Dolls' houses: Mansions in miniature

For those who adore mid-century design but can't afford the real thing, the answer could be in the trend for Modernist dolls' houses, says Kate Burt

Shards of sunlight stream through the windows of Annina Günter's 1960s-built house, in East Sussex, illuminating the clean smooth lines of a black wooden-legged Eames dining chair and vintage vinyl floor tiles.

There's a trio of stylish nudes above the teak sideboard, where a red plastic ice bucket sits poised for retro cocktails. Elsewhere in the house, there's an original 1950s Danish rosewood coffee table, a geometric, rattan-framed mirror, a giant rubber plant, shelves full of brightly coloured vintage Scandinavian ceramics ... It's a mid-century modern paradise – cosy but not too kitsch and tasteful without being designer-heavy, the place has a style in a very lived-in sort of a way. Which is ironic, considering you'd have to be under a foot tall to get through the front door.

Günter, a 28-year-old graphic designer from Hove, collects dolls' houses – and her two vintage homes are original German-made "Vero" houses – one a bungalow, one a two-storey, bought for around €200 a piece on Ebay.de, where she found many of her other original mid-century pieces. "I really like that era," she explains, "it's the sort of furniture I have in my own flat – though not as much as I'd like, as the budget isn't that big." Perhaps that's not surprising, as she admits to blow-outs such as the £50 recently spent on an anglepoise lamp for one of her other dolls' houses: "It was so realistic I had to have it," she says enthusiastically, "it actually works and you can move the arm and it has a screw so you can fix it on to your desk." The lamp, made by a designer she met at the annual Kensington Dollshouse Festival, is about two inches high. The rationale? "There's just something about small things that's really nice."

Günter's passion for petite pieces began as a child, when her father made her a dolls house: "I was about six," she recalls, "and I spent years – until I was a teenager – filling it with things." One early quest for perfecting the realism of her creations was finding a technique to make miniature clothes hang authentically – in the bedroom (Guzzini-style globe floor lamp, tulip stool, wood-panelled walls) – a tiny shirt, which Günter made herself, lies crumpled on the mattress. "Hairspray and glue. That's how you get it to look like that," she explains. "Even as a child, it had to be perfect. For me, it was never about playing, it was about interior decoration."

She reignited her hobby three years ago in a rather circuitous fashion after coming across a book called The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, based on the work of Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago heiress and dolls-house collector with a passion for forensic science. The book features miniature reconstructions of particularly baffling crime scenes, which were used in Glessner Lee's 1940s lectures at Harvard's department of legal medicine, which the heiress founded in order to train detectives to read evidence more effectively. "I found the book really inspiring," Günter says, "I mean it's quite dark; there's lots of gore and murdered dolls, but it's lit and shot beautifully and everything in the scenes is perfect – even the locks on the doors work. And for me, that's the fascination – creating scenes in miniature that look realistic." The best compliment, she says, is when people see the photos of her creations she posts online, and mistake them for real homes.

Günter is part of a growing community of style-obsessed collectors who are shunning the traditionally twee pre-1900 styled dollhouses and creating miniature mid-century homes. The photo-sharing website Flickr has a group – Modern Miniatures – devoted to the hobby. Despite the small scale of each proudly displayed tableau, accessory or piece of furniture, there is no shortage of fodder for those in search of interiors porn: there are painstakingly reproduced George Nelson ball clocks, an Eames plywood elephant, a plethora of Verner Panton "S" chairs, several Hans Wenger-esque sofas and Stag-like bedroom suites. There are also tiny Andy Warhols, period-appropriate magazines and hand-painted vintage ceramics – the creativity and attention to detail is dazzling.

"You can furnish your dream house without worrying that the children will jump on the sofas; there won't be any dirty footprints and no one's going to interfere with your colour scheme," says Elaine Shaw, who designed and built "Clearview" – a gleaming white miniature modern townhouse with glass-fronted balconies, an open-plan staircase and a roof terrace.

Clearview is exquisitely styled. The white gloss fitted kitchen (hand-made by Elfminiatures.co.uk) has grey marble-look worktops and a stainless steel and glass extractor hood – but the room with the biggest wow-factor is the bedroom, with a fluffy, faux-fur rug, a white lacquered chandelier and a solid walnut bed, by New York-based designer (of full-size furniture too), Paris Renfroe. And the open-plan en suite really swings it: wood-clad walls, a 1/12-scale version of Eero Arnio's 1966 ball chair and contemporary white fittings – which Shaw made herself, from resin – including a free-standing bath; wall-hung, dual-flush toilet; a bidet and multi-jet shower.

"It's pure escapism and totally indulgent," she admits, "there's nothing useful about it." Shaw originally designed the house as a one-off, for herself, after being outbid on her dream Art Deco mini pad on Ebay (£460 was her limit – it went for £560). "I've never been so gutted over anything that totally didn't warrant it," she says, laughing at how idiotic her disappointment might sound.

So, as an ex-design student she decided to build her own, constructed after hours of architectural drawings, some MDF and the carcasses of several other dolls' houses. She now makes replicas of "Clearview", selling them via her company, Miaim, and has also begun designing furniture too, as there was little on the British market to suit the house.

But though Shaw says she sometimes has problems with "the superficiality of it all" (her real home, she admits, lies scruffy and neglected), there is a bigger picture to her work. "I'm not trying to make toys," she says. "These houses will become heirlooms in the future, just as many vintage versions are today: a dollhouse is a design time-capsule."

Tiny interiors – useful contacts

Miaim.co.uk Elaine Shaw sells her "Clearview" house – as an empty shell – for £395. She also makes and sells selected pieces including a battery-operated contemporary fireplace, £20, and a shower cubicle for £16.50

Elfminiatures.co.uk Former jewellery designer Elizabeth LePla now makes a vast range of hand-made dollshouse accessories and furniture and accessories – Annina Günter bought her sideboard there. One of LePla's specialities is bespoke fitted kitchens, which can go for up to £900.

Prdminiatures.com American furniture designer Paris Renfroe started making dollshouse pieces after people started clamouring for the 1:12-scale models he'd been making of his regular sized furniture.

Reacjapan.com This Japanese company specialises in designer chairs at 1:12 scale (the Vitra museum pieces, many of which look the same as Reac's, are too big for the average dollshouse).

Delphminiatures.co.uk You've got the house, got the designer furniture – now all you need are accessories: Delph sells everything from weeny bags of barbecue charcoal to teeny photo albums and burglar alarms.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Jonathan de Guzman of the Netherlands and Willian of Brazil compete for the ball
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice