The dolls’ houses of today seem to be a far cry from those sold even 20 or 30 years ago.
Those of us who played with them as children may well have memories of crudely cut wooden boxes housing dolls in Victorian dresses, sitting clumsily on chairs which were proportionally way too big or far too tiny.
But dolls’ houses are no longer just for kids. Those adults who continue the hobby to this day know that creating a tiny world, perfectly to scale, can be a very grown-up occupation taking up many hours, potentially thousands of pounds, and all the precision and design flair that can be mustered.
And some of today’s finely crafted creations will be on show at a fair in Kettering next month organised by Keely Jones, who owns and runs two Dolls’ House Stores in Kettering and Newport Pagnell, and John Duckett of Tumdee Dolls’ House Miniatures.
According to Keely, the hobby certainly seems popular.
Keely not only sells dolls’ house packs but also makes some of her own pieces and puts together bespoke houses made to the specific designs of customers.
She can even produce mini-canvasses showing the customers’ chosen photos or paintings.
Keely described how her own passion for dolls’ houses came about.
She said: “I had always worked in retail and used to do 70 to 80 hours a week. I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage it because I was pregnant. I did manage it for those nine months but got bored after six weeks of maternity leave. I said to my husband ‘I want to do something’ so I went and bought a dolls’ house. Then I thought, ‘I would really like to do this for a job.’”
Two years ago Keely opened her first shop in Kettering, and the Newport Pagnell store was set up in June last year.
Unusual requests put to Keely have even included a tiny working television bought by one customer for his daughter’s birthday, designed to show her favourite DVD to resident dollies. The cost for this was £80.
Many of her other customers have also popped in regularly to produce their own grand designs, including one man who is currently building the Burton High Street he knew as a youngster, in his living room.
Keely said: “We did everything from building dolls’ houses to painting the outside. Customers might come in and say they want to keep the price as reasonable as possible. They pick their wallpaper, lighting and ceilings, everything from start to finish. We have just finished a house called Preston Manor, which took us three months. We had to paint the outside and the owner wanted each room painted a different colour; there are eight rooms. She wanted different floorings in different rooms as well as light fittings, all the lights were wired.”
She continued: “We also try to get pieces which are as modern as possible, we have iPhones, iPads, alarms...My husband is really into gadgets and he always thinks about what else we can get in. Some people still go for Victorian or Edwardian houses but some people want all the gadgets.”
One of Keely’s customers was even a props person for the TV show EastEnders, who asked the store to make a picket fence for a scene in the cafe which involved Tiffany’s dolls’ house.
At Christmas, Keely and her mother also found themselves making 500 mini-festive wreaths for assorted dolls’ houses.
Keely, a mother-of-two, said: “It is very addictive, I went from one dolls’ house to this. I just fell into it. I have one lady who comes in who I know even had a housewarming party for her dolls’ house and invited all her friends and relatives to it. There is a fascination with how much detail you can get in miniature. Children will say ‘I can’t believe you got it so small’ and adults will say the same thing.”
Speaking about the forthcoming fair, Keely said: “There will be lots of smaller individuals and bigger names coming and we are considering taking a second hall because it has been so successful.”
The fair will be held on Sunday, March 31, at the Corn Market Hall in Kettering, between 10am and 4pm. Visit www.dollshousefairs.co.uk.
The challenge of creating life in miniature:
For Richard Webb, creating dolls’ houses was an ideal occupation to keep him busy after his wife died.
The 68-year-old retired paramedic from Kettering said: “I lost my wife three years ago and just wanted to do something. I bought a couple of kits and set to work.”
So far he has created a range of mini-properties including houses, a pub and a 2.5ft tall church.
He said: “Anything you can think of, you can buy in 1/12 scale, everything from a clothes peg to a TV. Sometimes you can pay up to £40 for a single chair. This one I’m building now, I won’t bother about how much it costs, I’m laying a floor which is £45 for one floor and the house has nine rooms.”
He continued: “For the church I sent off to York to get some little gargoyles which are replicas from Canterbury Cathedral.
“It just has a creative appeal I suppose. You have to think about what design you will have, will it be Edwardian or modern? Then you have to work out what you will do in each room.”
Eileen Fenton, 66, of Corby, has focused her efforts on one house. “Ever since I was a little girl I always wanted one and couldn’t afford one until I was older. But one day I thought I would get into it. I spent a long time on this. I built the garden and put a conservatory in there and a seating area with a barbecue.
“A lot of adults are interested in it but it did take me quite a while to do, a lot of wallpaper went down and came off again but I got there in the end. I loved doing it because I haven’t been very well and it was something to take my mind off other things.”