The miniaturist Carmen Mazarrasa on the construction of small houses 2022
Carmen Mazarrasa designs beautiful homes. Step inside and you’ll find meticulously caned chairs, painted ceramics and cantilevered furniture of the moment. One wall hosts a Rothko, another a Matisse. Everything she makes, rather meticulously, by hand. In fact, we would be directly involved if it weren’t for the issue of scale. Houses are not sized for humans; they would more likely host a mouse.
The jeweler-turned-miniaturist (although that’s just one of her many skills) has been fascinated with the idea of miniature homes, especially dollhouses, since childhood. During a short stay in Washington DC around the age of eight, she says she went to a miniature store. “I used to go there on Saturday mornings and spend my pocket money on little bottles of shampoo,” says Mazarrasa. She understood very early that she was not the only one to have this intense fascination. “There is a huge community of people making dollhouses.”
Mazarrasa trained as a jeweler but continued to tinker with dollhouses on the side. “Whenever I have a bit of time, a break between work or holidays, I always return to this world,” she says. About three years ago, the craftswoman quit her job in the jewelry industry. She moves into her parents’ house in the Spanish countryside and returns to the world of miniatures.
Instagram posts of her work marked Mazarrasa a collaboration with jewelery brand Prounis in 2021. She worked with the designer to create a dynamic house (located in Dover Street Market) for rings, necklaces and bracelets. In the same year, the El Chico gallery in Madrid exhibited his little houses alongside their typical art. Mazarrasa is still baffled when she recounts this event. “I had a hard time presenting it like that because it’s not a very orthodox artistic practice,” she says. Mazarrasa would liken his endeavors more to a hobby, emphasizing the process rather than the end product – in other words, the antithesis of a museum’s function. She still consults in the jewelry world and takes on just enough projects to generate the capital needed to fund her small hobby.
Mazarrasa’s biggest challenge is finding a stopping point. Everything can always be improved in its pursuit of beauty. She’s more than happy to drop something and start over, finding more fun in adding than finishing. “At the end of the day, what you put in there has more to do with how you do it than what you actually do.”
Photo: Courtesy of El Chico
For the self-taught craftsman, there are two types of projects. In one, she recreates spaces that once existed. Gathering thoughts, notes and journal entries, she solidifies her memories by constructing what she calls a “lost paradise” (an apt title for her exhibit). In the other, Mazarrasa serves as a mix of interior designer and creative director. Here, she constantly improves and scraps furniture in pursuit of aesthetic (and functional) perfection. “They are so fragile that they tend to destroy each other,” she said in a neutral tone before adding, “So I’ll start again.”
The miniaturist continues energetically: “What would you do if you could choose what you wanted? His miniature houses allow him to realize his wildest design dreams. “You just did.” Mazarrasa shares this tradition in the life-size house she actually lives in, but she cannot satisfy her desires to improve as quickly as she does with her smaller counterpart. Even so, “my houses end up looking like dollhouses.”
When it comes to those tiny little details, her experience in jewelry comes into play. “These tools, you can translate them into other languages quite easily,” she notes. Mazarrasa learns this new vernacular by observing. She says she observed experts in the archaeological museum for which she consulted once, then discovers the rest as she goes. “There are a lot of tutorials on YouTube.”
Mazarrasa’s favorite working hours are when we all sleep. You don’t have to eat or walk the dog or take care of anything,” she says. “You really can stop the world.” And once that’s stopped, it can sink into that place where the scale deviates from normality. “Anything you step off the scale immediately becomes a symbol simply because it is no longer useful. Even a knife, if it does not cut, is only a symbol.
Going from full size to miniature, the process is largely the same, but with more care. “You have a lot of carpentry tools, a lot of metal casting, a little welding, and a lot of metal bending. There is glass work, there are lots of plastics and resins, plaster, paint, oil paint, ceramics. There’s embroidery, textile painting, printing, digital printing,” she explains. “We don’t have plumbing, but I haven’t ruled that out yet.” Plumbing, no. Electricity, yes. These little lamps (and their bulbs) can light up.
Although his designs are fueled by fantasy, Mazarassa cuts through those whims with a respect for reality. “It’s not that I want it to look like anything. I open the wardrobe and think what would be in this cabinet? Well, they need cleaners. Handbags hang from the backs of the chairs. A box of chocolates is partially consumed on the coffee table. The flowers are overflowing from the vases.
In doing so, she creates a sense of absence. There are never any inhabitants in his house, although it often seems that they were only there. “There are traces of people,” she said. But there are exceptions to every rule.
After lending one of her houses to El Chico, she was stored in her parents’ country house. There, a bunch of mice infiltrated the space. They dug into soft furniture and gnawed at hardware. “You could just feel the fun they had,” Mazarrasa notes. “I imagined them eating the food and sleeping in the bed and calling each other on the stairs because I had made such an effort so they could get up from one floor to another.” Finally, the scaling equation has been solved.
Continue for a glimpse inside one of Mazarrasa’s miniature houses.