While many people are stuck inside self-quarantining, social distancing and finding ways to pass time, Ella Doyle, a 13-year-old from Saint Paul, Minnesota is designing and selling dream homes — dollhouses, that is.
Doyle first started building miniatures in 2018, after falling down a rabbit hole watching tiny kitchen cooking videos. She started designing interiors for "room boxes," which are individual miniature rooms, and eventually worked her way to building her own full dollhouses out of wood, with her grandfather's help.
Doyle shares her creations on her Instagram, @life.in.a.dollhouse, which has garnered more than 19,000 followers.
"I just really wanted to post about it on somewhere else where everybody could see what I was doing," she tells CNBC Make It.
A year after starting her Instagram account, Doyle realized her passion could be a business.
Doyle runs her own Etsy shop where she sells handmade miniature furniture and accessories. For example, a dollhouse plant costs $4.50, whereas a custom three-inch kitchen range can cost $80.
She also started making commissioned homes and rooms that sell for hundreds of dollars. Her biggest sale to date was a custom dollhouse interior (kitchens, decor, wallpaper and accessories) that went for $700. Since starting her business last August, she's made more than $8,000, she tells CNBC Make It.
All the money Doyle makes goes into her business account, which she uses to buy more supplies and manage her business. Depending upon the project, she spends about $40 to $200 on materials from the craft store, then factors in how much time it takes her to complete the project. It can take an average of six weeks for her to finish a dollhouse.
"It's very good to know how to invest your money," Doyle says. For example, she recently splurged on a new 3D printer, a Flash Forge Creator, which has been "very helpful." She can use a 3D printer to make intricate details, such as a kitchen range, knobs, cabinet handles and indoor plants.
It also helps that Doyle's parents are custom home-builders who fostered her entrepreneurial spirit and are willing to lend a hand on the business side.
"It's intimidating at first having to deal with all the business aspects," she says. "But I would definitely ask for help, and don't be afraid to get help if you need it."
Balancing a business while also going to school full-time can be a struggle, Doyle says. The eighth grader is in school from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then works on dollhouses in her home office for the rest of the night. Her teachers are supportive of her side hustle, and she says she sees a future career in interior decorating.
"It's one of my favorite things to do," she says. "I'll definitely be doing it for as far out as I can see."
Doyle's work has been featured by House Beautiful magazine, and even caught the attention of Joanna Gaines after Doyle created a miniature version of the design star's Magnolia Bakery (which can be seen in the main photo, above).
Recently, with school closed for the pandemic, Doyle has been keeping busy "constantly 3D-printing chairs for my dollhouse and working on a custom kitchen," she says. While she doesn't have the capability to 3D print medical masks or other supplies, she plans to donate a portion of her sales to a charity that is helping with the COVID-19 crisis.
"She is very thankful that she has this creative escape during this extremely difficult time in our world," Katie Doyle, Ella's mom, tells CNBC Make It. "Her silver lining during the COVID-19 crisis is that she gets to slow down and spend more time working on the miniature projects that she loves so much."
Doyle's next big project is a dollhouse flip: "I found a vintage [miniature] barn, and I'm going to be renovating it into a wedding barn," she says. "It's my first renovation, because I built all my other ones from scratch, so it's definitely going to be a little bit of a challenge."