Kensington Dolls’ House Festival 2016
I may be a travel writer, but I’ve a little hobby on the side – a very little hobby. Collecting and making dolls’ house miniatures can’t be described as social. It’s not the sort of thing you’ll get a clap on the back for at the pub. I’m more likely to be found crying into a minuscule glass of wine after those tiny green peas have rolled off my Willow-patterned plate. Again. But with a bit of time and an eye for fine detail (with the patience of an ultra-patient saint thrown in), it’s become one of the most rewarding and inspiring things I’ve ever done.
Sophie's guide to the 2015 Kensington Dolls’ House Festival
Why? Well I make anything I want, wherever I want; I don’t need much space when my armoire’s only four inches high. That said, you’ll get a different answer from everyone – especially my fellow eccentrics who pour into the Kensington Dolls’ House Festival every year. But there’s one thing we do agree on: these aren’t toys. And if you suggest that they are, well you better be prepared to be in the bad and tiny books of angry miniaturists (who aren’t, I'll concede, very scary).
Here’s my guide to this greatest of miniature events, in all its Lilliputian strangeness.
Taking place in May, Kensington Dolls’ House Festival is held annually in Kensington Town Hall. There’s another event in November, and one by Tower Bridge in February, but though packed to the rafters with incredible artisans, they’re not quite Kensington at its biggest – or best. Established in 1985, today you’ll find 200 stalls filled with everything you could ever imagine, but smaller (and trust me, that’s a whole lot of tinies).
Kensington Dolls’ House Festival: shopping at the stalls
From packages of cornflakes to bunches of asparagus, painted porcelain to hand-blown glass, you’ll need a good few hours to appreciate everything on display. At the most recent event I attended, I couldn’t resist buying a beautiful, Turkish-style carpet kit from Hi-Jinx; it’ll only ever be seven inches long, of course (and that’s if I get round to finishing it!). If fabrics aren’t your thing, perhaps a hand-sculpted doll or some brass pots will do the trick – after all, not everyone can afford to buy a £1500 bookcase...
Kensington Dolls’ House Festival: materials for makers
For those who make miniatures rather than collect them, Kensington’s still a great place to go. From hinges less than 1cm long (complete with nails) to gold door knobs, skirting boards, chimneys and roof tiles, there’s everything you could ever need to build your own dolls’ house. If it’s interiors you’re into, peruse roll upon roll of wallpaper, or choose tiles to put up in the bathroom. There are also stalls for super-powered magnifying glasses, wood supplies and glue, as well as excellent chisels used by the likes of carver Ann High.
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Kensington Dolls’ House Festival: dolls’ house shops
If you’re down in London long enough to explore, forget Big Ben and Tower Bridge – get yourself over to one of the world’s most amazing speciality shops – Kristin Baybars’ Emporium. I was lucky enough to meet Kristin at the last festival I attended, and true to everything I’d heard about her, she’s as magical as the shop she owns. Based at 7 Mansfield Road, Gospel Oak, London, her “treasure trove – better than Aladdin’s cave” is filled floor-to-ceiling with pots of jam, plant stands, china vases and cradles. The list goes on.
Kensington Dolls’ House Festival: museums of miniatures
You’re in London. You’re a miniaturist. There’s nothing for it but to go to the Museum of Childhood, home to over 100 dolls’ houses and models. Including the world-famous Tate Baby House and the 1673 Nuremberg House, possibly the oldest in the UK, don’t expect two-up-two-downs: some of these are taller than you (and your 6ft-partner). My favourite is the Killer Cabinet (and no, it’s not murder-themed – crime scenes were the work of Frances Glessner Lee). A 19th-century dwelling set in a gilded cabinet, it’s pretty spectacular – even for those who don't have a penchant for the pint-sized.
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