We chat to Simon Williams to find out how he has turned his miniatures hobby into a profession and made his dream come true, creating 1/12th buildings from across the eras.
How long have you been making miniatures?
I've been building miniatures as a hobby for over twenty years. However, after being made redundant due to Covid, I’m now building them full time, professionally. Prior to this I was a procurement manager for 15 years – very much office-based at a desk, dreaming of building miniatures full time. Now, my dream has come true!
What got you first interested in making miniatures?
I've always had a passionate interest in architecture and design. The historic ‘layers’ of an old house or building have long held a fascination for me and reproducing them in miniature gave me an outlet for this creativity. My passion is British architecture (country houses and public buildings), in particular the Georgian period because of the theory behind the design and the general aesthetic.
What sort of miniatures do you make and why these in particular?
Recent commissions have ranged from a 16 room mansion to a model theatre all at 1/12th scale. I’ve particularly enjoyed creating these because of the variety they have offered me as a model maker. I work a lot with retailers on their campaigns – for example, the 16 room mansion was for a high end furniture maker for their Christmas window display.
Depending on the scale, projects take approximately two months and begin with initial conversations after which I draw up a sketch and work out costing and dimensions. Once the client has approved this we can begin. The theatre was made for a lovely client in the south of France and based on European opera houses that the client enjoyed visiting.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration can come from anywhere – a movie, a piece of music, a visit to a stately home. I have a large collection of reference books covering all architectural styles and periods. These, along with interior design books, are a main source of inspiration and reference. For example, Chatsworth House for their interiors and collections and John Fowler for pure creativity. I love the way he wasn't afraid to be different to everyone else – for example, how he approached working with the National Trust and working on historic interiors. He let the artwork and architecture do the talking. I also admire how inventive he was (had to be) in the years immediately after the war, for instance, making the most beautifully intricate curtains out of army blankets.
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Tell us how you go about creating your work?
Creativity is a difficult thing to define. I've learned over the years to be open to different things, be they design styles, influences, etc. Sometimes I think you can get stuck on one idea and it becomes all you think about, when being able to adapt or change an idea can be more rewarding and ultimately, more creative.
I do lots of research and ask the clients lots of specific questions (e.g. if it's a replica of a house they once lived in I ask them to give me photographs and plans, if they can). I have a vivid imagination so a lot of the work is done in my head before I sketch out a rough plan. When you're working with large budgets it's best that everyone involved has a clear understanding of what is required, so there isn't much deviation from the initial plan, unless, of course, the client suddenly has a brainwave.
Do you have a favourite material to work with such as wood, etc?
I don't have one particular favourite material to work with, however, foam board is in my top five, largely because it's lightweight and easy to cut (with no mess!). I also love using Edward Bulmer paints for their consistency and their green ethics.
Where do you make your miniatures? Do you have a dedicated craft room?
We turned one of the guest rooms into a studio. I'm very thankful for this space – it allows me to have my books and building paraphernalia in one place and means I don't have to be too tidy!
What's the most outrageous thing you've been commissioned to build?
I was commissioned to build a very lovely lady bird feeding station in the style of her house. I think this is more ingenious than outrageous. It was made from pressure treated hardwood and outdoor paints.
What sort of people do you create for?
I take commissions from everyone and anyone. People often have a desire to reproduce a version of a cherished home or property in miniature. But in reality, it could be anything.
What makes your work so special?
I care immensely about the whole process and want to ensure that the client's expectations are exceeded. Naturally, their input is hugely important and I think this collaboration is ultimately what makes a project special.
Do you have a top tip you’d like to share?
It would have to what I mentioned earlier – don't overthink it, just give it a try! It's nothing that can't be fixed or changed. As a hobby this is to be enjoyed and there are wonderful platforms which offer support, advice and a real sense of community.
What do you do with the miniatures you make?
Depending on the commission, pieces are either packed off to their eagerly awaiting new owner, or form part of a shop window display or exhibit.
Do you have a favourite project?
My favourite project is whichever project I’m currently working on. It completely occupies me – my attention, time and energy. I think this is one of the key elements to creating a successful project.
Find out more
Fascinated by miniature buildings? Be inspired by different housing styles in The World of Miniatures by Sarah Walkley, available to buy from our online shop with an exclusive 15% off and FREE P&P! Head over to buy your copy today. Or for even more inspiration, meet another talented maker, Max Aditya!