Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen may not be everyone’s ideal home decorator, but he has certainly inspired a whole new interest in interior design. And a growing number of enthusiasts are now discovering that they can indulge their creative flair without subjecting the whole house to a Changing Rooms-style makeover. Dolls houses are the perfect way to bring to life even the most extravagant of designer dreams. And creation of these miniature masterpieces is an increasingly popular hobby for people of all ages.
Whether your taste is for a cosy country cottage or an elegant dolls Georgian town house, the perfect scale model (usually one-twelfth lifesize) is a blank canvas on which to work. Artistic scope is limited only by the imagination and with fixtures, fittings and furnishings all available at the click of a computer mouse, this is a pastime which is literally at your fingertips.
The computer age has brought the miniaturist’s hobby right into the 21st Century, but the earliest dolls houses date back 500 years, to the sixteenth century, when scale replicas were built as historical records. By the eighteenth century ‘cabinet houses’ had begun to appear, with miniature furniture laid out inside beautifully crafted cases. However it was in the Victorian era that dolls houses really came into their own and no well-equipped nursery was complete without one.
The most famous of all these houses was built in 1924 for Queen Mary, an avid collector of miniatures. Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to oversee the project which featured scaled-down items from 1500 specialists including a sewing machine by Singer, champagne from Veuve Clicquot, clocks by Cartier, china by Doulton and a miniature 500-word story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This work of art is still on display at Windsor Castle.
Today’s miniature hobbyist may not have access to such exclusive suppliers, but in this fast moving computer age thousands of items are available through a worldwide network of shops, mail order companies, magazines and, of course, websites.
The first step is to decide what kind of house you want. Those who intend to stay faithful to a particular period or style must bear this in mind, but many collectors start with a simple one-room box. A hand-crafted house can be expensive, but a variety of self-assembly kits are available, or the more adventurous might build from scratch.
Step two is the wiring, but you don’t need to be an electrician to power a miniature house. The simplest methods use fine wire or copper tape, and the results of carefully designed lighting are well worth the effort.
Next choose the style of decoration. This can involve anything from simple paint, scaled down wallpaper and carpets, to elaborate wood or plaster mouldings, tiling or wall panelling.
Once the basic house is complete you can start to furnish it. A vast range of styles is available, including Victorian, Edwardian, Tudor and Modern, as well as specialist ranges for a shop, pub, or even a funeral parlour. In addition to chairs, tables, beds and cupboards, there are whole collections of ornaments and accessories from food and flowers to crockery and toys, not to mention garden tools, plants, family pets and, of course, miniature residents.
There are many tips and tricks of the trade which any specialist shop will be happy to pass on. The DHP website even runs a competition, which not only offers a chance to show off your own work, but also allows you to pick up ideas from other enthusiasts.
DHP was founded in 1992 by avid collector Lyn Thompson. The first shop, in Chislehurst, Kent, set the standard for quality and attention to detail and proved so popular that a mail order catalogue was launched the following year. In 1997 the company took over an existing shop in Dorking, Surrey, and a further store, at nearby West Byfleet, was added in 2000.
Now the company is moving into the computer age with the launch of its new website. This fully stocked, on-line shopping site will give enthusiasts across the world a chance to share the pleasures of the hobby and to benefit from the expertise of an acknowledged leader in the field.