And other diminutive structures by custom furniture maker Tom Dahlke

A boathouse that opens up to a bar

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 1:30pm

BELFAST—From the outside, custom furniture maker Tom Dahlke’s miniature houses and barns resemble child’s dollhouses. But inside each custom structure, there are adult prizes to discover.

Dahlke, who lives in Brunswick, was one of the artists on hand at the Maine Crafts Guild show at United Farmers Market Event Center, August 16-18. When the boathouse opens, one expects to see a miniaturized floor plan, perhaps some Lilliputian boats, but instead, lo and behold, there’s a bottle of Jameson and Mount Gay with glassware. To the delight of many of the adults passing through the show,  Dahlke opened the boathouse to reveal the hidden contents inside. It’s an adult’s version of finding a pretty nifty toy inside a Cracker Jack box.

His house and barn structures all derive from a custom project he’d done many years ago.

“My primary source of income for more than 30 years was building custom staircases,” he said. He also has done woodworking on sailboats and cruisers. “The boats got me into taking on difficult projects. In the early 1980s, I was approached by someone who wanted a wooden, octagonal spiral staircase and everyone was telling him it couldn’t be done. I knew there was a way to do it; it was just a matter of taking the time to figure it out. So, I went and built it.”

In a way, Dahlke’s doggedness led him to his current creative outlet in making the house and barn structures.

“A couple of years later, I was asked to build a curved staircase and continued to build staircases for 35 years,” he said. “I’ve also always been a furniture maker and in the early 1980s I had a client whom I was doing restoration work for. He commissioned me to build a pair of historically accurate dollhouses. It was a fun project; everybody loved them, but I wasn’t interested in making any more dollhouses.”

Still, it was just a matter of time to figure out how to produce that feeling of wonder within a small house without spending time on all of the architecture.

‘It got me thinking, how could I take the idea and make the houses and paint all of the details inside instead,” he said.

At his booth, Dahlke displayed a number of mini “spec” houses that are used for potential clients to see the idea in 3-D. Three of the structures were barns, one was a sugar house and one house.

“I love early New England architecture and my grandparents had a farm with an old barn, so I love to make barns.”

Dahlke said each commissioned house is designed to resemble the potential client’s own house, barn or some other structure.

“Three of the mini houses have drawers within them that can hold jewelry or watches or a collection of some sort,” he said. “The other two have a lift-out tray and I also put little Ball jars within them that could be used for teas or spices.”

But it was the 2 x 3 x 4-foot boathouse that had everyone entranced. It only took him 15 years to kick the idea of it around before he made it.

“People loved the boathouse bar and I love that sense of surprise because when the boxes are closed, people have no idea what’s inside. When I opened it, no one was expecting it to be a bar.”

For more info on Dahlke’s craft visit:

Kay Stephens can be reached at