A Wonderful 19th-Century Doll's House
by Lala JP Lesrade
This spectacular antique doll’s house is presented to the public for the first time on this new Fondation Tanagra website with a much better selection of images which are larger and easier to look at. The Lala House is certainly one of the most important pieces of BillyBoy*’s own doll’s houses collection, not only because of its imposing size and historic interest, but also because of its incredible charm and amazing interior decoration. The house, from BillyBoy*'s family, mysterious, for which it's history is obscured, spent many years in storage in Austria before being brought to it's actual home in Switzerland, to be restored and brought to life again.
Regardless of this impressive size and it's intricate historic interest, we have not found to this day any important trace about its specific early origins, any revealing photographs or any other significant documentation. It was simply an "old toy house" from BB*'s family, that's all, no other facts. As surprising as it might seem, this is unfortunately quite frequent with anonymously made antique doll’s houses. Other houses which have a historic record or a long family story, can provide us with interesting provenance or documentation, as those made by famous toy companies.But many doll’s houses come to us with their mystery untouched and their undeniable charm.. Expressive and inspiring, they talk about an era without ever being able to tell their own complete story.
When the house was finally brought home, it was far from being in the shape it is in today. It was dusty and looked desolated, just like any abandoned house, big or small. It was carried up with great care and difficulty to the second floor, in the “doll room”, where it stood like a monolith, fascinating and breathtaking. Finally! The house was in fairly good condition, a few of the glass windows cracked, and of course requiring a good cleaning and some minor repair work. The top banister was detached and the yellow paint was chipping on the back, showing an older grey coat.
Smartly though, the inside had been protected with massive amounts of silk paper, all turned yellow and crispy. Once taken away, they unveiled an astonishing display of rooms, all with antique papers and fabrics in very well preserved condition. Whatever remained from the original furniture, for which there was a considerable amount, was very eclectic, enigmatic, with some fabulous pieces which gave a fair indication of the past splendor of the house: the bedrooms, the boudoir, the dining room, for example had their main pieces of furniture waiting for them in boxes. Curtains were folded in smaller cardboard boxes in each room and were agreeably fresh and preserved.
One would think that a lifetime passion could have been preserved as a whole instead of being dispersed by a relatively recent auction sale. Hélas no, and regardless of how sad this can seem to some (notably BillyBoy* who still is crushed at the idea that the Rotunda museum exists no more), I think that her houses probably found new homes and will go on making more people happy. It is a pity though, since all her houses had a little something in common, a way to be, a certain touch, sometimes naive, all collected by a passionate lady in a time when those objects were not at all sought for and considered as precious testimonies of the past as they are today. I can say just as well that all doll’s houses from BillyBoy*’s collection - also mine in a way since I always have my word in the way they are arranged - have something in common, regardless of the period they are from. There is a common exigence about the authenticity of the pieces, historic accuracy without ever being dogmatic and a poetic reading of history and childhood so intricately bound in doll’s houses.
Leaving empty a doll’s house which has been found empty, or partially furnished, is thusly more a museological approach than a collector's one. This is why a doll’s house is rarely left barren if we find it barren. Their nature is to be furnished, if you can be patient enough, spend the time and mostly the money for it. Doll furniture, (very much like socks!) can be sometimes found separately in the least expected places and it can often take years before certain pieces find a proper place in a house, in which case it seems so perfect, as if they always belonged there. Other pieces, such as authentic antique doll’s house chandeliers can be so rare that they are almost impossible to find, and they are always very expensive.
Thusly, the actual state of interior decoration of the Lala House is the result of many years of collecting and finding pieces here and there, antique furniture or decorative items saved from oblivion and gathered. Significant pieces were added through the years to the original ones and a lot of time was spent re-arranging these rooms. You have no idea how sometimes two relatively intelligent and cultured persons can argue about the placement of a tin gramophone or a bisque vase!
It is thanks to BillyBoy* that I discovered the fascinating world of doll’s houses, antique and modern (meaning as recent as the nineteen sixties and seventies for some). He showed me, before I read and cultivated myself about doll’s houses, a world I certainly was not very familiar with, to always keep in mind that most of them originally were made as playthings for children, which explained -but not entirely- the differences of scale and styles found in the same house. Also, doll’s houses, notably those which stayed in a family over several generations, such as the Lala House, evolved and changed, furniture was lost or broken and later replaced, just the way it happens in real houses. It is true that this is one of the main charms of old doll’s houses and this is why I find most contemporary-made doll’s houses un-poetical and un-inspired in their obsessive quest for perfection of scale.