Old toys and architectural elements such as columns and pediments are finding a niche as interesting home accessories.
Carrying both trends to their ultimate conclusion, dollhouses are turning up in some very sophisticated living spaces. A dollhouse is, after all, a luxurious toy and a complete example of an architectural element.
Two beverage cabinets are ringers for luxury dollhouses. One is a copy of a Georgian mansion, the other based on a traditional New England house.
In each, the roof lifts and the front opens to expose not miniature rooms but shelves and cubbies for decanters and glasses. Shallow drawers at the base provide more storage room, and there is a pullout shelf for mixing drinks.
“They’re popular in living rooms and dens and for the corner of a dining room as a drink caddy,” says Linda Jones, marketing consultant to Masco Home Furnishings in High Point, N.C.
Both dollhouses-cum-liquor cabinets are from Masco subsidiaries in High Point. The Georgian mansion from Maitland-Smith retails for about $2,100, the New England style from Lineage sells for about $2,200.
Less fanciful is the Manor Bookhouse, a three-shelf storage unit that looks like an open dollhouse.
Diane Darneille, who designed the unit for Learning Passport Co. of Bethesda, Md., says the shelf is “a starting point for the imagination because it is suggestive of a house but could be other things.”
The side and back panels give it the look of a stripped-down, three-story manor house. Three steps and four columns form an entrance. Vertical dividers can turn the middle shelf into separate rooms, and mantelpieces on the back panels of the first and third shelves add to the homeyness.
The unit is priced from $150 to $400, windows and doors are optional features. Darneille also designed a game, “Configure,” which can be used to decorate the shelves--floors and walls, if you will--with tiles in different patterns. The game is sold in two sizes, which retail for $29.95 and $44.95.
Besides its use as a decorative storage piece, the piece can also serve as a dollhouse, a puppet theater or a play store. It was singled out for its originality by Early Childhood News, a publication for educators of young children.
Dollhouse Antics, a specialty shop in New York, occasionally stocks dollhouse cabinets made specifically for storage. It occasionally sells a dollhouse to be modified for other uses.
“Dollhouses are mostly for children, but we have a number of adult customers and collectors,” says Katharine Forsyth, co-owner. “The dollhouses are very pretty, fashionable with their faux finishing and fancy painting, and kind of sophisticated.”
Mike Robinson and Chip Cordelli, New York designers, recently bought a Victorian dollhouse kit from Dollhouse Antics. They are turning it into a mailbox for a Victorian Christmas display to be mounted in Hokkaido, Japan, by Felissimo, a Japanese mail-order retailer.
Forsyth says she has seen dollhouse facades turned into television cabinets and used for other decorative custom cabinet fronts. The turnabout is fair play. In the 19th Century, storage cabinets were turned into dollhouses.
“Many were constructed as cupboards without exterior architectural features,” says Sheila Clark, assistant curator for the toy collection at the Museum of the City of New York, where nine dollhouses are on permanent exhibition.
Ideally, a 19th-Century dollhouse would have a pretty facade, doors and windows, but many did not. They had either a flat or a pointed roof and, usually, hinged doors that opened like a cupboard.
The most lavish dollhouses over the years were often commissioned by adults for adults.
“In the 1920s, Carrie Stettheimer of New York, a grown woman, designed every aspect of a dollhouse,” Clark says, visualizing one three-story confection in the museum. “Each room was a work of art.”
Manor Bookhouse, Learning Passport Co., Bethesda, Md., (800) 853-2762.
Lineage Home Furnishings, High Point, N.C., (800) 440-4663.
Maitland-Smith, High Point, N.C., (910) 812-2400.