Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Here we go again, folks: another fun article for the always-great Dark Roasted Blend. This time it's about some amazing doll houses. Enjoy!
Some things are amazing because of their size. Others, no less amazing because of their lack of it.

Doll House enthusiasts usually trace the origins of their fascination to European “baby houses” of the 1700s, though kids were kept far, far away from these elegant treasures; they were more a status symbol than a real plaything.

If you want to use a broader description, though, miniatures more suited for children to play with arguably have roots as far back as the ancient Egyptians, if not further.

True doll houses, mixing elegant miniaturization but still letting the kids play with them, really began to come into their own with the industrial age, around the turn of the 20th century. The finest makers of houses, and naturally the furniture to go in them, were usually German (before the first world war) and then the British and Americans (afterwards). Dolls and their houses existed before machines took the place of skilled craftsmen of course, but only rich kids could get them -- and then only played with them very, very carefully.

Some of the kids who enjoyed them grew up and transformed their childhood fun into a seriously wonderful hobby, if not magnificent art.

One of the more celebrated doll houses lives in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Created by legendary silent picture actress Colleen Moore with the set designer Harold Grieve, the fairy castle is a magnificent work of art as well deliriously scaled precision. Towering more than eight feet tall, the house features murals painted by someone you may have heard of (Walt Disney), chandeliers with real diamonds, the tiniest Bible ever written, tapestries featuring the smallest recorded stitches, a library of more than 100 hand-printed books, a pure silver bathtub (with running water), and still more amazing treasures and exquisite details.

Being a screen queen gave Colleen Moore an opportunity to create a magnificent fantasy castle, but if you want true opulence in small scale you have to … well, let’s just say it’s good to be the queen.

Created in 1924, Queen Mary’s doll house has a pedigree worthy of any stately home in England; the queen’s cousin, Princess Marie Louise, commissioned the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to construct it.

But the Queen’s dollhouse was more than a plaything. It was, and still is, a frozen moment in British history, a miniature collection of the pride of the empire with works and features showcasing the best the country had to offer. Like Colleen Moore’s castle, the library had an extensive collection of handwritten books, but because she was the queen, after all, the royal doll house’s library had unique works by Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Moore’s house had running water, but the queen’s house not only had that but a flushable loo, too. And that’s not all: the floors were done in fine woods and marble, the kitchen sported a working coffee mill, and even the wine cellar featured bottles containing real wines (and not just the cheap stuff, either). Many of the rooms were also mirror copies of rooms in Buckingham Palace, which is where the Queen’s doll house resides.

There are simply far too many curiosities and small-scale wonders to talk about in one article – from immaculate working steam trains and gasoline-powered racing cars. Nevertheless, I want to close with a fun little oddity: the biggest of the smallest.

Sure, some might argue about its standing as the biggest/smallest but you have to admit that the model of Shanghai in that city’s Urban Planning Museum is magnificent and, despite it’s scale, simply staggering.

A three-dimensional depiction of what the city might look like in 2020, the model fills a vast room bigger than 1,000 square feet in size. What gives you a headache about this incredibly detailed model is that, yes, the model is huge, but only because it’s a scaled reduction of the city itself: the largest model of what will be the largest city ever to exist on the planet.

Makes you feel small, doesn’t it?

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