If you are of opinion that dollhouses are for child’s play, then you need to think again. A dollhouse could be an elaborate work of art, a sign of both passion and prestige, a showpiece containing many antique items, a combination of all of these and more. The history of dollhouses dates back to the 16th century. In 1557, Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria commissioned a miniature version of his royal residence. Since then, dollhouses have become one of the most coveted items for aristocratic families to own. Many wealthy families in past spared no expense to have their dollhouses designed and decorated. The costs borne to manufacture some of the following dollhouses equalled or exceeded the prices of real houses considering the prevailing market rate of the time.
The Nuremberg House
The Nuremberg House was crafted in 1673. It was one of the earliest dollhouses still in preservation. Though much smaller in size compared to the other German dollhouses of later date, the excellent craftsmanship of this toy house continues to captivate everyone. The name of the original owner of the dollhouse was lost in time. Several suggestions have been made over his business or occupation after reviewing the interior of the house. The inside of the house is skillfully decorated. Several leather bound books, a closet full of costly linen and a kitchen complete with modern amenities according to the standards of the time speak highly of the owner’s taste and financial status.
Queen Mary’s Dollhouse
Queen Mary’s miniature house is one of the largest and most celebrated examples of dollhouses. Leading architect Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the miniature house for Queen Mary in 1924. He employed the services of approximately 1500 artists and craftsmen to embellish the 16 rooms of the house meticulously. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling contributed miniature books for Queen Mary’s mini house.
George and Joseph Lines were prominent toy makers of 19th century England. They made several toy houses resembling sprawling mansions and town houses during their lifetime. Their children continued the tradition producing doll houses under the trademark of Tri-ang well into the 20th century. However, the miniature Tudor houses, made by George and Joseph Lines, remained the most popular dollhouses produced by the family. Even the wallpapers of these beautifully crafted dollhouses were custom made to suit the ambience of the rooms.
Bettiscombe dollhouse was originally constructed sometime around 1870. Betty Pinney received this from a friend in the first quarter of the 20th century. She was a designer herself. From book covers and wallpapers to textile she designed many an item in her life. She utilized her skills to meticulously decorate her own dollhouse. She even crafted the furniture of the house herself. Betty Pinney used this miniature house as an ode to her own childhood.
Petronella Oortman’s Dollhouse
It is often conjectured that the amount Petronella Oortman spent on procuring her dollhouse was sufficient to buy a spacious house in one of Amsterdam’s prime locations in the 17th century. Each room of her dollhouse is extremely realistic. She specifically ordered miniature porcelain from China, silverware and glassware from local artisans to decorate her toy house.
The Killer Cabinet Dollhouse
Unlike many other famous dollhouses, this dollhouse is set in an ebony cabinet complete with elaborate panel paintings. John Egerton Killer, a physician of Manchester, commissioned the piece for the ladies of her family. The cabinet is divided into four rooms, representing a bedroom, kitchen, drawing and morning room. Though it was designed in the early part of the 18th century, it retained the flavors of Dutch dollhouses of a previous era.
Tate Baby House
Tate Baby House was made in circa 1760. It was modeled after a fine house in Dorset. It is possible to dismantle the complex structure of this dollhouse before assembling once again into its complete form. This was done to enable Mrs Tate, the owner, carry the dollhouse with her during her many trips inland or overseas. Her guests used to carry small presents for her dollhouse during their visits to the owner’s residence. A tiny silver kettle still bears the sign of the presenter’s gratitude for the hospitality of the Tates.
Miss Miles’ Dollhouse
Made in 1890, Miss Miles’ dollhouse is stuffed with latest technologies that were fashionable at the time. This includes such items as a telephone, carpet sweeper, knife cleaner and a geyser in the bathroom for a hot water bath. The large house features separate billiard room, children’s nursery and schoolroom among other more common spaces for a residence of such quality.
The Denton Welch Dollhouse
Denton Welch was a talented artist and writer. A severe road accident in 1935 left him almost crippled for life. During one of those days when he was forced to be confined indoors, Welch pulled out this dollhouse from the basement of his family home and set out to renovate it. This became one of his favorite pastimes. The miniature house was originally built in 1783. Welch decorated the Georgian manor with great detail till his own life was tragically cut short in 1948.
Stettheimer Dollhouse boasts of miniature artworks created by artists like Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Archipenko, Marguerite Zorach and George Bellows. Duchamp painted a miniature version of his ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ for this dollhouse. The dollhouse itself is the brainchild of Carrie Walter Stettheimer. It was constructed in New York between 1916 and 1935. Carrie Walter Stettheimer stopped working on the dollhouse after her mother’s death. Few rooms were left unfinished which were later completed by her sister Ettie.
Astolat Dollhouse Castle
Alfred Tennyson’s poetry ‘Idylls of the King’, based on the Lady of the Lake, provided inspiration for the creation of Astolat Dollhouse Castle. It was designed by Elaine Diehl between 1974 and 1987. It was appraised for USD 1.1 million in 2005. The 29 rooms of this fairy dollhouse are adorned with finest of novelty items collected from across the globe. From grand ballroom, musician’s alcove, bar area to a well stocked up library, nothing is amiss in the Astolat Castle’s five levels. The parquet floor, gold chandelier and miniature oil paintings create an opulent atmosphere suitable for such piece of art.
When little Gwendolen asked for a dollhouse from her father as a home for her fairy friends Sir Nevile Wilkinson could not refuse. He set about working on Titania’s Palace little imagining that it would take 15 years for him to have the dollhouse completed. It was built by Irish cabinet makers James Hicks & Sons. The palace was modeled after Egeskov Castle located in Funen, Denmark. Thousands of miniature antique items collected from all over the world were used to decorate the interior of Titania’s Palace.
Sara Rothé Dollhouse
In the first half of the 18th century, Sara Rothé commissioned not one but two dollhouses for herself. The two toy houses were modeled after her residences located in Amsterdam and Haarlem. Visitors would flock her house to see the beautifully decorated dollhouses. She herself was a skilled embroiderer and seamstress. In the elaborately embroidered draperies, furnishings and linens of the dollhouse we find signs of her expertise. In 1855, Sara Rothé died in an accident when her coach fell into a canal. She was commuting between Haarlem and Amsterdam. Her actual residences also perished with time. But her dollhouses continue to provide glimpses of her life and one of its obsessions to this date.