In Lego lover’s basement, it’s a block party

Photo courtesy Kyle Kendall
Teagan Kendall's replica of Jasper's Astra Theatre made its way into the final 10 spots in the Lego Friends Designer Competition.

By JASON RECKER
jrecker@dcherald.com

Teagan Kendall was 2 years old but had an eye for symmetry and construction.

Teagan

Almost every day when her parents scooped her up from day care nearly a decade ago, they arrived at the babysitter’s home to see Teagan building pyramids out of Legos. Toddlers don’t typically craft things to scale or pay attention to the balance of weight that might keep a tower upright. Teagan, well, “hers were perfectly symmetrical,” says her father, Kyle. “Perfectly perfect.”

The early engineering expertise was a sign.

Teagan is 11 now and, somewhere between toddler and pre-teen, her early fixation with engineering sprouted into an all-out blitz of Lego expertise. The Jasper Middle School sixth-grader has three tables filled with Lego kits — most built straight from the box to company specifications but others crafted entirely through her imagination — in the basement of the family’s Jasper home. She’ll have to make room for more because this week she secured a spot in the final 10 in the Lego Friends Designer Competition.

Lego creations have taken over the Kendall's basement.

There were more than 27,000 entries from all over the world. As a reward for coming this far, she receives all 33 Lego kits to be released this year. The grand prize announcement will be made Friday — the family learned this morning Teagan was not the champion — and the winner gets a trip to Lego headquarters in Denmark and the first-place creation will become a special kit produced for anyone and everyone to purchase and build.

“This has been her toy room from Day One, but Legos have taken over,” says Kyle, standing in a side room in the basement that’s tightly packed with three tables, all of which are home to various parts of Teagan’s personal city. “I’m trying to figure out where to go next.”

Lego Friends is a line of Legos created in 2012 and its kits fit into Heartlake City, so there are structures like an airport, school, mall, barbershop, pizza joint and hotel. Teagan has those features but has added to her Heartlake City by building an amusement park, church, campgrounds/outdoor adventure area, ranch and heart-shaped lake. Two airplanes and a hot air balloon dangle from the ceiling. Felt cutouts atop the table provide the setting for a beach and water. There are also roads, sections of track that aren’t actually Lego products but were instead swiped from Kyle’s brother, Kirk, who first got the Playskool car track way back in 1990.

Kyle guesses there are 50 kits atop the tables, the third of which was added last Christmas when Teagan expanded the city with the amusement park.

Tucked into the city’s downtown is a theater, one of four sets Teagan submitted to the contest (a log ride, doctor’s office and carousel were the others). It’s the theater that caught the eye of the Lego design team.

Teagan's Lego city includes an amusement park, church, campgrounds/outdoor adventure area, ranch, heart-shaped lake and more.

There is a ticket window, popcorn machine and soda fountains, projector, seats and movie posters. The marquee has four films on tap — of course “The Lego Movie” is one of them — and the sign sticking from the top says “Astra,” a tip of the cap to the historic downtown Jasper theater that’s being restored.

Kyle and Teagan searched online for photos of old theaters to give Teagan some inspiration. The kid took it from there — contest rules prohibit parents from helping and Teagan had to promise she worked solo. Most of the theater is built from parts that actually belong to a school, though some sections of the city are built from stray parts the family has tracked down at yard sales and Lego surplus stores in Evansville and Louisville. All told, the theater is comprised of about 500 pieces.

“The details show her creativity,” Kyle says. “Like there was a camera, but she added a lens and a wheel to make the projector.”

The popcorn in the machine is two shades of yellow — some pieces have more butter, right? — and is comprised of what Teagan calls 1-by-1’s, the smallest Lego pieces with only one raised, round spot on top. Renae, Teagan’s mother, calls those pieces buttons.

“No, they’re 1-by-1’s,” Teagan corrects her, sighing.

“We don’t meet her specs,” Renae counters, noting that Teagan keeps all the tiny pieces arranged in containers separated by color and size. She also has a container filled with more than 50 instruction booklets.

Renae never played with Legos as a kid and she’s helped with a few small projects in the city (the carousel in the amusement park was made just for her, since she loves carousels). Kyle guesses he had maybe $25 worth of the blocks when he was little and he’s in charge of applying stickers to the pieces before Teagan starts building (he’s also built several ancillary items within the city such as vehicles and arcade games).

The interior of Teagan's Astra design includes details like a concession stand complete with a popcorn machine and fountain drinks.

Teagan’s first piece came on Valentine’s Day 2012, when Kyle, who rarely bought his daughter a Valentine’s Day gift, decided Teagan might like a Lego Friends car. She put it together right away. It’s never been deconstructed and sits on the west side of Teagan’s Heartlake City road between downtown and the campground.

The city includes people, none of whom look exactly alike, and the population is somewhere around 100. 

Human visitors to the Kendall house are often intrigued by the city but timid about touching anything. Teagan says the city is as much toy as it is museum, but she’ll tell you about how her 7-year-old cousin Drew sometimes knocks pieces to the ground. A while back, right after Teagan assembled the airplane and Kyle strung the aircraft to the ceiling, the plane fell. Crash landing. Pieces everywhere.

You’ve dropped some things,” Teagan says, eyeing Renae before turning her playful scowl to Kyle. “And you’ve dropped some things.”

Some of those mishaps happened around Christmas, when the city was relocated to the pool table and reassembled. The re-platting happens every so often when city limits must be expanded, usually when Christmas gifts arrive in December and birthday presents arrive in May. Kyle spent part of this week measuring to see how he might fit more table space into the room.

The top 10 in the contest included entries from Germany, Scotland, Italy, France, Venezuela and Great Britain. Consider Teagan’s creation a world-class city.

“She builds very carefully upstairs in another room,” Renae says. “And when it’s done, she moves it down here.”

“She enjoys building,” Kyle says. “But she enjoys organizing the table as much as anything.”

You can view the other top 10 finalists in the Lego contest here.

More on the contest is here.

Lego figures settle in to watch the Lego Movie inside Teagan's Astra replica.



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