Dollhouse Decorating

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

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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 24 August, 2017

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Faith Bradford Dolls’ House, exhibited at the National Museum of American History

Faith Bradford’s Dolls’ House

The curators at the Smithsonian Institution were delighted in 1951 when Faith Bradford donated her Dolls’ House collection to the museum. It would be a perfect addition to the Arts and Industries building as a miniature look back at life in the early 20th century. Imagine their surprise when they discovered that Faith Bradford ‘s turn-of-the-century, five-story, twenty-three room dollhouse was a portal to an imaginary world, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Doll, their ten children, two visiting Grandparents, five servants and twenty pets.

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A page from the scrapbook where Bradford documented the design and contents of her models

The Provenance

Accompanying the collection was a scrapbook Bradford compiled while assembling the collection. She wrote detailed descriptions of many of the 1,300 miniature objects in the house, and an ancestral history of the Doll family, with a detailed biography of each family member.

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Faith Bradford Dolls’ House Parlor

The Inventory

The dollhouse contains all the necessities of daily life for a large, wealthy, 1:12th scale family. It boasts of such amenities as a butler’s pantry, Victorian-style parlor, multiple children’s nurseries and even a trunk room for all the extra luggage. Other highlights include period wallpapers, handcrafted ceramic bathtubs, a bearskin rug and an attic full of an eclectic assortment of out-of-use items that she either purchased, engineered or received as gifts during her long life: 1887 to 1970.

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Faith Bradford Dolls’ House Laundry Room

In The Beginning

Bradford’s fascination with miniature furnishings began at age seven when she inherited her older sister’s collection and a four-room dollhouse. When this early dollhouse fell apart from wear and tear, her mother had shelves built into Faith’s bedroom clothes closet, a new dwelling for the Doll family with plenty of play space and “imagination for walls.” The present dollhouse was built in 1932. It has undergone a number of renovations which explains the variations in photographs taken over the years.

A Temporary Home

The Smithsonian curators weren’t quite sure what to do with this dwelling of make-believe. With little fanfare and no information in the display about it’s origins, Faith Bradford’s Dolls House was immediately consigned to an obscure gallery in what was then the U.S. National Museum.

New Digs

When the new Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) opened in 1964, the director resisted displaying the Dolls’ House because he felt the sentimental appeal of its fanciful world didn’t fit with the modern, “exhibition machine” concept of the new location.
“It was a floating object, a stand-alone attraction, a house without a home,” curator William Lawrence Bird, Jr. wrote in his book, ‘America’s Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford’.

In spite of its rather bland setting, the Faith Bradford Dolls House was one of the most popular exhibits in the museum.

Faith Bradford – Docent

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Faith Bradford, the perennial Dolls’ House docent

Faith Bradford enjoyed giving tours of her Dolls’ House. These tours would often end in the Dolls’ House attic, which, according to the exhibit, is the “most poignant space . . . filled with items no longer in daily use but too precious to discard.” She often assisted in the periodic cleanings of all those “tiny treasures.”

Finally – A Proper Display

In 2007 the museum was renovated and William Bird as asked to design a new display. This gave him the opportunity to share the story behind the Dolls’ House. Thanks to the updated exhibit, now called “The Miniature World of Faith Bradford,” the public can fully appreciate what a treasure Ms. Bradford has given us.

A Love Story

It started out as a toy for an older sister, which aged into a worn out hand-me-down. The next incarnation was a built-in bookcase in a dimly-lit closet offering imaginary walls. As an adult, Faith Bradford created the world-class dollhouse we know today, to be exhibited and raise money for children’s charities. Her interest continued as she redecorated and renovated the miniature until donating her collection to the Smithsonian in 1951. Even then, her interest in this wonderful dollhouse continued until her death in 1970.

I admire the craftsmanship and beauty of the great dollhouses around the world, but I don’t think any of them had as much love from their owners as the Faith Bradford Dolls’ House.

Ileana Ottini has produced an excellent video on Faith Baldwin’s Dolls’ House.

Susan Downing, with Patrick Owens

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I invite you to visit my Etsy Shop where I offer many accessories and pieces of furniture in 1:12 scale. Subscribers to this blog receive a discount on all Featured Products. Click here for details.

Posted by Patrick Owens

Categories: recycled


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