I first started making dolls houses in 1986 when we were living in Tennessee, USA. We moved there in the October and by November I had found the most wonderful local dolls house shop. I had my very first dolls house kit for Christmas – little did my husband know what he was starting by buying me that present! I had to leave that house behind when we came home the following year – I often wonder what happened to it.
It was a while before I found any dolls house shops here in the UK when we returned but I did eventually come across The Miniature Scene in York and I remember going there on the train from Liverpool and coming home with a Honeychurch kit. I built many kits of all shapes and sizes over the following years before starting to build my own designs from scratch. Perhaps my interest in dolls houses stems from my training as an architect at University – or perhaps it was the other way round!
My first fair in November 2010, at Nantwich dollshouse fair - above, a practice layout on the dining room table; below, at the fair!
I have always fitted my building around my children and various part-time jobs, most recently at the Post Office, but now I am looking for a new job so I have a bit more time to devote to my hobby.
At York Fair earlier this year, with 12th scale cottages and shops at the back, and 24th scale in front.
I build in 1/12th and 1/24th scale. I love building in the smaller scale – the houses are so easy to move around and you can turn them upside down to paint ceilings which is really handy! But I think I still like 1/12th scale the most.
My houses are mostly cottages – I don’t tend to do the grander style dwellings. I like houses with character and I tend towards the seaside style.
Sea View Cottage, 12th scale, 2014. It has two main rooms and an additional scullery space to one side - or it could house a downstairs toilet.
Seaside Bungalow 'Sea View', 12th scale, 2014. I love building this style of seaside bungalow! It's based on Caroline Hamilton's wonderful 'Sea View' seaside chalet in my favourite ever dolls house book. I have often used green for the trim (as in the photo below), but have also tried a pale blue and it does look quite seasidey!
Beach huts, 12th scale, 2014 and 2013.
A garage or boatshed, 12th scale, 2013. This was a commission for Paula.
We live quite close to the sea and I sometimes go and look for inspiration locally, but I get my ideas from all over the place – photos in magazines, houses I drive or walk past and even sometimes from a simple house name.
Eglantine Cottage, 12th scale, 2011. I saw the name on a house programme on TV and just had to ask Julie Lawton to make me a name plate in 1/12th scale. 'Eglantine' means wild rose and it sounds so romantic.
Dandelion Cottage, 12th scale, 2012. I saw this name on a cottage in a local village whilst out walking the dog and I thought it would make a great name for a dolls house.
Once I have an idea I just have to get the cottage built which will see me out in the garden with my saw and my bench busy cutting up pieces of plywood. I only ever use plywood for building. MDF is just too lifeless and far too heavy. There are also all the potential health risks with cutting MDF.
Charlie gets very very excited everytime I get out the saw as we've got into the habit of my sawing outside (cold at this time of year) and taking little breaks to whack tennis balls up the garden for him. Now, any suggestion of marking up wood for a new dollshouse must mean playtime for him.
The Tree House, 2014, for my friend Brenda. I made it completely out of cardboard, paper, plaster and a bit of air drying clay all on a plywood base for stability. It's roughly 1/12th scale with just two rooms inside. I had such a lot of fun making it - getting very sticky, dirty and covered in plaster.
Tudor House, 24th scale, 2011.
I use a lot of polyfilla on my houses to create texture and interest and I am also a great fan of papier mache. I did make it myself originally but then found that you can buy it ready mashed up in bags – what a time saving idea! I tend to use plaster on the inside of my houses as well as the outsides to create a rustic ‘cottage’ feel.
Pumpkin Cottage, 12th scale one room cottage, 2013. I had such a lot of fun building this little house. It all started with the window - I bought it at a fair, and the idea of an old dirty cottage came to mind. I kept the cottage small so it could easily be stored away if it was to be used just as a Halloween display piece. I thought it would look wonderful with some lights and a flickering stove in the corner and your homeless witch would be very happy to move in here!
Catkin Cottage, 12th scale, 2014. Something different to my usual seaside cottages. I found adding all the timbers to the outside then plastering very satisfying.
Mead Cottage, 12th scale, 2013. I bought a little room box which I loved - it had so much character - but being a builder and not able to leave things alone I felt it really did need some proper walls and a ceiling. I chopped up some plywood and made new walls, added beams with a floor on top to create an upper room and Mead Cottage is the result. Organic architecture in action! I tried to keep the style the same as the original room box so it looks well lived in. I added lights and a lit fire in the fireplace and it looks so cosy - I could just move in!
Mead Cottage - the plaster outside is a bit stained and has some greenery growing and the roof is wobbly and bent. The slate name plate was made by Brenda Howden.
The Priory, 12th scale, 2012. Another change from my seaside cottages which are all nice and bright and clean in appearance. I found it hard to do 'grungy' but it was good fun and a great way to try out new techniques I hadn't used before.
The Rectory, 24th scale, 2011. It was inspired by the most wonderful house featured on the front cover of an old issue of 'Dolls House World', made by Trigger Pond. I loved the shape of the house so I used that as the basis for this 'stone' lodge. The windows are made from air drying clay, as is the roof. I added a pale wash of colour all over to add an 'aged' look.
I do have some designs which have been very popular and I have built several of that design, but usually I tend to make one off unique houses. I work to order for customers and in between orders I build my own designs and sell them on the internet or at fairs.
Special commission: a 24th scale house building based on the one where the customer was born. There are two large room downstairs and three upstairs. I think it's the biggest 24th scale I have worked on and it was very satisfying when it was completed. The little fisherman in the doorway was made by the very clever Sue Emsell.
I think perhaps my most unusual commission was for a set of public toilets – great fun to make!
1/12th scale public conveniences, 2013, for Paula's Quayside village by the sea.
I have also made outbuildings for those who have one of my little cottages and have been worried about the lack of toilet facilities. They could be used for all sorts of things - storage, workshop, shed - and could also be used as a stand alone project.
I have no idea how many houses I have built over the years. I know it’s quite a lot!
I was asked by the organiser of the wonderful Kensington Dolls House Festival if I would like a table there in May this year. Not an offer you can easily refuse! This was my table at the Festival, taken just before the show opened on the Saturday.
Another house from my files ...
The Porthole, 12th scale, 2012. Julie Lawton made me the wonderful 'The Porthole' sign some time ago and the porthole window in the attic seemed to make this the ideal property for it. I imagined a retired sea captain sitting in his attic watching the ships go by through his telescope. Or I did also think this would make a lovely seaside B&B.
The Lodge, 12th scale, 2014. I like building smaller cottages but recently I wanted to make something a bit bigger for a change. 'The Lodge' has four rooms and two attic rooms, and was wallpapered inside rather than being plastered. It is fully lit.
I originally branched out into shops as a change from cottages and houses. I adore anything shabby chic in style, and I think that's where the ideas for making shops came from.
This is an early shop, from my files.
Shabby Chic Shop, 12th scale, 2013. The bay window allows for plenty of stock to be displayed. I think the pink is really cheerful - a change from my usual blues and greens.
Two French style shops, left, 24th scale, 2013; right: 12th scale, 2014. The shop on the left is all handmade - the only bought item was the doorknob on the shop door and the hinges for the opening front!
I do love France, and my French style shops come from lots of looking at pictures on the web - Pinterest is a wonderful thing!
Le Petit Café, 12th scale, 2013. Ideal as a small cafe or bistro, or perhaps as a florist's shop or cake shop.
Left, French Style House, only ten inches wide, 2011. Right, a Dutch Style Shop, 12th scale, 2013. After at trip to Holland (and the wonderful Appeldoorn Dolls House Fair!!) I just had to try my hand at a Dutch style dolls house. I loved the architecture in Amsterdam - such a beautiful city - and I came away with lots of ideas.
I work upstairs in a bedroom which was supposed to contain my own collection of houses and my working space, but my collection has overflowed out of that room to take over the whole house I’m afraid. My workroom is a total mess with just enough room for me to squeeze through to get to my stool at my bench. At the moment I have about 25 houses in my own collection which even I find shocking but they just sort of happened! A few are kit houses I built myself but mostly they are houses built by other people. All shapes, sizes and styles and ages. The one thing I must have in a house is lights – I can’t have a dark house!
One of the dolls houses in my own collection - a kit bashed Greenleaf Orchid dolls house, which was done by a friend several years ago.
I like full rooms in my houses. All these interior photos are of vintage houses of varying ages built by other people.
To see more of Julie's creations, visit Julie's dolls house blog.
All photos in this article © Julie Bennett.