Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Homemade Australian - Federation Bungalow, Chatswood NSW

I have just received my newest dolls house. I bought it on ebay - this is what it looked like on the auction:

I don't know its full history - the seller told me he had acquired it at a charity auction in Chatswood 8 years ago. It had belonged to an elderly lady who lived in Hercules St, Chatswood. It was not a replica of that house, but perhaps it was made to resemble the original owner's house - certainly you can see houses just like this in Sydney and many NSW country towns.

It is the most complete vintage homemade house I have - all the handmade furniture came with the house, and all the walls and floors have their original decoration.

It has a name - 'Pop', which is written on a plaque above the front porch. It was most likely a very loving and skilled Pop who made the house for his granddaughter.

The front door opens off the porch - well, it would if it opened, but instead, the side walls slide out to give access to the house:

The front door would lead into the living room, which has a large bay window, comfortable green lounge suite, an open fire, and a piano (all hand made). The carpet is painted on to the floor, with a margin of (painted) wooden floor all around it.

A door leads from the living room through to the dining room, which has a rayburn wood heater, dining table and three chairs, and a dresser. There's another radio in here - a Kleeware plastic radio, one of the few manufactured pieces.

I've taken another photo of the dining room without the furniture, to show the detail of the painted carpet:

The next room is the kitchen, which has a plain wooden (painted) floor. The wooden furniture consists of a table, 2 chairs and a kitchen dresser (with the base cut at the back to fit over the skirting board). The metal stove and saucepans were handmade as well. On the table are a little plastic clock (unmarked), and an amber depression glass dish marked 'Japan'.
(As in many real old houses, some dust has fallen down from the crack between the wall and the ceiling, from the attic space above, and there have been no occupants to clean it for some time.)

Both the dining room and kitchen have windows in the rear wall of the house, and there's a (non-opening) kitchen door. This is what it looks like from the outside - I love the shield stuck on the gable, just like on real houses of this period.

Finally, there's the bedroom, which opens off the kitchen, and looks out on to the front porch. It has a bed, dressing table (with a mirror welded on to pins in the frame), and a wardrobe. None of the drawers or doors in the furniture open - they are made of thin pieces of plywood cut into the appropriate shapes and stuck on the front of the piece of furniture.

All that's missing from this house are occupants and soft furnishings. It clearly had curtains, as above every window there are tiny nails to hold a rail. I've already had a look through the vintage fabric I've purchased for other houses, and found fabric to make curtains for all the rooms. There are also some nails where pictures might have hung. I don't know who is going to live here yet - I have a feeling it might be an old couple, who live quite quietly, and sometimes have visits from their grandchildren.

I am hoping to get a better idea of when this house might have been made from the wood used to make it. Some pieces of the base of the house and furniture have letters and numbers stamped on the wood, and two pieces of the base have bits of paper labels. One is maybe for tea (Bushell's Blue Label? with just the BEL showing?). I've emailed the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney hoping they may be able to identify these bits of packaging.


  1. Rebecca,
    Do you know that POP is the Dutch word for doll?
    Dolls' house in Dutch is poppenhuis.
    The painted carpets could be Dutch.

    Karin Wester, a Dutch dolls' house collector, see website

  2. Hello Karin, Yes, I'm familiar with the word poppenhuis from websites (and sometimes on German ebay, from Dutch sellers!). That's a very interesting suggestion that the dolls house maker could have been Dutch. It had not occurred to me - and 'Pop' is what some Australian children call their grandfathers, so that's what I thought of first. It's such a very Australian design, too. I would love to know the name of the maker, but probably never will, as the man I bought it from didn't know the name of the old lady who donated it to the charity auction.

  3. Hello Rebecca,

    Maybe the Australian children who call their grandfather Pop have Dutch ancestors.
    In the Netherlands the word pop has several meanings. It can also mean baby or small. In Friesland Pop or Popke can be the first name of a man or a woman.

    A photo of a 1:1 painted carpet is published on the website
    It is the last picture on the page. This kind of paintwork is called 'hakken tenen werk' because it is done with bare feet.

  4. Hi again Karin, thank you for the link - the photo of the painted carpet is very interesting. It reminded me that in early America there were painted and stencilled floors too, but I don't think they have ever been common in Australia - although some older houses had wooden floors painted a single colour. So, in this house, maybe it's Dutch influence - or maybe the floors were painted to look like they had carpet rugs, with a surround of stained wooden floorboards visible at the sides (common in the 1920s), because the makers didn't have any pieces of fabric that looked like carpet. If we knew who made the house, we might know the answer.
    I don't think 'Pop' as a term for Grandpa comes from people with Dutch ancestors - I think it's common among people of Irish and maybe English ancestry. In America, 'Pop' or 'Poppa' is one term for 'Dad', so I think it probably comes from some dialects of English in the British Isles.
    I have met your neighbour Frederieke on facebook - how wonderful to have a neighbour who also collects dolls houses!

  5. What an interesting house, a good find. What, if anything have you done with it? BTW Pop is used in the UK too for both father & grandfather. My mother & her brothers called their father Pop & a friend is known as Pop to his grandson. Frances x

    1. Thanks, Frances! The house now has some dolls - I found some old fabrics to make curtains and bedding, but unfortunately they are still unmade - one day, I hope!