Some months ago I visited a friend’s house and her young daughter brought me to her playroom to show me her ‘Sylvanian families’ house. She did not have any of the furniture or Sylvanians for it and hoped to be able to save for them. The fervent tone of her voice reminded me of myself and things I had wished for as a child. I have a sense that those unfulfilled longings stay with us at some level, so I decided to look out for some furniture for her. I visited after Christmas with her present and watched how she became completely absorbed in laying out the furniture and putting the grey rabbit family in position and making up scenarios for them as she went …
When I was younger I was fascinated by dolls houses and I truly envied any child lucky enough to have one. It wasn’t that I wanted to play house; my friends used to play house and shop with old tins and boxes and I had no interest in those types of imaginary games. It must have been on television or in the pages of books that I saw them first but the longing to have a beautiful dolls house with different levels and maybe an attic and little beds and chest of drawers and furniture stayed with me right into my adult years. As I write I have a vivid memory of being about three and finding the bag part of an old lucky bag on the street and bringing it home and poring over the list on the back (I was an early reader) of the wonderful things you could get inside – sweets and doll house furniture pieces. I wanted nothing more in the world than one of those prize lucky bags and I followed my mother around for a whole morning reading out to her what you could get until she gave in to my pestering and gave me a few pennies to buy the prized object. All happiness was mine as I ran to the shop and oh the excitement of tearing open that package. Inside was a small plastic chair and some cheap sweets. I thought there was a mistake when no other beautiful furniture fell out. I looked at the list again in sheer disappointment and realised that you probably only got one thing with each lucky bag. You couldn’t make much of an imaginary house with one plastic chair.
Later in my adult life I would look at those Victorian/oldstyle dolls houses that you see in specialist and antique shops, and open the fronts and look in the attics and admire the miniature furniture but they were always an expense that I was not prepared to shell out. Then when my own children were growing up the Dolls house collectors magazines came out with the lure that if you collected them faithfully you would gradually accumulate all the pieces for your very own two storey dolls house with an attic conversion, all the furniture and accessories and a magazine each week with full instructions for a craft project to make tiny picture frames and clocks and lamps or to paint fake marble tiles or wallpaper or parquet flooring. The furniture was not plastic but looked like polished mahogany. Each week I’d admire the little item of furniture or section of the house- not quite as interesting- and put the magazine with the rest. Life was busy with children and working outside the home and as the magazine and pieces accumulated I had to find a special shelf in my wardrobe for them, reasoning that as for many other things one day I would have time.
After about a year of paying my seven euro a week I began to wonder how long more before I had all the pieces but life was still busy so another six months went by, and then another and eventually at €8.50 on number 120 it came to an end.
I had probably spent up to a thousand euro on the pieces which were spilling out of the high shelf in my wardrobe, some of them unopened. At some level it was embarrassing to be collecting dolls house pieces at my age but I told myself they would be lovely for my grand children since my daughter was absorbed in her Barbie house and her Poly Pocket dolls house and appeared to have no interest in the real/ replica thing which in fairness was still only an embarrassing project on a shelf in my wardrobe.
When at last I made time to put the thing together she was no longer a child and other than assembling it and putting the furniture in I was hardly going to play with it myself. It went on a shelf and is sometimes admired but inside the furniture is higgledy piggledy and the pictures have never been put on the walls. And that really was the end of my interest.
Doll house collecting is a huge industry and has many serious fans. I still have that fascination with elaborate dolls houses when I see them in antique or specialist shops- but no longer have any desire to own one of them. It’s more an admiration of the craft of them – something about worlds in miniature (more about that anon).
Maybe the important thing is that that desire has been laid to rest, even belatedly, and without going to the lengths that artist Heather Benning did in recreating a lifesize 1960’s doll house from an abandoned farmhouse and then burning it down. News report here: dollhouse
I would be curious to hear the memories of things wanted/ discarded/collected that other people have and how you think that might have affected you. (Feel free to leave comments below). There’s probably some deep psychological theory on the subject. Meanwhile my doll house is neglected in a dusty corner for the moment but someday I may have grandchildren…