Who needs dollhouses when we’re living in the era of life-simulation video games like The Sims? Kids do, that’s who. Teeny-tiny universes capture children’s imaginations, so gather your clan and gaze into the Art Institute’s Thorne Miniature Rooms. The exhibit of 68 incredibly detailed European and American interiors is filled with tiny chandeliers, minuscule sweeping staircases and itty-bitty chaise lounges. Exploring them is a magical way to spend a few hours — and will leave your kids talking for days.

Ryan Thorne Room

How to Find Them
Locating the Thorne Rooms can be an adventure in itself — the dark, maze-like exhibit is tucked away on the museum’s lower level under the Grand Staircase. If you’re coming from the AIC’s main entrance on Michigan Avenue, walk straight back into the museum until you see the staircase, then descend and enter the gallery on the south side of the room. From the Modern Wing entrance, walk through Griffin Court and exit through the glass doors that connect to the original part of the museum. Make a right through the South Asian Art galleries, then walk past another set of glass doors. Look for the staircase and head down.


photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne Louisiana Bedroom c. 1942. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne

Make It a Treasure Hunt
While you’re touring the exhibit, encourage your kids to delight in discovering secret, special details. Thorne Miniature Rooms caretaker Mican Morgan provided us with this list of ideas. Grownups, click on the red numbers in the brackets below to see the rooms online so you’ll know what to look for when you get there.

1. There are lots of animals living in the Thorne Rooms. Do you see a birdcage? [A32] Can you find two cats? One dog? [E1] There’s only one room with a goldfish in a bowl! [A36] Can you find it?

2. Some of the rooms have model ships in them. Can you find the room that has two models … one in a frame and one in a bottle? [A12] What about the room that has a model of the Mayflower? [A1]

3. Can you find the room that has the Eiffel Tower outside the window? [E27]

4. The Virginia Parlor is a replica of George and Martha Washington’s house. How many pictures of President Washington can you find in that room? [A21]

5. Which room has lots of tiny instruments inside? [A29]

6. Can you find the room with a tiny toy train? Did you know that the train is actually made of 24-carat gold? It was a gift to the exhibit’s creator, Mrs. Thorne, who painted it herself. [A33]

7. The Thorne rooms are doll sized, but some have dolls in them too! How many dolls can you find? (Answer: Three) [A12, A27, A23]


photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne South Carolina Ballroom c. 1940. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

Ask Questions and Take Selfies
Encourage little ones to engage with the vignettes by posing questions along the way. Which bedroom would they most like to sleep in? What do they think people cooked in each of the different kitchens?

If you’ve read the book series The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone, take the museum’s book-themed mini-tour — brochures are available at the desk near the entrance to the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

Finally, pause to snap a selfie in the convex mirror in the Virginia Drawing Room [A25], and later, walk over the museum’s American Art exhibits in the Rice Building to see convex mirrors that are life sized.


photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne English Great Room c. 1937. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

Plan Your Visit
The Art Institute is open daily from 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays). Admission is $23 for adults and free for children under 14. Thursday nights are also free. Another bonus: There’s a new kids’ menu in the Museum Café.

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.
The Loop
Online: artic.edu

Have you checked out the Thorne Miniature Rooms yet? Let us know in the Comments! 

— Amalie Drury