. One thing I’ve done is create video tutorials, which has really helped my business grow and shown people what they’re able to accomplish. I make wiring easy to understand and people realize they can do it without much trouble at all.
Here are a few I’ve especially enjoyed over the years.
One was a dollhouse a woman was fixing up to pass onto her daughter. When I first saw it, I was surprised at the effort she was putting into the project—the wood was very rough and it didn’t look like much.
But as I looked at the structure more carefully, I realized it wasn’t a typical dollhouse—there were horse stables on the first floor and living quarters on the second. It turned out this dollhouse had been passed down for five generations and was a replica of the original owner’s living quarters. Every family who’d had it since then had added their names to the stables. When it was done, it was a fantastic piece, and the owner broke down in tears when she saw it all lit up.
Another project was a replica of an Episcopal church and was built in the 1930s. There was a lot of detail and it looked very similar to the actual church. I took out the old lighting and relit the whole structure—it made all the difference in the world. I also have a client who loves dollhouses so much that she put an addition on her house to display all her dollhouses.
My biggest project was for the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. They had four dollhouses that were donated to display miniature art—created by actual artists. Apparently one of the miniature artworks was worth something like $40,000!
I saw them at the Chicago International Miniature Show a few years back. My lighting work requires me to solder tiny parts and it was getting harder to see those. The CraftOptics looked like they’d be perfect for soldering, and they have been!
One thing I really like about my CraftOptics is that you get the combination of regular vision and magnification. When I’m in the middle of soldering something, I can look up and use my normal vision to reach out and pick tiny components out of a jar. And then I can look down and use the magnification to solder them on a circuit board. It’s the perfect arrangement. I’m not sure I’d be able to do the surface mount soldering that’s such a big part of my work without them.
I need to solder 30 pieces of circuitry onto a board that’s 1” x ½” big and then I put 12 of those boards on a larger board. I have to get all the boards in place, just so with a vice, and solder them into place. Before I had my CraftOptics it was such a struggle to get everything in the right place—I had to do a lot of adjusting. But now I just put on my glasses and things are perfectly aligned, right off the bat.
It’s amazing what you can do with these glasses.
And, of course, I have the DreamBeam light. I understand the importance of good light!
CraftOptics combines an excellent product, a strong warranty and exceptional service. When I first tried my glasses, I realized the lenses were at the wrong working distance for my needs. CraftOptics reworked the lenses at no charge and that made all the difference. Try them—you’ll fall in love!
Check out the gallery section at www.cr2s.com, which stands for “Creative Reproductions to Scale.”