VISITING THE KENSINGTON DOLLSHOUSE FESTIVAL
Twice a year Kensington Town Hall hosts the amazing Kensington Dollshouse Festival. If you or your children have any interest in dollshouses then it is a fascinating outing. This Saturday was only our second visit because the date used to clash with a school event and life is always too busy to get to the Christmas festival, although it would be amazing with its intricately decorated tiny Christmas trees! Saturday was also the first time I had taken both my daughters; the younger one was a little dubious and for some reason had pictured it all taking place in a series of tents in a field…
Anyway, the actual festival takes place over two days when around 170 exhibitors are gathered together in the town hall to showcase and sell their work. There is just about every aspect of dollshouses represented: the model buildings themselves; the dolls; pets; furniture; food; utensils; clothing (including hats, shoes and handbags); lighting; tiling and fabrics; glassware; toys for the dolls… It cost £17.50 for the three of us to get in (£20 for a family ticket of two adults and two children) and you could go and just marvel at all the wonderful displays and not spend a penny. Many of the items are very, very expensive; dogs for over £400; miniature cakes for £80; beds for £500; dolls for £300, and so on. Most of these are worth their very high prices because of the time, attention to detail and adherence to the correct scales (ratios of 1:12, 1:24 or 1:48). Some are just breathtaking. One stand in particular (My Little House Miniatures, a Spanish company with, sadly, no website) sold cakes of such exquisite detail it was easier to imagine fairies baking and icing them than figuring out how a lumbering great human could achieve such perfection.
A few items are, to be honest, rather over-priced, especially the ones where you can easily see how they could be made at home with a bit of Fimo or paper, but I find that fairly inspiring! It reminds me of what we could make and achieve if we give it a go. A lot of the tiny paper boxes of soap powder, chocolate, sugar and so on can also be made at home with a colour printer but as we don’t have one we didn’t mind paying £1 for a miniature Bunty paper. Despite the many high end prices there is a lot there that is very affordable, even for children, and the exhibitors and organisers do a lot to encourage the younger generation in their enthusiasm for dollshouses. The year before last, towards the end of the show, my daughter was given a couple of items free by a lady who said they needed to encourage younger children to carry on the dollshouse traditions. At the tube station we met another girl who had been given some free dollshouse food for the same reason. Everywhere we went my children were exclaiming and wondering at the items they saw. One exhibitor said she thought she ought to hire the two of them to advertise her stand, they were so effusive!
The KDF organisers run a ‘find the mouse’ trail around the festival where children have to spot the little wooden mice hidden on different stalls and note them down to be entered into a prize draw to win a handmade little mouse figure. To be honest, my children spotted three out of twelve because there was so much else to spot! They were still allowed to enter the draw and were rewarded with pink sugar mice. There is a children’s craft activity room on the Saturday of the two-day festival. Known as ‘The Gingerbread Craft Club’ it offers a different miniature craft each year. The first time we visited my daughter made a framed portrait for her dolls house and this year children could make miniature gardens in a box; a little tricky to get home on tube, tram and bus but great fun to make!
In 2015 we didn’t yet have a full-sized dollshouse at home so we were buying in readiness for that. My daughter bought a Victorian little girl dolls from Woodside Dolls; a an old-fashioned Brownie Guide doll for the doll (if that makes sense!) from Sally Reader Miniatures; some food including a very realistic crumble, a cream tea and a jar of liquorice Allsorts from Country Contrast; a paper dolls kit and and folding paper dollshouse, both as toys for a dollshouse nursery from Aidan Campbell Miniatures; and a tiny ceramic cat moneybox for her sister from Janice Crawley. The girls got the dollshouse as their joint birthday present that year and have been gradually building up their collection with more dolls (parents, a younger sister, a baby, a dog and a maid) and some furniture but they are not purists. Sylvanian Family furniture and food sit alongside the scale models and Sylvanian animals often come to call. There are also some anachronisms, like the Bunty comic in what should strictly be a Victorian household.
This year my younger daughter bought a teeny kitten in a teeny basket from Kate Pinsent Dolls and, elsewhere, a mummy cat for only £1. She was quite keen to buy a Bible but we have put that on the back burner for another year. My elder daughter bought a keepsake box of miniature mementos, a blank notebook and a kit for making a paper theatre from Aidan Campbell Miniatures and the Bunty comic and a cricket game box from Shepherd Miniatures. I bought them a very intricate 18th-century doll’s doll (like this but with a turquoise dress) for the nursery from Sally Reader Miniatures to commemorate our Georgian studies this term. I also liked the little Japanese doll which was out of our price range at £20 and the fabulous Elizabeth I and Henry VIII and his six wives. They also had a very tiny pedlar doll, again way beyond what I could afford, but wonderful to look at. I did love the My Little House Miniatures cakes and also the stall selling miniature bento boxes and other Japanese food and, best of all, a dolls’ house sized Japanese dollshouse by Kimmy Okumura!
Reading about dollshouses is an inspiring way to get ideas or just to enjoy the topic! Here are some of our favourite dollshouse books:
- The Enchanted Doll’s House and The Enchanted Doll’s House Wedding by Robyn Johnson. These are very visual books which are more about the aesthetics of each dollshouse or shop portrayed rather than a strong story. There are lots of pop-out parts, flaps, and tiny detail.
- The Doll’s House Fairy by Jane Ray. This is about a fairy who comes to live in a little girl’s dollshouse. It is so beautifully illustrated and offes a slightly different way of looking at traditional fairies and traditional dollshouses! My younger daughter was a big fan and dressed up as the fairy for Book Week at school.
- The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter. Probably my favourite Beatrix Potter book, this is the story of two naughty little mice who raid a dollshouse.
- Usborne Slot-Together Doll’s House. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a book but my daughter loved putting it together and playing with it.
- The Fairy Doll and Other Tales from the Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden. This beautiful edition includes The Dolls’ House which deals with the micropolitics of a family of dolls when they move into a new dollshouse and have to live with a cruel, proud new doll. It also includes Godden’s books about Japanese dolls (Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum) in which the little girls’ tiny handmade Japanese dollshouse and its tiny contents are described in full, inspirational detail.
- Queen Mary’s Doll’s House by Mary Stewart Wilson. This is on our wishlist because we love reading about the amazing dolls’house that was created in jaw-dropping detail for Queen Mary and presented to her in 1924. If money was no object then this is what one could achieve…
- The Dolls’ House Colouring Book by Emily Sutton. This is a companion to the V&A Museum of Childhood’s Dollshouse collection and is a really high quality colouring book.
- Dolls’ Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood by Halina Pasierbska. Another on our wishlist, this is a guide to the Museum’s dollshouses which we loved visiting.
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Not strictly about a dollshouse but the resourceful Borrowers take great pleasure in the dollshouse furniture given to them by a human boy. Moreover, the Borrowers’ home was probably more inspiring to me than any book about actual dollshouses; it prompted me to make my own Borrower home in the bottom of a cupboard which gave me hours of fun.
- The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. The first books tells the story of the fragile Annabel and her new friend, the adventurous plastic doll. My elder daughter enjoyed it but hasn’t asked for the next book in the series.
- This is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter. We haven’t read this one as it is a fairly new picture book and currently quite expensive as well as probably being a little young my my girls now. It looks lovely, however, telling the story of a girl who makes and loves her own dollshouse. She is shaken to find that her friend has a perfect shop-bought dollshouse that seems to leave her own in the shade until through play and imagination they discover that the home-made house is much the most fun!
- The Tale of the Castle Mice by Michael Bond, illustrated by Emily Sutton. This is the story of some mice who live in a dollshouse. Again, it’s one we haven’t read yet but a combination of Michael Bond and Emily Sutton promises a rewarding read!
- The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child, illustrated by Polly Borland. This is fascinating book illustrated by photographs set inside a dollshouse.
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Child, Borland and Emily Jenkins has a similar aesthetic.