The Dollhouse Wars

My Dollhouse Interior Before

Spoiler Alert: I lose.

In my ongoing series (unintended series, I might add.  I just keep posting about the same obsessions and somehow they all add up to a series) on dollhouses, I have sad news.  The Dollhouse Project, in which I take a beat-up dollhouse and completely renovate it to my taste and specifications while detailing the progress on this blog, has been pre-empted by a much cooler blog in partnership with much cooler design entities.  This other dollhouse project has been dubbed Operation Dollhouse.  Even the name of their enterprise is cooler than mine.  My so-called competition here is the blog Curbed, which just went national, expanding beyond the stifling confines of New York City.  The powers-that-be behind the blog celebrated their takeover of America by asking shelter magazines to decorate a dollhouse in the aesthetic of each particular publication.  Curbed asked six magazines: Dwell, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, Lonny, Elle Decor, and Martha Stewart Living.  Five of the six publications played along – I’ll let you figure out which magazine declined the honor – and HGTV jumped in the game, even designing a garden to go along with their tiny abode.  You can check out the results here.

It’s all very charming and congratulations to Curbed for being so bold as to create Operation Dollhouse and to all those design entities for being game.  (Except for Marth-er of course.  But she was most likely otherwise occupied, cleaning her horse barn in anticipation of hosting Thanksgiving Dinner between the stalls, just like she did way back in 2006.  Yum.)

The dollhouses are all very compelling, each in their own way, but the entry from Lonny particularly caught my eye.  No, not just because the design employed many of the quickly-becoming-cliche tropes of the post-Domino mag era (starburst mirror, lucite chair, et al.), but because it employed many of the same quickly-becoming-cliche tropes that I used in my own dollhouse design.   Check out the comparisons below:

Lonny's Dollhouse (via Curbed)

My Dollhouse (via my crappy camera)

You can see where I was going with this, right?  I had even purchased a very similar couch and have other, nearly identical furnishings that I won’t even bother to show you.  Uncanny.  It’s almost as though we are looking toward the same sources for our design inspiration.  (RIP Domino.)

I admit to not minding so much.  The folks at Lonny (or is in lonny?) are pretty cool.  In fact, all the dollhouses are great and I can’t decide if Operation Dollhouse has inspired me to finish my dollhouse or left me completely demoralized.  I do know this: when I take The Roving Home national I’m going to come up with my own design challenge that will blow the doors off Curbed.  I’m thinking of sending a pop-up camper (in view of the fact that this blog is called The Roving Home.  Clever, eh? ) to the aforementioned design publications and tv channels.  Perfect for showing off a distinctive aesthetic, and what’s more, if things continue to spiral downward, as an actual place to live.  As the Recession Gurus tell us, things are going to get worse before they get better.  You never know if you might need to live in a pop-up camper.  If so, it might as well be cunningly decorated with a starburst mirror and a zebra skin rug.

Interiors: A Tiny Death

The world consists of two types of people: those who insist there are two types of people and the rest of us.  But if you’re in the first category, you probably also believe that among these two types of people are 1) normal people and, 2) Dollhouse People.  The latter group is made up of grown-ups who spend thousands of hours of their fast-fleeting lives constructing miniature tableaux, usually of the most boring domestic events imaginable:  Tiny houses meticulously fitted out so that the little doll father can read a newspaper while leaning awkwardly against a little couch, the mother doll can stand helplessly in the kitchen contemplating her stackable bowls and miniature rolling pin, and the doll children can sit amongst their picturesque 19th-century toys: a bunch of blocks, a rocking horse, a tiny drum.  They all look bored, and who can blame them?  Like a John Cheever novel just waiting to happen.

But just to further puncture the “there are two kinds of people in the world” trope, even among Dollhouse People many, many strains exist.  For instance, there are people, like me, who find the contemplation of the world of miniatures endlessly fascinating, and not as a celebration of middle class domesticity.  Rather, it’s the slightly Gothic aspect of the whole enterprise that compels me, again and again, to seek out miniatures, to go to my studio and stare at the complete disarray that is my very own second-hand dollhouse, and think about things like crack dens and the people who live in them.  Maybe it’s the partially pulled wallpaper, the filth, the broken furniture.  But somehow I think my mess of a dollhouse is much more representative of the human experience than the award-winning specimen found at doll shows.

I read a story last week in the Venerable New York Times about the photographer CorrineMay Botz’s latest book featuring unconventional interiors, this time the homes of hoarders, another fascinating topic but one I’ll save for another day.  Reading about Corrine Botz led me to discover a different book of photogaphs she published, this one documenting the work of Francine Glessner Lee, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.  (I should just quit writing after providing the title, as it alone is compelling enough to encourage you to look into the book without my help.)  Francine Glessner Lee was a criminal investigator who, in the 1940s, created crime scenes in minature for academic purposes.  Imagine all the crafty skills one would need to summon for such a task: the sewing, the gluing, the faux blood-making.  About the book:

This fascinating and macabre volume offers readers an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a master criminal investigator. Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy grandmother, founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936 and was later appointed captain in the New Hampshire police. In the 1940s she built dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases in order to train detectives to assess visual evidence. Still used in forensic training today, the eighteen Nutshell dioramas, on a scale of 1:12, display an astounding level of detail: tiny pencils write, window shades move, whistles blow, and clues to the crime scene are revealed to those who study them carefully. Corrine Botz’s lush color photographs lure viewers into every crevice of Frances Lee’s models and breathe life into these deadly miniatures, which represent the dark side of domestic life, unveiling tales of prostitution, alcoholism and adultry. Botz’s introductory essay, which draws on archival research and interviews with Lee’s family and police colleagues, present a captivating portrait of the creator of these amazing miniatures.

Interiors, long considered the province of bored housewives and their excitable decorators, are, as anyone who has watched a few episodes of Law & Order or read an Agatha Christie novel knows, veritable hotbeds of the darker aspects of human nature.  The real world of miniatures – no, it doesn’t have to be an oxymoron – recognizes this fact and is not intent on creating a perfect world, but rather, a perfectly imperfect world.  A world of tiny deaths, depicted on a scale of 1:12.

Corrine Botz, photographed by Ethan Hill for the NY Times

For further exploration:

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death