Saturday, 7 February 2015

A View from the Orient

It is with shame that I realise that my last blogpost still says "Season's Greetings" - we are now almost half way to Easter and I am still extending Christmas and New Year good wishes!

So I am determined that before I head off for a four day break in Budapest on Monday - I wonder if there are any dolls houses in Hungary? - I will somehow get a new post up on the blog.   I did in fact start writing it more than three weeks ago but it has fallen foul of the depressing days of late January and early February, when I find it hard to settle to anything constructive.

On with the post - this one comes from Japan - well, the virtual, small bit of Japan that can be found in Small Worlds.....

It's almost twelve months since I wrote about the many houses Norman Randall had made for me over the years and mentioned that I would write more about the Japanese one at some point.   So that's where we are heading - to take a closer look at this unusual house.   

You can see it here in 2012, gearing up for the Great Move from our home of forty years.....

(hmm - I think that's actually just the roof)

........and then again last summer in its new home in Small Worlds.

The plans for it came from The International Dolls House Book.  I think it was the third house that Norman tackled.   Much more unusual than the others since, apart from the solid base, most of the structure consists of a frame made of half inch strips of wood, with recesses ready to receive panelled screens or doors. There are around thirty of these.  

The house has a moulded roof which caused Norman some difficulty in that the thin sheets of plywood had to be moulded to a curve.   He was very successful in achieving the right result and the bare bones of the house were handed over to me to decorate both inside and out.

I knew very little about how the Japanese lived, and pretty well nothing about how their houses looked inside.   So I turned to some books to find out - no access to the wonders of google in those days.

I had two main source books, the most useful of which was Japanese Homes and their Surroundings, a Dover book publication.

Cue short digression: for those of you who do not know it, the Dover press is an amazing resource. Sadly their bookshop in the centre of London's theatre district has now closed, but happily they can still be found online.

Both books are sitting on the shelves in Small Worlds so I cannot at the moment post the title of the other.

Armed with these two books, I set about decorating the exterior and creating the interior of the house.    The roof provided the first challenge.   I wanted a 3D effect, so that ordinary paper depicting roof tiles was not really an option.   Nor would it be possible to attach cedar or ceramic tiles, because of the pronounced curve.   I finally managed to source - no easy task in those days, in the absence of the internet - some ridged tiles which came in the form of sheets.   Expensive, but well worth it.   

Sadly, the roof has suffered badly since the house has been in Small Worlds because it has to be lifted for every visitor so that they can admire the interior.   The edges are in any case fragile, as the backing paper has aged, and we cannot always find somewhere safe to put the roof down whilst displaying the interior.   We can often be found muttering under our breath as we stand holding it and at the same time politely encouraging the visitors to take their time!

It was easy enough to source postcards to fill the panels of the interior doors but the external doors presented more of a challenge. 

I decided to use expensive airmail parchment within the wooden frames - the kind that was available many years ago was lightly textured and lent itself very well to this useage.   Fortunately, since one of the panels was torn and needed replacing, I found I still had a couple of sheets in my stash.  Although I have hunted for a new supply I have not been able to source one - too many people skype and email nowadays rather than write letters.   

In the second book I found a door panel inscribed with a welcoming text for a Japanese inn and asked a calligrapher with whom I worked if he could reproduce it.   This he duly did, and it has now been redone by my young helper because it had faded badly over the years.   I hope we have been precise enough with the Japanese letters and that it does not say something inaccurate or undesirable!  I fear there is no photo to allow you to judge.

For the other doors I tried to reproduce some of the wooden patterns I found in the book, using whatever means whereby I found to hand.  

These now provide the first of the popular "What do you think this was in real life?" questions that challenge people as they go through Small Worlds.   See if you can work them out - you will find the answers at the end of this post.

I decided that it was really too tricky to create a traditional Japanese home, given the eclectic nature of the items I had collected to furnish the house.   So it is in the nature of a folk museum....

I apologise for the interior photos - I did not take them with a view to writing a blogpost 

and Bavorov is a little far to pop over to this afternoon for fresh photos.   

The mats on the floor are of course bamboo table mats.   The vases are nearly all beads of various sizes and the pearl plates are earrings from that wonderful cheapie shop, Kik, where one can find all manner of good things whose purpose can be diverted from the intended one into something for the dolls house world. 

When the house was in its original position in our front room in Hoddesdon, it had a large Japanese garden alongside it, the remains of which travelled to the Czech Republic.  

Unfortunately, there is no space for this in Small Worlds but I decided that it would be a pity not to use the garden artefacts so I set up a smaller version using as many of them as I could find space for - there are two more "guess what this was?" amongst them by the way.

The dolls have just turned up over the years and I have allowed my reasonably precise sense of scale to be a little flexible over their size.   The latest one to arrive is the one in a blue kimono.   I found her, made by a teenager, at one of the local farmers' markets last year and I have been buying a number of her dolls for other houses too, in particular the thatched cottage where they seem to blend very well with the corn dolls.

I hope you have enjoyed this little glimpse of my Japanese house - I do not make any claims for its authenticity but I was delighted last summer when a young Japanese designer visited Small Worlds and gave it the stamp of his approval.   Take a look at his website - he is a most ingenious young man!   I particularly love his shape-shifting sofa and the step-stool car for kids.

I was a little taken aback this morning to find an email in my inbox from Rebecca Green, editor of the Dolls Houses Past and Present on-line magazine, with a call for new articles including this: Following my article on chalet-style dolls houses, the topic of Japanese dolls houses has been suggested. If you have a Japanese dolls house - whether a house in Japanese style made outside Japan, or a dolls house or miniature house or room made in Japan, in traditional or modern style, I would love to hear from you! Or perhaps you know of a museum which holds a Japanese dolls house or miniature model house, kitchen, etc.

Great minds think alike!   For a short while I dithered about continuing with this post but since I was lucky enough to have a long article in the last edition of the magazine, linking my passion for dolls houses and girls' school stories - and also had no idea what else to write about today - I decided to go ahead with it.   Maybe when the time comes Rebecca will be kind enough to signpost people to this glimpse of the Orient.

I hope to see you all again soon - once spring is here I shall probably be more inspired to write!

Door Quiz answers (from left to right): wooden forks used for pommes frites
Spacers for tiling 

Garden: The bushes are teasels
The central stone ornament is made of a Christmas tree light and some sort of brass curtain pole fixing


  1. It's Onion Skin paper you're after - if you Google, you'll find suppliers... there must be someone still writing letters after all!

    I've always loved this house - a real one-off in the museum - must get some really good photos when you're there this summer.

  2. This house is beautiful!! My parents had a miniature wooden house - probably Chinese- as Dad was born there when his parents were out there working in 1920, which this reminds me of.

  3. I loved that house when I saw it, and, as I think I commented at the time, I was vividly reminded of "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower".

  4. That email from editor Rebecca was most serendipitous!
    [I've just done a hasty update to my blog for the same reason!!]

  5. Lovely house and beautifully decorated. It is nice to see something different.

  6. Dear Gil, I had forgotten that you had a Japanese house, though I'm sure I must have seen it in the photos of Small Worlds! I'm delighted to be reminded, and to know that it was built to the International Dolls House Book plans - they of course will be mentioned in the article. I will be very happy to include some of your photos and a link to this blogpost - when the article happens! Not sure when that will be, yet.

    1. Well if it's not till the issue after next I should manage some better photos for you :-)

  7. Wonderful posts and amazing makes on the Japanese House. I only guessed the teasels and they do look wonderful as trees. Such creativity with all the other things used.

    Good Luck with the article.

    Love Chrissie

  8. ooh lovely - I can quite understand visitors wishing to peer inside for long periods. Vexing about the roof though. I suppose a little pulley using fishing line is out of the question? The mice could operate it…
    I love the panels and find the whole effect most restful.
    A x

    1. Many and varied have been the suggestions as to what we could do with the roof. None have so far included mice, until now.

  9. I find dolls houses with lift off roofs really annoying, I've had two but sold them both.

  10. The Japanese house is fantastic. I do love the shape of the roof. And the screens are terrific. The look is incredible!