Friday, October 16, 2015


I can remember the first time I saw the Our Generation diner sitting on the shelf in Target many many months ago.  I had known it was out there, having read about it's existence on the web, but I was skeptical that I would ever see one in person. However, there I was in Target- and there it was sitting on the shelf - in it's huge box with all it's accessories visible looking quite impressive. I was surprised to find it, but I did not bite.  I knew there was the possibility that American Girl was busy constructing their own version of a 1950's diner and I was confident that it must somehow be better.

Fast forward a year... with Maryellen's release, finally the reveal I've been awaiting....American Girl's version of a 1950's diner.  And while it does have some pretty nifty design elements, one cannot ignore it's one major misstep: the glaring lack of accessories.  And listen up American Girl- it is the accessories that give a set it's play value. American Girl keeps missing the mark on this one principle: offer collectors and target aged girls compelling accessories and they will keep coming back.  

And while I don't intend to do a formal review of either set, as there are reviews galore with pics, etc elsewhere on the web, I did want to put them in the ring together to compare and contrast both the finer and less than stellar points of each, not only from my perspective, but also from the target age's perspective. 

         WINNER- OG 

I'm doing this first, just to get it out of the way, as it's a no brainer.  The only accessory offered in the AG set that is worthy of coveting is the tiny bell.  It's metal, it's truly a wee little version of the real thing. It's fabulous, but it's not strong enough to deliver any kind of blow to the collective whole of accessories that come with the OG diner. 

The quality of the Our Generation accessories has improved measurably in the last few years. There are still hits and misses and room for improvement, but they are slowly becoming a contender. American Girl needs to take note. My 11 year old, unprompted, commented on the lack of accessories with the AG version.  I had both sets sitting side by side- and which diner did she choose to play with?  The OG one.  

        WINNER- AG

I immediately loved the versatility of the AG set.  The folding side walls and the free floating booth and table are strokes of genius.  The stools at the bar are stationary and the area at their feet is angled forward in just the right way to fit a doll so that she can sit comfortably with ease.  The OG bar stools, in contrast, are a constant source of frustration, as the dolls topple over easily on them at the slightest touch.  After awhile my daughter just sort of gave up trying to get them to sit on the stools.

The AG diner is constructed from a combination of wood (or a wood like pressed board) and high grade plastic, so naturally it feels sturdy and has some weight to it. When moved about it does not seem flimsy or chintzy. Making the diner easily movable and fold up for storage is a fabulous feature and a boon to those with limited space. 

        WINNER-  OG

This was a tough one to judge, as I feel both sets have winning details, but in the end I had to give this round to OG.   My 11 yr old and I made a short list of what we found appealing about both sets- and we found that the OG list was twice as long....the retro phone, the light up counter, the table top juke box with it's musical element, the rotating display case, the chalkboard and the window with working shutters. My 11 year old loved to press the button on the juke box and listen to the music playing. She enjoyed the chalkboard element too. On the menu she jokingly wrote the day's special: "cartoon-looking burgers".  Guess she was less impressed with either set's foods.

There are two major drawbacks to the OG set, however, and they are both what ultimately compelled me to take it apart and give it a makeover:  the color and the scale.

American Girl's version at 22 1/4" in height is scaled better to the dolls.  By no means is it in perfect scale, as a real diner in 1:3 scale would be quite large.  When Maryellen stands next to the AG version she's not as tall or taller than it. But by contrast, when the dolls stand in the OG diner, the back wall with the chalkboard overall just seems too short.

The colors the OG designers chose weren't horrible- the hot pink was actually appealing. But they paired it with orange for the hot pink?  I do have to give them kudos and a big thank you for not slapping pink on everything.  And even more kudos to them for using silver extensively and for giving the countertop a faux marble-like finish.

So, in the end the overall winner of the battle, I must admit, goes to Our Generation.  The designers should pat themselves on the back for offering a well thought out and decently constructed play set for 18" dolls at the one hundred dollar price point.


                             PIPPALOO'S DINER

As soon as I saw AG's diner I knew exactly what I wanted to do to for my transformation. First order of business was to completely dismantle the OG diner and paint the various pieces and parts. I'd seen other transformations on the web where the same was done and the process seemed easy enough.

Can I just say how awesome it is that the whole set simply comes apart with screws- and was not assembled with some type of super-impossible-to-remove epoxy or glue. Parts can be reassembled easily without needing to reassemble the entire set as a whole.

All the pieces can be taken apart- I even removed the phone from the wall. It required the use of a wire saw, patience and some elbow grease, but I won out over it eventually. That was the only part that was not simply screwed in. Below is what the wall will look like without the phone. I knew right away that I could cover the holes later on with some type of signage.

My next order of business was to create a floor for the diner.  The only original parts of the OG diner that I didn't use were a mound of left over screws and this, the flooring or base:

It was quickly seized by my 11 yr old and repurposed as flooring for a Littlest Pet Shop dance floor.

For the diner I knew I wanted a flooring big enough and sturdy enough to accommodate all the pieces of both the AG and the OG diners.   I wanted it large enough to create adequate space between the counters and booths with room for multiple dolls to walk about, but not too big that I couldn't store it or move it. And I wanted something sturdy enough that I could walk on it, or press weight on it and not worry about it's integrity. I settled on 1/4" finished plywood with a dimension of 5' x 3.5'.  My intent was to have the pieces and parts of both diners separate and "float" about over the floor.  This would have two benefits: it's easier to tote and store separate pieces and it provides multiple options for creating different configurations with all the components. If I want to change up my diner scene, I can easily just move the different pieces and parts around.

I also knew from the beginning that I wanted to paint the flooring in a black and white checked pattern, on the diagonal.  It will also serve as suitable flooring for other scenes down the line: an ice cream parlor, bakery, candy shop, etc.  I intend to put the flip side to use as well, grooving and staining it to look like wood flooring. But that's a project for another day.  

This process- and I will call it a process- required several days of careful taping off, painting and waiting for layers to dry.  Once completed, I coated the floor with 4 layers of a polyurethane for protection. For a project like this I always choose a water based polyurethane over an oil based one, as it will not yellow the paint over time.

I mulled over for some time with regard to the colors that I wanted to incorporate into the diner.  I knew the pink had to remain.  Both the AG booth's vinyl piping and it's table, along with the "neon" seaside diner sign and other elements were all pink....and I had no intention to paint them.  And honestly I don't mind pink in moderation.  The aqua was key- so that had to stay. Pink and aqua are stereotypical Florida colors, so for a seaside diner it wasn't a terrible choice on AG's part.  I would have preferred to have the classic red mixed in, but I like to keep things clean and as simple as possible in this scale. So the pink and aqua would remain and the red was out.

I painted the outside shell of the dismantled OG booth and the window frame with it's shutters all white.  The seats were painted aqua. I then reassembled and added a base to the bottom. More on that below.

One of the things I love about my transformation is that all of the pieces and parts can be easily moved about over the flooring.  Doing so meant that some of the parts of the OG diner would not only need some cosmetic changes, but some design fine-tuning.

Because I opted not to reuse the OG diner floor, I needed to add a bottom piece to the OG booth to make it usable and durable.  So I measured the bottom dimensions of the booth and cut a small piece of wood about 1/4" thick to size, painted and then glued it to the unit to act as a base.  I added the felt on the bottom for ease of movement along the floor.

You might note (if you own this set) that yes- in my transformation I had to loose the musical element of OG's table top juke box. When you press the heart on the top of it, it plays a variety of generic sounding 50's style tunes. There was just no way to re-connected the wire from the unit to the speaker and battery.  In the original configuration the wire comes up from inside the counter, under the flooring and into the back wall of the booth connecting to the juke box.  Sadly, I could not incorporate it into my free floating design.

The next change I knew I wanted to make was to address the problem of the scale of the OG chalkboard wall. As I mentioned before, the dolls stand fairly even with the height of the wall.  I wanted to increase the height not only to make it look a little more appealing, but also to match the AG diner's height. And I needed it to have a base, much like the booth, so that it could be easily moved around and stored as well. Without being attached to the the OG diner flooring, the chalkboard wall looks like this at the bottom:

The screws attached into those series of squares along the bottom edge. So it required some type of base in order to raise the height.  Note that the wall will stand on it's own and does not require a base. 

I'm not a wood worker and neither is my husband, but we both like to pretend we are sometimes. ;) We used a router, a vice and a chisel to create an L shaped channel for the back and side walls to slip into.  My first thought was to use a 2x4 for the base, but I quickly realized that would not give me the height I needed.  A 2x6 seemed too large when I judged the height against a doll.  Eventually we did use the 2x6, but had to cut it down a bit to a 2x5.

A channel was routed just large enough for the two walls to fit into snugly.  The L consists of two pieces that were glued, then sanded and then painted.  This was a labor of love honestly, getting the right fit. And I'm going to admit that up until this part every thing has been fairly easy for anybody to recreate. This aspect is not difficult, just not entirely simple.


I added felt to the bottom of this piece as well so that I could easily slide it around and not mar my flooring.  From the pic you can see that I used red felt.  Black or white probably would have been best, but the red is all I had on hand in the required length.  So I went with the red.

I also added some additional height to the top of the wall by gluing on a piece of chair rail trim.  I measured, cut, then sanded and painted. The piece added about 1.5" of height to the back wall.    Just using a piece of trim like this- maybe even something a little bigger, would be a great solution for increasing the height of the diner in it's original form.  Without taking the diner apart at all or doing any of these other changes that I have done, a little height can easily be added with a trim piece.  I bought this one at a local home store.        

Note also that I chose to paint the chalkboard trim with the same aqua as the booths.  The color is a very close match to the AG counter stools. Previously it was purple. 

And just because I don't like to keep things looking unfinished, I added a small piece of craft wood trim on the edge where the rotating display case previously hooked into the side wall. I wish I had snapped a before pic of it to demonstrate better what I am referring to, but in my haste I glued it on before I remembered to take a pic. 

There were a series of several holes down the edge that looked unsightly. When I added the channeled base to the chalkboard wall it raised the height and so the counter could no longer hook into the wall as it once originally did for stability.  The counter will now sort of just sit in front of the wall, which really is no big deal.  Below you can see the hooks on the display case that previously attached to the wall

From the minute I saw the diner I knew I wanted to remove that tiny retro phone and paint it.  From the pic below you can see the before color: a pastel pink. 

I carefully taped off all the parts that were not pink and gave the thing about 3 coats of black paint. 

The OG counter received only a minor facelift via paint. The front was painted white and I taped off the pink border tiles along the floor and painted them black. However, in retrospect I sort of wish I had painted them all white or all black.  I think it would have looked better against the busy black and white tile floor. 

Soon it was time to start thinking about accessorizing the diner, since all the painting and construction was completed.  Apart from the foods, which I would provide, it's the finishing touches that can sometimes make the difference.  I started googling, searching for images of actual 1950's diners. Aside from menu boards and clocks, I started seeing occasional advertisements posted on walls.  Some were too small to discern in the photos, but others were clearer- many were for cigarette companies, soda manufacturers and novelties. I borrowed this image from Ebay of a 1950's diner which shows a few printed advertisements.

So I took my cue from that image and printed up some vintage advertising drink signs that one might see, especially in Florida.  These were all borrowed from the internet.  

This orange juice poster was just the perfect size for the spot on the wall with the two holes.

Next it was time to start thinking about some walls.  Two to be exact.  Previously when constructing walls for my scenes, I've made them out of plywood.  Inspired by another collector, I decided to try employing foam board. And although it mars easily, it makes up for it in spades by how easy it is to assemble and cut.  I attached the walls together with velcro and cut a small square out for the window.  I used two white 40" x 32" sheets of 3/8" foam board for my walls.  They simply sit or float over the painted wood floor.

To dress up the sides of the walls I borrowed a design element from the AG diner: the metallic strip that runs along the top and about chair rail height of the walls.

I found this decorative tape already precut to an almost perfect width. It has a tiny bit of a textural design. I applied it along the lower half and upper part of the walls, closely matching the height of the ones on the AG diner.  

The tape really helped to pull the design together and add visual interest on the very stark white walls. 

For the backside, or the kitchen view of the diner, I made no changes at all. I simply added an Our Generation fridge, which I previously glued a wood block to at the bottom to raise it's height. It's also been spray painted a silver metallic color.  Previously it was red.  

This entire scene has been sitting smack in the middle of my studio space (formerly my dining room)- for the past week. And I have to admit that it's sort of been in the way, as there really is no other room in my house large enough to accommodate it fully at the moment. I did not want to set it up in the basement since I knew I was going to be taking pics- and in addition to my studio lights, I need a natural light source to help me out.  Making it this large was great fun, but it's not exactly practical. However, the best part is it's versatility.  I can easily take it apart and set it back up again.  

One of the design features I really appreciate about the AG diner is the addition of a shelf at the top of both the grill station and the pink area where the seaside diner sign is located. It's perfect for storing plates and dishes, foods and what-nots- and they are all easily accessible.  The fold out shelf at the grill station allows for storage as well.

These two pics below taken from a distance shatter the illusion a bit and give a birds-eye view of the entire scene. 

And the best part of the scene to me is that it's functional. My 11 yr old and her dolls manned the grill station and the kitchen, while mine took orders and served. There is lots of space for dolls to sit and order lunch or just hang out, as well as plenty of room for waitresses to move about, take orders and serve. The dessert and cashier station at center is complete with register and tip dish. No dining and dashing for these dolls!  :)

And if my 14 yr old ever decided on a whim to play too, I could easily remove the wall and she could join in on the booth side with plenty of room to spare.  Not that I am expecting something like that to happen.  :)  

Actually one afternoon I did find her playing in the my dismay it wasn't with her was with her two guinea pigs.  Sigh.

I welcome questions, comments, suggestions. I'm always tweaking designs here and there to make subtle changes.  Sometimes even a small change can make a difference.  

Thanks for looking!   


  1. Amazing work! I really like your diner.

    And the guinea pigs look like they're enjoying it too :-)

  2. I love it! Way better than either of the diners. I'm just not a fan of Maryellen's at all, OG's had minor potential. Awesome job and the piggy's are too stinkin' funny :)

  3. Love it! Beautiful work, including your little piggies in the blanket:)

  4. You have skills! Your imagination and execution are spot-on, as usual. Love it!

  5. Darling diner! A++++
    You always do such beautiful work -- thanks for sharing!

  6. Guinea pigs! That is funny. Great diner! I enjoyed the review. :)
    - American Girl Doll Artist

  7. This is really awesome, and lots of great ideas even if someone wanted to make a diner completely from scratch. I have to admit that I did laugh out loud when I got to the guinea pig picture!

  8. Totally awesome! I am so amazed by your crafting abilities.

  9. Love what you did, awesome!!!. What did you do about the OG stools that I understand are too close to each other and almost impossible for an AG doll to sit. I have an OG diner on its way to me and would love to modify mine too. Not sure I could do what you have but having grown up going to diners after high school dances I want mine to be cool too. You did fab job. Thank you GramStarr

  10. Love what you did, awesome!!!. What did you do about the OG stools that I understand are too close to each other and almost impossible for an AG doll to sit. I have an OG diner on its way to me and would love to modify mine too. Not sure I could do what you have but having grown up going to diners after high school dances I want mine to be cool too. You did fab job. Thank you GramStarr

  11. I LOVE your final project! It looks amazing! You did an exceptional job taking apart the OG diner and painting it, adding height and details to it and the over all set up. We had the OG diner and you are correct about the accessories and some of the design elements such as the table top juke box, the chalkboard and phone, the bakery case and light up counter were also really cool. But as you pointed out the scale and colors were bad as well as the useless stools and I feel the set up was definitely lacking. we also have the AG diner and it won out in our family for the scale, colors, construction and versatility of the booth and table as well as the stools, and the grill behind the counter. Besides lacking accessories and the phone as a sticker I loved the AG diner much more. We had the AG juke box so we did not need the table top one, in the end my daughter sold her OG diner and we used the $ to go towards the purchase of the AG diner. I got it on sale so since the accessories were lacking I just called AG and ordered replacement parts, or found some on ebay. I now have 4 Breakfast items, 4 malts, 2 strawberry and 2 chocolate, 4 plates and 4 forks as well as 4 sodas from Maryellens fridge. They were an extra expense but worth it to have all the accessories I wanted for 4 dolls who were dining. I also took the phone off the OG diner and glued it on to the AG diner so I had the phone I wanted.

  12. When my girls and I saw your mashup we knew we wanted to recreate it. I disassembled the OG diner last night. In your description above you mention adding a piece of craft wood to the end to hide some holes. But in other pics, the diner comes with a piece of plastic to create an L shape to the back wall and the short end of the plastic L piece connects to the clear bakery turning display shelf. Did you take off the original plastic L piece (the short end of the L)? If so, was there a reason? In your pics showing the channel you routed in your new base, it appears it’s still the plastic L piece. ALSO, on the right side of the back wall, there is a smal short angled L piece that sticks out, to help hold up the wall I’d guess (I think it’s under the counter part that lifts up). It appears you took that piece off. Is it easy to do that? I think those are my only questions! Thank you so much for showing and explaining how you created your mashup! I’m on IG if you want to follow along on our dollhouse making and doll stories. My username is lulubloom_ag. If you want to email me your answers to my questions, you can reach me at Lucia DOT Wilke AT me DOT com.

  13. I love it! I have been decadent in my past, purchasing two AG diners (I wanted the extra booth and table), and THREE OG diners, and disassembled them much as you did. One went toward making a drive-in movie concession stand, with added signage and such. Just like you, I pried off all those pink phone and painted them black, and took one apart and painstakingly made a table-top rotary phone out of it, for general use in living rooms, office sets, etc. I cut out the chalkboard in the OG and made another pass through, and like you, painted an OG fridge silver to stick in there! With those double doors and painted silver, it looks more institutional that way rather than something one would see in a home. Now the REAL fun: turning the AG diner into a fancy 50's era steakhouse! This involved lots of wood-grain Con-Tac® paper and those fancy papers for scrap booking one finds at Michaels. They had sheets of this tawdry red flocked stuff that looked exactly like the vintage wallpaper in a famous old steakhouse where I live called Durant's. It has curly-cues on it. This was placed over the aqua walls, alternating with the wood-grain as panels with home-made wall sconces appropriate to the period. The kitchen was made into a cocktail bar (SO not child appropriate! I don't have kids, just enjoy dioramas). The counter top was covered in a garish gold glittered stiff paper, gold reflective tape acted as trim everywhere, and one of the back walls from the OG diner (which had the phone) became the back bar, with added shelves and many in-scale wine and champagne bottles found at a cake decorating store. I added reflective silver mylar where the chalkboard was to make the mirror, and yes, also had a cash register (an actual vintage "salesman's sample" 1958 "RC Allan" (that was the company), and set it atop the clear pie safe unit, with more bottles and glasses from various OG sets on the shelves. The AG grand piano, set atop an extended floor, and the additional booth and table from the second AG diner fills it out nicely. Potted philodendrons (found at pet stores for reptile or fish tanks) add that extra vintage touch, since EVERY restaurant and bar (or bank or hotel lobby or what have you) had tall potted philodendrons. I wish I could somehow provide pictures, but alas. It does indeed take up the ENTIRE dining room table, so I now eat on the floor, but it sure is pretty to look at...