Dollhouse Decorating

Miniature Decorating Ideas |Articles on decorating dollhouses and the history of this artform


I have had a life-long love affair with dollhouse miniatures, and careers in art education and interior design. I hope to combine these life experiences to help other miniature enthusiasts get more out of this wonderful hobby we enjoy, a hobby that often reaches the level of an art form. Susan Downing

Posted on 17 November, 2015


Thorne Rooms Tennessee Entrance Hall, 1835, c. 1940, on permanent exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Thorne Rooms

Narcissa Niblack Thorne, wife of James Ward Thorne, son of one of the founders of Montgomery Ward, commissioned this group of exquisite room box. Her interest in miniatures began early and was encouraged by trinkets sent to her by her uncle, a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. This passion continued into her adult life.

In the 1920s, after World War I, the Thornes, traveled extensively abroad where miniature collections were suddenly coming on the market at fire sale prices, thanks to the post-war economy.

The First 30 Thorne Rooms


Thorne Rooms English Rotunda and Library of the Regency Period, 1810-20, c. 1937, on permanent exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The high unemployment of the Great Depression made it possible for Mrs. Thorne to hire workers with highly specialized skills. Most of her exhibitions were private, held to raise funds for local charitable causes.

Between the early 1930s and 1940, using the talents of master craftsmen, she assembled the nearly 100 miniature boxes now known as The Thorne Rooms. The first 30 rooms, finished in 1932, used miniatures from her collection.

16th – 20th Centuries

In most of the second set of rooms, Mrs. Thorne created a chronological history of European, primarily English and French, design from the 16th through the 20th century. She also included some Oriental rooms depicting Chinese and Japanese styles.

On Tour


Thorne Rooms – New Orleans, Louisiana Bedroom, 1800-50, c. 1940, on permanent exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

The first known exhibit of her work occurred in 1932. Subsequent public exhibits included the Art Institute of Chicago, the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933 and the Chicago world’s fair in 1934. They were also displayed at the 1939 New York world’s fair.

In 1936, she received a request to make a miniature library depicting a room at Windsor Castle, to mark the planned coronation of Edward VIII. As Edward abdicated the throne to marry the New YorkThe coronation never occurred, she delivered the room and it was displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Upper Class Rooms


Thorne Room – English Roman Catholic Church in the Gothic Style, 1275-1300, c. 1937, on permanent exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

Thorne’s best-known works show the interiors of upper-class homes from England, the United States, and France. The rooms are generally built on a scale of approximately 1:12, or one inch to one foot. They are painstakingly precise, and when maintenance is required, it has to be done with delicate tweezers and cotton swabs, the furnishings being carefully restored to their original position with reference to a detailed layout plan.

When a permanent gallery was established for the Thorne rooms at the Art Institute in 1954, Thorne set up a fund to cover the costs of caring for the works. Follow this link to see pictures of all sixty-eight of the Thorne Rooms miniatures housed in this gallery.

Look at all sixty-eight of these wonderful miniatures, plus a portrait of Narcissa Niblack Thorne.


Posted by Susan Downing

Categories: Jacobean, room boxes

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