26 September 2012

Decorative Arts in Miniature: Queen Mary's Dolls House

The library in Queen Mary's doll's house, with views of one of the many original
literary works created especially for the library.

Sir Edwin Lutyens, the great British architect, said, "Let us devise and design for all time something that will enable further generations to see how a King and Queen of England lived in the twentieth century." Lutyens' goal was not to create a child's plaything, but a showcase for the finest British craftsmanship of the period.

Top, an exterior view of the Palladian house and the dining room, above.
According to "Queen Mary's Dolls House", by Mary Stewart-Wilson, Lutyens collaborated with 1500 of the finest artists and craftspeople to construct this five-foot-high 40 room mansion, completed in 1924 and now permanently displayed at Windsor Castle.  It was originally intended as a gift in gratitude for the royal family's leadership during the First World War, but it has grown to be an expression of decorative arts practice at its highest level. Every detail of a house fit for royalty has been meticulously reproduced, from marble busts, to suits of armor, to original books in the library, to the finest whiskeys and champagne in the wine cellar.

The marble staircase

The artists who worked on these miniatures created specialized tools to work in the 1:12 scale, producing objects that not only looked but functioned like their full-sized counterparts. Wedgwood provided porcelain dishes, Rolls Royce provided one of the many cars in the garage. There are tiny pots of jam from Tiptree, biscuits from McVitie, original paintings and sculptures.  In the library are a desk clock by Cartier, Swan fountain pens, tiny bottles of blue Stephen's ink, hand-written and illustrated autobiography by J.M. Barrie and original hand-written works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. Every detail, almost beyond imagination, has been attended to, even the tiny books of matches and Windsor & Newton watercolor paints on the Queen's desk.

The Queen's Suite

Beyond its function as a gift for a beloved monarch, this incredible collection of objects is a time capsule of decorative arts in its many forms, and an expression of the incredibly high regard the public and craftspeople had for their professions. I can't wait to get back to England to spend some quality time appreciating the history, virtuosity and craftsmanship in Queen Mary's doll's house. If you'd like to see more, I've included the following Youtube link for your viewing pleasure- enjoy!

Two views of the library


09 September 2012

Anatomy of a Well-Dressed Desk, Part 2: Stationery Boxes and Letter Sorters

A Grande Letter Sorter from our bindery, Parvum Opus

In part 1 of our series, we focused on the desk blotter, the aesthetic and functional focus of the well-dressed desk. So, now that you have chosen your beautiful writing surface, the next key item to the well-dressed desk is some sort of stationery box or rack to hold your wardrobe of fine writing papers and sort your correspondence.

A 19th C English writing slope

Today, we have a selection of exquisite antique writing boxes, letter racks and some of our own work to inspire you. No matter what the material style or provenance, all of these pieces share an elegant but highly functional design. It's no use filling your desktop with decorative nick-knacks only to have your stationery scattered in a drawer, or, heaven forbid, a plastic wrapper or box! Using beautifully made fine objects in your everyday life is the best way to train your aesthetic and develop a sense of connoisseurship. It's also a joy to use pieces like these: just seeing them on your artfully arranged writing desk is an open invitation to put pen to paper. 

An amusing wishbone-themed toast rack by William Hutton and Sons, Ltd.,
hallmarked Birmingham, 1903

An example of a toast rack reimagined as a letter rack 

These boxes and racks make it easy to keep your writing paper, notecards, gift enclosure cards and special letters organized and at hand. Some of the pieces we've chosen to share here are rare, superbly finished antiques, while others are more humble objects, but still charming and full of character. No matter their provenance, carefully selecting and using  vintage, antique or handmade desk accessories is clearly more fulfilling--and not necessarily more expensive--than using a mass-produced plastic or base metal ones from a big box office supply store. 

A 19th C Chinoiserie lacquer letter rack

A set of stacking stationery trays from Parvum Opus, available in various sizes
What's important here is the careful attention paid to the objects you decide worthy of a place in your home. Once you decide on a style and a set of features that suit your needs, you can use your curatorial ingenuity to bring character and elegance to every aspect of your decor, not just your desk.  Even as the products available for purchase in chain and specialty stores become increasingly homogenous, the internet makes it easier than ever to locate or commission unique letter sorters, stationery organizers, and other desk accessories. A quick search for images of antique letter racks or writing boxes will yield many thousands of exquisite pieces. It will inspire you, but beware: you might just find yourself unable to limit yourself to just one desk!

For more information on our work, we invite you to email us at: info@parvumopus.com or visit our bindery's  website, www.parvumopus.com

A Petite Letter Sorter from Parvum Opus

Portable Writing Box, Vizagapatan, India, 1850-1880

A Victorian woman's writing box