As long as I can remember, I have had a special affinity for small things: little natural wonders like seashells, tiny bright stones, feathers and acorns, and miniatures. As a child, I made rooms for my dolls in any likely place. My mother’s fireplace clock on a table was a favorite spot to make a cozy little doll room, and pulling out blocks of encyclopedias from the bookshelf left nice smaller doll rooms with a book on top for the ceiling. Smallest of all, the low cinder block wall around our Little Rock, Arkansas front yard had cubbies that were perfect room-size for an inexpensive 5″ doll with long brown hair that I bought with my own money. In the summer, she had a magical garden fairy world with an unexpected bit of high tech–if she was kidnapped and stranded on the shelf of a higher stone wall, my brother’s battery powered helicopter would come and rescue her!
As a young adult, I became enthralled with 1/12th scale miniatures after several trips to see the Thorne Rooms at the Chicago Art Institute. I could stand for hours gazing into those glass fronted boxes where everything was so lifelike, even with perfect lighting and shadows. I felt like I could fall right into that eighteenth century kitchen! There were no dolls to break the suspension of disbelief in these tiny realms. You expected a live person to walk in and resume living there.
Of course I had to make my own mini house which, given my limited means and space, was made of stacked sturdy boxes. I called it “Der Kline Haus,” which means simply “The Small House.”
Then I discovered the wonder of antique toy furniture in 1/8th scale, perfect for Ginny and 8″ Madame Alexander dolls, at the Fowler House Museum just two blocks from where I lived in Lafayette Indiana. It must have been a joy and an adventure for the original owners of that dollhouse to find those little wooden treasures of furniture, and copper pots and pottery dishes, on world travels! This house was made to be played with, dolls in their settings in the rooms.
My dollhouse has been packed away for many years. The box-rooms were discarded as the wallpaper (some of which was made from wrapping paper from my wedding gifts!) faded and turned brown. Yet I still can’t resist picking up little things in the course of my wanderings. And like Auri in Patrick Rothfuss’ tale, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I listen to the things to know where they best want to be; to know where they will be comfortable and where they belong. Until now, the little things have been in various places throughout the house, some more comfortable than others. Teeny tiny seashells found in the sand of a long-ago Far East beach are in a little bottle in the bathroom. A doll-size Japanese clasp purse is on a shelf of the desk. Little wooden and metal toys are in a small cabinet in the bedroom. Miniature books are in a drawer or on the shelf near larger books. Fingertip sized perfume bottles are in the “powder room” cabinet. Child sized dishes live in a wooden box on top of the antique sewing machine, or get overwhelmed among the larger Depression Glass. (No, they are not comfortable there!)
Last summer I gave you a glance at my long-ago packed away and brought out anew doll bed and the newly acquired dresser to go with it, along with a coordinating ladderback chair. These, along with some of the scattered minis as accessories, make a lovely little bedroom for the lady china dolls. Paula Walton’s post (IzannahWalker.com) from July 2014 showing Edyth O’Neal’s wonderful large scale closet doll house inspired me to clear off enough shelf space in my hall closet to tuck in a little bedroom for the ladies. Besides, where else would I have room to display this 1/4th scale doll furniture? It could have ended up in the closet packed away for lack of display space, so why not as a display in the closet instead? Near perfect solution! I don’t see this enchanting room every day, but when I do slide open that closet door, I can peek in at Edith and Miss Bettina Bumblebottom as they sit on the bed in their crisp white undies, drinking tea and confiding secrets to each other.
Like my closet bedroom, Tasha Tudor’s acclaimed doll house is also 1/4th scale, consisting of special items from her childhood dollhouse made for her by her mother, of fabulous antiques collected by Tasha, and of special gifts from her friends and family. Her dollhouse, originally set up on large shelves in her home, was created for dolls that Tasha made herself. Later, a special house was made for her treasures and displayed in Colonial Williamsburg for twenty years. Now, Tasha’s dollhouse is back at her Home, Corgi Cottage. Tours, run by part of her family after her death, are very limited and are quite expensive.
And now, who among China, Papier Mache, and Izannah Walker doll lovers wouldn’t fall in love with an Izannah home like Joy Harrington’s, featured in the August 2015 issue of Antique Doll Collector magazine? Not only is this small house a delightful home for antique dolls, it’s the perfect way to bring together and display a lifetime of collected small antiques! I have pored over this article, gleaning every little whimsy, and again, I am inspired to bring together my own collection in a display that is more doll house-like, if not actually a large scale dollhouse.
At this point in time, my best option beyond the closet bedroom is my stairs which are wide enough to accommodate a multi-level keeping room display. Perhaps later in the fall or winter, when renovations to our apartment building wind down, I can try a two room display on my extra antique dining table.
I am so enthusiastic about the large scale doll houses that I would like to write about more insights in several more posts. Coming up will be postings on miniature scales and choosing the right size of furniture and accessories for the dolls, on furniture and little things for putting together the displays, which seem to be fluid as collections grow and change, and on English Staffordshire toy or doll china, my newest antique collectible love. We could even have a tea party!
There is so much information on 1/12th scale miniatures, and so little on doll sized small things. The small things, unlike “miniatures” are large enough to be a pleasure to hold. It is also a sensual delight to contemplate small things not meant to be toys that can be seamlessly added into a doll’s space. What a fun and endearing venture into the world of the whimsical and enchantment! Come and play with me!