American Girl Project: Pets Playset

I have, once again, been remiss in my posting. (I feel like that's how I start at least half of these posts!)

We are just wrapping up our Christmas shopping here. Why so early, you might ask? Because Santa only brings hand-made gifts at our house, which requires a lot of pre-planning and lead time. 

This year, my girls are in the grips of the dreaded American Girl Doll fervor. It started benignly enough --- last Christmas they received a little wicker seating set, some bakery treats, and two Christmas outfits, but that was it. However, after our summer excursion to the American Doll store in Chicago we've gone from "AG stuff is cool!" to "AG STUFF IS MUST HAVE OMG, LET'S GET IT ALL!" Viola, my older daughter, is into all things American Girl Pets related, whereas Eva, the younger one, is obsessed with the 2015 Girl of the Year, Grace (likely because they share a love of cupcakes). Grace has expanded Eva's horizons, from a love of cupcakes and fire, to a love of cupcakes, fire, and Paris (ie., the Eiffel Tower).

Grace's Bakery -- that's Eva's "please, don't you love me?" face.

Grace's Bakery -- that's Eva's "please, don't you love me?" face.

Because the Grace merchandise retires at the end of this month, I've rallied the extended fam to buy as many Grace items as possible to be split between Christmas and Eva's birthday a few months later. I've been pretty successful, too, because there are only a few things left on her Grace's wish list and we're well into the "like to have" items, not the "really, really, really must-have pretty pah-lease with sprinkles on top" items. Hooray!

The biggest item from Grace's collection, by far, is her Bakery playset which Eva fell in love with at the store. She batted her eyes and pouted her lips, but a $500 price tag was just unimaginable to me. However, by splitting the cost between several family members and taking on some extra freelance design work I was able to get the bakery for Eva way back in early September. A good thing, too, because they have recently sold out and are going on eBay/Craigslist for $3,000+! I couldn't imagine spending $500 on the toy, much less thousands! It's like the Frozen costume fever from 2013 all over again! I would be lying if I said the idea of selling the bakery hadn't crossed my mind when I saw the resale price tags... she'd never know, right?! But because I didn't buy it for her all on my own, it wouldn't feel right. (But so, so tempting!)

Anyway, the Bakery will be her big (and pretty much only!) Christmas gift this year and it will be coming from the big S-man. Which leaves us in the awkward situation of figuring out what to get for Viola that can possibly compare since we try to keep the gifts "even" in terms of size and cost.

The solution to this dilemma started out innocently enough--- if Eva was getting an AG playset, we should have an AG playset for Viola as well. And since she loves the pets so much, the idea came to me that it should be some sort of pet-related playset.

Pinterest gave me lots of ideas for a cute pet store / veterinarian office / groomer salon. After doing some research, I quickly found that there was nothing for sale from American Girl, Our Generation, or by Etsy craftspeople beyond accessories. No playset to speak of. Of course I wasn't going to let that deter me, and I convinced my husband that we would simply make a playset, and stock it with the accessories available from the stores/etsy.

Easy peasy, right? 

It always amazes me how a simple idea starts to grow in complexity. And such was the case with our Pet Playset.

You can check out the Pinterest board I made while I was researching, if you're looking for ideas! I wanted to have all the accessories on hand before we started building so that we wouldn't find ourselves in a situation where the playset didn't fit all the goodies. I found a concessions playset used on eBay that I could repurpose into a display counter, and a mini-shelving meant for a bathroom vanity or spice rack is the perfect scale to be pet store shelves!

After laying out all the accessories on the kitchen table while the girls were away on a playdate, I got to sketching:

As you can see above, I am a terrible sketcher. Everyone is skeptical when I tell them that I can't draw (because I work in the creative field and they assume that I'm just being modest... until I sketch something out and they realize that I really can't draw to save my life. You definitely don't want me on your pictionary team!) Because my sketches were so sketchy, my husband kindly suggested that I mock up the playset in cardboard before he started fabricating it. I should mention that my husband is an Industrial Designer who does some kids' toy design work on freelance, though he's never made toys for the girls before, so this is really a first for us working together on this type of a project. So far it is going well--- I have completed the cardboard prototype with minimal marital strife! Win!

Some things definitely changed as I saw them in 3-D. Everything was a lot bigger than I'd imagined. I made the kennel section smaller and was able to incorporate a jewelry box to hold all the vet supplies.

I made these corner shelves to display the "Pet Show" trophies and picture frames, and measured them so that when the pet photo booth is stored away it all nests nicely! 

The swinging doors that close the sides in that I had sketched, had to be split into more cupboard-style doors to be manageable once I started playing around with the cardboard prototype. I think they're better this way as they help to make both the store side and the vet/groom areas bigger when they are opened!

Lots of AG dogs and kitties have been included in the accessory sets that I purchased. I didn't set out to acquire them, but it will be nice that the 'kennel' will be stocked with pets on Christmas! :-)

We'll have to wait and see how the fabrication stage goes! Now that I've completed the cardboard prototype, the ball is in my husband's court, as they say. Once he builds the playset it will be my job to paint and decorate it. I'm hoping to get this all wrapped up well before Christmas to avoid the Christmas-eve all-nighter that's happened in the past (cough, pink teepee, cough).

Stay tuned for updates! :-)