Last weekend I picked up a copy of Michal Morse's (1992) Build a Doll's House for £2 in a second-hand shop. In a flash of recognition, I recalled the Willow Bank doll's house that kept children (and adults) in our household entertained over many a long year. The basic shell of the house must have been taken from the copious and detailed designs in the Morse book. Bought for £5 in a charity shop, the shell of the house was filled with an amazing assortment of furnishings, fittings and miniature dolls that could be endlessly re-arranged and added to, thought about and talked about as the mood took an individual child, a family or a group of children. Throughout the 20th century doll's houses, complete with furniture, fittings and appropriately dress dolls, have been mass produced as toys for children. However, looking through the Morse book, I discovered that enthusiasm for doll's houses is by no means limited to children.
Over the centuries of the agrarian and industrial revolutions, doll's houses have been created and enjoyed by the whole family, providing a focus for discussion of the centrality of household management to the lifestyle of home and local communities. Originally the toys of women in wealthy households, doll's houses are now being created as the dream house or country cottage, the decoration and furnishing of which can be fully determined by the owner .
Doll's houses are still thought of as being primarily for children, and they are certainly a very interactive and versatile toy for children of all ages. The Morse book contains full plans and instructions for making seven basic houses, including a 'box shop', a one-room plywood box with a shop front. The illustrations of furnished houses that appear throughout the book include much beautiful hand-crafted furnishing. Whether hand-made or mass produced, doll's houses provide a source of discussion material and story-telling for households of every description.
Doll's houses provides ample scope for exploration of an infinite variety of household types, furnishings and history. The stately home, with its kitchen gardens and quarters for live-in servants contrasts sharply with the inner city back-to-back terrace house - with shared outside loos down the street - common in the early decades of the 20th century. Although neglected by the mainstream formal education system, the history of household management, the provision of food, clothing, shelter, education, the arts, crafts and design of the home provides an endless source of interest. Stuy of household furnishings, design and fittings provides scope for imagining what different shapes to household might take in the immediate future.
There are indications that the time is coming to reverse the trend to increasing standardization of design of production, Perhaps the children of today will show us all, parents and child-free alike, the way to design the households, shops, workshops, community buildings, libraries, cafes, concert halls, places of worship, local businesses, banks, schools, medical provision, stately homes, kitchen gardens, transport and parks of the future.
The first step is to study our own households. How were they designed and furnished in the past? How are they currently laid out? And how might we re-design our own homes to take account of rising energy costs, ecological considerations, current thinking about health and education, arts, crafts, healthy living, the life of the spirit, finance and so on. How do we get and spend our money, and how does that impact upon the immediate locality and the lives of others in distant places?
The second step is to map out the hinterland of our households, taking in the local and international services upon which we depend. The idea of creating models of individual households or whole communities carries great potential for raising the practical issues of our times. See, for example, the recent book, How We Might Live At Home With Jane and William Morris, by Suzanne Fagence Cooper, (Quercus, 2022) referenced in the Understanding Life and Debt blog of 20 September 22.
The starting point, then, is the making of the shell of a doll's house for family and friends to furnish just for fun. That could lead to mapping out model-railway-style models of a village, town or city, and or further development of the Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit Landlords' Game referred to in my recent New View articles.
NOTE: See the website https://www.douglassocialcredit.com/FRANCES HUTCHINSON page for an electronic copy of the full text of most of the books introduced in this series of Blogs.
NOTE also that Michal Morse's Build a Doll's House, containing detail plans for making doll's houses, is now available on the internet for under a fiver, including postage,