Developed by 16th century cabinet makers for the aristocracy, dolls' houses were once the thing-to-have for any lady of wealth. In 1921 Princess Marie Louise commissioned the construction of a dolls' house by top architect of the day, Sir Edwin Lutyens, as a gift to Queen Mary. At 1:12 scale, the house stands nearly five feet to parapet level and includes many exquisite, working pieces contributed by top artists and craftsmen. Presented to Queen Mary in 1924, the dolls' house was displayed at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924/5 and is now on show for all to enjoy at Windsor Castle.
This royal interest inspired many more to enjoy dolls' houses and miniature collecting, and over the 20th century there was a steep rise in the design of both bespoke and manufactured designs, making the hobby more accessible as the century unfolded. Favourite styles of the time included classical Georgian dolls' houses mimicking the stately 'orders' of country houses and typical Victorian town houses with more asymmetric design and decorative detail.
Dingley Hall was made from the carcasses of two bookcases in the 1870's by school boys, Laurence and Isaac Currie, who lived at Minley Manor in Hampshire. It sold for £124,750 by auction at Christie's in October 2003. Image courtesy of Christie's
'Beckingham Palace' on display at Longleat (Image courtesy of BNPS).
characterizes the Georgian grandeur popularised in the 19th century and still a favourite today
Continuing to be a popular pastime, these objects of desire have progressed to embrace new styles such as stock-broker half-timbered "semis", rural cottages and supermodern
apartments. The dolls' house has evolved from a traditional toy to a modern statement piece, demonstrating wealth and style in a home.
But not everybody has taken to the new styles; many still prefer the escape to more decadent times that period dolls' houses offer. Victoriana has always held a fascination for collectors of many guises, and this continues to be a trend for miniaturists. The classical Georgian and Regency Palladian styles also hold their own in the market, with Dingley Hall - a grand 19th century manor house - selling at auction for £124,750 in October 2003.
For examples of both traditional and modern dolls' houses and exquisitely crafted miniatures visit the Museum of Childhood at the Victoria and Albert Museum, or A World In Miniature Museum at Houghton Hall Garden Centre, Carlisle. Or, for a unique take on the life of modern celebrity, visit Longleat Safari Park where there is one collector's version of 'Beckingham Palace' on display, complete with rooftop football pitch for David, a pink boudoir for Victoria, and 'his and hers' signature toilets!
One of the exquisite pieces on display at A World In Miniature Museum, Carlisle