Dolls' Houses Past & Present

A website and ezine about dolls' houses: antique, vintage and modern. Plus furniture and accessories.

Designed and Made by Christopher Cole, Part 2 by Zoe H

Commissions and one-off designs by Christopher Cole

My Part 1 article looked at the more traditional dolls’ houses Dr. Cole produced as standard lines in response to market demand. However, in addition to these, Dr. Cole’s photographic records show that throughout his career as a dolls’ house maker, he undertook a surprising number of commissions.  He also produced a large number of one-off models based on the many photographs he took of buildings and architecture that inspired him on his travels in the UK and abroad.

 

Dr Cole working on special commission for Shelly Page.

Image © Shelly Page.

 

There are simply too many examples of Dr. Cole’s one-offs and individual commissions to cover in this article, I counted upward of fifty-five in the albums I viewed. I have therefore chosen a selection, which I hope demonstrates the huge breadth of the work he produced, as well as his considerable craftsmanship and creativity. I have to say that it was a very difficult process to narrow down my selection!

Dr Cole also made a limited amount of dolls house furniture for his miniature homes and I have included photographs showing examples of this toward the end of this article.

Firstly though, the commissions and one-off models:

 

John Bly’s Antique Shop

This shop was commissioned in 1974 by Mrs Nina Bly for her five-year-old grandson, Julian John Bly:


Special commission by Christopher Cole based on Bly’s antique shop in Tring.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

 

It was modeled on the Bly family antique shop in Tring High Street, then run by Julian’s father, John Bly of ‘Antique Road Show’ fame.  It was initially displayed in the Tring shop and was made with glass sides so that the interior could be easily viewed.

The shop was the subject of a local newspaper article in August 1974 where it was recorded as having taken sixty six hours to produce.  Dr. Cole’s son, Dominic, recalls: “…the shop sign was written in gold on green by a signwriter from Tring called George Messenger (who also used to paint some of the Dolls Houses – as Pa was not very good at the detailed painting)”.

 

The Octagon

This unusual model was based on ‘The Octagon’, an oak-panelled library in Eastbourne College in East Sussex.


The Octagon: based on the oak-panelled library at Eastbourne Collage

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

It was constructed by Dr. Cole to a design by an Old Eastbournian and well-known architect, Sir Hugh Casson. Dr. Cole’s family believes that it was commissioned to celebrate an important event in Eastbourne College’s history, unfortunately it’s not clear what that event was.

Dr. Cole made a second of these models for his second wife, Doreen, and the photograph below shows Doreen’s Octagon on display in Dr. Cole’s museum in Bainbridge.

 

A second version of The Octagon made for Dr. Cole’s wife, Doreen.

Image © Shelly Page.

 

A German Hunting Lodge

This little German hunting lodge was commissioned in 1993 by Audrey Johnson, the well-known dolls’ house author.

 

The caption for this house reads:

“Furnished and painted by Audrey and husband Claude Harrison.”

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

The caption for this house reads: “Peacock House. Made up of odds and ends.

The front made (and discarded) for Audrey Johnson’s German Shooting Lodge.”

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

A Scandinavian Dolls’ House

This house was also a commission for Audrey Johnson, who was married to the painter Claude Harrison and living in the English Lake District at the time.

 

A Scandanavian House, commissioned by Audrey Johnson in 1995.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

 

The house, fully decorated and still containing some of the furniture collected by Audrey, later featured in an International Dolls’ House News article [Issue 68, February/March 2001] when it had recently been auctioned at Bonham’s, Chelsea along with other houses from her collection.  The measurements of the house are given there as 45” tall by 17” wide by 17” deep. The vibrant blue, green and yellow washes used by Audrey to decorate the rooms and the two ceramic stoves used within it transform this house and give it a very distinctive Scandinavian feel - I do wish I was able to reproduce the lovely colour photographs from the IDHN magazine here but sadly I am unable to discover who holds the copyright.

 

Audrey’s Villa

This continental-style house is simply captioned “Audreys Villa” in Dr. Cole’s records and his son, Dominic, believes that it too was made for Audrey Johnson.

 

‘Audrey’s Villa’: No date is given for this commission.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

 

 

Also for Audrey Johnson:

Clearly a fan of Dr. Cole’s work, Audrey Johnson also commissioned this “Craft Shop and Art Gallery” in 1997 and this “Model of Amersham Market House” in 1999.  The latter has opening fronts and a lift-off roof.

 

Two more commissions made for Audrey Johnson.

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

 

Windsor Castle

The caption for this rather magnificent model of a castle reads: “Copy of a model representing Windsor Castle… Commissioned for Rita Blake, Askrigg, Xmas ’93.”  It is a copy of an earlier castle Dr. Cole originally designed and built for his son Jeremy.

 

Commission representing Windsor Castle, 1993.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

 

A Bishop’s Palace

This model of the “Bishops Palace, commissioned by Kenneth & Janet Slater” is dated 1994.  You can see in the lower photograph that it contained a small chapel complete with altar.

 

Bishop’s Palace. A 1994 Commission.

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 


Newby Hall, Ripon, North Yorkshire

This model is a representation of Newby Hall, Ripon: a beautiful stately home in North Yorkshire, and now the permanent home to Caroline Hamilton’s and Jane Fiddick’s collections of dolls’ houses and miniatures.

 

A one-off Dolls’ House based on Newby Hall, Ripon.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.
 

Newby Hall, Ripon: the inspiration for Dr. Cole’s model.

Image © Zoe H.

 

The White House

The caption beneath this very smart Art Deco house, with metal windows and spiral staircase, reads: “The White House, Downage, N.W.A. 1930. Model for Clare McLaren 2001.”

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

1920s Dress Shop

This commission of a two-storey shop includes a grand staircase modeled from a photograph of a real-life staircase Dr. Cole had been inspired by.

 

1920s Dress Shop.

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

 

A Water Mill

It was mentioned in my Part 1 article that Dr. Cole designed and built a working model of a flour mill which ground Rice Crispies and in 1996 he was commissioned to create this slightly smaller version for the Hawes Folk Museum, a museum in a nearby Yorkshire town:

Dr. Cole’s Original Working Model of a Flour Mill (above) and the smaller “Working Model of a Corn Water Mill, 1996” made by commission for the Hawes Folk Museum (below).

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

 

Town House with Spiral Staircase

Dr. Cole’s skills were by no means limited to woodworking, and this commission of a three-storey town house contains a beautiful spiral staircase with metal banisters.

 

“Commission for Mrs. Muriel Brown, Baslow”

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

Beatrix Potter’s Mouse House

This lovely house is very close based on the dolls’ house illustrated in Beatrix Potter’s book, The Tale of Two Bad Mice:

 

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

 

A Roman House or Renaissance Palace

Dr. Cole’s son Dominic recalls that his father built this model after they visited Rome and he took the photograph of the building seen on the bottom left:

 

Original image [bottom left] © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

Images [above and bottom right] © Shelly Page.

 

Doreen’s goddaughter, Shelly Page, recalls of this house: “One summer in the late 70's, while I was a fashion design student, I caught flu and stayed on for an extra week at the Mill - my recuperation was speeded along by the chance to create some unique dolls for the Museum - I decide to make Cesare, Lucretia and a child Borgia to join the Renaissance Palace! I raided Doreen's box of fabric scraps to make the clothes and I remember cutting off a few strands of my own hair to make Lucretia's braids!!”

 

A French Château

Dr. Cole’s step-daughter lived in France and after visiting her there, he was inspired to create a model of a château, loosely based on Chateau Pichon-Longueville, which he kept a postcard of. 

 

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.  

 

 Chateau Pichon-Longueville. Photo by Ken Case, from Wikipedia, in the public domain.

 

Shelly Page’s Georgian House

This house was made for Doreen’s goddaughter, Shelly Page. Shelly recalls: “…it was finished just before my wedding in 1989. I very particularly wanted a Georgian exterior with a modern interior - and I was a very demanding client (according to Christopher!) I designed the exterior (including some very expensive Georgian balconies and chimney pots!) and then Christopher took over and made a really gorgeous house for me.”

 

A Georgian house with modern interior. Commissioned by Shelly Page.

Images © Shelly Page
 

A Loose Box and Tack Room

A sweet little equestrian set-up with fittings made by Dr. Cole for a family member.

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.

 

 

A Play House for Great Ormond Street Hospital

Though not strictly a dolls’ house, I love this photograph of a Play House designed by Michal Morse and made by Dr. Cole for Great Ormond Street Hospital.  Michal recalls that she researched the project and sent sketches of what she wanted to Dr Cole. He then worked out the detailed measurements and constructed it.

 

A Play House for Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

Dolls' House Furniture by Christopher Cole

In addition to his many houses, Dr. Cole also made a limited amount of furniture.  His son Dominic recalls that this included the copy of a Charles Eames chair seen in the upstairs room in this photograph:

 

Eames-style chair made by Christopher Cole.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

 

Dr. Cole himself also kept a photographic record of some of the more traditional furniture he made:

 

 

Furniture by Christopher Cole.

Original images © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, these images © Zoe H.
 

 

Two of the pieces shown above can be seen in situ in one of Dr. Cole’s houses but it is not known if he made all of the pieces on display.

 

Christopher Cole furniture in one of his houses.

Original image © Christopher Cole and the Cole family, this image © Zoe H.

And finally

 

I hope you have enjoyed seeing the selection of houses I have shown over the course of my two articles on Dr. Cole.  Should anyone wish to view Dr. Cole’s records of the houses he produced in their entirety, the Cole family has now deposited these with the V&A Museum of Childhood in London where they are in the process of being catalogued.

 

I will end my article with this lovely photograph, taken in about 1997, of Dr. Cole in his workshop with Shelly Page’s son, Lucas.  It has been a privilege to research and learn about this inspirational dolls’ house maker.

 

Image © Shelly Page

 

Don’t forget that I would love to know of any other Christopher Cole houses, articles, photos or catalogues etc.  I would also love to know where any of the houses featured above are now. If you can help, please contact myself or Rebecca through this site.

 

Acknowledgements: Very special thanks to the Cole family, especially Dominic and Tessa, and to Shelly Page. Thanks also to Michal Morse for sharing her memories of the Great Ormond Street play house.

                                                Page 4

                   Index                     

Search This Site

Loading

Translate This Site