If you've ever driven through rural America, you might have spotted remnants of Duck architecture. Far from being buildings made by waterfowl, these kitsch structures from the 20s and 30s are built in the shape of the products they sell. Think supersized coffee pots where you can buy a cup of Joe or a hot dog stand that resembles a giant sausage in a bread bun.
But Mel thought, what if these buildings were made from real food? "A few months back, I had a seed of an idea to make a doughnut shop with a real doughnut on top," she tells Creative Boom. And rather than baking a whopping great doughnut, she decided to do the next best thing: shrink the rest of the building down to scale with the food.
This spark of creative genius prompted her to reach out to food photographer Frankie via Instagram. Before long, the pair were excitedly exchanging ideas about turning this idea into a reality they had called Paperville.
"Frankie had already been in touch with Maud, who she knew was the perfect food stylist for the job, and excitingly Maud loved the idea," Mel explains. "From then on, the three of us have been emailing ideas and updates back and forth, and together we built Paperville."
Made up of six buildings, including a coffee shop, a doughnut store and an ice cream stand, Paperville is an adorable little town that incorporates real food in its architecture. Even elements that aren't real food - such as the Mr Kipling cakes and Tetley tea bags in the cleverly-named Melmart basket - get in on the fun by being lifted from a children's supermarket set.
Yet despite being cute to look at, Mel reveals that making everything so small was something of a challenge. "The scale was ultimately determined by the food, which meant that everything was tiny," she says. "If you look closely at the coffee shop, there is a printed menu outside, and to put it into perspective, the font size on those menus is a 2!
"Having these size constraints encouraged me to do things differently. Those 2pt letters, for example, would have been impossible to cut out. So instead, I incorporated some printed bits which I feel add something a little different."
Despite these hurdles, the project panned out smoothly thanks to the excellent planning of Frankie and Maud. "I think we were all a bit nervous that there was no room for error as I had only made one of each model," adds Me. "But Frankie and Maud had it all under control, and everything went perfectly!"
As for what worked best, Mel is most proud of the shop that got Paperville rolling: the doughnut store. "I enjoyed making all the little paper details like the doughnut rack inside and the air conditioning unit on the back. And then when it came to the shoot, and Maud's magnificent decorated doughnut went on top, it really finished it all so perfectly."
Meanwhile, Maud is drawn to the hotdog stall. "I love the way Mel's shop counter and window clipped to the front, keeping the bun as the main body of the stall," she explains. "I also enjoy anything I get to use tweezers and pipettes on!"
On the other hand, Frankie found it tough to settle on a favourite building in the series but ultimately settled on the coffee shop. "It's the smaller details that get me, like the tiny chain on the sign, the little printed menus, and the fact Mel used pictures from my portfolio as the coffee shop's artwork on the interior walls," she says.
"But if we're talking about details, none of us could get over the attention to detail Mel paid to the simple things like AC units on the backs of buildings and overflowing bins."
With so many potential shops being discussed during the creation of Paperville, could we expect to see more Duck buildings coming to the neighbourhood in the future? "If people want to see more, we would love to expand Paperville," Mel enthuses. "Burger bars, Taco trucks and Bao bun boutiques… we can already see it now!"