Palladio Minimus: A Georgian dollhouse and the 18th century miniature world

Sarah Lethieullier (1725–1788) brought her baby house to Uppark shortly after she married Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh (1714–1774) in 1746 (see Fig. 2).9 Three stories tall and seven bays across, it is highly classical with pilasters and a pedimented and balustraded roof ornamented with seven sculptures. It stands atop a tall arcade of faux-stone and retains its original furnishings. The Nostell Priory dollhouse (Fig. 3) is similarly three stories high atop a faux-stone basement, and its pedimented facade is likewise crowned with classical urns and statuary. According to tradition it was built by Thomas Chippendale, probably for the children of Sir Rowland Winn (1706–1765) and Susanah Henshaw (c. 1710–1742) of Nostell Priory. It is nearly seven feet tall, and its nine rooms are appointed with appropriate furniture, wall coverings, silver, ceramics, textiles, and paintings.10

Following in the footsteps of Richard Boyle (1695–1753), Lord Burlington, and his circle, the architecture of very grand dollhouses such as these was drawn from the designs of Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). Less strictly Palladian, the van Haeften house exemplifies the more restrained polite Palladianism that was popular in England during the first half of the eighteenth century. Found in the designs of Colen Campbell (1676–1729), William Kent (1685–1748), and Batty Langley (1696–1751), the style swept through the English countryside. Even the full-scale Uppark house shares similarities with the van Haeften dollhouse, such as the stepped-out pedimented porch and the decorative quoins. Another close parallel is Gunton Hall in Norfolk, designed by Matthew Brettingham in 1745 (Fig. 4). Like the trompe-l’oeil walls of the van Haeften house, the five-bay facade of Gunton Hall is laid up in Flemish bond brick embellished with stone decorative door and window surrounds, keystones, rusticated quoins, and a belt course. As at Uppark and elsewhere, the entire dollhouse rests atop an elevated basement. A popular Palladian architectural device for raising the primary facade above the landscape, here it serves the prosaic purpose of lifting the cabinet to a more convenient height for viewing and playing.

The van Haeften house has a center hall plan, with two large rooms on each floor. When layers of paint and grime were removed during conservation, the original surface treatments were discovered: the walls had been painted off-white, the baseboards black, and the doorframes and staircase red (see Fig. 1b).11 While less colorful than the wallpapered and painted rooms in the Uppark and Nostell Priory dollhouses, this simplified treatment very effectively accentuates the meticulously detailed paneling installed in the rooms.

As in a full-scale house, the finishes in each room give an indication of the hierarchy of spaces. The kitchen, on the left side of the first floor, has the fewest and simplest architectural details. Its decoration is limited to wainscoting without molding, and while it shares a common cornice with the rest of the interior, it is the only room that does not have a molded chair rail. It has the largest fireplace opening and retains the only surviving piece of original furniture—a built-in cupboard for storing plates on the left wall.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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