Welcome To The Dollhouse: Miniature Mayhem

Illustration for article titled Welcome To The Dollhouse: Miniature Mayhem

The Kensington Dollshouse Festival bring out the crazy, and the crazy-tiny. I want to go to there.


Okay, I get why people find dolls creepy, I do. But dollhouses? Obsessive and weird, maybe, but not creepy. Dollhouses are about craftsmanship, about perfection. Half the time they don't even have inhabitants. (The best ones - that would be Queen Mary's Dollhouse and Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle - in fact, don't. ) Yes, the hobbyists are intense, but that's...hobbyists, for you. And, according to one enthusiast quoted in the Guardian, "the overall standard of miniatures is much lower than it was during the 1990s, a high point of doll's house collecting."

When I was little, I was highly dissatisfied with my dollhouse, which was homemade, rough-hewn and eccentrically furnished, a far cry from the perfection I saw at the snooty dollhouse store or at the homes of a few lucky friends. The best one, though, was at the home of my best friend's grandparents. They lived in a venerable Upper East Side brownstone and had an antique dollhouse that was a miniature replica of a similar building. It was inhabited by a family of mohair mice, who had an extensive wardrobe of tiny antique outfits. It was a tiny world, and as any enthusiast knows (maybe not weird adult ones who are obsessed with scale and don't let kids in their dollhouse stores) the whole charm of miniature is the sense of another life going on when the lights go out. Or at least that was the premise of every single one of the strangely intense dollhouse-themed novels I devoured as quickly as the school librarian could provide them. Plus, there's something intrinsically appealing - or scary - about small-scale. (See Gulliver, Lemuel. Or The Borrowers.) Or maybe it's just this explanation from one collector: "You can fill your dolls' house with something you can never afford in full size. You buy according to your own pocket and they do seem to hold their value."

Cheat Sheet: Best Doll House-themed Books:

The Doll's House, Rumer Godden (1947) This being Rumer Godden, this story of an antique doll's house rescued from obscurity whose harmony is then disrupted by the introduction of an evil doll named Marchpane, is lurid, bizarre and depressing. However, the sense of a secret world at the mercy of humans is perfectly rendered - and the description of the house is incredibly detailed. (See also: Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Homeward the Sailor . Godden was really the Shakespeare of dollhouse fiction.)

The Doll's Christmas, Tasha Tudor (1950) The dolls in this book are, like, a foot tall and the dollhouse takes up an entire room. This being Tasha Tudor, it's obviously all taken from life.


Honorable Mentions:
Hitty Her First Hundred Years, Rachel Field (1929) In her first hundred years, Hitty really only lives in a couple of houses - the Quaker one with its tiny writing desk, and, later, her setup in the Maine antiques shop - but because she's dollhouse-scale, this best of all doll heroines qualifies.


Miss Hickory, Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1946) This all-natural doll lives in a dollhouse made of corncobs.


The Racketty-Packetty House by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1906) In which the peg-doll residents of Racketty-Packetty House go head to head with the elegant parvenus of Tidy Castle.

Doll's House Collecting: A World In Miniature [Guardian]



Best dollhouse book ever was The Dollhouse Murders where a little girl stays with her aunt for the summer and finds an exact replica of the house as a dollhouse and then the dolls inside start acting out the murder of the aunt's parents. I remember being terrified by it when I was 9.