Last time on Throw Back Thursday . . .
We dug up an early prototype of a castle bookend. Well, here’s the computer model that preceded it. Pretty neat looking, and probably pretty fun too, but none of them ever made it into production (read more about why in the original post).
I’ll ramble on a bit about computer models and prototyping. We do all of our 3-D models in Sketchup. It’s a free program that is super-handy, and relatively easy to learn. I’m not the best self-taught computer person, but I figured out the basics of Sketchup in a day or so. A few projects later and I was competent enough to do interior architectural models (I wasn’t always a toy-maker you know). With computer models you can know exact dimensions, work out potential problems, and generate cut lists (how many and how long of pieces of wood you’ll need).
Though, I like to work on the fly, working from simple sketches and physical protoypes (see an example in a post about toy car design and a bit about toy car construction). So we don’t produce too many digital models anymore. I will say though, if we were working on any sizable pieces, we would turn first to a computer model.
You can see in the built prototype that most everything is the same as the digital model. The little dowel people were simplified and the upper windows were more real, but the physical castle was the same. I probably went through 5 different hinge types for the little draw bridge. That was tricky.
The Kids ended up with the castle prototypes, there’s a half dozen of them. So we would hook all the individual wall pieces together (nothing was glued) and make super giant castles. Never a roof though. Inside the castle would sleep cars, princesses, blocks, and whatever else was around. This was in the days when our oldest was figuring out how to go to sleep in a big kid bed by herself, so a lot of play time was devoted to putting her toys to sleep.
Liz and I don’t miss those battles of getting the two year old to go to sleep at night, but we sure do miss that play-time. In case you’re wondering, we have discovered the secret to getting little kids to sleep at night – give them a sibling to sleep in the same room with.
In recognition of Throwback Thursday we post this old prototype. It’s one of about a dozen attempts at creating castle themed bookends. I never figured out how to make them to the level of quality we strive for, and for the price we thought they could sell at. The idea was for the bookends to be playable toys, outfitted with simple dowel people (much like the little peg people you see everywhere).
Perhaps we need to go back a little further.
Before Happy Bungalow was Happy Bungalow it was Kiddie Kottages. When Liz and I were first dreaming up this business we were going to create playhouses for children (spurred on by the encouragement of friends, see the playhouse here). We made notes and sketches. We created 3D models of the playhouses. We thought up just the right business name and registered domains (until recently kiddiekottages.com and kiddiecottages.com redirected to happybungalow.com).
And then we thought up some little products to accompany the playhouses. The idea was that we’d make the playhouses and everything you needed to put in them. So the original Happy Bungalow product line started out as accessories to Kiddie Kottages’ big playhouses. But starting a new business and creating these multi-thousand dollar playhouses was too much, so we focused on the smaller pieces at first with the goal to move on to playhouses later.
We’ve pretty much given up on the playhouses for the immediate future, but some of those original products still hang on (our wooden animal toys being the most notable). Much like the never realized castle bookends, the dollhouse bookends below went through extensive prototyping (and before that digital models you can read about here), but end the end it was hard to find a workable price-point for them. It was also difficult to generate the level of quality (again at workable price point). Though the shop has expanded its tooling, we might take another attempt at it.
The simple little furniture did prompt a friend to ask if I could make some furniture for her daughter’s inherited dollhouse. Well, that is a product line that has done quite well (read more dollhouse furniture posts here).
So in the end the castle bookends never made it into production. The corner joints (box joints) were the problem. I was attempting to create a faux quoining (fancy architecture word for those stones that stick out on the corner of buildings). Perhaps one of these days . . .
We have loads of toys here at the Bungalow. After all, we make wooden toys for a living. The Kids here have plenty of the same toys we sell, loads of toy prototypes, and scattered one-offs & specials too impractical to produce for sale.
And we have mass-produced, mass-marketed toys as well. We love and adore and appreciate the support of small boutique shops. They’re wonderful, sell awesome stuff that’s just about impossible to find anywhere else. And the people working the shop are terrific passionate people. But . . .
But they don’t sell Barbies. Or Strawberry Shortcake. Or Lights and Sirens On! Firetrucks. And Legos. We have loads of fun with Legos around here. Sure, the wooden toy maker’s kids have plastic toys. Sure, we’ve heard the arguments against these sort of toys. Overseas labor, bad for the environment, durability, etc. And while there are valid points to be made, the world is a complicated and cruel place. We haven’t seen the absolute rule that serves the best interests of the global community.
Mass-produced doesn’t have to mean cheap, and if you take care of the toys, they can hang around for a good while (of course we’re the biggest fans of quality handmade wooden toys – it’s just hard to hand carve a wooden doll that looks just like the ones on the television).
We are firm in having no pretend dangerous toys. We have no toys guns, knives, or swords (as if kids didn’t pretend every stick was a gun or sword anyway). And we certainly don’t endorse toy tools! Last year a gift toy chainsaw spent all of two minutes in the house. Our woodshop is in our basement, and while it’s safely behind a locked door we educate our kids on the dangers of these tools. It’s a hard and fast rule that tools are not toys. There are three saws in our shop that will cut off a hand just as easily as they cut wood. So we want none of our children in the habit of regarding any saw as a toy.
We’re comfortable with some mass-produced toys, but too many are groan inducing.
Like the countless primary-colored, battery-required, insanity-generating models. Especially tiresome are the “educational toys”. I’m pretty sure we’ve never bought one, but they show up here none-the-less (sort of like the dolls and trucks I swear are self-replicating). But you know those “learning toys” that “teach” shapes and colors. And the A, B, and C. Because all you really need in life are three letters.
I suppose one or two of these fellas wouldn’t be so bad, but after a few dozen of the battery hungry monsters accumulate . . .
The packages tout their benefits. Letter recognition. Color recognition. Hand/eye coordination. They’ll improve thinking skills and boost creativity. A greater understanding of math and geometry. Perhaps they’ll increase your child’s IQ. Good grief! Read enough of it and you’d think that singing light-up helicopter will have your kid solving algebra problems in kindergarten.
Even the non-battery operated toys tout their giftedness. We have a fun little block set that promotes color recognition and hand/eye coordination. Doesn’t picking wildflowers do the same thing?
You want a child to learn something? Teach them. Read to them. Once they learn to read on their own, buy them books. And paper. Pencils. Crayons and markers. Get em a cheap camera. Let em loose in the backyard, in the park, go explore your local urban environ. They’ll learn a ton, and I bet they’ll have fun doing it.
You want a child to have fun? Give them a toy. Make a toy with them. Play with them. Before long little worlds will be born and flourish. Great tales will be written by you and your child. You’ll both have a ton of fun, and I bet you’ll learn something while doing it.