The Maritime Museum is Robert’s latest creation. Nautical accessories and paintings of sailing ships, together with a deep blue colour for the walls and plank flooring sets the scene perfectly.

Editor’s Note:

Cincinnatian Robert Off has been designing and fabricating miniature rooms,which he calls roomboxes, for over ten years, easily, but has begun to display them in gallery and museum settings to enormous audience and peer delight.  Off begins each piece, an individual art unto itself, in his imagination; some of his ideas are spinoffs from conferences or conventions he has attended, where he may discover new miniature items which he can include in these dramatic and theatrically lit interiors.  The influence of stage sets upon his work is clear, but like the most sophisticated stage designs, Off’s rooms imply other rooms off the central or main room; doors are left partly opened; a painting is displayed behind the opened door, implying private spaces beyond the public or front rooms, and the interiors of our minds as well as of our lives.

Crafted to perfection and lit with the tiniest of lights, Off’s semi-surreal narratives often imply early evening or dusk, a time of day into evening which are the most magical and transformative times in our own lives, the beginning of home life and the end of the work day.  Objects may change their shape and color as light changes, and Off is particularly strong in his understanding of both the literal and metaphorical aspects of light and lighting.

Off has collected art on and off since the early l970s, and has served on numerous area Boards of Trustees, including The Contemporary Arts Center and The Taft Museum of Art.

He first agreed to exhibit a few of the rooms in a group exhibition I curated at the now closed Sandra Small Gallery in Covington, in 2008.  By 2010, his work was included in a small group show  at The Delaware Art Museum, where a room of his was awarded second prize.  The miniature rooms were also displayed, in 2010, at Drackett  Designs in Hyde Park.

In just the past few months, Off’s work has been purchased by The Gilmore Car Museum, which is one the grounds of The Midwestern Miniatures Museum, outside Kalamzaoo, Michigan, and an excellent overview of his work appears in a recent edition of The Doll’s House Magazine, published in London.  With the permission of the Editors of that magazine, aeqai is reprinting, in full, that article, as we feel strongly about the quality of these mysterious roomboxes and note that an artist may emerge at any age; Off is in his 60s.

I gave a lecture/presentation to the Duveneck Society at The Cincinnati Art Museum in April; my topic was “emerging artists in this region”, and I included Off’s work in my presentation.

The following was originally published in the April 2012 issue of “The Dolls’ House Magazine

Christiane Berridge admires the detailed roomboxes created by Robert Off

Roomboxes can be so much more than four walls and furniture. To see what I mean take a look at the work of American maker, Robert Off. He imagines his roomboxes as stage sets and ‘mood pieces’ and I must say, I like this approach. myself at the theatre many times I’ve set a stage with furniture and props. The set initiates the story to the audience, with the lighting team adding that subtle ambience, before the actors enter to move the story forward with their dialogue. With a miniature roombox it is you who are setting the scene for your own production with the décor and furnishings; becoming stage designer, prop maker, wardrobe mistress and director in the process. Robert Off is a skilled practitioner of all these tasks.


Robert was inspired by a real life stage set designer, Robert Edmond Jones (1887-1954), who integrated light and scenery into and within plays for live theatre. He admits, ‘His dramatic use of light and integrative approach appears in my miniature rooms.’ And his use of light is one of the key ingredients to making these rooms so successful. He says, ‘Light is the transformative quality in these rooms; the mood I prefer to emulate refers best to the dream-state of twilight, when shadows emerge from the light, and each object takes on a different quality, which I consider akin to surrealism.’ You’ll never look at a lightbulb in the same way again!

High Standard

Robert has been making miniature boxes since 1998, with the first one created as a gift for his wife. Although he doesn’t make many in the course of a year, each one is exquisite. Already adept at painting miniature military figures, it was the collections of Mrs James Thorne and Eugene Kupjack (now housed at the Chicago Art Institute) that opened his eyes to the potential of the miniature domestic arena. And if you’re setting a benchmark, these are a high standard, which Robert obviously works by.

Robert explains, ‘I hope to capture the viewer’s attention and imagination; thereby making them an integral part of the box, the experience and the “story”, the viewers own story. As an active participant, they then will be able to imagine for

themselves what may have just occurred within in the space and what maybe about to happen there. And, postulate what type of space is around the corner and in the spaces beyond the cracked doors.’ By imagining a story Robert suggests that the miniaturist can more easily decide what items they are going to use and how. And this process more closely unites the maker with their project and, dare I say it, makes the completion of it more rewarding an enterprise. None of Robert’s rooms are copies of real rooms and they don’t represent a particular style or period of American architecture design but they are evocative of a time and place. The ideas for their design come from Robert’s subconscious memories and his imagination.

More Than Four Walls

What I love about these rooms is the way that they contain more than the four walls of a typical roombox (the fourth being the invisible one that we look through). Inside you may see an open doorway with the glimpse of another room, or several walls at angles with reveals beyond. It is a very clever construction and actually stops each roombox looking ‘boxy’! As complex as a finished room may look each one begins with a blank piece of graph paper, followed by a great many sketches. When happy with his final draught, Robert plans how to actually build the box and researches all the materials needed to construct it, decorate it, and furnish it. If you have access to You Tube you will be able to see and hear Robert explaining how he does this as he takes the viewer through one particular example. It’s a fascinating insight into a very creative mind!

Contact Details

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— Christiane Berridge

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