As you scrolled through endless feeds on TikTok and Instagram during the ennui that was 2020, you may have noticed that miniatures and dollhouses are having their moment. There are television competition shows dedicated to the craft, and high-end auction houses have taken advantage of the demand. In December, Sotheby’s collected more than $50,000 at auction for a miniature dinner service from the most famous dollhouse you may have never heard of, the one built for Queen Mary at Windsor Castle.
The house was designed by famed architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, who was the most in-demand residential architect in 1921 when Princess Marie Louise commissioned the house for her cousin and friend Queen Mary in the years following the First World War. Lutyens did not take this commission lightly and created a committee that held “Dolleluiah Dinners” at the Savoy to raise funds for the project.
The famous dollhouse is one of the largest ever constructed at 1:12 scale and required the talents of 250 craftsmen and manufacturers and more than 700 artists. The Palladian-style house is a feat of engineering; Lutyens was determined that the structure be viewable from all sides, so he designed a mechanism that allowed the outer walls to slide up to reveal the lavish rooms within. It is also fully plumbed in with running water and flushing commodes. It was designed as an Edwardian-era townhouse and reveals the opulence the royal family lived in at the time—not only in the design of the rooms themselves, but also in its meticulous recreation of the furnishings and accoutrements of daily life. Everything from the fully stocked kitchen to a pianoforte, tester beds, sewing machine and Champagne bottles, all the way down to a humble tube of toothpaste, are all crafted in perfect scale. It is said that Queen Mary’s favorite element was a clever drawer that pulls out to reveal a gorgeous English garden designed by landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll.
The completed dollhouse was displayed at The Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 before being moved to its permanent home at Windsor Castle, where it is on display for all to see today.