Holly Craft Dolls Houses
by David Hearn
I have been making Dolls houses for the past forty-five years under the name of Holly Craft. I have houses all over the world as far apart as Alaska and Australia; I have houses in books and magazines; commissions have included Tree stumps, Towers, Churches and house boats, and it all started with one simple house that I made for my niece.
My late wife was then working for a transport consultant whose wife was on the editorial staff of the old IDHN, and who expressed an interest in the house on its completion. The completed house was shown, where it was pronounced Perfect! Apart from it was the wrong scale, the wrong configuration, it opened in the wrong places, it had windows in the wrong places and it was too glossy but apart from that it was Perfect!
Taking all these consideration onboard, I then produced a second house. This was a small thatched cottage, right scale, front opening, all windows to the front and painted in a matt finish. Our IDHN contact said she had two friends that held a Front Room sale at a house in Chelsea solely for Dolls houses and miniatures (these two ladies later founded the “Singing Tree”, a well-remembered shop through which I sold several houses). My output at this time was 3 or 4 houses a year as I had a career as an engineer in the aerospace industry.
My next outlet was the dolls house shop in Reigate (Polly Flinders) out of which I sold many houses over a number of years until the shop had to close due to redevelopment (it was originally a coal office in a station yard).
A Fisherman’s Cottage, like that pictured above, was featured in an article in IDHN in Spring 1980, where I described various aspects of its construction:
“Set high on a beach well away from the tides and winter gales, it was constructed mostly of local materials including timber and fittings from more than one wrecked ship. The quoinings, door lintels and chimney were of undressed stone gathered from the beach and cliff face – the infill being of large round pebbles worn smooth by the action of the waves. The timber supports at each end of the building were from a Spanish galleon wrecked in the North East gales of October 1597, probably the sister ship to the ‘Santa Bartholomew’. ….. Outside the front door was an old cannon dredged up from the sea bed, which in later years had been used as a winch post. Also outside was the remains of a ship’s lifeboat which had been converted into a seat …."
"The upstairs rooms were reached by a shambling staircase made from wood salvaged from the sea. The main support post had been a section of a ship’s mast and still retained the belaying-pin rack and the scar of the shot that rendered it of no further use to Nelson’s navy. The newel post was a figurehead which was all that remained of a once-proud homeward-bound Indiaman. The balustrade was part of a taffrail which had a mounting for a swivel gun still attached.”
During these years I was developing a range of Tudor houses that had 4/5 rooms and were tall and thin. This I considered would suit modern living having a small footprint that did not intrude on valuable space. As a designer as well as a maker, I like the Tudor style as it allows me to develop houses with far more individuality than the strict style of the classical periods.
The lead lighting effect, however, has been the bane of my life. I have scratched, painted, printed, and overlaid, you name it and I have tried it. Now I have a new scheme. In France I found gutter netting (to stop leaves getting into the rain gutters). This is grey plastic diamond shapes to the right scale (see Crooked House (bottom of page) and Spread Eagle); I trap it between the acrylic sheet and the window bar.
The Alsace wine cave is a variant on the Tudor theme. This was a gift to my youngest granddaughter who is half French and lives in Alsace, and the house has individual details such as granddad's study on the top floor!
Granddad's study is complete with a microscope!
The wine house sign, and the slide-out garden
Two of my other tall thin dolls houses - the Art Deco was my own idea, and not one of my greatest I must say; it took 3 months to find a home.
During this time I also started my Fantasie Range. It began with the houses of the five friends from “Wind in the Willows”:
Ratty's House, above, and below, the interior
Below, Otter's Mill and Badger's House
Above and below, two views of Mole's House
Below, Toad Hall:
The Fantasie Range then extended to Tree Stumps, Towers, Churches, Cowboy saloons, House boats, Caravans, and I now have an enquiry for “the Old Lady that lived in a Shoe-house” or is it Shoe!!
Caravan exterior, above, and below, the interior, in which the lighting points can be seen (rear wall, bottom plank on the far right, and fourth plank up towards the left side):
When Reigate closed “Goodies” opened, that well loved shop in Essex through which for 25 years I sold all my houses (apart from commissions).
My "View" series is a collection of four small 3 room houses, which all have the same interior.
All these "View" houses are of the same design on a 12" x 12" base but only 24" high (3 rooms) - ideal for the collector with limited space. The only difference is outer design of brick, timber, or half brick and half timber, with dormer, without dormer etc. Each room has a pine boarded floor, a false door on the back wall, and two lighting points - one on the ceiling, and one set in the floor.
When the proprietor of Goodies decided it was time to pursue her dream of becoming a sculptress, I had the good fortune to discover “Minibijou”, with yet another charming owner. (In my years being involved with Dolls Houses I have never met anybody that was less than charming.)
Crooked House, currently available through Minibijou
Silber & Fleming Street, a postcard issued by IDHN
In the late eighties I had access to a collection of Silber Flemings houses (a picture of them was the subject of a IDHN post card, above). From that collection, I drew up plans for the smallest. The title page of the plans shows a photo of a repro: note the wall paper.
Original Silber & Fleming, left; my reproduction, right.
From those plans, I made 32 houses: 30 in hard wood and 2 in soft wood. All these houses had the name Holly Craft branded into them on the back or the base, together with the Serial No. These houses were advertised in IDHN, and were all sold.
Ad for Holly Craft Silber & Fleming dolls houses and plans in IDHN Summer 1987
The only exceptions were the two soft wood ones, one was sold through Goodies in Essex and the other was sold many years later on Ebay. I remember the bidding went so high that I and someone else intervened to tell the bidders that this was a reproduction. It made little difference and it was eventually sold for £360.
I have also made reproductions of Triang and Lines (The Queens Dolls House). None of these were made to deceive - all are made of modern materials including fiberglass thatch.
Holly Craft reproduction Triang dolls house
As far as I can remember I only made 4 or 5 Lines and Tri-ang houses. The real thing is easily available both on the internet and at fairs and boot sales, so that they were not very commercial - unlike the S & F, the only reason I stopped making them was that the wood was getting so expensive. I could make them again in MDF and then there would be no argument as to their provenance.
Talking of materials I have used everything: softwood, hardwood, plywood, hardboard. and MDF, but the majority of my houses were made of hardboard with an edging of softwood beading (this to retain the plaster). I have always used acrylic for windows, never glass.
During the 45 years I have made approximately 200 houses (never kept a count of the grand total), but in that total are 5 Ratties Houses, 3 Moles, 2 Badgers, Apart from new builds, I have undertaken numerous restorations and renovations over the years as well as “husband failed projects”.
Above, the Wayside Inn
Above and below, the Post House
David Hearn's dolls houses are available from Minibijou, and he can also be contacted through his member profile 'holly craft' [correct at the time of publication].
All photos © David Hearn & Holly Craft, except the IDHN postcard