Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by miniature doll houses. So much so that when I was 17 years old and living with my grand-parents, my grandfather and I discussed the matter and he promised that he would make me one. I had found a place where one could buy patterns for them, and happily I ordered one for a beautiful Victorian House. Because that was what I was in to then. Everything Victorian. I knew that my grandfather would do a wonderful job. He was an amazing man. He was a silent man. The only one that talked in that house was my grandmother. She was somewhat of a bully. Actually I should say this with moderation because she was “funny”. It was sort of a show that she put on. She would talk ill of my grandfather, she would joke that she was in search of a new husband and she would call this and that man her fiancé, as well as flirting with all men. BUT once, I snuck in to the house, her thinking everyone was out, and I listened in on a conversation they had. She was as sweet and loving as can be. Not at all the tough, brazen woman she pretended to be. It was clear to me then, that they really loved each other, those two. Yes, some of the things he did drove her crazy, but that is how it is to live with someone isn’t it?
He loved his garden. And his compost. He could tend to that for hours and it never made any sense to me. He tended everything in the garden with great care. In his garden, he grew tomatoes on the garage wall, gooseberries, raspberries, red and black currant. He had pear trees, apple trees and a weird kind of cherries, that were very sour. Every summer those “cherries” had to be harvested and it was a nightmare. The grown ups would be up in the trees and pick the berries, a job I wanted to do. But my sister, myself and sometimes grandmother, would have to sit on the ground and remove the pits. A sloppy and very sticky job. I hated it. One got sticky from top to bottom since the person sitting opposite would squirt the juice across from themselves. What were these berries used for, that were so disgusting to eat? My mum’s father and my dad made wine from them. The garden also held strawberries, rhubarb and potatoes. Summer to me, always meant going home to stay with my grandparents. Getting up at 9:00 to watch “summer-vacation-morning” on TV and then sit down to freshly picked strawberries, that my grandmother has been out picking as soon as she woke up. And it meant eating berries out in the garden, straight from the bushes. My grandfather was funny, because he had heard my mum’s warnings, that we must check the raspberries for worms. What he said to this? “Just eat them as they are, the worms will make them more tasty!”. He grew up in the country this man!
He was not just a gardener. He would come straight in from the garden and pick up his cross-stitch. My grandmother gave up on telling him to wash his hands first and especially after putting snuff in, but he was not the cleanliest of persons. He grew up in a large family, who all had to bathe once a week in a big tub, the same water for all of them, so what could one expect? I never thought it was particularly strange with him doing cross-stitch. They had a little sewing guild going, my grandparents and their friends, and my grandfather was not the only man. There was also Harry, a funny man who smoke a pipe and was the wrinkliest, most tanned man, I have ever seen. Noone was as good as my grand-father when it came to cross-stitching. Most of them would be cross-stitching the Danish Eva Rosenstandt’s kits, that they bought in Copenhagen. But my grandfather would do the most exquisite patterns of them all, the ones on super fine linen. The stitches became incredibly tiny. And my mum told me from an early age to look at the back side of what my grandfather was stitching, because he was such a perfectionist, that they were all as beautiful on the backside as they were on the front side. She also wanted me to look at the back of my grandmother’s productions. They were a mess with clumpses and knots all over.
My grandmother’s most funny complaint was that my grandfather was always late for lunch and dinner. And it was funny. When the food was almost ready, he disappeared. He was nowhere to be found and instead of searching for him, my grandmother used the big cow bell that she had bought that the entire block could hear. She rang that, and then he would come home. He did have this love for walking over to the neighbour, two houses down. This man was constantly renovating his house, building extensions and grandfather was always over there helping out, just because he thought it was fun. Grandmother called it “Lund’s Cathedral” because it seemed like that house would never be ready, never get finished. But grandfather also spent a lot of time at home, making things. One Christmas he surprised us all, but in particular grandmother, because he had built the most fantastic church for her. She would always set up a Christmas scenery under the Christmas tree or in front of it, I should say. Now he had built her this beautiful white washed church, that he placed in front of the tree on Christmas Eve. It was amazing. So detailed, so beautiful (and who knows where that church is today?), so I knew he would make me an amazing dolls house when the pattern arrived. First he started to enlarge the pattern pieces. Since he was such a perfectionist, it took forever. And this is where the sad part comes in. He went so senile, or perhaps it was Alzheimer’s, which noone spoke of in those days, and gave up on my doll house.
My grandfather died soon after his 80th Birthday. The same year that I turned 20 and my mum 50. The last time I saw him, was on her Birthday. Now and then, I have encountered miniature things though, and it makes me think of him and the house that never was built. In 1988, I was in Stockholm and visited a little doll house shop in the Old Town. I bought a Victorian little doll there, for “my future doll house”, and made her little Edwardian clothes. But… Some years ago now, I visited the castle of Egeskov, in Denmark and they had absolutely gorgeous doll houses for sale, in the gift shops. Oh, if I had only had the money! They had a white London house that I fell so much in love with. But the price! I walked out with a miniature black metal stove at least! Sort of an AGA. And a tiny metal scoop, for say a sack of flour? Just because the latter was so cute, and the stove was such a good deal. Since then I have borrowed this miniature doll house book at the library many times. It’s about how to make things out of things you already have at home. But I have come to the conclusion that before one starts on anything like this, one has to decide time period and what one really wants to make. Kitchen? Bakery? Hat shop? And then concentrate on that. Or make an entire doll house. Which ever one settles on, it means a lot of research first.
When “Cookie” and I visited the Imperial War Museum in London, November 2012, we saw the exhibition “A Family in Wartime”. At the entrance of it, is a big replica of the house that the Allpress family rented during the war. The exhibition had them in focus, and one of the daughters later married the man who built the replica. “Cookie” and I stood and studied the details for at least an hour. It is the most amazing house that I have ever seen. If one does not count the one belonging to Queen Victoria, that is housed at Windsor, and that I saw in 1985. But who can remember details from then? My friends, who were with me, were not too impressed with the place at all and just wanted to leave. In other words, a stressed viewing. But when I saw the Allpress house, I KNEW, that my doll house will be from that time period. Bag the old stuffy Victorian look. From now on its Art Deco I should focus on. And I have started to collect information about it but it’s not easy. The book I bought at the exhibition, called “A Family in Wartime How the Second World War shaped the lives of a generation” is not what I thought it would be. Believe it or not, but I never looked in it at the gift shop since “Cookie” was playing with a bouncing ball in shape of an egg, and it jumped in to a book-case and knocked down things. I just picked up the things, took the book, paid and told her that we should leave the shop. I never got to look in it here at home either, so it came as a shock, when I last week took it off the shelves and realised that it did not have any close up photos of the house at all. Just two pages about the house and then it is a book about the war. I just pasted these pictures in though, since some people had the sense to take photos and with a good camera so you actually see the photos without grains and blur, like ours.
One of the things one has to choose, is what social class, one wants to portray. City or country side. Modern house or one that is not entirely as modern as the mother of the house might have liked. The Allpress family had a loo in their house but not a bathroom. And as seen above, the mangle had to stand outside the house. One good place to look for information is actually the Imperial War Museum’s little information films on YouTube called “the 1940s House”. They have a replica of the house, in the museum (used to at least, they might not after the extensive restoration), that was used for the TV-show with the same name. I never got to see the TV show of course, but it was a modern-day family that went to live in the house, trying out the war-time life, “for real”.
So far, I have decided that I want to create a garden for my future doll house. It will house an Anderson shelter (how to make it????) and a victory garden. For some reason I slipped in on the site Etsy, and I have become totally addicted to it. One evening last week, I sat up till 3:30 in the morning looking on Etsy. T. asked me if I went to bed because I was tired, and I said “I was tired but had so much fun favouriting things, but then my keyboard on the iPad died. So I was forced to quit. It needs re-charging!”. Of course it was insane but how can one not sit there and drool over the miniature things that people have made. The iron at the very top of the post is one that I bought on Etsy and I am anxiously awaiting its arrival. For my 1940s doll house. That is how old-fashioned my family is going to have to be. No electrical iron! And the little pitch fork is another one, that I have bought so my little “family” can work the soil in their victory garden. Unfortunately the person had had a gorgeous shovel like it, but it sold some weeks ago. I mourn that fact, since they used shovels with handles back then, and all other sellers sell ones without the handle. Depressing. T. thinks I am insane. Of course I am. But as there are thousands of items on sale on Etsy, magazines about the subject, books, I think I am not the only one?