Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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

Scale 1:16 and me by Catherine Fontaine


I am not sure right now how it all started. I remember that in the 1970s my grandmother bought me a couple of boxes at a dime store and there was a plastic kitchen and a dining room by Jean or a similar German maker. I was able to play with it for hours and hours. For the following Christmas, my mother was short of ideas for my Christmas present and someday she took me to the Printemps department store in Paris.  I started to wander through the stacks and shelves loaded with the best toys of the moment and I froze in front of the Lundby range. I was so carried away that I did not notice that my mother was carrying a few packs more when we left the department. There was no kitchen or dining room in there which lets me know that my grandmother was first to introduce me to the miniature world.

I stuck to scale 1:16 by choice. In the 1970s and 1980s, 1:12 was everywhere : I visited Ingeborg Riesser’s shop Poupée Tendresse in Paris, I subscribed to Club de la Miniature Française, and I attended the Salon de la Miniature in Montelimar, and everybody worked in 1:12. I did not want to abandon my 1:16 collection so very few items available on the market could match, which means many items had to be home made. I did so, not always with success, teaching that some effects or materials simply can or cannot be reproduced.

Yet, the most painful fact was that I never had a dolls house, because my mother thought she would build one, but never did, and I played for years with a cardboard makeshift … thing, that did not survive the months it had to spend on shelves in a garage in the 1990s, and had to be thrown away eventually, its contents neatly sorted in carefully labelled shoeboxes !  In the 2000s life events offered me a golden opportunity. I happened to need a hobby that could keep my mind busy and at home, so naturally I decided to take to it again. I made a two floor house. I meant it to be a cabinet house in the Dutch style, covered in walnut veneer and with marquetry doors and I made it so. It is now in the process of becoming a real house inspired by several English mews or country houses, and I am building extensions.


House #1, that I started a few years ago, and its marquetry doors in walnut and lime tree wood.


Through the open doors, the four rooms. It was meant as a collectors’ home.  Three floors in wood marquetry, one a pavement in slate.


There have been lots of long breaks for me since I have had this hobby, but I kept it all along anyway. I “worked” a lot when I was growing up, an alone and lonely child, when I was expecting my daughter, and in the meantime obviously.  With the years I have kept everything I got or made. With a new time schedule, organization and means, I managed quite well, producing and improving my skills. Miniature was a merging point for my interest and knowledge in history of arts and crafts, in interior design… and limited space… and limitless imagination.


In the dining room the table and the corner cabinets are Lundby, I made the chairs after Adam chairs in Ham Castle. The mirror (facing) is an antique bronze frame; the lantern and the teapot are vintage jewellery.


The interior garden is my tribute to Patrick Blanc,  French garden designer famed for his vertical gardens;  the bull head is genuine patinated bronze reproduction; the bench made from an antique brush stand with stunning intertwined cast metal dolphins; the lantern is vintage costume jewellery. 



  In the bedroom the Italian cabinet does not open: the first piece I made in the 1980s, I did not know how! but I kept it for memory;  the large seascape (left) is oil on copper (ebay), I made the frame in walnut; the mountain view (facing) is a watercolor mounted as a brooch; the beds and chest of drawers are made from vintage Lundby furniture; the statue is ivory antique; the “ivory” dog figure on the chest of drawers is a vintage American plastic charm; the alligator is antique painted bronze possibly paperweight.



The living room clearly shows an Egyptologist collection, except for the miniature frieze of the Parthenon (British Museum Gift Shop);  the mirrors are genuine 19th century gilt brass frames; the Dutch chandeliers unfinished;  the desk in 17c style one of my early pieces.


Now it works out quite satisfactorily. My husband and I have a common interest in designing, scouring the antiques fairs, and naturally his interest rises in the miniature department. Yesterday we found ourselves arguing on the most accurate place for a pair of Kleeware “twig” chairs in the attic that I am designing at the moment. A few days ago, he also tried to persuade me that a garage was definitely necessary, and last Saturday at the flea market we found a stunning almost 1:16, handmade oakwood work bench. It looked so similar to the bench my grandfather – a carpenter - had made thirty years ago for my mother : I was speechless. Instantly my husband made a point that obviously destiny meant my houses to have a garage and that we had to have a car... A few hours later I was browsing for model car kits, ranging from 1931 Ford Pick up to 1958 Ford Mustang 390 (Bullit’s). I am not going to hurry in that matter…


… and finally a hint of its evolution ...

And this is what the above picture did not show : the top of the house is loaded with tools and junk… and it is one of my cat Ivy’s favorite place to rummage and throw everything overboard! 


Another big three floored house is in process, and also an extension for this house, including a kitchen and an attic organized as a den.  I never run out of plans !

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