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Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Dollhouses today are not just for young girls anymore.
Around 1957, when I was about twelve, my family move up the street a few houses. Our new neighbors had two daughters, both several years older than I. Being as I was too young to have any real appreciation of older women at the time, I was far more interested in that which sat unused on their front porch--a fiberboard dollhouse. No I wasn't into playing with dolls, but the budding architect/interior designer in me found the 1:12 scale dollhouse, with all its wooden and plastic furniture intact, to be endlessly fascinating. Of course, the girls were old enough to have long-since outgrown their toy abode, but I spent hours effortlessly rearranging furniture and imagining myself, in miniature, living within its decorated walls.
1:16 scale is the most commonly used today in children's
dollhouses while adults prefer 1:12 scale (one inch = one foot).
In the years that followed, I move on to designing houses on graph paper, and eventually, in college, designing and building scale model architectural masterpieces out of corrugated cardboard, balsa wood, and a host of other adapted materials. When I began teaching school, I devoted an entire ten-week grade period to teaching my sophomore students architecture and interior design through the building of such models (1/4 inch to the foot). Some twenty years after discovering dollhouses I built a scale model of the house we live in now as a guide for the contractor. He commented later that at times it was an immense help. Today my model "dollhouses" are all virtual, utilizing the computer game, Sims 3.
Dutch cabinet dollhouse of Petronella de la Court,
Amsterdam, 1670-1690.
What we'd call dollhouses have been around for thousands of years. Model houses have been found intact within Egyptian tombs (probably having religious purposes). Various examples of miniature rooms with tiny, handmade furniture survive from as far back as the 16th century. Many were housed in custom-built cabinets such as the Dutch example (above) dating from the 17th-century, rather than replicated architectural shells. Perhaps the most famous example of the latter is the Queen Mary Doll's House now on display at Windsor Castle. It was created especially for the queen in the early 1920s. Queen Mary was the wife of King George V. The idea originally came from the Queen's cousin, Princess Marie Louise, who discussed it with one of the top architects of the time, Sir Edwin Lutyens. Sir Edwin began preparations in 1921. The princess had many connections among the top artists and craftsmen of the day who contribute their special abilities to the house. As a result, the dolls' house has an amazing collection of miniature items that actually work. There are working shotguns, monogrammed linens, electricity and lifts, a garage of cars with engines that run. Speaking of running, the doll's house even has running water through its tiny pipes. It was created as a gift to Queen Mary from the people, and to serve as an historical document as to how a royal family lived during that period in England.
The exterior shell (above-left) can be hoisted up to
reveal the extremely detailed interior from all four sides.
In the years since the queen's lavish digs were miniaturized, there seems to be no limit to the heights and lengths model builders will go to display the art, crafts, and ingenuity, some of their handicraft having risen in value to several million dollars at auction (nearly as much as the real thing might cost). Tim Hartnella, former computer software developer of Soham, Cambridgeshire, England, quit the rat race in 2008 to pursue his dream dollhouse (below). He spent 7 months creating a grand hotel much like those of the 1920S such as the Ritz and the Hotel de Louvre, in Paris. It's a phenomenal feat of design and creativity, measuring some six feet wide by four feet deep, and over eight feet in height. The 1:12 scale hotel features a wood paneled bar, restaurant, ladies powder room, shops, a wine cellar, luggage store, pantry, laundry and boiler room. The grand building boasts six floors with five staircases. Each of the eighty windows has been specially handmade including the revolving entrance door. There's no indication as to the going rate per night.
Now Hartnella is ready to start building furnishings.
There are several conflicting claims having to do with the largest or most elaborate dollhouse in the world today. Dollhouses such as Hartnella's often sell for between $2,300 and more than $10,000. Very often the only reason their makers sell them is to clear space in their work area for an even BIGGER dollhouse project. The Faith Bradford Dollhouse (below) is said to be one of the biggest such undertakings ever built.
The Faith Bradford Doll House dates from 1967.
Where's the elevator? Five floors and there's not even a staircase!
Until the past fifteen years or so, virtually all dollhouse were designed and built using traditional or antique exteriors and furnishings. However, today, nearly a dozen manufactures now make dollhouses utilizing contemporary styles, some even modeled after actual homes by modern-day architects. Brinca Dada’s Emerson House (below), and other dollhouse designs, as well as doll furniture and accessories are available at Inspired by the flat roofs and organic flow of Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House and the ultra-modern stone, glass, and steel home that A. Quincy Jones designed for Gary Cooper, Emerson House incorporates beautiful design and exciting play patterns while elevating the traditional toy dollhouse design. The house features many distinctive architectural features like glass corners, minimalist cut stone fireplaces, scored hardwood floors and recessed lights (LED, powered by solar panels). The house has six rooms with a large, open floor plan and floor-to-ceiling windows. Made of wood and acrylic glass, it measures 18 inches high by 21 inches wide and 30 inches long, built to 3/4" scale. It sells for $300.

The house even comes with little wooden people.

The cat ate my dollhouse.



  1. Very interesting article, as usual, Jim. Note: explanation of your "Now and Then" title should now say 2017.

  2. H. Max--

    Yes, I noticed that the other day, tried to change it but couldn't figure out how, nor did I have the time to fight with it at that moment. I've Changed it now. Thanks for reminding me.