Studio Visit: Jen Spectacular

The San Francisco-based artist creates stories from remodifying dolls and dollhouses


Forget Barbie and her Pepto-Bismol pink Dreamhouse, Jen Furman (better known as Jen Spectacular) creates stories by making and modifying dollhouses. Growing up in Romeo, MI (about an hour north of Detroit) she hung out with The Muppets, spent countless hours playing Zork, and fell in love with Star Wars. Later, Spectacular worked in Detroit as an advertising illustrator for 15 years, and after a brief stint in New York City, she moved to San Francisco in 2006 and now lives in the Tenderloin district.


Since 2008, Spectacular has been modifying dolls and dollhouses (aka kit-bashing) and though 1/12 is her preferred scale, she’s created houses at 1/24 as well as 1/6 scale. When CH visited, she had 13 dollhouses in her studio on top of tables and tucked away underneath nearly every surface. “When I do this type of work, money isn’t important. It’s more important to give them to people—like close friends or charity. I just want to give the house to someone who’ll love it.” She considers this work as training for the day when she’ll be able to refurbish the damaged dollhouse that her grandfather gave her when she was a kid.


During construction, the character of the house starts to develop. New houses bring about new challenges and new solutions, such as miniature home electrical wiring, light fixture magnets, and roof thatching. For approximately two years, the houses are painstakingly constructed, painted and furnished—no detail is overlooked.


Every dollhouse needs inhabitants, and Spectacular has a small army of dolls at her disposal: Hertwig dolls from the 1920s, Blythe styled dolls, Volks dolls, a Myling doll and many others. Owners are expected to spend time bonding with a new doll before modifying or body blushing the figure. The dolls and parts come from all over the world; the Volks come from Japan and Spectacular buys the eyes for her Blythe dolls exclusively from a maker in Portugal.


When it comes to the story creation process, the dolls have personalities of their own which allow them to affect the story of the house, yet remain independent. As the house is built, the story solidifies—but placing a doll inside the house changes the story. At times, Spectacular will use dolls and houses of different scales to influence the narrative as well. These dolls, and the houses, become the characters and backdrop for her original horror stories, dream sequences and personal narratives.


Previously, the stories have been printed as books, which were given with the dollhouses. For her next project, Spectacular is working on a stop-motion film entitled “The Third Floor,” which tells the story of Ruby, the maker of the marionettes, and the Detroit Victorian. The film is scheduled for release October 2014.

For updates about Jen Spectacular Industries and The Third Floor film, you can visit her website.

Images courtesy of Jen Spectacular Industries