Sunday 22 July 2012

"Small is beautiful" - but is it the right scale?

The question of scale in dolls houses can be fraught with difficulty and argument.   Does something need to be precisely made to scale in order to look right in a particular house?   Does it matter if something is vastly out of proportion to the other things around it?   Or does the fact that many people consider a dolls house "just a toy" override the need for precision?

In the forty or so years that I have been collecting and making houses and miniatures to go in them I have tended to be fairly pragmatic about scale and work to the premise that if it looks okay, it is okay.   In other words I do relatively little measuring of items to see if they are exactly to the scale in which I am working.   I reckon my eye is pretty good by now and also, by not being too precise, I am working in the best tradition of some of the early miniaturists.

But I do try to keep things looking in some sort of proportion.   I worry, for example, about health and safety issues for the tiny doll in this picture as she deals with the large blue frying pan on the wall - let alone lifting that huge kettle down off the hob. 

And I have severe problems with a popular set of modern miniatures, the Sylvanian Families.   Their heads would be enough by themselves to fit that scale of furniture!

Many of the antique dolls houses one can find in museums round the world, or stately homes in England - a rich source of dolls houses since one was often made for the children of wealthy families by the estate carpenter - are to no particular scale.

Cue digression: It was Vivien Greene, the estranged wife of Graham Greene, the novelist, who brought many of the English dolls houses out of hiding in lofts, stables, cupboards, when after the war she wrote round to stately home owners enquiring as to whether they maybe had a dolls house hidden somewhere.   The results of her enquiries formed the basis of her amazing collection at the Rotunda in Oxford - the home she had built for them in the grounds of Grove House where she lived - and her seminal book English Dolls' House of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, first published in 1955.   Sadly the collection was auctioned off in 1998 when failing eyesight meant that she could no longer enjoy it.   I visited the museum in the early '90s when she was still showing people around herself - wisely, she allowed no one under 16 into the Rotunda.

It was also as a result of Vivien Greene's researches that it dawned on estate owners that the dolls house that was lurking somewhere on their premises might be a tourist attraction.   She was very firm about the notion of "renovation" not being a good thing, something that is still an aim for many collectors of old dolls houses today.  If at all possible they should be "restored and preserved" rather than "renovated".   

The scale of houses and their contents really became important with the advent of commercially built houses towards the end of the 19th century.  The most commonly used scale for "collectors' houses" such as the Dutch House I have been describing in previous posts is twelfth scale (1 to 12).   It's a scale that is very easy to work with  - for those of us in Britain who grew up before the metric system for measurement was introduced in our schools.   Something that is five feet tall in real life converts to five inches in the dolls house world.   But unless those used to the metric system have equipped themselves with old-style imperial rulers (fortunately still available if you hunt a little, or can be printed from on-line sources) they can struggle a bit if they want to convert precisely.

I have also met 1/10 scale, particularly in Europe, maybe because it is easier to work with in the metric world.   However it does make for very large houses.

A scale that is increasingly popular for collectors is "half-scale" or 1 to 24.   Half an inch equals one foot.  It allows for much smaller houses and the next one I will be talking about getting ready for the museum, the Fairfield, is in twenty-fourth scale.

Normal scale for children's dolls houses, if you ignore the Barbie monsters, is either 1/16th or 1/18th and this is what you find in Lundby houses, and the Jenny's Home you can see in this photo on the right and in the Triangs of our childhood below. 

I apologise for the quality of the photos, they are scanned from an ancient magazine article about my collection and will have to do until the houses themselves emerge from their dustcovers in the garage.

As you will see as we go through the next weeks and months preparing my houses for display, much that is not in the "correct" scale can be used, with discretion and to good effect.   But this level of disproportion is to be avoided at all costs!!

After tomorrow's meeting with the Town Council about room possibilities for the museum, which I hope to report back on tomorrow night, there may be a lull in new posts to the blog whilst we entertain wall-to-wall visitors in our last week in the Czech Republic and pack up ready to return to England for the month of August.   Once there I will try to pick up the blog again fairly quickly but August is crammed with events in the real world and so the controllable world of miniatures (the reason why I find it so attractive - things do as you tell them) will have to take a backseat for a while.

Thank you for following this adventure with me and please send positive thoughts for the meeting tomorrow!



  1. *sends positive thoughts*

  2. Fingers crossed for the meeting, and for not too many interruptions to the blogging process!!
    Alison x

  3. Good luck with the meeting tomorrow!

  4. Dear Cestina
    Please would you cast your expert eye over this and comment on the scale...
    eagerly awaiting your comments

    1. Dear Andrea,
      I feel that the most apt reply is that I couldn't possibly comment!

      However I do feel for Phoebe when she labels Monica's "The House of No Imagination". It looks too, too perfect. Completely Monica in fact.

      By the way did your eagle eye spot that the name for these mansions in American is Doll House? I thought at first that this was the Greenleaf "Garfield" house but it doesn't seem quite the same.

      There is a Garfield reposing in kit form under my bed in England. It's too large to build anywhere other than where it will finally stay but one day there should be many blog posts as it is constructed and turned into the Great Gatsby House.

  5. Ooh Great Gatsby - want it NOW!

  6. Well done, especially for getting the funding for decoratin anf lighting.

    I did post on here before as abbycat, became a follower by activating a Google account, and still can't get it to appear here, so am frustrated and anonymous. MaryR