Dream Room: The Cupboard Under the Stairs, part 1

The National Building Museum in Washington, DC will be opening an exhibit in May. It is called  Small Stories: At Home in a Dollhouse. It features vintage dollhouses from the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood. They have commissioned artists to build room boxes that will be shown in a complementary exhibit called Dream Rooms. I am building one of those room boxes and will be documenting the project here.

The theme of my room box is Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stair where the boy wizard lived for 10 years of his life before he was invited to enter Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I chose this theme because one of the remarkable things about Harry during this miserable part of his life is that he has a series of dreams about his first encounter with Voldemort, when the dark wizard killed Harry’s parents. Through the next several years, Harry learned to pay attention to his dreams as they revealed more and more about Voldemort’s activities (If none of this makes sense to you, check out this Harry Potter wiki). This may be a too literal interpretation of the idea of a Dream Room but I have always loved the dream element in Harry Potter.

My son suggested looking into the cupboard not through the door but through the wall so you could see better inside. This would be similar to the view of Harry playing with his toy soldiers in the movie (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).


This view also lets me show the Dursley’s front hallway. I worked with images from the movies, from the Warner Bros. Studio tour in London (which has a replica of the cupboard), from Pottermore, and descriptions from the books.

The set at Warner Bros. Studio tour.
Harry in the cupboard
Inside view from the movie.
Front hall with door and wallpaper details.
Dudley on stairs shows staircase details, wallpaper, and carpeting.
Harry coming from kitchen (that wall ahead is the one that will be cut away). The details of the furniture opposite the door changed in the different sources. I’ll be using the white phone seen here but a half-circle table from the Pottermore version.
This carpet design detail was very useful for creating the carpet for the hallway and staircase.

My first step is always to do research which I organize in a project book. This includes pictures of the scene and details of the elements I need to collect or create, as well as sketches of the project.

Project book with the empty room box and preliminary measurements inside.

Some of the accessories and materials needed for the project.

The white phone, bare lightbulb, dustpan, door lock, and brass mail slot for door (more on that later). The flocked green fabric in the background will be painted to match the movie carpet.
Stair spindles, jars of nuts and bolts, gas and electrical meters, boots.
The carpet painted with a design similar to the one on the movie.
The carpet painted with a design similar to the one on the movie.

I also made wallpaper to evoke the movie wallpaper. I bought a miniature wallpaper design and then did many manipulations to it in Photoshop until I got the look I wanted. I printed it on a 13×19 piece of cardstock and installed it on gatorboard rather than directly to the wood walls.

Purchased miniature wallpaper design.
Purchased miniature wallpaper design.
Final wallpaper design.
Final wallpaper design.


Wallpaper installed on gatorboard.


Carpeting installed and beginnings of staircase and outer wall of the cupboard.
Carpeting installed and beginnings of staircase and outer wall of the cupboard.



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