Assemblage artist Juli Steel creates miniature vignettes using upcycled materials. Her Instagram and Etsy shop theme: “Repurposed art with a twist.” Steel’s Instagram page TwistedCopperForest, https://www.instagram.com/twistedcopperforest/, has over 17,000 followers. Instead of the idyllic dollhouse, Steel’s creations explore the abandoned. Steel’s OOAK, one-of-a-kind, creations may be considered dark; however, they’re very popular. And she’s not the only one exploring this theme.
Canadian artist Heather Benning rebuilt an old farmhouse, removed one side of the building, and installed Plexiglas, thus creating a life-sized dollhouse. She debuted the art installation June 9, 2007. Left to the elements, the house burned down March 23, 2013.
Dollhouses and dollhouse accessories are big business. Peruse the online auction site Invaluable, https://www.invaluable.com/miniature-dollhouse-furniture/sc-JLQRF480JR/, and one can see how expensive the hobby may become. More affordable pieces may be purchased on Etsy. D. Thomas Fine Miniatures, https://www.dthomasfineminiatures.com/, is more than an online miniature shop. It offers an eclectic mix of objects for sale, as well as, articles on and about the industry—an industry that dates back to the late 1500s.
Early forms of the modern-day dollhouse were meant for adults. In the 17th century, “Nuremberg Kitchens” were used as educational devices to help young women learn how to keep house. The most well-known example is Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house (or “baby house”), which was detailed in the limited series The Miniaturist. The house was a large piece of furniture where rooms were replicated from the actual house. Only wealthy families could afford this extravagance. It wasn’t until World War II that dollhouses became toys for children.
Mass production of dollhouses and furniture became more affordable after the war. Production was cheaper by using plastic instead of wood for the furniture and plywood for the structures. The ratio of scale indicates the intended audience. Dollhouses and accessories for adults have the scale of 1:12, one inch to one foot. The scale for children’s toys is 1:18 generally; however, some scales are larger.
Collecting and furnishing dollhouses are a popular hobby. Artists like Steel are re-imagining dollhouses by breathing life into discarded dollhouses and furniture. The online bulletin board site Pinterest is flush with pages showcasing abandoned dollhouses. What may have started as Halloween decorations, these abandoned houses are unique and reflect our interest in all things haunted.