On the lookout for a great toy to give this year? You know, one that will actually keep kids entertained, engaged, using their imagination—and that doesn’t look like a complete mess when it inevitably takes center stage in your playroom/living room/their bedroom?
That’s what we love about Make it Cute, a line of playhouses that actor Amanda Seyfried and her friends-since-childhood, Anne Hoehn and Maureen North, launched earlier this year. With two different options—there’s a Cottage and a Modern Farmhouse—the design-forward (you won’t find any jarring reds or greens here) cardboard playhouses are both sustainable and easy-to-assemble.
Here, Seyfried and Hoen, the company CEO, talk to us about everything from what inspired the idea, to why they’ve been such a hit—especially with grandparents!—to how they’ve maintained their since-kindergarten friendships.
Serendipity: You launched Make it Cute earlier this year. How did the idea come about?
Anne: The idea came about from a DIY project I had completed for my daughter years ago. She was just a baby and loved playing in cardboard boxes. I didn’t want a cardboard box in my living space for any length of time because the box would start to break down and it looked messy (on top of the mess little kids already create). I found the most perfect furniture box and got to work. I cut out a door and windows, added a roof, trim, and even glued on shingles to the roof. Then I painted it with colors that fit the color scheme of my home.
My daughter went crazy for it and played in it every day. It was really cute so it stayed out in our living space at all times. It was a “toy” that added to the look of my home, and didn’t detract from it. I always wanted to turn this idea into a business, but it’s become so much more with the three of us involved.
S: Friends often talk about starting businesses together—I know I do with mine!—but then they very rarely move forward. What motivated you to get this off the ground?
Amanda: It was all about the timing for us. We were all at home with our little kids in the height of the pandemic and were desperate for a creative outlet. We had always wanted to do something together professionally, and the timing was serendipitous to how it worked out for us.
We were hanging out and drinking wine (via zoom) and we were marveling at Anne’s playhouse and wondering how we could create it for everyone. We loved the idea of this being a creative outlet for us through the design possibilities, but also that it was a product that was made from incredibly sustainable materials.
S: With so many products in the kids’ space, what made you want to focus on playhouses? And what makes them different from others out there?
Anne: Throughout our two-year design and development process pre-launch, we tested out pretty much every playhouse on the market, across all materials. We love that playhouses offer a safe and calming space to kids, and endless imaginative play possibilities. Our kids obviously loved the process of us testing out all of the playhouses, and we were able to see how they interacted with each one. This allowed us to really refine what was important to us in our design. The Make It Cute playhouses were crafted with our three brand pillars in mind: sustainability, simplicity, and aesthetically-pleasing.
- Sustainability: The playhouses are made from heavy-duty, reinforced corrugated cardboard, eco-friendly and non-toxic inks and adhesives. The playhouses are made from at least 50% recycled materials and are 100% recyclable. Because they are crafted with such care, they are built to last and withstand rowdy play, unlike many of the other playhouses we tested which quickly break down and end up in a landfill.
- Simplicity: Parents and caregivers of young children already have a lot on their plate. The last thing they need is a new toy that requires pages and pages of instructions and a lengthy set-up time (which was true of the other playhouses we tested). Our playhouses are so intuitively easy to set up that most customers don’t even read the instructions. It comes shipped flat in a box with only three parts in total. It can be set up for play in less than one minute, and can also fold flat for storage under a bed or in a closet in less than one minute. This means the playhouse is reusable—you can store it away and bring it back out, making it feel like a brand new toy again.
- Aesthetically-pleasing: We work hard to design our homes pre-kids, but the brightly-colored, plastic, and potentially toxic toys inevitably ruin the look of our spaces. Our products help bring back that Zen-like feel with calming, neutral colors and thoughtful hand-illustrated designs. Not only do kids love the look of their own miniature house, but parents and caregivers love having them in their homes as well.
S: What has the feedback been from families—and, most importantly, kids? Any fun stories to share?
Amanda: This part has been SO MUCH fun. We get so many emails from customers who just love their playhouses and get so much joy from watching their children’s’ happy faces as they play and interact with them.
We’re a small company so the emails and messages come to all of us, and I read all of them. The kind words mean so much to us. People really love our story as best friends and mothers too, along with the sustainability aspect. We knew moms would be our most frequent customer (and they are) and we’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much grandmas love the playhouses. They’re a perfect toy to have at grandma’s house because they can be set out for play and then stored away until the next time the grandkids visit. The grandmas are so nice!
S: You’ve been friends for decades. How have you been able to maintain your connection over so many years and distance?
Amanda: We’ve been friends since kindergarten. Anne and Maureen met in the sandbox in preschool and then we all met the following year. I have this vivid memory of walking into the classroom and seeing them sitting together at a table. Even though we’ve all had different professional paths after growing up together in Allentown, I think our history has kept us close. It also really helped that we were all pregnant with our first child at the same time. We were so lucky that we were able to experience that together–they were my support system.
S: Speaking of, what has been most surprising about working with friends? About launching the company in general?
Anne: We’ve known each other for so long that, on a personal level, we just know each other so well, which has really helped us navigate the different phases of this journey. We have never actually worked together in a professional setting (except for when Maureen and Amanda worked at the JCPenney photo studio when we were younger), but our differing professional backgrounds have come together perfectly.
I have a background in project management and business development, and I love design, Maureen’s healthcare background lends itself nicely to a lot of the operational and material aspects of the company, and Amanda has an incredibly creative brain and network that has helped us get the word out.
S: What’s next for Make it Cute?
Anne: The playhouses are just the start of the Make It Cute world, they’re the centerpiece from which we are creating more sustainable products that complement the play pattern of the playhouse—both inside and outside of the playhouses, and that’s just the beginning.
Everything we create is sustainable, beautiful, and simple for the customer. We have so many exciting collabs and new products in the pipeline. We are just bursting with excitement as we can’t wait to share them with everyone.
S: Anything else you’d love to share?
Amanda: Philanthropy is very important to me and I love that creating this company has allowed us an opportunity to give back. We partner with the incredible organization EARTHDAY.ORG. They helped to dream up Earth Day in the first place over 50 years ago! And for every playhouse purchased, Make It Cute plants one tree in an area of the world most in need of reforestation through EDO’s tree planting initiative, The Canopy Project. We’ve planted thousands of trees already!