It’s that time of year again, when we’re all racking our brains trying to come up with gift ideas for loved ones – something unique, personal and often Irish-made too.
While Nathan Wheeler may not be able to solve all your gift-buying woes, he may have the answer when it comes to finding the perfect present for house-proud homeowners.
The Dublin-based artist specialises in miniature model-making, primarily model homes and museum pieces, and is working on a collection of models showing the face of dereliction across the country.
With clients across Ireland, the UK and Canada, he is inundated with requests to create miniature replicas of people’s homes, and although they are very much aimed at adults, the models will undoubtedly bring out childlike joy in any lucky recipient.
“My pieces are nostalgia made manifest, as each piece allows my clients to revisit their childhood homes, to remember treasured memories, take an entire childhood, and hold it in their hands,” he says. “The connection they have with the houses inspires me as the process is constantly fed back to the client, who sees every stage as it is built, piece by piece, week on week. Many come to me with a faded picture or an idea and we work together to make that a tangible reality – this is the most satisfying part of the project.”
As with their real-life versions, each house is unique and either fully 3D or mounted as a facade in a frame, while sometimes the outbuildings need to be designed and laser cut from wood to ensure longevity and strength.
Individual parts are custom designed and fabricated through resin, while details such as the stucco, drainpipes and cornicing are hand-made.
“Each piece is different,” says Wheeler. “Some include cars, bicycles, rose bushes or even entire gardens – one of my museum pieces needed 30kg of resin to fabricate Streedagh Bay in Sligo. I often add lights, opening doors, animals and a host of weathering to make the pieces as realistic as possible.
“For many of the projects, we work, not only from pictures (if they even exist), but also from people’s memories – they might remember a bicycle being sat against the wall as a child or the car parked in the driveway – so it’s more than simply a building.”
The Irish artist, who is helping to bring other people’s childhoods to life, has always been creative and although he initially went into law, the combination of stress and long hours soon saw him focus his energies on model-making. As “one house turned into another”, his reputation grew and so did his business.
“My wife asked me to build her father’s childhood home for Christmas, and it went viral,” he says. “Then one thing led to another and three years on I am still building little homes for people from all walks of life.
“Each house is a one-off commission, it’s a large investment but my clients always walk away with a truly unique hand-made item – and that is incredibly hard to find these days. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with people to rebuild homes in miniature that may even no longer exist.”
Prices start at €1,000 and each model will take about three months to construct.
Portrait of your home
Another option is a painting or drawing of your home. If you don’t live in a chocolate-box cottage type of property you would like to see on your walls, you can also consider an internal view of a favourite space in your home, or your garden.
Or maybe you’d like to send a memory of your original family home to a sibling overseas?
Dublin-based artist Gráinne Bath Enright takes commissions, with prices starting from €200 for a portrait of your home. You can send a digital photo of your property, “the best images” you have, directly to the artist. gbathenright.com
Another artist who paints homes is Caroline Galligan, who paints on quality watercolour paper using acrylic paint, pen and ink. The picture is then professionally mounted and framed. It costs €350. carolinegalliganart.ie
Got a sea swimmer in your life? How about a clock that will tell them when the tide is in – and out – in their locality? The Irish made Current Clock has 14 different designs, all with original artwork of popular coastal locations around Ireland, including Belmullet, Salthill, Dunmore East and the Forty Foot in Dublin. They are available to order from €65 at currentclock.ie. Five new locations have just been launched: Ballybunion, Fenit, Kilkee, Skerries and Schull.
Map your love
This wooden hand-made house – a personal gift with a difference – features a map of any location you desire: perhaps your loved one’s home, or a location of special significance.
You also have the option of getting a personalised message written on the back of the ornament. Available from notonthehighstreet.com, from about €22 without a message, €28 with one, plus about €9 for delivery.
For Dublin dwellers, current or former, how about a jigsaw to while away the time over Twixmas? Irish printmaker Jando has just released a new set of jigsaws featuring two iconic Dublin locations – Poolbeg Swimmers and Hapenny Bridge, priced at €30. You can pick them up at jando.ie.
Or for something different, how about a customised block puzzle? It might be quicker than putting together a traditional jigsaw. You can use your own picture – be it of your house, or family or otherwise – and order from about €23 at madeingift.com.
Fed up with writing your own address on any letters or cards you send? What about a stamp in an attractive font to sharpen up your communications? You can order a customised stamp through sites such as Etsy or Amazon. This stamp is €10.33 with free delivery on amazon.co.uk.