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



  1. Hello, Even if I had the talent to work in miniature, I would never have the incredible patience needed; that's what makes these tiny models all the more impressive. My favorite pictures are the ones with the hand reaching in, destroying the scale and creating a surreal effect.

    I am grateful to Mark Ruffner for introducing me to your interesting blog. I am now looking forward to many future posts.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Dear Parnassus,
      Thank you for your kind words. I am so honored that you are enjoying my very young blog, and that Mark was so gracious to introduce us. I agree with you about the images with the hands reaching into the rooms here-- without that element, some of the images could easily be mistaken for full-scale interiors, which is not nearly as much fun... I've only had a moment to visit your blog, and already made my shoppping list for the Shan-fen yuan!!!! I look forward to more time with your fascinating blog--thank you.

  2. Hello Erika:
    What a very fitting post for the title of your blog. A 'little work' indeed, but, in the case of Queen Mary's dolls' house,on a majestic scale. We have a dolls' house of our own and know what patience, not to say expense, is required to furnish just the four rooms. This one is indeed a work of art and something to marvel at!

    We have been led to you by Mark Ruffner and are delighted to have arrived at your most charming blog. We have signed as Followers to stay in touch.

    1. Dear Jane and Lance,
      Thank you for your message-- I'm so pleased that you have visited my young blog and found it interesting! Mark was very generous to share my work with you, and I am grateful. I'm glad you saw the connection between the name of my bindery and blog and the content of this post! I love the paradox of the miniature and the majestic in this house, and the romance of the craftspeople and artists who so lovingly contributed their fine work. I can't wait to dive into your blog-- I just took a moment to visit, and I can see already that I'm going to have to enforce a time limitation on myself so as not to fall too far behind in my work! Thanks again-I send my warm regards.

  3. Erika, what a stunning work of art and craftsmanship. Mark Ruffner sent me to see you and I look forward to further features.

    2012 Artist Series
    Art by Karena

    1. Dear Karena,
      Thank you for visiting my new blog-- I'm honored that Mark included my work on his exquisite blog and thus introduced us! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed seeing this fantastic miniature house. I agree with you-- it is truly stunning, and probably couldn't be replicated today. I look forward to following your blog, as well-- I can see from just a glance at your recent post that I'm going to enjoy it immensely-- thank you!

  4. Dear Erika ~
    I am a first time visitor via the marvelous Mark Ruffner! Enjoyed my visit, and loved learning about this impressive miniature masterpiece. Thanks for this wonderful post.
    Cheers from DC,

    1. Dear Loi,
      Thank you for your very kind message-- I'm honored that you visited and that Mark so kindly introduced us. I'm also pleased that you enjoyed a look at this post: the Queen's doll's house is a largely forgotten treasure for those of us who are passionate about craftsmanship and decorative arts. I'm looking forward to diving into your blog (and your shop next time I'm in DC!!) as well-- it looks absolutely exquisite! Thank you & warm regards from Michigan

  5. Dear Erika,
    I am also paying you a visit as a result of reading about your blog on Mark Ruffner's site. As a librarian and a book collector I am interested in all forms of bindery.
    I do like your post on Queen Mary's Doll House, having seen it a number of times. It is a wonderful building and a wonderful example of what can be achieved in miniature.
    Having had a look around your other posts I have taken the liberty of following your blog!
    Bye for now

  6. Dear Kirk,
    Thank you for your kind words-- I'm very grateful to Mark for including me in his blog and introducing us! As I told him, I feel as though I'm suddenly a part of a lovely global dinner party whose guests share the most fascinating stories and experiences... I've only had a few minutes to see your wonderful blog, but I can see already that I'm going to enjoy travelling and exploring vicariously through you--thank you for sharing! I think we share a love of books and collecting (for me, bordering on obsession...) and I look forward to our exchange of ideas! With warm regards from Michigan, Erika

  7. Hello, Erika -

    It's one thing to see the marvelous furniture in miniature, but then to also see all the samll items on top of tables and desks is truly amazing. I think the child in all of us is still charmed by mianiature worlds, whatever they might be. And I can't help but wonder if you've ever produced or considered producing a miniature book?

    An interesting read is "Minding the Store," by Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus fame. Marcus relates interesting stories about his store, but I believe the book also touches upon the fact that Marcus was the foremost American collector of miniature books. He had a very handsome collection.

    — Mark

    1. Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your message! I agree with you, the tiny accoutrements are finer and more interesting than the furniture... And, yes, I have been tempted to make miniature books, but haven't actually made one yet....I found a bookbinding toolmaker who actually produces tiny book presses-- "a must have"! Apparently miniature books are somewhat of an Etsy genre, but I haven't seen anything truly fine there. Something about the scale of the materials used doesn't translate easily, I suppose. I'll be on Amazon momentarily to get the book you mentioned-- it sounds great... Thank you!
      With warm regards, Erika

    2. Erika, I didn't want to leave you with the impression that Stanley Marcus' book concentrated on his miniature books, which in fact are mentioned briefly (and I think there might be a photograph of part of his collection).

      "Minding the Store" is mostly about the culture of the Neiman-Marcus Store, but it is fascinating reading (I thought).

  8. Hi Mark,
    No matter-- it still sounds like a great read, and I've added it to my perpetual Amazon shopping cart!
    Thanks & best regards,

  9. Hello,

    We are a group of Architecture students from Oxford Brookes University and have been set an assignment to make a model of Queen Mary's Dolls House. All we can find is infomation about the decorative side to it. We are wondering if you have any Plan and Elevation drawings of the Dolls house that we could use for our project or if you know of anywhere we could find them? As it is such an intricate and delicate structure we would benefit so much from seeing the drawings and using them as a starting point.

    We really enjoyed youre blog,

    Freya, Jessica, Polly, Georgie and Emma

  10. Dear Freya & co.,
    Thank you for your message-- unfortunately, I have no useful advice as to the drawings for the dolls house-- I wish I could help!! In any case, I send my good wishes for a successful project.
    Best regards,