Michael Craft Johnson (left) and Leon Pascucci with "Cabot Cove Summer," the roombox Leon built in tribute to Michael's mystery writing. It's detailed on page 149 of Name Games. Click on photo for detailed view of room.
Tiny rooms have terrific influence
Hobby inspires murder mystery, Name Games
Interview by William E. Robbins
Photos by John Sorensen
The Kenosha News
June 11, 2000
Michael Craft Johnson, author of the newly published murder mystery Name Games (St. Martin's Press), will read from his novel at 7 p.m. Friday, June 16 at Southport Book Center, 7310 Green Bay Road. Name Games is the fourth in Johnson's Mark Manning series featuring a gay investigative newspaper reporter. It's Johnson's fifth published novel. The book's central plot was inspired by Johnson's life partner, Leon Pascucci, who enjoys creating minutely detailed miniature rooms.
"In Name Games, Manning has moved to the fictitious town of Dumont, Wisconsin, where he is owner and publisher of the local newspaper," said Johnson, who writes under the pen name of Michael Craft. "When the reigning 'king of miniatures' pays a visit to Dumont to judge a regional dollhouse contestthen turns up murderedManning brings his investigative talents to the fore."
Confronted by plot twists ranging from professional rivalry among miniaturists to local election shenanigans, Manning discovers there's more at stake than dollhouses, said Johnson, vice president for communications at G. Leblanc Corporation.
"The idea for this whodunit was inspired by a hobbyan art, reallythat hits close to home for me," Johnson said. "Several years ago, when I secured my initial contract to write the first three installments of the Mark Manning series for Kensington Books, my 'better half,' Leon, understood he'd have some time on his hands while I worked at the word processor. So he cultivated a new interestminiature interiorsand I quickly came to learn that devotees of the 'little world' were a far cry from casual dollhouse hobbyists. And there lay the inspiration for the plot of Name Games."
Miniature rooms require an eye for detail and dedication to precision work
This fancifuland horrific creation is titled simply "The Addams Family." Click on photo for larger view.
He has a titanic passion for a tiny pastime. Leon Pascucci is a natural-born miniaturist: He possesses a keen eye for detail, an appetite for the impeccable and a flair for interior design.
For several years the G. Leblanc Corporation president and onetime professional interior decorator has fashioned "roomboxes"Lilliputian quarters constructed in precise detail that resemble models for stage settings or dioramas. Roomboxes transcend ordinary dollhouses in their intricacy, creative design and historical accuracy, rising to the level of an art form. Pascucci has completed more than a dozen beautifully realized rooms that adorn his Kenosha home, which he shares with his life partner, Michael Craft Johnson.
"A few years ago, Mike began working as a serious author and was spending a lot of time at the computer," Pascucci said. "I realized I needed a hobby to fill my time. We were out in Los Angeles, and we happened upon a museum of miniature rooms with a shop where artisans sold their miniature wares. That opened my eyes to a whole new world," he said. "I just didn't know these things existed."
Pascucci wasted no time immersing himself in the realm of infinitesimal interiors. "When I get into something, I give it everything," he said.
Leon's roombox titled "Quai Saint Bernard" depicts a luxurious Paris apartment. It's described on page 151 of Name Games. Don't look for Bruno Hérisson's cylinder-top desk, though; both the artisan and his desk are fictitious. Click on photo for a larger view.
Each of his roomboxes carries its own theme or design period. One chamber, for example, is a Hollywood bedroom from the 1930s, complete with a terrace and bathroom. Another depicts an apartment in Paris overlooking the Seine at dusk and mixes 18th and 19th century French designs. Still another is Pascucci's take on the Addams Family TV-show set, featuring macabre items like a picture of skulls above the fireplace and exotic objects such as a suit of armor. Yet another is a Jacqueline Kennedystyle White House sitting room; an apricot-colored pillow on a sofa is covered with a bit of actual upholstery from the White House that Pascucci purchased over the Internet.
The rooms are Pascucci's own creationsnot pre-selected arrangements purchased as a package. He picks and chooses furniture, carpeting, accessories, drapes and many other items, then decides how to blend and arrange them.
A few years ago, Pascucci fashioned a roombox dedicated to Johnson. It's a mystery-writer's room, inspired by Jessica Fletcher's Murder She Wrote summer home in Maine, Pascucci said. In the room, a breakfast of cold pizza and hot coffee awaits the writer, as do a word processor, printer and many reference books. The room also features a coffin-size chest and various weapons of mayhem, such as a dagger and pistol. Windsor chairs, a collection of pewter candlesticks and a settle in the vestibule reflect the room's New England heritage, Pascucci said.
Now, in an interesting turnabout, Johnson's latest book, Name Games, incorporates miniaturism as a central plot theme. In fact, Johnson's book describes three of Pascucci's rooms in, well, minute detail. Did Pascucci anticipate that Johnson would use his hobby as a plot device?
"I had no idea he would poach my world for his book," Pascucci said with feigned indignityand a smile.
A display of completed rooms fills Pascucci's basementit's a sort of miniaturist gallery. The basement also boasts his Santa-like workshop. Currently he has several rooms simultaneously under "construction."
He owns a multiplicity of tools, including an assortment of minuscule screwdrivers and teensy-weensy hammers. He does his own wiring for the rooms, which feature nearly microscopicand functionallight fixtures powered by transformers. The Addams Family room alone, for example, has 40 light sources.
A basement wall is lined with Pascucci's "stock"shelves packed with furniture and accessories he has purchased at miniaturist stores, souvenir shops and over the Internet. There are miniature pillows, dishes, end tables, beds, flower arrangements, chairs, sculptures, mirrors . . .
Pascucci aims for and achieves a striking degree of realism in his rooms. He favors elegantly decorated quarters with lush fabrics and exquisite furnishings at about 1/12th the size of their counterparts in reality. His itsy-bitsy decors, however, are departures from his past work as a full-scale interior decorator. "I don't plan that muchI let these rooms evolve," he said. "That's a luxury you don't have in real-life interior design. With the boxes I just sort of let things happen. And there's a lot more clutter than I would normally have."
Pascucci enjoys taking everyday objects and adapting them to his rooms. "Often, for example, I'll see a small picture in a magazine, cut it out and make a frame for it and hang it in the room, maybe above the fireplace. The picture of skulls above the Addams Family fireplace came out of a magazine."
Pascucci's painstaking pastime reflects his personality. "I'm obsessive," he said. "And I really enjoy this. But fortunately, I'm slowing down my pace. When you're in the throes of designing a room, it's exhilarating, but it's also exhausting. I've got the basics down, and now it's a challenge coming up with fresh designs. I have in mind a fantasy room with unusually angled walls and a floating floor."
A roombox is like a movie set, he said. "Detail is the top priority. I care how things look. That's always been a part of me. I've never felt I was particularly patient, but I've had to learn that to do this. I prefer to do these quickly, but sometimes that's not possible." Pascucci spends up to three months completing a room in his spare time. He sometimes purchases a roombox and fills it with his design. More often, he creates a design and has a box built to house it. That allows more freedom for his designs, he said.
An army of artisans around the world hand-crafts roombox furnishings and accessories. Often an artisan specializes in a single arcane areamaking strictly fruit and flower baskets, or sofas and chairs, or silverware (real silver), or hand-blown glassware, or hand-thrown pottery, or gilded (real gold) candleholders. "I'd never have the patience to be so specialized, to do the same thing over and over and over," Pascucci said. "I don't know how they do it."
Pascucci thrives on working with fabrics. He enjoys taking tiny sofas and chairs and carefully gluing various materials"upholstery"over them. Also, he makes his own miniature, and meticulously detailed, drapes and curtains. He fashions picture frames, baseboards, doors, cornices, fireplaces and window frames from strips of wood for his diminutive dwellings.
"It's great fun," he said. "I never considered myself dexterous enough to do things like thatcarpentry and electricity. But I'm learning a lot." In fact, he recently repaired a leaky faucet in his real home and has replaced some electrical switches and shower heads. He's become a regular Mr. Fix-it, much to his own surprise.
Some miniaturists include tiny human figures in their rooms, but Pascucci eschews that approach. "The human figures never look real enough," he said. "People get in the way. In a bit of whimsy, I put a cat in one of my rooms, but that's about it."
He rarely exhibits his creations. Only houseguests get treated to their impressive character, ambience and detail. "The rooms are too fragile and don't transport well," said Pascucci, though he has donated a few for auction at local fundraisers.
"I love doing this," he said. "I get lost in it."
Copyright 2000 by The Kenosha News, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Reproduced with permission
Note: This article was distributed statewide by the Associated Press and subsequently appeared in several other Wisconsin newspapers, including the Racine Journal-Times and Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.