Eighth grader at Catholic school in West St. Paul turns dollhouse hobby into business

| May 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

Ella Doyle, 13, works on a miniature stove and kitchen wall set May 12 in her Mendota Heights home. COURTESY KATIE DOYLE

A dollhouse business started by St. Joseph’s Catholic School eighth-grader Ella Doyle in West St. Paul is a family affair. And it has garnered national attention.

Since Doyle launched her commercial effort in August, Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” and Magnolia Market fame shared on Instagram Doyle’s miniature replica of Gaines’ Silos Baking Co. in Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco, Texas. Doyle has been featured in stories by The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and KSTP-TV in St. Paul.

At her website, lifeinadollhouseshop.com, Doyle sells miniature kitchen walls complete with a stove, shelves and crockery for $325. She once sold a custom dollhouse interior for $700. Her 4-inch signature lemon trees (with oven-baked clay lemons attached to small leaves and branches snipped from decorative garlands) go for $30.

The business began with Doyle’s interests in all things miniature, combined with her flair for design and her parents’ jobs as custom home builders in Mendota Heights. Her cardboard box miniature rooms caught the eye of her grandfather, Will Kolesar, whose garage at his Eagan home is a woodworking shop.

Soon, Kolesar was taking direction from Doyle on size and type of dollhouse or dollhouse rooms and fashioning them for her. They often work side-by-side, but in this time of COVID-19 precautions, Kolesar drops the shells off at the Doyles’ front steps.

“I miss him,” Doyle said of not working in the same room.

As she and her grandfather worked on the dollhouses, Doyle learned this wasn’t his first go-around with miniatures.

“My mom and grandpa used to build dollhouses,” she said. “I really didn’t know it, until I learned it after I started building dollhouses with my grandpa. That’s kind of how he knew how to do it.”

Her grandmother, Nancy Kolesar, helps paint some of the dollhouses. And Doyle’s parents, Sean and Katie, help on the business side, signing papers that need signing (“since I’m 13 I can’t do a lot”), and assisting with re-investments in the business. A 3D printer is the latest big purchase, but there is a continuous need to restock supplies and meet other obligations.

“I’m more of the creative director,” said Doyle, who has two younger sisters. But “I’ve learned a lot about investing.”

Katie Doyle said her daughter has always been creative, independent and passionate, even as a small child, and her success is not a surprise. The overnight attention and recognition, though, was a bit of a shock, she said.

“I think we’ve settled into it a little bit more now, and it is a kind of a new normal for her,” Katie Doyle said.

Doyle works about 20 hours a week at her business but still finds time for school and volleyball. Thus far, she has made about $9,000 selling dollhouses, rooms and accessories. She invests in the business, saves a large chunk for future needs such as college or a car, and recently donated $300 to a customer’s GoFundMe effort to make COVID-19 face masks for “front line” workers in the pandemic. “I like donating to good causes,” she said.

She has seen an uptick in business since the novel coronavirus outbreak, Doyle said. She thinks it’s driven by adults in their 30s and 40s who might not have a lot of money to build a home of their own, but want to let their imaginations run, do some of their own decorating with miniature accessories and have something nice to show off — a decorative dollhouse.

Some people have contacted Doyle asking about dollhouses for children to play with.

“I tell them, ‘It’s not kid-friendly,’ but I’ll do it (build them what they want),” she said.

Doyle said she wants to run a good business, with quick responses to emails and getting orders out on time. “I try to be honest with my prices,” she said. “I don’t want this to be all about the money, but so others will have an opportunity to have nice things.”

Catholic values drive her work, as well, said Doyle, a parishioner with her family at St. Joseph in West St. Paul, who hopes to attend Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul for high school.

“I’ve always felt I want to be the best person I can be,” she said.

Doyle’s science teacher, Ellen Schafer, is a big fan. Schafer said Doyle is a bit shy, but students gathered around her one day around Christmas as she showed them her Instagram account. Schafer was particularly impressed with the Gaines bakery replica.

“It was like the coolest thing ever,” Schafer said. “I ran down the hallway saying (to fellow teachers), ‘You’ve got to see this!’”

Doyle said the attention she has drawn has been surprising.

“I think it’s nice that she thinks that it’s cool and she wants to share it,” Doyle said of her teacher. “I’m not opposed that it’s being shared. I think it’s crazy that it is shared, because I thought it would just be me, doing my little thing.”

See Doyle’s work at her website lifeinadollhouseshop.com; Instagram; and Facebook

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