Feature,  News

Spirits in a dolls house

Jennifer Kallin talks about her passion for Triang dolls houses.

Some of Jennifer’s houses, along with a collection of her Britains plastic gardens

When I was a child I always loved miniature things seen in museum cases, free gifts in comics & cereal boxes, pictures in books & little treasures found at jumble sales & I loved seeing the dolls houses at Bethnal Green Museum.

My dad had made a wonderful dolls house that we played with endlessly, redecorating it and making furniture for it. Our mum made us a lovely dolls house family to live in it too but deep in my heart I wanted a shop-bought dolls house, and at that time, this meant a Triang house.

I think each Triang house has its own atmosphere and as they were hand-finished, some to customers’ own specification, each is slightly different even if the same model.  Each has a sense of history about them, they have been altered, or affected, by whoever has played with it, looked after it, or even where it was stored. I love this history. Having lots of Triang houses really makes you aware of this. Even when putting in furniture, I feel a strong sense of Feng Shui, which means it has to feel it is the right place. Some houses feel perfect for a family, and others feel more like an adult home. 

My favourite house is DH15, the largest Triang dolls house from 1924-1933. It is huge; 175 cms wide. It was given to me for free to do up but it was in a shocking state. With the help of a carpenter and hours of work I finally finished it after four years. Another big Triang mansion DH42 would be my dream-come-true dolls house. I have tried to buy it at auction, but have always been outbid. I have no idea where it would fit, but still hope to own it someday. I also have a rare one-off XL Stockbroker, with six main rooms plus porch, garage, bathroom and hallway. This was made by the Triang factory for a family who made money on the stock-market and commissioned the house specially.

Triang dolls houses are mentioned in most dolls house books, Marion Osborne’s books and data sticks are very informative, Triang reproduced factory catalogues are delightful, and the Dolls House Past and Present website is a great help when researching vintage dolls houses. 

I am always on the look-out at charity shops and boot sales. I buy on Ebay and I go to dolls house fairs too. My best buy was my largest Art Deco house bought from the back of a car at a car boot sale from a dealer who knew my brother and casually mentioned that she had a dolls house in her boot. I had wanted an Art Deco house for years so bought it there and then.

I like restoring dolls houses, but only if they have enough original features, as windows & fireplaces are so hard to find. I repair dolls house furnishings too like missing chair legs. I keep boxes of scrap wood to use, trying to blend them in as skilfully as possible. I make curtains, light shades and bedding from old scraps of material and lace & I sometimes change furniture to suit my needs, to make them shorter, or paint them to fit a purpose.

My latest project is a very simple 2-roomed early Triang that cost £20 from a junk shop. It has a wooden tiled roof and luckily the front is unspoilt. The sides need work as they’re painted in a horrible gloss brown.  I will redecorate it with Triang reproduction wallpaper (by Dolls House Restoration). My aim is to get the house as close to the original as possible.

Surrounding many of my houses are the plastic gardens, made by Britains, which I used to buy with my pocket money and still find captivating.  They are rare to find in good condition. 

Jennifer has many houses that she is working on in her basement studio.

We were lucky to have Jennifer display a small selection of her beautiful houses at our show in December. You can now follow Jennifer on instagram @dollshouseartist.

Photos by Millie Noble.