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View From Vis: Big Dreams on a Small Scale

Vis ninth grader Ella Doyle doesn’t consider herself famous, but her 25,000+ Instagram followers might beg to differ. Ella creates dollhouses and furnishings that have captured the attention of miniature enthusiasts and interior designers everywhere, including House Beautiful Magazine and HGTV star Joanna Gaines. At just 14 years old, Ella runs a successful business selling her creations through her website, lifeinadollhouseshop.com, and managing her Instagram account, @life.in.a.dollhouse.

Ella started making dollhouse room boxes at age 11 and quickly became passionate about all things miniature. Shortly thereafter, she built her first custom dollhouse with her grandpa in his woodshop. Since that time, Ella has learned to use design software and a 3D printer to make intricate furnishings such as lamps, pendants, bookshelves and rugs. She sells pieces through her webshop and posts photos of her work on social media, along with details about how she made them. When Joanna Gaines reposted one of Ella’s creations--a replica of Gaines’ Silos Baking Co. in Waco, Texas--Ella suddenly found herself with a lot more followers.

Ella’s pieces are so high-quality and professional-looking, most people are shocked to learn she is a teen--and a self-taught one at that. Despite her widespread recognition, Ella doesn’t focus much on how to grow her business or win over new fans. “I just think it’s amazing that there are so many people out there who love what I’m doing,” she said. 

Ella discovered her passion for art and design early on. Her parents work as custom home builders, and Ella has accompanied them to site visits since she was little. Her favorite part is “when the interior designers come in and make the whole place look amazing,” Ella said. She dreamed of one day becoming a designer herself, so she started on a smaller scale.

Interior designer and Vis alum Bria Cramer Hammel ‘00, who frequently works with Ella’s parents, provided the inspiration for some of Ella’s first creations. “I used to make clay models of Bria’s Instagram posts.” Ella said. “I’d look at a picture of a place setting or something and just make a smaller version of it.” A box of Ella’s miniatures is now on display at Bria’s firm, Bria Hammel Interiors. 

"It was always incredible how precise these pieces were," Bria said. "Our clients always ask about the pieces when they are in our office and are in awe when they hear of Ella’s age."

Ella said she feels lucky to be attending high school at Vis, “where I can be myself and feel comfortable,” she said. “I’m a quiet person, but everyone at Vis has been so nice and welcoming, and I feel like we can talk about anything.” Ella recently had to leave class to be interviewed on the Tamaron Hall show about her business, and she said she was touched by how genuinely excited her classmates were for her. 

Ella was drawn to the all-girls environment at Vis, which she believes will help her develop leadership skills. She said she has known many inspiring women who have graduated from Vis and have gone on to do impressive things--including Bria Hammel, Ella’s mentor in the design world.

"When Ella started thinking about high school I had said from day one I thought Vis would be the perfect fit," Bria said. "I may be a little biased since I graduated from there and my daughter goes there, but really it’s because of the opportunities Vis provides to its students. The school is known for its encouragement of creativity and following your passion, along with teaching the leadership skills you need to be a powerful woman in this world. I can’t tell you how happy I was the day I heard she had made her decision!"

So far, Ella’s favorite classes at Vis have been English and Art. She loves to read and is eager to broaden her writing skills, especially since she finds herself writing to customers and fans all the time. Even writing a good Instagram caption requires a facility with words that she believes she can develop at Vis, she said. 

As far as Art is concerned, Ella can’t get enough. “I’m super excited to take as many Art classes as I can,” Ella said. “Art has always been my favorite--it doesn’t even feel like a class.” Right now she is taking a Computer Graphics class, and she can’t wait to try other types of art such as pottery and printmaking. 

Although Ella loves to have her hands in all aspects of her business, she thinks of herself as a student first. “School has always been the most important thing,” she said. “I get my homework done, and then I work on the dollhouses in my free time.” 

Right now, Ella and her grandpa are working on a new dollhouse with rustic stone walls and vaulted ceilings, covered in ivy and flanked by hydrangea bushes. She will furnish the dollhouse with pieces she hand-creates for each room, as her thousands of fans follow closely along. 

Ella said she hopes her work can inspire those who have big dreams. She discovered early on in her life the importance of following her own dreams, and she still has many dreams yet to fulfill. We can’t wait to see where her creativity takes her next. Check out Ella’s work at lifeinadollhouseshop.com or on Instagram at @life.in.a.dollhouse.