Artful Accomodations

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Bettina and Edith are quite at their ease in their small cluttered bedroom space.

Now that the dolls are home and comfortable with each other in their family, we can turn our attention to creating their home environment. A doll room can be a cozy backdrop for displaying our cherished antique dolls, and it can offer an abundance of whimsical elements to delight. The 1:4 size room is the perfect size to reward the senses–with little things to look at, and with treasures just right for holding–with alluring pleasures.

As with our home environment, there are elements of style to be considered for our doll rooms. One need only to gaze into the magnificent array of The Thorne Rooms to realize how varied the choices can be for small antique rooms. Of course, most of The Thorne Rooms represent affluent estates.

Dining Room 1770-1774 Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis, Maryland

Thorne Rooms Dining Room, 1770-1774 Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis, Maryland

Tasha Tudor’s Doll’s House, while cozy and inviting, also includes furniture and accoutrements that are more appropriate for an affluent household.

Tasha with mini gilt birdcage by her doll's house

Tasha with her miniature birdcage in front of her Doll’s House. This photo was taken when her dollhouse was on large shelves in her home, before the house was built to display at Colonial Williamsburg.

Joy Harrington’s Izannah home is more modest in its furnishings, yet it still contains many lovely antiques that are scarce and relatively expensive when sought in today’s markets.

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Joy’s Izannah home contains many lovely antiques such as tiny peg-wooden dolls, Staffordshire dishes, miniature paintings and drawings, books and photo albums, tiny needlework, and paper boxes, as well as the Izannah Walker dolls.

Antique furnishings are most desirable when creating a home for antique dolls. The ambiance and patina of the era is necessary to best preserve the presence of the doll. The doll, herself, will have a lot to say about the style of room in which she would like to reside. A French fashion doll demands an affluent residence, while a German bisque may like the modernity of an early 20th century abode. Early cloth dolls such as Izannahs, and mid 19th century china dolls, seem to prefer Early American and middle-class Victorian surroundings.

Doll furniture 1865 Napolean III fo French fashion doll

French Napolean III doll furniture of 1865 for an antique fashion doll.

Having at least some antiques in the room setting furthers the antique doll’s presence. Yet, when one cannot supply a house-full of antique miniatures, it is still possible to create a charming space with vintage collectibles and found treasures along with antique furnishings. A key factor is a strict adherance to natural materials. Even when some of your doll room furnishings are new items rather than antiques, they must be made of wood, metal, cotton, paper, pottery, etc., and never of plastic, polyester, acrylic, or any other man-made substance, if they are to have a chance of blending into an antique setting! Allow me to  share some ideas and combinations that have worked for me in creating my doll rooms.

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The antique kitchen cabinet is perfect for displaying the Staffordshire toy dishes. The antique milking stool is a fair alternative for a table. Antique calico fabric peeks from the laundry basket. The stool under the laundry basket was a second-hand store find. It was covered with daisy decals when I bought it. I painted it with dusty blue/grey paint left over from a larger painting project to bring it into style for my small display.

Of course, the foundation of a doll room is the furniture. Chairs seem to be plentiful. It is easy to find doll size wooden Windsor chairs, that are a fair copy of the life-size chairs, with turned spindles. Even new or vintage chairs can look authentic. My doll rooms started with my Victorian bed, purchased at a flea market over 30 years ago. Adding the dresser from the Brimfield Antique Fair, and the ladderback chair, furnished the bedroom. I then found a perfect rustic antique doll kitchen cupboard for displaying my toy Staffordshire dishes.

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Caroline shows the stack of unusual green Dresden Flowers Staffordshire plates. Other kitchen necessities include a tiny tin mold, a little key, two antique silver salt spoons, a victorian doll set of two knives and two forks, and a wooden kitchen spoon, that is a new handcrafted baby spoon.

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The antique milking stool and spice cupboard that furnish my tiered keeping room. The dolls are 17″ and 15″ tall. Behind them is the antique doll quilt made of tiny triangles of 19th century cottons.

The wooden spice rack also works well as a kitchen cupboard in the doll room. I have not yet purchased a table for the dolls, but my antique milking stool fills in nicely for now. A good modern alternative for antique furniture is that made for the American Girl historic dolls. I especially like Felicity’s tea table, though the AG furniture is just about as spendy as antiques!

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Mary Morgan has quite an array of wooden toys, dolls, and books, as befits a middle class Victorian child. She is 21″ tall.

Toys and dollies add whimsy to the setting for child dolls. Mary Morgan has plenty to choose from! The little bisque Highland Mary is a perfect companion for her, though this dolly was not the right toy for Miss Ruby, the Izannah doll. Mary also has a rocking horse and a hobby horse, both vintage second-hand-store finds. She holds a little Japanese Kokeshi doll with a wobble head, while several more, including a teeny pair, are on the floor. I found these at a flea market in Japan. They add that popular Victorian flair for the Orient to Mary’s playroom.

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The little Kokeshi dolls were a vintage find in Japan when I lived there. The kitty was a new catalog purchase.

Mary also has a little hand-turned music box that plays “Greensleeves,” a Russian doll spinning top, a wooden house consisting of three blocks, a wooden kitty, and a set of ABC blocks in a basket. The blocks were purchased new at a craft store. They blend fairly well, their drawback being that they are pastel colors, rather than the authentic primary colors for antique blocks. The little Beatrix Potter books were purchased new, and came as a complete set in a box. Since Peter Rabbit was first published in 1902, the era is fairly close to blend with Mary Morgan’s play room.

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Little Davie spends hours playing with his wooden animals and trees set. He is almost 18″ tall.

A wooden Noah’s Ark toy was a popular Victorian era toy, especially nice for boys, and as a Sunday toy. I do not have a Noah’s Ark. Instead, I have this marvelous little German set of wooden animals and trees. It came with other little blocks for building. It is just right for Little Davie’s toy. I purchased these toys new from a toy store in the late 1970’s. They were included with the several sets of wooden blocks that my children played with in the 80’s and 90’s. This is a case of just waiting long enough for a new purchase to become vintage!

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An assortment of small books includes an antique reprint (Don’ts for Mothers), a small journal in antique style, Little Gift Books, a small antique autograph album, and an antique gem tintype photo album, along with the paper cover new Beatrix Potter books.

Since I adore books, and my own home is full of them, they will naturally appear in my dolls’ house. However; I do not have a doll desk or bookshelf yet, so the books tend to lay or lean in inviting stacks. There are some beautiful antique miniature tomes to be had, in leather volumes that are lovely for the doll house. I am not in a position to afford most of them, though. The collection that I have put together thus far includes both antique and new books. Little Gift Books that can be had new from the booksellers can work if care is taken with your selections. The two I have here, under the chair and topped with a little navy blue leather Shakespeare volume, are Love Letters and A Child’s Garden of Verses. They are both editions of antique writings. Also, they are both muted colors with vintage styling to the dust jackets. This helps them to blend with the antique books in the antique setting, while filling out my library affordably.

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An assortment of paintings (prints) and photograghs for the dollhouse wall.

Art for the walls of the dolls’ house also contributes to the sense of realism and completeness of the room. Antique miniature paintings are lovely, and available, but again, the price is more than I can spare. Alternately, small antique frames can be had at antique fairs and flea markets, often for a neglegible price. Usually the art or photograph in the frame can be changed to one more suited for the doll room. Small art prints are also easy to be had. Sometimes, little antique tintype photographs in their cases, like the one above of a young woman, can be found affordably. The three oval prints that I have on the wall are new reproductions. They appear authentic with metal frames and convex glass just like antique frames.

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Bettina enjoys her collection of miniature perfume bottles.

Little trinkets fill out the contents of the doll room. Any Victorian lady would appreciate a collection of fine perfume bottles for her bedroom. These are vintage, found at a local antique mall, while the cobalt bottle in the middle is new and hand blown, from a craft fair.

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The perfume bottles on a crocheted doily.

A Victorian lady enjoys her needlework and textiles, as well. I have been able to include antique fabrics and quilts in my doll rooms. The bed is covered with the lovely rose and grey early 19th century block print fabric, and the dolls have several cutter quilt pieces that they enjoy. They have a variety of doilies that I have crocheted, and several pieces of cross stitch that are appropriate for their home. Again, an early 19th century miniature sampler would be much appreciated for this home, but it  is an aquisition that must wait for now, so personally hand crafted needlework fills in nicely for antique items.

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Bettina displays several cross stitch pieces that I made.

Finally, since I like nature’s art as well, my doll rooms include natural items too. Nature can also supply miniatures. Small baskets for the doll rooms are easy to come by. The little coil basket in the display below was handmade and has a long cord to wear as a necklace. The little band boxes came from a craft store.

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The little natural wonders that Caroline shows include a basket of seashells, a cobalt plate with even smaller shells, a bottle of malachite chips, a tiny wasp nest, a little feather, and several crystals and amethyst.

Little treasures can be found where antiques are found. They also show up at flea markets, secondhand stores, craft fairs and stores, retail stores, outside in nature, and in the hands of those who craft them. Anything of an antique nature that shows up in your home can most likely adorn your doll rooms as well. And the little 1:4 whimsies will indeed delight you and your dolls alike!

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