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Good things come in Small Packages

Horsham Dolls House Club

Dolls houses – they’re not for little girls! At least not the ones that the members of Horsham Dolls House Club play with…

Like model train sets for men, a childhood fascination for dolls houses can develop into a serious hobby in later life and this in turn has spawned a huge industry. One major exhibition in Kensington attracts over 170 dolls house and miniature makers from around the world. Some houses and furniture can cost hundreds – even thousands – of pounds.

One dolls house to have been featured in the exhibition is a replica of Spencer House, created by specialists in Bath for an American collector. It is thought to be worth over £200,000 - more than the average home in the UK – and boasts over £3,000 worth of carpet.

The Fairy Castle stands over eight feet tall and is on permanent display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Originally owned by silent film star Colleen Moore, more than 700 individuals were involved in
making it between 1928 and 1935 including surgical instrument lighting specialists and Chinese jade craftsmen. The drawing room incorporates rose quartz and jade from the Chinese royal collection which are almost 500 years old. It was valued at $500,000 in 1947, so who knows what it would be worth now?

Nothing quite so expensive is owned by members of Horsham Dolls House Club, but they do possess a bewildering devotion to all things miniature. The club was formed in 1994 and consists of a mixture of
experienced members together with others relatively new to the hobby. The club’s latest project has been one of its most challenging – an Olympic village called ‘Baxter-Dean Court’ as a tribute to two of its members who died during the course of the two year project. Joyce Dean, a former editor of Dolls House World magazine, died in 2010 and the club’s longest serving member Jean Baxter died last year.

The village provides accommodation for a variety of athletes from all over the world. It is made up of 18 bedrooms all furnished exactly the same using mount card to make the furniture. Each member then accessorised a room, providing a sparkling exhibition which was recently seen at Horsham Museum.

The group meets on the second Wednesday of each month from 7 - 9.30pm in the Scout Hall, Billingshurst Road, Broadbridge Heath. New members and visitors are always welcome. For details visit the club’s website below. We spoke to some of the club members about life in 1:12 scale…

Linda Lang: “I have always been in to woodwork but was denied the chance to do it at school as we had to do cookery. My grandfather used to have a workshop and was always making things and I found it all fascinating. I’m very much the wood person in the group, and you have other people that may be good with fabrics or  electrics. When we moved to Horsham we found a lady called Lucy who used to sell miniatures from a stall in the market outside the Old Town Hall. We went there every week as my daughter always wanted to buy something new for her dolls house, and it was Lucy who told us about the club. Now I have a Georgian town house, and have cupboards full of stuff at home! You can always get new ideas from other people at the club, as well as from magazines (there are several dolls house magazines in the UK) and exhibitions and fairs too. You can buy kits or ready-made accessories – it’s a phenomenal business and it can be very cheap or hugely expensive. At the Kensington fair people sell miniature furniture for thousands of pounds. Once you start it is very addictive.”

Carole Neve: I joined in 1997. I was a head teacher but took early retirement and my husband bought me a dolls house. I had one as a child, and had wanted one for a long time since, but my job didn’t leave me any time to work on a dolls house. Some people have rows of dolls houses at home but I didn’t want it to get to that stage. I didn’t want to finish it and after 14 years it is still incomplete! We all work towards a club project once a year but the things we do during our monthly club night are not necessarily things for that. We have a programme of events for each monthly meeting, so we all know what we will be making. Tonight we are making shelves and contents, and each member can decorate and paint it in their own way to suit their dolls house. You can add Victorian type packages or make it more modern if you wish. The Olympic project took two years. Each room depicted the athlete’s accommodation. We would each spend one month making a bed, then the door frames, then carpeting and electrifying, and once we had finished the basic rooms we could accessorise. I chose to do Usain Bolt’s room and had him doing his victory celebration with his flag. I was glad when he won!

Sue Hannay: You are guided through it all from the start and learn gradually. I started going to a club in Henfield and eventually started coming here too. This is a very nice, friendly club and you learn something new all the time. You don’t realise you’ve improved until you look at your old work and think ‘I can’t believe I thought that was good!’ The social side of the group is fantastic but one of the things I like about it is that you switch off and forget about all other things going on in life, and just have fun and concentrate. There are some people that literally devote their lives to it – morning, day and night – and I couldn’t do that. I have too many other things going on. A lot of retired men who have worked as carpenters or builders retire and then start making miniature furniture and dolls houses. Some items are a lot of money but when you consider how much work and time is put into a piece, they can’t be charging what it is really worth.

Hazel Rochelle: The basic kit we need is a ruler, a cutting board, craft knife, tweezers, scissors and a pencil but gradually you add to it. Eventually you require things such as paint and brushes. We use mainly acrylic paint, but we also use Fimo, which is like clay in that you can make small things such as cakes, and you bake it in the oven
before painting it. Dolls houses become like a drug – you can’t stop. I now have three dolls houses at home, and I’ve just finished a big art deco home. It’s like a show house with each piece of furniture made especially for it. My
husband and I are both keen on art deco so wanted a dolls house in that style. He enjoys dolls houses too and he lit the Olympic village project that we’ve created. Our art deco house cost £5,000 and that was before we had bought anything for it. The bespoke furniture has been made by Kim Selwood in Scotland, and he is about the only person who makes miniature art deco furniture. He has made for us a few unique pieces that he has never done before such as a cocktail bar, but anything you can buy in the real world you can buy or have made in miniature form. It’s very rewarding to make something that turns out well, and you always get better at it. When I joined 12 years ago I wasn’t very good at making things but eventually you improve and everybody helps you.

Linda Thompson: The basic kit we need is a ruler, a cutting board, craft knife, tweezers, scissors and a pencil
but gradually you add to it. Eventually you require things such as paint and brushes. We use mainly acrylic paint, but we also use Fimo, which is like clay in that you can make small things such as cakes, and you bake it in the oven before painting it. Dolls houses become like a drug – you can’t stop. I now have three dolls houses at home, and I’ve just finished a big art deco home. It’s like a show house with each piece of furniture made especially for it. My husband and I are both keen on art deco so wanted a dolls house in that style. He enjoys dolls houses too and he lit the Olympic village project that we’ve created. Our art deco house cost £5,000 and that was before we had bought anything for it. The bespoke furniture has been made by Kim Selwood in Scotland, and he is about the only person who makes miniature art deco furniture. He has made for us a few unique pieces that he has never done before such as a cocktail bar, but anything you can buy in the real world you can buy or have made in miniature form. It’s very rewarding to make something that turns out well, and you always get better at it. When I joined 12 years ago I wasn’t very good at making things but eventually you improve and everybody helps you.

Sue Hannay
Hazel Rochelle
Linda Lang (in yellow)
A sweetie shop

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