Dolls’ houses allow imagination roam free in small spaces
Children can play house while adults test home remodelling ideas in three dimensions
Nicola O’Connor with Tara’s Palace, a 24-room period property which is the centerpiece of the Museum of Childhood at Powerscourt House in Enniskerry. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Aspiring architects, designers and dreamers of all ages love a dolls’ house. It is a mini set with which you imagine all sorts of scenarios – from playing house to conceiving three-dimensional real-life ideas to show how you want to change your current abode.
Generations of Dublin kids will recall the wonder of Tara’s Palace, a 24-room period property furnished with miniature masterpieces and now the centerpiece of the Museum of Childhood at Powerscourt House in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. The Doll Store & Hospital, when it was a Dublin-based physical shop (it is now online only), captivated generations of kids.
But the allure remains. UK-based websites the Dolls House Emporium and Dolls House Exchange and international Minimum World all command heavy traffic from would-be home owners looking for new and vintage period piles.
It’s not all female either. One taxi driver recently waxed lyrical to this writer about building a dolls’ house for his daughter and then furnishing it for her over time; a kitchen for her birthday, a living room sofa for her birthday, a new bedroom suite for her Holy Communion and so on. His daughter is now in her early 20s and while she has flown the coop she has take her dolls’ house with her.
Childhoodmuseum.org; Dollstore.ie; Minimumworld.com; Dollshouse.com; Dollshouseexchange.co.uk; Boomini.com; Dragonsofwaltonstreet.com; CADesign.ie; Donkey-products.com; PaperImagination.com; MiraMira.ie; Lottie.com; Encorejouets.com; En.smallable.com; Argos.ie; Myefski.com; Hickmaninteriors.com; Wernerstraube.com.
What makes a dolls’ house so beguiling? Is part of its appeal the miniature furniture and furnishing forms? One of the most beguiling aspects of the designs by Polish brand Boomini is its miniaturisation, its small scaling, 1:6 in this four-storey white property (€453, to order). At entrance level you can install a dressing room with shoe rack and a separate bathroom with shower (€25), toilet (€59) and wash basin (€28); on the first floor a handleless modern kitchen (€148); on the second floor a lounge with sofa (€31.50), floor lamp (€21), pouf (€14) and in the bedroom under the eaves as you can see in the covetable soft furnishings of its pillows, cushions, the polka-dot wallpaper, the bedside lockers (€12), lamps (€7) and the bed, including mattress (€56).
Dolls’ houses can almost cost as much as the real bricks and mortar. UK-based Dragons of Walton Street is a very imaginatively named specialist children’s decorators that offers all manner of theatrical accommodation ideas for little darlings. It also does a very des-res range of quintessentially London, period property-style dollhouses. All come fully furnished with flooring, carpets, lighting, wallpaper, curtains and furniture. Invest in a Georgian three-bay property (about €5,598), or a four-storey over basement townhouse (from about €3,357). There’s even an adorable bedside locker that double jobs as a dolls’ house (from about €1,405). The firm also has licences for hand-painting Beatrix Potter and Paddington Bear on children’s furniture.
The gingerbread house of Hansel and Gretel can be yours. Made of brown cardboard and designed to be blank – the idea is that your kids use their own creativity to embellish it as they see fit – this donkey design offers all sorts of decorative options from drawing sugar-plum confections to collecting sea shells on the sea shore and glueing them on to it to turn it into a natural-looking beach shack. By an award-winning German company it costs €24.50, comes flat-packed so it’s easy to wrap if it’s a gift or stocking filler, and is available at Ranelagh-based CA Design.
Paper Imagination is another company that has created a flat-packed white card house which is a blank canvas that can be decorated in any style your budding interior designer prefers. The open-backed, three-storey, white card design has some lovely features including intricate balconies, terraces and plenty of space. Made by Swiss- and German-based company Paper Imagination it costs €17.35, excluding delivery. The firm also sells cool furniture, a dining table and six colourful chairs as well as a pair of armchairs, and a coffee table costs €8.56.
The pop-to-play rocket by French company Djeco is made of thick, laminated card and while decorated it is sold unfurnished. This allows your child’s imagination to blast off and build their own furniture and furnishings to explore other galaxies, says Bronwyn Thompson of Mira Mira. It costs €16.95 from her Sandymount shop. The shop also sells Irish company Arklu’s Lottie doll tree houses and stables (€69.95).
Environmentalists will love French toy company Encore, whose designs feature a fine line of swish, modernist ski chalets. Made from solid beech from responsibly managed European forests, its furnished eco home (€245) features a double-height living space, kitchen and steps up to a loft bedroom. Also pictured is an an Under the Stars tent (€39) with a shack (€129) that comes with a yellow rocking chair, wood-burner, a firewood container, logs and a trophy deer’s head that affixes to the wall with magnets. You can also buy a surf shack version of this complete surfboard and rack, or a Lovely Loft bedroom (€109) with a double bed, organic cotton bedding, a pink wool blanket and a deer-head decoration. The adorable rabbits cost an additional €24 each.
Remember Sylvanian Families? Launched on to the world by Japanese gaming company Epoch in 1985, the cute woodland creatures hit the UK and Ireland in 1987 through toy company Tomy and some of the original 1980s properties, in mint condition and complete with tiny plastic figureines and accessories, such as the Applewood department store, and Highfields farm and mansion, now sell to collectors on eBay for between €100 and €240, so it could be worth checking your attic to see if you own any. New additions to its extensive property portfolio include a tree house (€83); a cosy cottage (€49); a caravan (€88); and Cedar Terrace, a three-storey residence (€74). The newest addition is the landmark Starry Point lighthouse (€119), which is available to buy from French-based online store Smallable and at some branches of Argos.
Although not technically a dolls’ house this closet design by Myefski Architects takes play to a completely new set of dimensions. This facade is located in a study that was converted to a playroom while the children, three girls, were growing up in a property at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, explains its creator, John Myefski, principal of Myefski Architects, who had Tracy Hickman of Hickman Design Associates do the interior design.
“We placed a dollhouse facade in front of a large closet to create a charming playhouse area for the girls to escape to,” he says. “The facade leads you into that fun space.”