If you plan to visit Janet Oliver anytime soon, you better be ready to think small.
Oliver, a Poulsbo resident, is the queen of miniatures. For more than 30 years, Oliver has been creating bedrooms, kitchens, gazebos, houses and just about anything else you can think of on a small scale — usually one-half inch or one inch equals one foot.
“Anything I make is one of a kind,” Oliver said. “You won’t find another one anywhere.”
She got the miniature bug in 1985 when she began creating “boxes” — wooden boxes with glass fronts that depict a single room or topic. Then, she and two of her sisters bought a pre-made kit for a house and went at it.
“It wasn’t a very good one,” she said. “We weren’t satisfied with the results, so we decided to invest in a really good one.” That house turned out better. The sister trio even took a trip to a miniature show in Las Vegas.
”We were like kids in a candy shop,” she said. “There was just everything you would ever want to find.”
Within a few years, though, one of her sisters passed away and the other lost interest in miniatures. With Oliver, however, the craft became a true passion. She continued to do miniatures work — she now builds everything from scratch, with the help of her husband — and when she ran out of room in her house, she went to work at an antique shop where she had a booth and sold her creations.
Twelve years ago, she and her husband moved from California to Poulsbo. She had lived in Olympia and had a friend who lived in Poulsbo and decided it was the place to be.
“When I was young, my father was in the military and we moved a lot,” she said. “I never really got to have a dollhouse. Maybe that’s why I got so in to this.”
Today, she belongs to five miniatures clubs. She also travels to Europe to buy items for her creations.
“There are things that you just can’t get in the States,” she said. “I can order by mail. But I like to go there and see what I’m buying.”
For example, she said, many of the miniature items made in the U.S. are plastic, whereas, with European products, “the masonry is real brick and stone and [they] are made one at a time.”
She’s had many fun experiences, like the time she kept adding on to a house until it was too big to carry out of the bedroom it was in. She took it apart and boxed it and brought it with her in the move to Poulsbo.
She also made a lighthouse, but it, too, had to be taken apart to be moved. She said she doesn’t have the room to rebuild and display it.
Today, her home looks like a museum for miniatures. She has several boxed scenes, including a country-style kitchen, the first project she ever made. She also has a shabby chic gazebo with hydrangea bushes. She made those, too.
“Those flowers are made one petal at a time,” Oliver said. “They are made from a linen paper and then painted and placed on a wire that is no bigger than a piece of string.”
She’s made custom orders, including some she’s ended up keeping.
“A woman told me she wanted baby boxes with themes to give her grandkids,” Oliver said. “One was ‘Thomas the Train’ and the other was ‘Beatrix Potter.’ She said money was no issue. But when she came to get them, she said she couldn’t pay that, so now they’re mine.”
Typically, a miniature artist charges $30 an hour, plus the cost of materials. Because the artist takes so much time and care, Oliver said most people don’t want to go to the expense of having a miniature made.
“Most of what I do is just for me,” she said, although she does sell some things in her booth at Reflections in Time Antiques in Poulsbo.
A current project is a miniature French antique store.
“It took me a year and a half to do,” she said. “I bought most of the materials I used in it while I was in London.”
The antique store is done in wonderful detail, with flower pots and chairs near the exterior of the gray brick building. Inside, there’s an old trunk, tiny dishes, a woman’s hat, lamps and a carousel for sale. There’s a light blue writing desk where the store owner keeps track of sales, and a second story where she lives.
“These things tell a story,” said Oliver. “The owner needed a place to live, so I had to add a second-story apartment. And she had to have more than a bedroom. So there’s a small kitchen, a sitting area and a bathroom with a tub.”
And, as with each of her creations, there are pets. The antique store owner has a cat who is trying to get in the slightly-open door to her apartment. And her dog, a big white and brown springer just like Oliver has, is sitting in the doorway to the back of the antique shop.
Every creation has electricity, so table lamps really light up.
And in cases where Oliver can’t find just what she wants, she makes it.
“I make some of my own wallpaper,” she said. “I just paint the pattern I want on elegant linen paper and then glue it to the walls.”
In one room, the portraits that hang over the fireplace on the wall are tiny copies of real, old family photographs of her relatives.
Even though she’s running out of space to display her miniatures, there’s always a couple in progress. Right now she’s working on a cheese shop to go next to the antique store. And then a large French estate which will be next door to the cheese shop.
While some people wouldn’t find her form of art relaxing, she does.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” she said. “This is how I relax. I am a perfectionist, but creating these scenes isn’t frustrating to me. It’s tedious work but I enjoy it. We all have a special talent and I guess this is mine.”