Sunday, April 26, 2009

Homemade Australian - Leadlight Arts & Crafts style house, ca 1920s?

This is another of my homemade Australian houses. This one came from Victoria (the Australian state), from an ebay seller who used to have an antiques shop at Armadale, and who picked the house up at a local market. Whether the market was in Armadale, or what the history of the dolls house was before he found it at the market, I don't know.

It appears to be quite old, based on the lino flooring and the type of glass used in the windows. Also, a lot of paint has been lost from the roof, and some glass is missing from the windows. I'm not an expert on vintage glass or lino - I suspect it may date from the 30s, but possibly even earlier, ca 1920.
A great deal of work has gone into the exterior of this house; by contrast, the interior is very basic. The house has three remaining glass windows, and one which would originally have had glass in it.
This is the main leadlight window, from the outside:

(you can also see the beading in the woodwork in this photo);

and from the inside:

The texture and colours of the glass remind me of glass I've seen in houses built in the late 19th century and the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The front gable has another leadlight window, happily complete:

You can also see the shingles individually nailed to the face of the gable here. (And some clumsy repainting, which I haven't attempted to remove.)

The side gable window is sadly empty of glass, but the metalwork is also quite intricate:

The other side of the dolls house has a small window with a single pane of cobalt blue glass:

This side, unlike the other, has timber clapboard or weatherboard cladding. It also has two drainpipes (one complete, one half there):

I like to try to work out what architectural style the builder of each dolls house had in mind. I have a book called Australian House Styles by Maisy Stapleton and Ian Stapleton, with descriptions and drawings I can compare with the houses. In this case, I think the Arts & Crafts style (as expressed in Australia) may have been influencing the maker of this house. This style was common in the decade 1910-1920.

Here is part of Australian House Style's description of Arts and Crafts:
A multi-gabled roof swept over the building ....The deeply-pitched roof dipped into steeply-angled gullies, [or] formed hoods over windows ... The roof was supported by additional brackets and corbels ... exposed rafter ends peeking from beneath the roof's edge revealed the honesty of the construction.
... The multitude of roofline gables encouraged a variety of finishes, as if to prove the architect's imaginative skill. Shingles ... were typical. ... Sometimes a shaggy coating of weathered timber shingles crept over the entire upper storey or formed an apron below a porch or window opening. ...
The organic nature of the style led to a diversity of window forms, each somewhat perversely different from the other and scattered with abandon. There were strips of windows, with delicately tinted panes, bays of casements with a coloured glass frieze, oriel windows and small slit windows. [p. 60]

Several of these features were also typical of the Federation style, common in the decade before this - coloured glass windows, gables, shingling, etc. So perhaps the maker, clearly skilled in woodwork and metalwork, was simply including decorative features seen in many houses in the first two decades of last century, without being particularly focussed on any one style.

While the exterior is very detailed, the interior doesn't seem to have been given a lot of attention. There is no ceiling - the beams are exposed, and the inside of the roof is unfinished wood:

Beams are typical of Arts and Crafts houses, but usually within the ceiling!
Why is there a strip of wood running vertically down the back wall? and why a ledge running horizontally below the blue window? Were there perhaps partitions dividing the space into two or three rooms? With several rooms, and well-made soft furnishings, the interior could perhaps have been as decorative as the exterior.

The house didn't come with any furniture. I have furnished it with items which reflect its era (depression?), the patterned and coloured glass in the windows, and its new inhabitants - two cats!

Both cats are German - the one on the left, standing at the table, is a Kersa cat:

There is a large jug for milk, some chicken soup in a packet, and a (quite modern) whole chicken. Behind her is a framed photograph (to be hung) of an explorer cat, a relative of theirs, pictured at some ruins in Italy.

The other cat is a Schuco Bigo Fix cat. He is standing in front of a German kitchen dresser with clear patterned glass in the top. The bedding is from America - a lovely crazy patchwork quilt cover. The fireplace is homemade Canadian - on it is a portrait of a military ancestor, and a statuette of a very well-known ancestor wearing boots:

The green pressed glass is German; the cobalt glass English; the glass hen dish came from the US, and the jugs and glasses came from the UK and the US, but I think they may be German originally.
I was inspired to people a dolls' house with cats by Vivien Greene's Shell Villa, "a lodging house for cats in need of sea air, kept by Tabitha, Selina and Bramwell Twitchett." I've never seen any other cat dolls like hers, and I don't like dolls with cat heads and human hands and feet, while these German small-scale soft toy animals fit well here, and have articulated heads and limbs, allowing them to be posed.


  1. Such a nice house! Love all the stained glass and also the green and cobolt glasses you have by the window. (And the cat in the picture frame is so great!)
    But the dating of the house is for me a puzzle, too. The stained glass and exterior reminds me, as you say, of the arts and crafts at the turn of last century, but the linoleum with its clean colours and geometrical pattern, reminds me more of the thirties. But clearly I'm no expert on Australian design!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Pubdoll. I think if I could date the lino, I'd probably know the earliest date the house could have been made. Someone could have had bits of old glass stored for a while, and the wood is all re-used. And as Arts & Crafts style houses, and others with stained glass, are still around now, they would certainly have been around to inspire someone in the 20s, 30s, or even 40s. I suspect it was made at a time when things were in short supply - but who knows whether that was a major event like the depression or WWII, or a personal lack of money, or just thrift?
    I think it's quite likely that my guesstimate of the 20s is too early, as with the Californian Bungalow style house.

  3. Dear Rebecca, I love your cat's house and look at the two inhabitants quite frequently. If you could just let me know if you can the size of the two vintage cats, I would be greatful because I am thinking about acquiring similar cats and getting a house for them. I also am inspired by the 50s Russian animation "Koshkin Dom" (Cat's House) and Yuri Vasnetsov's illustrations. Thank you so much for sharing your collection! MH

  4. Hello MH,
    Thank you for your comment - I am glad you like my cat's house! The boy cat, the Schuco Bigo-Fix, is 18cm tall, or 7 inches. The girl cat, the Kersa cat, is 16cm tall, or nearly 6 1/2". I bought them both from German ebay. Both companies, Schuco and Kersa, make cats of various sizes, some even smaller than these, and many larger.
    I don't know the Russian animation or illustrations you mention, so I will check them out!
    Best wishes, Rebecca