Did I need a Mackintosh?
30 June 2014
I am finding my feet back in the office after a wonderful week away from work. But of course I never really switch off from dolls' houses and miniature inspiration...I think it must run through my veins!
I enjoyed a week in Scotland, including an overnight stop in the vibrant city of Edinburgh. I had been in touch with the Museum of Childhood there to find out about the dolls' houses that they had, so that was an early destination. It wasn't as grand an establishment as The Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green in London, but it had some charming displays. I particularly liked this butcher's shop - though certainly not one for vegetarians to linger by!
There were several other conventional dolls' houses though, like these..
Taking photographs in the dim light of the gallery was difficult, so I apologise that these only give an impression of the dolls' houses. It was rewarding to note though that other vistors were as intrigued by the miniature properties as much as I was.
For real size inspiration in the city I took in two National Trust for Scotland properties; Glastone's Land, and The Georgian House. Gladstone's Land was the house of wealthy merchant and landlord Thomas Gledstanes. It showcases high-rise living, 17th-century style, at the heart of the historic Royal Mile. In six rooms split across two levels, the authentically restored tenement shows how people from a variety of backgrounds went about their lives at a time when the cramped Lawnmarket was very much a living, breathing, working part of one of the world's fastest-growing and influential cities.
The Georgian House was a more obvious dead ringer for a giant dolls' house. The house has been magnificently restored to show a typical Edinburgh New Town House of the late 18th to early 19th century. The fine collection of period furniture, porcelain, silver and glass reflecting the lifestyle and social and economic conditions of the time. The elegant location of Charlotte Square is a Robert Adam masterpiece of urban design!
The sun shone on Edinburgh but mid week the forecast was correct in it's one rainy day. So what better than to find a Mackintosh...and The Hill House in Helensburgh fitted nicely!
Overlooking the River Clyde, The Hill House is universally regarded as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s finest domestic creation. It is a mix of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Scottish Baronial and Japonisme architecture and design. Mackintosh designed nearly everything inside the Hill House too, from the decorative schemes and the furniture to the fittings and contents. His wife, Margaret Macdonald, designed and made many of the textiles as well as a beautiful gesso fireplace panel. Much of the house has been restored so it looks almost exactly as it did in 1904 when its first residents, Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie and his family, moved in.
No photographs were allowed in the inside of the building, but the guidebook is excellent - should you be able to visit or get hold of a copy. I had heard of the publishers, Blackie but hadn't realised Walter's connection with Mackintosh until my visit here and it was great to read up on the history. How marvellous to be able to commission a house like this!
Now the genius of Charles Rennie Mackintosh is really acknowledged, but it seems incredible to imagine how strange or radical his designs were at the time.
Just as last year with my visit to Mackintosh's Glasgow properties, it was such a thrill to see his design for real, it was on that day a brilliant ray of sunshine!
18 June 2014
I was intruiged to read on the BBC News about the restoration of the huts at Bletchly Park in Buckinghamshire. With the anniversary of the start of WWI this year, as well as important dates from WWII surrounding us, it has made me think about the portrayal of such times in our dolls' houses.
Now I know that having a doll's house is an escapist hobby, it's an ideal world where the horrors and pain of the real one don't exist. It's rare that we cover wartime, but the 1940s is becomming a time that some miniaturists want to interpret. It helps because this can be within living memory, if not our own then our parents, and this can make it more meaningful, more real, than a Georgian or Victorian dolls' house.
What intrugies me about the Bletchly Park story is the secrecy and the work done by the women within the organisation. Many not actually knowing the full extent of what it was they were actually doing, such was the need for keeping information within a limted 'need to know' basis.
I've just finished reading 'Light of the Moon' a novel by Elizabeth Buchan - I couldn't put it down. It follows the story of a woman who acts as an agent in enemy occupied France in WWII. There were several properties mentioned in the book; from a chateau, to a farmhouse, and even a nun's cell. All ripe for the picking when it comes to miniature interpretation. And I love that idea..the idea of a double identity, aspects of one hidden away from prying eyes...but they could be somewhere, in your dolls' house. Is there a crystal set hidden in the attic? A suitcase and change of clothes ready for a quick get-away? And that essential form of transport - the bicyle - propped up by the back door? Maps, parachute silk, explosives! What story will your dolls' house reveal?
You can read the BBC news report on the Bletchly Park restoration here http://bbc.in/1qrmXLk
Hoist the flag!
10 June 2014
I should have known that a sunny weekend afternoon spent at Shoreham Fort would have a knock on effect. I had gone along to see the 'living history' specialists...they were armed with guns, I with my camera. The sun shone, uniform buttons gleamed, while canon were fired and drums beat.
So, what do I notice when I am back in the office in Lewes...the castle (so easily seen from our window) has hoisted a new flag, but what does it mean? Norman, our Designer, as quick off the mark as always, rapidly identifed it as a Sussex Flag (bright blue with 'marlets' - a small bird - depicted in yellow).
We think that it must be to celebrate the forthcoming 'Sussex day' on 16 June. And why not? I think it's rather jolly myself.
And if your dolls' house is a mini castle why not make your own set of flags to hoist up. And if you have a smaller conventional dolls' house (although an Englishman's home is his castle according to the old adage) you could always pop a flag pole somewhere I'm sure, or at least a gaily strung length of bunting. Pick a day to celebrate and make it your own!
Tea fit for a queen
4 June 2014
Inspiration for your dolls' house can come from just about anywhere - including a recipe book! The new book Tea Fit for a Queen has been put together by the team at Historic Royal Palaces and has an introduction by Lucy Worsley, their Chief Curator.
The book contains 40 enchanting recipes, from bakewell tarts to champagne cocktails (with plenty in between!) But the book's not just about recipes, as there's a good dollop of history inside too. Learn about each royal's connection with tea, what our Queen's favourite tea time treat is, and how mead cake came to be served to Henry VIII!
You can even buy the fine bone china tea set, which is shown in many of the book's photographs, to bring a piece of royal etiquette into your own home. Of course, our minds are somewhere considerably smaller, and already we're thinking how we can create the beautiful recipes inside the book in miniature.
For a good dose of royal inspiration, and something to suit even the sweetest of teeth, this book is definitely worth a peruse. To find out more, including how to buy, click here.
History on my doorstep
2 June 2014
I popped to my local shops at the weekend. As I parked my car in a handy lay-by I noticed that the small cottage opposite had a string of brightly coloured bunting outside. This was a building that I has passed by so many times that I am beyond counting. But it seemed that the cottage was 'open', so I went across to take a closer look.
The cottage is billed an an 'hidden treasure' for the town, for I am sure that like me, many people just didn't realise the history on their own doorstep. And what a treasure it was too, and so charmingly represented. The tiny kitchen was decked out as though it was wartime, while upstairs an area did the same for 'olden days schooling'.
I already knew that there was a Roman villa discovered nearby (though sadly built upon) but display cases did stirling work with discoveries and information. I just love those paw prints in the Roman tiles!
Having been fascinated by dolls' house and historic interiors for over 16 years now my mind always sees the potential for places, like Manor Cottage to be turned into miniature. I look at the real artefacts employed and instantly know where to find them for a dolls' house setting. I wonder if I will ever lose my 'miniature eye'?
Seizing this unexpected opportunity left a huge smile on my face for the rest of the day, when all I'd set out for was a loaf of bread and pint of milk!