Alyson Beaton first created her eco-friendly paper houses for her daughter as a birthday present. The designs were such a hit that she soon found her Lille Huset houses being sold in Barneys nationwide. Here, the SAIC grad talks about her inspirations for the designs and her upcoming partnership with J. Crew.
Why did you launch Lille Huset?
I have degrees in architecture and visual communications (SAIC), so my work and research has always been about consumerism and architecture colliding. I created the very first Lille Huset for my daughter for her 6th birthday modeled after my house in Logan Square. Using a laser cutter, I began making different replicas of Chicago houses and multi-use buildings. My kids love the houses, and I knew this would be a subversive way to introduce kids to architecture and design. Within the first 10 minutes of selling them at Dose market, I sold out. Then I did a Kickstarter campaign. After successfully surpassing my goal, I put the line into production and brought them to market in NYC. In my first season they were sold at lots of independent stores and Barneys department stores nationally.
Why do you think customers are drawn to it?
I think customers love them because they’re more hands-on than dollhouses. Parents are also hungry for alternatives to screen time, and the houses fill a void in the marketplace. Plus I think they instill positive messages about community.
When you design the houses, are you inspired by specific homes or more general styles?
I’m absolutely inspired by specific houses, but if you study building types you will see that there are not that many different facades. I try to capture styles of houses but do revisions that make them easy to assemble. My most recent design in a modern house, and it’s much more open-ended than the others. I want kids to also have the experience of being able to make their little home the way they want it. In the future I’m hoping to design a farmhouse and a brownstone in a larger size.
Can you describe the process a house goes through from design to finished product?
I always look for inspiration when I travel, taking photos of houses I think would look good as Lille Huset houses. Also, each season I see what resonates with store buyers and decide which houses I think will be the most popular. Then I spend time researching styles, such as the Eames House in LA before drawing a design in Illustrator. I send my files down to my manufacturer in Indiana who creates prototypes for me. Once I have final designs, I show them to kids. I have my own little consumer-testing group and am always asking kids what they think. If their reaction is lukewarm, I ditch it and wait until I get the reaction from them of "I want that!" and "Can I have that?"
How are the houses eco-friendly?
My products are also made of 100% recycled paper and can be recycled, and I don't use any harmful coatings on the paper. The printer I use is eco-friendly, and I also subtly instill green concepts through the products in the line. In the little world I have created, there are no cars, just bikes—we have a little garden accessory that can be a rooftop garden. I also sell a book called "Imaging Your World" with the houses that’s an activity book that teaches kids how to be good citizens of the world!
You have upcoming collaborations with J. Crew and other major brands. Can you share any sneak peek information?
I met the buyers for J. Crew recently at a national trade show. They ordered the Marias, our little French Huset, as well as a few other pieces from the line to sell this winter in their catalog and stores. I’m so excited!