Welcome to the dollhouse: This CLE single mom is reimagining the classic toy with Play Maysie

For Kayla Lupean, a Christmas night brainstorm has turned into the gift that keeps on giving. After Lupean put her 3-year-old daughter Elsie to bed that evening, she was watching TV, and an image of a suitcase sparked an idea that sent her brain down an entrepreneurial rabbit hole.

“It sounds so cheesy, but the only way I can describe it is the entire idea and concept flowed through me in one fell swoop,” recalls Lupean. “I thought, ‘How amazing would it be for kids in foster care to have a little portable dollhouse they could take with them during the most traumatic time in their life to process what they’re going through in a stranger’s home?’”

Lupean immediately started sketching, and since that night less than three months ago, she has worked tirelessly (“20 of 24 hours a day,” she jokes) to bring her idea for Play Maysie to life.

Inspired by vintage tin lunchboxes she found on Ebay, the small portable dollhouse folds out on both sides to create interchangeable, magnetic rooms with fixed wooden furniture. Designed to be gender-neutral, the case comes in three colors, and inserts include a living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and sets for fishing and camping.

“As the idea very quickly evolved, I kept in mind that if the mission was to benefit foster care kids, the toy itself would need to have no loose pieces that could be easily lost, no cloth that could get dirty, and also be easy to sanitize and durable to withstand [travel],” says Lupean. “And as the mom of a toddler, I wanted to design it so that it was made for practical play for all kids.”

After securing a manufacturer and finalizing the design, Lupean launched a Kickstarter campaign on March 3 with the goal of raising $25,000. By day three, the campaign had already reached the halfway point to the goal. “If we reach our goal on Kickstarter, the first thing we’ll do is submit orders for the first full run of production,” says Lupean. “During production, we’ll use that time to figure out how we plan to bring Play Maysie to market.”

Though the process for launching Play Maysie has come together somewhat seamlessly, it hasn’t always been easy for Lupean, who is a single adoptive mom and a full-time photographer by trade. Because of the steep learning curve around manufacturing, Lupean “spent weeks on the phone all day, every day”—all while navigating the parental challenges of the pandemic.

“The most challenging part of this has been not having childcare because of COVID and trying to do this all on my own,” says Lupean, a Euclid resident.

But for Lupean, her "why" keeps her going, and that's to support foster care kids (with a toy all kids can enjoy). For every three cases purchased, one will be donated to a child entering foster care, and those who donate to the Kickstarter can also choose to send a kit to a youth beneficiary.

"I always wanted to be a foster parent, but as a single mom, I know the reality of that is impossible," says Lupean. "When I had the idea for Play Maysie, I knew this would be the best way to help youth in the foster care system at this point in my life."

To donate to Lupean's Kickstarter campaign or learn more, click here.

Jen Jones Donatelli
Jen Jones Donatelli

About the Author: Jen Jones Donatelli

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast.

When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.