It was a case of mumps that launched June Patterson on a second career. Eight years ago, when Patterson's 14-year-old son was ill and had to be confined to home, she sought a project that would amuse him. She succeeded--and began a new business for herself.
"My son decided that he wanted to build a swamp boat," Patterson said. "So I went out and bought a scroll saw and a moto tool, which is basically a small drill with interchangeable parts for sanders and different drill bits. Since he was busy building the boat, I decided to make a barn for it. I had a picture of an old Norwegian barn that I liked, so I tried to duplicate it."
That Norwegian barn launched Little Roofs, a Laguna Beach-based business that Patterson now owns.
Essentially, Little Roofs are the fronts of various homes and buildings that are, for the most part, exact replicas of existing buildings or childhood homes. These "home fronts" are then placed on the wall like a painting or work of art.
"The most common request is for a duplication of a childhood home," Patterson said. "Most people feel very nostalgic about their childhoods and enjoy having miniature versions of their homes."
Working primarily off photos, Patterson also asks questions: Is the color in the photography true? (Often reds will look brown on old prints.) Are there any special details that should be added? What kinds of flowers were on the porch? What kind of wallpaper or paint was used? What were the curtains like? Were the exterior walls stucco or siding (they look similar in photos).
From there, Patterson draws a sample before the actual construction begins.
"I want to make sure I get all the details . . . and get them right," she said.
One project Patterson is working on is a replica of a home built in 1908 and is now scheduled to be destroyed.
"The couple who is purchasing that piece is buying it as a gift for their 90-year-old parents who are moving to a new place," Patterson said. "This way, they have a little remembrance of the home where they lived for so many years."
While homes are the most common request, Patterson also has created other pint-sized works. One of her favorites, Joe's Garage, comes complete with a gas pump out in the front and a puddle of oil under the car. Men and women's restrooms feature old newsprint and old-fashioned pull-chain toilets.
"I've been getting a few more requests for gas stations, of all things," Patterson said. "I've also had requests for fire stations, Victorian-style homes and even outhouses. You never can tell what people like. But I have a good time working on them all."
Another home, Grandma's Cottage, features a screen door with a hole in the bottom where the dog broke through.
One larger model features a kitchen with lace curtains at the open window. A black, potbellied stove sits inside with a coffee pot on the burner. On closer inspection, viewers see a cake on the windowsill (minus one slice) and a wooden kitchen table inside. On the table is the slice of cake.
Another work resembles a thatched roof English cottage.
"The buyer actually knows a woman who lived in a cottage like that for several years," Patterson said. "She loaned it to me for the Sawdust Festival, but she said that quite a few tears were shed when it was presented to her friend.
"I'm working on a few French country homes with little courtyards filled with tiny silk flowers," she said. "This is kind of new for me because these houses actually sit on a shelf or table instead of being mounted on the wall."
To create these Lilliputian versions of homes and buildings, Patterson uses miniature siding, shingles and trim that have been specially milled. Corrugated tin, window and door fixtures are made to scale. A visit to a broom factory resulted in the makings for thatched roof cottages, and a stroll along the beach garners pebbles for use as foundations and fireplaces.
"I take a lot of pride in my work and try to make the result as close to the real home or business as possible," Patterson said. "I'll weather the wood for barns or older homes by painting then digging in with an Exacto knife or sandpaper. I'll add lace curtains to windows and a rocking chair on the porch if that's what reminds someone of home."
Patterson's most ambitious project is a scaled-down version of Ken's Jewelry Store in Laguna Beach. The store, complete with copper rain gutters, scroll work, lattice and a 3,500-shingle roof also features etched glass doors, stained glass and a winding staircase.
"That project probably took me over 200 hours because of all the detail," Patterson said. The three-story, redwood project was originally commissioned for the jeweler's front store window.
Most of Patterson's work requires 16 to 30 hours to complete.
"I like to work on one project at a time," she said. "And because they're customized, it's not like I can set up an assembly line and just churn them out.
"My problem is that I put a lot of work and heart into each creation," she said. "I tell people to give me at least two months notice if they want one of these. . . . I'm starting on my holiday projects now."
Patterson said most buyers display the little house fronts in living rooms, family rooms, kitchens--places people congregate.
"It really makes me feel good to know that I can help re-create warm memories," she said.
"One woman stopped by my booth (at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach) and said she hated to leave because it just seemed so warm and friendly. That's exactly what I'm trying to create--an environment that is familiar and soothing."
Patterson's work is on exhibit at the Sawdust Festival, 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach through Sept. 1.