Emily Henderson Header Image Emily Henderson

Returning To My Love of Miniatures...

Creating Memory-Filled Shadow Boxes With Shutterfly

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Historically, I haven’t done a lot of personalization or monogramming for myself—gifts for others, certainly, but I just haven’t taken the time to do it for myself. But then I had kids and I was unprepared for the level of sentimentality I have for, well, life. When Shutterfly reached out about partnering on some of their new personalized home decor pieces, I didn’t really know where to start or what I would really do. Sure, I might send a customized marble cheese board as a wedding gift to a client, but typically I’m not much for a “family photo on pillow” gal. But—and you might need to take a second to process what I’m about to tell you—I created my first personalized product ever, a shadow box, and it was probably the most fun two days of my life and now I’m hooked. That’s right. A glass box full of three-dimensional memories that I created with my kids to represent their current interests, personalities and anything that generally reminded me of who they are at this very moment in time. We also customized some very cute tote bags,  kids towels that get them excited to take a bath, and a personalized cutting board. So, if shadow boxes aren’t your thing (I didn’t know they were mine), keep reading.

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Here’s how it went down. I was a memory box skeptic, but willing to ask my creative brain to go there. As I was playing with photos and kids artwork, it wasn’t really working for me or making sense. Why not just put this in a scrapbook? Then I realized, the key is to collect things that are three-dimensional, that need to be displayed in a box with depth. I found a rock that Charlie loves from the woods around the mountain house, and a necklace that Birdie made me out of pipe cleaners, but it was just looking kinda silly and try-hard.

And then I realized that I needed to go back to my former love, what I’m truly passionate about in life: miniatures. Doll house-sized, very very tiny, anything.

Lucky for me, I have a huge inventory of doll house stuff, and there is a great store in the valley that has a TON. I was in miniature heaven as I created these personalized shadow boxes from Shutterfly representing a year’s time with my kids. It’s like a very personal photograph into their lives this year, but fully composed with items that represent so many different things in a simple and fun way.

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The shadow box itself is really simple and pretty. They have quite a few different options for customization and the sky is the limit on their site. You could add a map to the back of the shadow box, a family photo, a gallery of photos or even a graphic. Basically, whatever you can think of they can create as the backing for these boxes. You can also have it oriented either way to fit whatever you plan to put in it. The process for customization online using their tools is so easy. For ours, I chose the simple white linen for the backing and then printed their name and the year in a modern font. I let each of the kids choose the color for their name, and once we had placed our order, it arrived in less than two weeks (although you can rush it if you want it sooner). Having it customized and monogrammed with their names and the year is a nice touch and made the kids feel special.

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Once we had the shadow boxes in hand, now we had the task of figuring out what to put in it. Historically speaking, shadow boxes have been used for vacations, memorable events or something to commemorate a day in someone’s life which makes sense but we didn’t really have anything from a recent vacation and I wanted to make them more personal for each of the kids.

I did most of the shopping by myself with their interests in mind because shopping at a dollhouse store with a 2- and 4-year-old and explaining limits sounded very challenging. But over the weekend, we worked on them some together. They were, of course, mostly interested in the mini toys, and lost interest in the actual composing of it all, but it was still so fun and having them there to be a part of it really got me into the entire project.

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As we were doing this, I was kinda living my best life. It was my favorite Saturday in such a long time putting together these personalized shadow boxes I had ordered online for each of my kids.

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So what did I put in their shadow boxes? Their current hobbies, interests, favorites, what they want to be when they grow up, what they are learning, some art, favorite books, photo strips, self-portraits that they created in preschool, and anything else that references this year of time in their lives.

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We call him Charlie bear, the tree represents the mountain house, and I feel like we’ve read those three books 90 times each…well Brian reads the comic one to him (which he just started reading and was his immediate response when I said “favorite book” but I included the other two, as well.

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It’s crucial to get dollhouse books that are a variety of sizes and scales and then to spend half an hour shrinking down the image of the book until you get the exact size. But I’m telling you, it was so fun and worth it and I love that those little books open and close and now are covered with the covers of the books that they love to read this year.

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We used balsa wood to frame the self-portraits and floated them out a bit to add dimension, and little wooden clothespins for the other pieces to help give depth and keep the wood theme going. We also used transfer letters to write our labels. I purchased almost all of this at the hobby shop.

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My little bird (thus the bird) loves puppies, and tutus (in her dresser drawer, obviously), “snacks” are her favorite food and she loves a good tea party. Her favorite song is Twinkle-Twinkle and she (and Charlie) are both learning to swim this year which is what the lifesaver represents on each of their boxes.

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We actually took their original self-portraits and art and had them color copied and sized down to fit into the shadowbox, so if you have any art that is too big, you have that option, as well.

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Here are the final two boards. You can see the pretty linen texture and their names on these as well which is what Shutterfly customizes for you.

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Elliot AKA Birdie: My little bird. When she grows up, she wants to be an “animal doctor” and she loves to make cookies and pancakes. Her favorite place is “my crib” because boy does that girl love her nap with her “little blanky and big blanky” (and when she’s ready, she will tell you). Her two favorite books are “Runaway Bunny and “Guess How Much I Love You.” She loves to paint and play in the dirt. The trees remind me of our backyard and, of course, the tree murals in her last and current room. That girl is just full of such joy and enthusiasm for life and her independence is astonishing. Actually astonishing. Oh, I just realized it would have been fun to ask them who their best friend is and include their names there as that is something that changes all the time.

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Charlie: For “Charlie Bear” he wants to be an astronaut and a builder, his favorite movie is Peter Pan (the swords), he loves to “spy with spyers” (the binoculars). He has a new obsession with Legos so we built it in the shape of the castle fort in our backyard. He is learning to swim, ride a real bike and play the piano.

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The kids came home from school and immediately went to check out their finished box. Of course, some things were hard for them to keep in the box (Birdie was begging to pet “the little puppy”) and for now I might be more obsessed with them than they are, but I KNOW that this is something they are going to love to have when they are older. This is something that makes me very, very happy.

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As of right now, they are on the piano, but I like the vignette there and need to find a permanent place for them to hang. I’m thinking in the playroom if I ever design it properly as there is a lot of wall space there.

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Shutterfly is much more than just shadow boxes that make me insanely happy that I can’t wait to create for my kids every year. They offer so many other fully customizable products and to help showcase just a few of their other home decor products, we ordered and customized some from their selection. 

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I made each of the kids these cute tote bags (these are now going to be their park or beach bags) with their names which we’ll take up to the mountain house for lake days. They have quite a few colors to choose from for the embroidery as well as different fonts and sizes. You can also customize the color of the canvas and can have them stitch graphics onto them.

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Inside the bag was a fun bath/beach towel that had their faces in a rocket ship which obviously they got a kick out of and have now promised to both get in and out of the bath when they are asked to. If you are a mother then you know how difficult bath time can be on some days, and these custom rocket ship towels with their faces on them making the “getting out of the bath process” much easier and more fun.

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They have a ton of other options (and I’ve requested many more) which I think for kids is really cute for them. They have these sherpa blankets that I was fantasizing about having a photo of each of them on and then in the mountain house, it can be their “snuggle blanket” which I know they would love. They also have backpacks, pencil cases, and sheets as well that were very very tempting. Have I turned into a monogramming and customizing lover? I just might have. 

They also sent through this customized cutting board shown below as a gift with our last name on it and the year that we were married and I love the thought of gifting this to someone that is getting married or starting a family.

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If you are someone who loves personalized gifts, then head over and see the entire selection. Shutterfly has long been a name in the photo printing and custom books category but their selection bleeds far beyond that and they have so many good items that I love.

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For now, I will be passing down my memory hoarding (and appreciation) abilities whether they like it or not. While it wasn’t this super fast project, it was extremely fun for both me and the kids and it’s now something that we will have and look at for the rest of our lives. And once they are older, they’ll be coming to the dollhouse store with me to help pick out the pieces that reference their current life and loves. When I told my friends I was shadow boxing all weekend, they were skeptical (as was Brian), but when they saw the finished product, they all really wanted to order their own set of shadow boxes and customize them for their kids, too.

***Photography by Sara Tramp for EHD

*This post was created in partnership with Shutterfly, and words are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that let us create this daily content.

  1. My kids just started back to school and I have actually dubbed Fridays, Photo Fridays. Because I’ve been a Shutterfly customer for almost 12 years and I LOVE it. Ive historically created mostly photo books for myself snd gifts for others, but photo Friday is my endeavor to really dive into and create more!

    Also, these shaddow boxes and the process and the cute pictures of your babies gave me an unexpected lump in my throat! Good thing it wasnt set to music or I probably would’ve died in my coffee.

  2. This is so fun and inspiring!

  3. I’m terrible at doing memory book type things, but I make photo calendars for the grandparents each year with Shutterfly, which you could probably get sone many places. But… Shutterfly has AMAZING customer service. I’ve had two situations in which they have gone wildly above and beyond to help with delivery / product snags. The products are great, the quality is great and you can’t ask for better service.

  4. Cute top, Emily – can you provide the source?

  5. My aunt and uncle actually bought us one of those customized cutting boards as a wedding gift this past November. I can attest to the fact that they do make a great wedding gift!

  6. Such an amazing idea! Absolutely love how the shadowboxes came out.

  7. These are so fun and cute! I need to make some with my kids!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  8. This is not related, but please discuss that piano bench, because I about died. I am immediately trying to think of a DIY for it that I can use on a dining room bench.

    1. That’s the Safari Bench from Katy Skelton! https://katyskelton.com/shop/safari-bench/

  9. These make me so happy! I love the idea of using miniatures to tell the story of the year. What a fun project for you and your kids – going to order these now

  10. Loving these new shutterfly products! And love how you made them so personal and special for you and your family.

  11. This is so lovely! What a beautiful activity to do with kids/for kids.

    And “Rose Revere Engineer” FTW! “Iggy Peck Architect” and “Ada Twist Scientist” are also house faves for us. And “The Gruffalo” writer/illustrator team is amazing! Check out “The Snail and the Whale” and “The Spiffiest Giant in Town” if you haven’t already 🙂

  12. I LOVE THIS IDEA! Both because it hits two of my favorites of meaningful decor and organizing and protecting things that have special value.

  13. These are precious! 2 questions: Where did you get the photostrips done (like an actual photo booth somewhere or DIY)? What did you find is the best way to attach the items (hot glue)?

  14. I came across possibly the best miniature item that’s ever existed today: http://www.hegartyantiques.com/details.asp?id=261
    It’s a carved bone dollhouse drinks trolley 🍸 😱

  15. darling.
    everything about this post.

  16. Total side note but please open links in new windows! It is SO helpful when wanting to click click click and continue reading 🙂

  17. Which Sherpa blanket would u get Emily? I think I need one! Or two

  18. Did you use a certain glue or method for attaching miniatures?

  19. Wow…! This is a great idea about shadow box with shutter-fly. Thanks for sharing your idea. https://www.missiongoodlife.com/best-diet-for-business-travelers-plan/

  20. Would love the name of the store in the Valley! 🙂

  21. I love your shadow boxes! I’m definitely going to do this with my daughter. Thanks for the inspiration!

  22. What is the name of the store in the valley with all the miniatures???

    I NEED to make a trip there….well, once the heat dies down.

  23. This is so fun and inspiring!

    https://www.yavar.org/

  24. Not related but I have been searching for counter stools. I love yours! Where are they from? They would fit perfectly in my kitchen!

  25. Such cute ideas! Love everything about this!

  26. The shadow boxes are so adorable and thoughtful. Thank you for all of the great ideas for them – never would have been creative enough to come up with this (especially the doll house items).

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