Thursday, 4 September 2014

That Old House in Paris - Chapter Two

Welcome back to further tales of the Old House in Paris.   Before launching into the mammoth task of creating some order out of the many strands of putting this house together, I should like to draw your attention to the Labours of Laura whilst she was here a week or so ago...

I am truly blessed with my family and friends – when I show visitors round and reel off "My daughter did this, my sister-in-law that, a friend from Holland this, a Czech friend that.... and my daughter-in-law has just created these, many English friends that and here's the first thing my ten year old granddaughter has contributed".......
Granddaughter takes at turn at transforming...
....they are often amazed at how much family and friends are involved. It almost sounds as if I take it for granted that there are all these talented people around willing to contribute to the success of Small Worlds.  I really don't – I am immensely grateful and I always take care to give lavish credit!

Revenons a nous moutons (let us return to our sheep) - the next task, after finishing the outside, (and if you haven't read Chapter One I suggest you check it out now) was to paper the inside front, install an interior front door and put up some net curtains, duly soaked in tea to take the bright whiteness off them.
I then installed mirrors and a practice bar or two in the ballet studio. I had luckily bought some gold and silver card from a cheapie shop in the UK and it has proved its worth.   Mirrors and Art Deco lift in Gosthwaites, and now wall-length mirrors in the studio......

Before I go any further, perhaps this is the point to reveal all of the inside at one fell swoop and then go into room-by-room details.   I have to say this house was a nightmare to photograph.   I have had at least four separate goes at it, the last one yesterday, and I am still not really satisfied with the pictures.   But I have decided to settle for "good enough" rather than perfection! 

When people reach this house in Small Worlds, I first show them the book of Madeline, as far as the dormitory scene,  and then open up the front and let them take a good look.....

After they have ooh'ed and aah'ed for a while I then open the roof.....

which produces another chorus of oohs and aahs.   Well, the Czech version thereof - a delightful sound which I am sadly totally unable to render in English.

Starting on the ground floor, there was never any doubt that this should be a ballet studio.   Once the floor was stuck down it was time to make mirrors.   I decided that the main one should go along a side wall as it is very disconcerting to peer into a dolls house to find oneself looking at one's own face.   I did take it slightly round the corner as well though so that the young dancers can see themselves from more than one direction.   Very important for maintaining poise and balance!

There really wasn't much else that needed to be done in the studio – after all, the budding ballerinas need a lot of space to practise so cluttering up the room with furniture was the last thing I wanted to do.   One practice bar along the length of the mirror – kebab sticks and the ever-useful Czech curtains hooks  

 – and one free-standing one nearby, a grand piano, and a small cupboard to house the frilly tutus made last summer by the resourceful Bep and the studio was done and waiting for the pupils.   

The cupboard is one of those inlaid boxes with a secret way of opening - I have had it more years than I care to remember but I hung on to it thinking it would come in useful one day.   Ideal for the tutus.... 

I used a fairly nondescript pale green wallpaper for the studio and classroom because I knew there would be mirrors and posters on the walls; Madame Fidolia's study was the only room where I tried out several papers before settling on an elegant grey one with a discreet gold pattern.   The dormitory just got a coat of cream paint.

The classroom also posed few problems.  The desks I already had – I made them many years ago, copying them from what I think may be a Lundby original.   Maybe someone can identify it?  Six desks fitted nicely in the room, the teacher's desk is a little small but I later placed it on a wooden platform and it works reasonably well.  
I made a simple blackboard and perched it on a bought easel. (I was delighted when a young visitor last week noticed the pieces of chalk. Note to self: add some writing to the board.)

Next to tackle was Madame Fidolia's study.   No desk in my stash but I did find a large, imposing table with graceful legs, and a corner cupboard.   With the (later) addition of two chairs from the very useful Raine's Take a Seat Series – I bought many of these chairs from The Works years ago when they were on special offer and they are now coming into their own all over Small Worlds – and a carpet embroidered by the mother of the original owner of the Diva Dum for that house, the bare bones of the room were in place. 

So I turned my attention to the dormitory and this is where the problems began.  I had my heart set on simple metal beds like the ones in the dormitory scene in Madeline.   But how to achieve this?  I experimented with making them out of thick plastic covered wire.   It didn't work.   I put out a plea for suggestions on the Dolls Houses Past and Present website  and a member (who actually turned out to be someone I was in the Herts Miniaturists group with 20 years ago!) came up with these pretty white wire ones - almost ideal, but a tiny bit small and more elaborate than I wanted, and anyway I wasn't fast enough to grab the six that were on ebay offer. 

I of course tried out various beds I had in my stash.  The black-painted Mattel Littles beds which I had extracted from the Victorian Walmer nursery looked very cute but really too small – and expensive to source six of them on ebay or elsewhere.  At a pinch I could have transformed the Sylvanian beds but then they would not have fitted my vision for the room. 

Butterfly was certain that we had some vintage Playmobil hospital beds in England, and that these, painted black, would do very well.  On my rapid trip back to the UK in June I unearthed three of them and brought them back to the Czech Republic.   They are a tiny bit small, but in the end I decided they were the best option and set about buying three more on ebay.   In the end I could only get bed ends but that was fine – I ended up with three smaller beds, and three longer ones for the older pupils.   The counterpanes are very reminiscent of the ones on our beds at my boarding school in the 1950s.  

In French schools of that period – this is after all an old house in Paris – a teacher slept in a corner of the dormitory to keep an eye on the pupils (though I notice that Miss Clavel is indulged with a room of her own and, indeed, a very fine bed!).  

I did give the teacher a more elaborate bed and a small amount of privacy by screening her off from the rest of the room. 

I think the time has come to reveal the inhabitants of the Old House in Paris.  As I have mentioned in other posts, I was incredibly fortunate last summer to make the acquaintance of Anna Šlesinger, doll maker extraordinaire.  

When she and her husband paid us a visit earlier this year she brought along two little dolls as gifts for me and Butterfly.   With one voice we cried "The ballet school" and rushed to put them there.   

Anna looked at us quizzically and asked "How many do you need?"  We couldn't believe our luck.  "Six?" I said tentatively.  "And do you need teachers?" (She is someone who cuts straight to the heart of the matter!) "Er, yes," I said, "Madame the head of the school, and maybe one dance teacher."  

We then discussed what Madame might look like, and what the pupils would wear to dance in, and Butterfly and I undertook to seek out some pictures and send them to Anna.   

And that was it – when I made an overnight stop at the Šlesinger's ever-welcoming home near Nuremberg on my way back from England in June, she presented me with four more small girls, Madame, a dance teacher and a rail full of delightful dresses – four sets of rompers for the little girls who were clad in their uniform dresses, and two tiny dresses for the smallest pupils, who were already wearing their rompers.  She had also made a chair for Madame but it turned out to be a little too big....  

 .... so the iconic Czech puppets Spejbl and Hurvinek are making use of it.

Nothing goes to waste in Small Worlds!

With the inhabitants ready to take up their positions, all that remained was the really fun part of doing up any dolls house – dressing the rooms.  All the studio needed was some music on the piano and inspiring posters on the walls. 

The dormitory got some enchanting ballet shoes made by friend Lynda who was visiting me a few weeks ago.  They are suitably soft, being made of plasticine. The tap shoes are from some mini-Barbie or other and were originally red.

I also added an appropriate picture to the wall.  

The poor put upon teacher was  given a book to console her in her labours.   (I should add here that the teacher tasked with sleeping in the dormitory is the one that rules over the classroom and she is not made by Anna.  In fact, she is very strangely proportioned and I have had to manhandle her body into the classroom chair and wire it in place or she would appear like the giant that she is .....please don't ask how she fits into her bed.)

The classroom got some suitable posters on the walls – all French of course. 
The books are naturally also in French – and are a salute to one of my favourite authors, Elinor M.Brent-Dyer who created the Chalet School series of nearly 60 books.   Her writing spanned the years from 1925-1970 and she still has some very faithful followers, many, including me,  to be found on the Chalet School Bulletin Board.   

I know a number of CBB members read this blog – some of the books in the classroom are used in the Chalet School over the years. I should have liked to use more, but felt many were not age appropriate!

They are hard to spot in the photos so here they are.....

Books are so easy to make nowadays.  A few seconds on the computer.  Gone are the days of searching through catalogues for pictures of approximately the right size, or later on struggling to get pictures small enough by using a reducing photo-copier - you had to steadily shrink the picture you wanted down through the percentages. It took hours and resulted in much wasted paper. 

I am delighted that I had refused to throw away my out of date building society books – ideal for creating mini-books, even better than the spine of old cheque books....

Madame's study also required a little dressing.   She is clearly doing very well with her Academie – or maybe she is resting on previous laurels gained as a dancer (or later?).   I say this because she has a couple of what are clearly original Degas paintings on her walls.  Butterfly was insistent that they must be originals, since posters probably did not exist then.   

(However you will have noticed that I have taken the liberty of inventing posters so that the little girls down in the studio can also benefit from the inspiration of the paintings .   I felt it would be pushing it to put originals down there too......) 

I do wonder a little about Madame, she has clearly progressed (the politest way I can put it) from the aesthetic figure in the portrait we sent to Anna.   Gone to seed a little perhaps?   More evidence of this might be seen in the elegant gold-encased bottle by her feet and the goblet on her desk.....

I think I have now covered everything I wanted to in this mammoth post - mostly written in Small Worlds earlier today which was blessed with very few visitors - after I made it to the front page of the regional newspaper a couple of weeks ago, and also got a snippet in a national paper,  it has been even busier than usual.....

Bavorov admires Small Worlds.....


So I will close, as befits a post based on a picture book, with a few more scenes from The Old House in Paris.  I hope you have enjoyed your visit and I look forward to seeing you again soon.


  1. WOW WOW WOW! This is fantastic - what a beautiful ballet school you've created. You have a wealth of talented relations and friends indeed!

  2. So many Ohh and Ahh moments in this post. The school is truly amazing with so many wonderful ideas. The plastercine shoes are just beautiful. Strange how the little touches add so much.

    Love Chrissie x

  3. Oh oh OH! Splendido. An excellent reveal - I was so excited by the time I got to the top floor I literally (note correct use of word) burst into applause. Startled the cat no end. She had just settled down when I got to the inhabitants. More startlement.

    This is a TRIUMPH. I think one of the books should be Mme Fidolia's memoirs. They definitely wouldn't be age-appropriate…

    Have been thinking about the trickiness of photographing - perhaps you need one of those cameras that are on the end of a flexible hose. I'm sure they have them on Ebay.

    Happy sigh

    Andrea x

    1. Are you volunteering to write said memoirs? Since I couldn't use your former flight of fancy?

      Sorry cat - but glad about the applause :-)

      Actually, I think I may just need a better camera but will investigate hose ones. Butterfly seems to manage okay, but she does have a much newer camera. Or is just better at it than I am :-(

  4. I love the story of its development, and the final creation! The details like the ballet shoes, clothes, books, chalk - all wonderful! Re the posters, though - chromolithography was invented in the 19th century, and I think many people had reproductions of paintings on their walls. There were also painted copies of famous paintings, which I imagine would have been more expensive - perhaps that is what Mme Fidolia has? Although I am sure she would rather have us think that they are originals ...

    1. I'm sure she would Rebecca! Yes of course you are right, there will have been reproductions around long before this school is set.....

      All those wonderful advertising posters from the Thirties for example. I guess we were thinking of the poster culture of today but I am glad I am not being anachronistic after all :-)

  5. This is absolutely brilliant! Thank you for sharing.

  6. Such a wonderful little ballet school you and your friends/family have created here Cestina, a beautifully fascinating post so pleased to see it finished in all its glory. I love the little rail of ballet dresses and shoes all lined up in the dormitary and all the sweet little books and ballet pictures on the walls. Such a joy to look at Thank you for sharing this. Mo x

  7. All looking splendid! And I still think Madame has originals... I'm happy the students can benefit from the chromolithographs though.

  8. Hello Miss Cestina, this was a BRILLIANT post and the old house in Paris with the fabulous Ballet classroom ALL BRILLIANT, I adore it so much, your are blessed with a brilliantly talented family, your wonderful talented friends came into your life for a reason, I'm sure they think your a blessing to theirs. I fell in love with Miss Laura's spectacular jewelry, I can't wait to make my own with my tiny dresses. Your doll houses inspire me to make some of my own miniatures, which I never thought I could,, thanks so much for that, I'm blessed to have found you and your wonderful family in blog land. Hope you have a wonderful week, can't wait for your next post, ((( BIG HUGS )))...

  9. SPECTACULAR!! Cestina, I'm in LOVE!! I hope that one day I get to travel to Europe (making sure it's the right time of year) and come visit you and your Small Worlds Museum! You've got a talented brood and everyone's contributions to these little masterpieces are phenomenal!! WOW! All of the little details...OH--Madame's little gold flask--I'm sure that's not filled with tea :) ;) Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share Small Worlds with us through your blog! It's no small feat to create these houses and then to share all of the details with photos--Amazing!! XOXO-Shari

    1. Thank you Shari. When you make it to Europe be sure to contact me because even if I am not in the right place at the right time I'm sure I can arrange for access to Small Worlds :-)

      Certainly not tea in the gold flask! I think her tipple of choice, as a good French woman, may be Calvados....

  10. I love this house! The dormitory has got to be my favorite part of this house. It's totally adorably cute! Congratulations on being in the newspaper. You're famous now!

  11. We love the ballet dress poking out of the wardrobe. When we read your posts we always want to shrink down and come and explore them.