The Lala House
by Lala Jean Pierre Lestrade
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 its history is obscured, spent many years in storage in Austria before being brought to its actual home in Switzerland, to be restored and brought to life again.
Regardless of this impressive size and its 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 in their indefectible 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.
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.
From the Outside
The house is a big structure, almost 2 meters high (precisely 1.95 m), 1.20 meter long and 48 centimeters wide. It has many architectural details both inside and out. It has its original paint and has an elaborate trim of wood with unusual bead motif. The emerald lacquered door is also elaborately trimmed and has a substantial wood and brass knocker as well as a plaque in brass, with no inscription on it. The house is divided in two parts, so you can either open the upper part and see the formal and private rooms or the bottom which reveals the kitchen, the pantry and dining room. It is standing on a short wooden base which might have been part of a table whose legs were shortened. It has a drawer on the side which is rather difficult to open and now, not used for anything, though over the years we have used it to store extra things and furniture for the house.
The exterior of the house is architecturally accurate and could be the facade of a real house. The top of the house is enhanced with a decorative device in carved wood, a frontispiece displaying a balustrade with a crest insert in the middle. The lower portion of the house has crossed bars in the French Directoire style and you can imagine the builder(s) of this house had some interest in several classic styles since the resulting effect is a pastiche style, in itself very much in the taste of the 19th-century architecture.
The back of the house is also very interesting with its corbelled constructed upper part, an architectural detail often seen on houses overlooking a river as well as in old European cities, notably medieval, where streets were very narrow. The paint is bright yellow which is chipped in some parts showing an older grey coat but we left it this way. The contrasting tones of brown, bright yellow and emerald green altogether evoke wealthy houses from St Petersburg in Russia, eastern Europe but also from Austria and Italy.
Inside the Lala House
When we open the double doors, we can only be mesmerized by the lusciousness of it. I always like to open the house in two steps, first the top, take a pause to admire the rooms in a general view, and then open the bottom doors. One also can notice the interesting difference of height in the rooms of each different level. There is something odd in the fact that the top floor -where the bedrooms are - has the highest ceilings and that the reception rooms on the first floor have the lowest ones. We have wondered if this house was initially made with a superposition of different box houses, which would explain the differences of scales, notably for the doors. Strangely enough, these differences of scale are not perceptible from the outside, where all the windows are harmoniously proportioned. It is one of the particularities of this house, which does not have any special architectural logic, as it also does not have a staircase and no commodities, such as early bathrooms. But this probably was not considered important by the maker of the house, everyone knows that old-fashioned fairies who live in there at night don’t need staircases or bathtubs!
The Second Floor - the Chinese Bedroom
The first room on the upper floor is the Chinese bedroom, which has a very refined masculine style. The wallpaper portrays figures of Chinese men in turquoise coats on a canvas background with an oriental-style flowers and leaves motif. The top is edged in a purple trim with a gold leaf motif. The floor is covered with an interesting early linoleum, an invention of the 19th-century, in a grey shade with dark gold crossed bars resulting in the final effect of a tile floor.
The furniture is comprised of a “table de toilette” in dark wood with an oriental-style pitcher in sterling silver and an old Cologne bottle. A lovely Chinese-style gilt bamboo-like chair (perhaps by Erhard and Söhne, Germany) with embroidered upholstery is perfect in this room. It was found a long time ago by BillyBoy* and took naturally its place in this Oriental room. The center piece is a lovely bed in brownish red lacquered wood with gold paper trim. It has a beautiful bedcover in Chinese-style print with matching pillow and a red silk quilt on which we placed a stretching Steiff cat who seems to be disturbed by the visit. Above the bed is an oil painting of a nude woman in the French 19th-century Academic style. The two pairs of straight curtains are matching the bed cover and are enhanced with a red silk Chinese-style valance, mounted on cardboard and fringed in bright red silk.
Next to the bed is an emerald-lacquered desk, with a gramophone on it - that’s the one! - a bronze Buddha, which BillyBoy* has had all his life associated with this house, as well as a paper frame with a woman’s photographic portrait in it. The Chinese-style ceiling lamp is made of printed silk with silk ribbon and hangs from a tassel with crystal bead ornament. The set of paper accessories comprising the frame, a foot stool, a lovely oriental purse with belt and soft white metal buckle are all cut-out paper doll accessories proposed in the children's magazine "La poupée modèle" and date from about 1860. The overall effect of the room is very luscious, in the typical Oriental style that was so fashionable. Think of the Brighton Pavilion (it's official name is the Royal Pavilion) in Brighton, England, and its huge influence on the taste of the Victorian Era. This room exemplifies the epitome of 19th-century interpretation of European Chinoiserie.
The Middle Room
The door on the right opens to a very luxurious yet intimate boudoir which has been turned lately into a complementary bedroom with dark oak twin beds (the man and lady of the house have adopted two children from a distant cousin who passed away). For those who are not familiar with the French language, it is worth noting that the word "boudoir" comes from the verb "bouder" which means "to pout".
I always found this name for a room filled with a typical French spirit. A definitely feminine room then, the boudoir is a place where ladies would find a shelter - or strategic location - to pout! This invention comes from the eighteenth century, a creation of the so-refined Madame de Pompadour, which leads us to think that before this time ladies had to pout outside in their horse-drawn carriage or in any other room inside the house, how ordinary!
The decoration was a dominant tonality of grey and blue with it's previous set of furniture. Now, it is predominantly mauve and prune, burgundy and golden browns. The baroque moulding is painted gold and the wallpaper is prune coloured with gold motifs, also with a top band in contrasting prune tone. The set of furniture was previously in blue and grey upholstered wood and was comprised of a suite of several armchairs and chair. It is now replaced by a suite of red velvet seats. The oval table covered in pleated prune silk, on which one set of miniature German doll's house playing cards are displayed.
Between the two curtains in mauve silk matching the pleated fabric of the table is a portrait of Marie Antoinette, not an original but a print which is hand-painted over in oil paints, it was given to us as a present and you know sometimes, you like the person better than the gift so you end up keeping both! On the sides of the canapé (sofa) are standing two big Chinese vases, a definite leitmotiv of this house, since there are many others in different rooms. On two other walls are facing to each other two early 19th-century miniature paintings of mythological scenes also in gilt frames. Also to be noticed, the ceiling lamp which is a sterling silver Chinese lantern.
There are several characters in the room: the nanny, who is an old Japanese woman that I like very much: it is not exactly a doll, it is a muff to hold a warm teapot handle. She is keeping company to a little girl doll, very concentrated in playing with her own doll. There is another character, a Chinese little boy, though it is not clear whether he is the doll of the doll or a real doll character. (I hope you followed me on that one.)
The little doll is reading to her little doll a book titled L'Education de la Poupée (The Education of The Doll), which is the story of a little girl who has been offered a doll and who decides to teach her good manners...
The Lady of the House's Bedroom
The second door of the middle room communicates with what we call the Lady of the house's bedroom, a comfortable and feminine room in the early 1900s Belle-Epoque-style. It has an elaborate bed with its original limpid sea foam green silk, accented with black velvet ribbon, and a somewhat coquettish mauve trimmed curtains and matching bed dressing. On the bed is laid a fine white cotton crochet plaid (a coverlet), initially a human-scale napperon (in English you call it a doily or more formally an antimacassar).
Everything about this room is luscious and refined. The furniture includes a lovely cast metal 18th-century style console with an opened jewel box, a beautiful armchair in creamy silk embroidered with gold thread, a gilt metal Louis XVI pastiche banquette. Other pieces and objects include a tea set on a tray with spoon and toast rack (the hosts seem to drink a lot of tea in this house), a hand mirror casually thrown on the bed in embossed tin foil paper (from "La Poupée modèle" again), a jewel box used as a bed table and a lovely English fireplace in gilt brass.
A very interesting detail is the ceiling, in pressed wood lacquered in cream which, unlike any other ceiling in the house, is extremely baroque, in the Belle-Epoque-style, with cherubs and garland motifs.
Wall decoration includes a collection of lady's medallions of diverse styles and origins, used as decorative paintings all around the head of the bed. Each time we find an interesting piece, we add it to the ensemble. There is also a precious hand-painted miniature of Marie of Prussia, princess then queen of Bayern (Bavaria), after the original by Joseph Karl Stieler, and a beautiful portrait of a child dated 1883, which is painted porcelain bisque. The floor is in identical early linoleum to that in the Chinese room, covered with grége-coloured carpets (a shade mixing grey and beige).
The First Floor: The Music Room
In the 19th-century every bourgeois household was making a point to offer their children music lessons, language lessons and other cultural activities and we always refer to this room as “the music room” for a reason: it is flooded with musical instruments and references to music .
It is in French 18th-century style, with elaborate, rather feminine but cosier decoration. The room has a lovely, cream lacquered wainscoting and dado rail. The wallpaper is original, a crosshatched pattern with intermittent flowered motif, probably dating from 1890-1900. The curtains are in harmony with the wallpaper and are made in fringed heavy brocade fabric hanging from a curtain rod with exquisite miniature curtain clips, an authentic dollhouse detail which is original to the house. We later were lucky enough to find an old stock of similar ones in ex-Eastern Germany.
This is the only contemporary object in this doll's house: here is a close-up of our dog Vico, a little sculpture I did in 1994 as a Christmas present for BillyBoy*. His expression is quite well captured: this mix of comfort feeling and a side glancing of the situation at hand. Each one of his spots was accurately reproduced. His basket is old.
The lovely 18th-century pastiche-style fireplace of high proportion has its own firedogs, a little out of scale but charming in their naivety. We never thought about changing them, since they were there from the start (oops! I was going to say "when we moved in"!). As I mentioned before, scale differences in furniture, dolls and all the various household items are not only an historic specificity of old doll’s houses but also something that greatly contributes to their charm as early play things for children. The mantelpiece used to be decorated with a wood panel with the silhouette of a fawn playing a flute (now put away), two Limoges midnight blue vases (which are now on the pedestals on the other side of the room), two candlesticks and a delicate porcelain braided basket. Now, it has two oriental vases, I believe Tibetan, a bust of Mozart, the woven porcelain basket and two candelabra.
Another indication how we like to play around with furniture: the central ensemble of furniture used to be a matched set of red burgundy velvet, once again a pastiche of style which is hard to date with precision, though likely end of the 19th century. A main piece of furniture also was a Baroque secretary with bookshelf and teapot, all in cast bronze with a great patina but it is in the red salon on the floor below now. Including its original Biedermeier-style chair, the room now sports the wooden ensemble including table, chairs, desk and glass-fronted book case filled with its original books and some curiosities or precious objects called usually "objet vertu" in the French language.
The collection of various musical string instruments include lutes, guitar and violins and there is even a child dressed in animal costume holding a violin, as well as a little bear playing a violin. Also placed in this room are two lovely bisque statuettes holding musical instruments, one having a lyre, one a cello, and a bisque bust of Mozart is on the mantelpiece. On the left, there is a beautiful sterling silver parrot cage from the late 19th-century, which BillyBoy* bought from a nice woman dealer in Paris at the Louvre des Antiquaires, about twenty-five years ago. Unfortunately, this room is not complete without an authentic doll's house piano to play Schubert, which would be perfect for this room, and we hope to be lucky enough to find the right piece one day. A rare English complete sterling silver tea set on a tray used to be on this table, but it has moved to a more appropriate decor in our antique late Georgian English doll's house. It was replaced by this lovely porcelain set in china with a gracious flower motif, complete with creamer and sugar bowl, most probably French. "A cup-a-tea?"
The Smoking Room
Next is the smoking room, a darker and more mysterious place with a masculine atmosphere. It has a stylish and luxurious 19th-century fabric covering the walls, in perfect condition, in the tones of prune with a floral and blazon device on it. The room is garnished with intricate oak panelling and has a fabulous oak mantelpiece. The furniture is also rather masculine with its different chairs and sofas and displays some interesting pieces, such as a classic gothic-style chair, a beautiful oak pedestal with a fake marble top, a side table also with a fake marble top on which is placed a lovely young girl’s bust in bisque with porcelain base, most probably French, which is now in the Red Salon below. She has been replaced by the statuette of Saint George which is next to the bust of King George V. On the floor is a nice Renaissance Revival needlepoint carpet.
The lovely military school student is a gift from writer Ann Chandler. I have named the doll Ludovic, after my great-grandfather Ludovic Legrand, who died at the battle of Verdun in World War I, aged 28.
This house and especially this room has what Vivien Greene, English doll's house history pioneer, called "Gloomth". Gloomth is the hybrid word of "gloom" and "warmth", meaning the atmosphere evokes a cozy gloom.
On the other side of the window, near a red-lacquered secretary, is a tin bank safe. I always say that I have to think about placing my will inside it (which will have to be either very brief or reduced into microfilm format!). Other pieces of furniture include a Biedermeier-style table with precious hard wood top on which are displayed some photo albums including one of Paris dated 1900, a card game and an ashtray. A miniature cigar box (with real cigars!) is waiting for amateurs on a velvet-covered stool, and a precious blown-glass liquor set, well-known to collectors, perfect for a doll-size sip of brandy, is placed on a mahogany-style table, with a white-marble top. Gosh! What a doll has to do to get a proper drink in this home! Above the red canapé (sofa) is a very minute and delicate miniature oil painting of the Swiss city Lucerne that we found a few years ago in an antique shop in the Swiss countryside, quite appropriate for this room.
Above the mantelpiece we can see two bisque heads and a photographed double portrait of Tsar Nicholas II and his spouse Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, maybe brought to western Europe by aristocrat refugees (actually BillyBoy*’s family) in the early 1910’s, and two small figurines of grenadiers soldiers from Napoleon’s army. The irony of it all! – never mind chronology – peace in the doll’s house, please! To be noticed too, the nice beaded and gilt chandelier, by Märklin or Bing. This is the only room which had no curtains for decades (along with the pantry), though for a reason: to admire the beautiful wood panelling. Recently, though, a nice pair of antique velvet ribbon curtains were placed, a final touch to enhance the comfortable feeling of this lovely room.
The Reception Rooms
The first floor, which curiously has the lowest ceilings, has the most luxurious rooms, which are the two reception rooms. The dominant colour is red and cream with original red printed wallpaper. It is very Napoleon III in style. The room on the right oddly corresponds with the entrance door where you would logically expect a hall.
The two reception rooms share an ensemble of red silk furniture mounted on cardboard which were probably home-made and are French, since the cardboard bears, in gold letters, the name of fashion suppliers of the time. The center table in simply made with a thread bobbin covered with silk and a lace top. A nice set of gilt chairs of smaller scale is placed at the front of the room, as well as a pretty gilt table on which is placed a gilt soft metal bird cage on its stand, surprisingly empty. Where has the bird gone?
The room is graced with a grand green ceramic mantelpiece in the Renaissance-style which was the rage notably in France in the early to mid-nineteenth century and is decorated with luscious candlesticks, a clock and a gold mirror. A very pretty decorative item is placed there, it is a miniature bronze horse pulling a carriage made with a mother of pearl shell, probably used to place tiny bonbons for very spoiled tiny dolls!
The particularity of this room is that the walls are covered with a fine ensemble of authentic 18th-century bird etchings, hand-coloured in ink, all mounted on cardboard and framed with gilt paper and hanging from ribbon cords. They are all exquisite and well worth minute observation, featuring a nice array of both exotic and European birds. A console in the background displays a collection of very tiny shells. By the door separating the two rooms is a pair of Venetian glass love birds on a Romantic-era base, dating from the Directoire period, and a French Sèvres porcelain bisque vase. The two big Chinese vases placed on each side of the mantelpiece remind us of the taste for porcelain objects since the 18th-century in wealthy households. This is also a typical touch from BillyBoy* who loves porcelain in doll’s houses and who liked them there.
The next reception room has the same cream colour wainscoting. There used to be a Louis XV-style banquette, which was part of a set called “Ensemble Louis XV” (sold in toy catalogues in the early 1900’s in France) which has been replaced by a lovely Biedermeier lounge chair (called a chaise longue) covered in bottle green velvet; a black low table with a gorgeous hand-blown tea set from Lauscha, Bohemia, on its Sèvres porcelain tray. The room has also its Chinese touch, with a Coromandel-style screen, and a Chinese-style vase on a little table. The other main piece of furniture is a secretary.
The lady of the house, a Grödnertal wood doll, in the center of the room, does not seem to be very bothered. She wears a deep blue taffeta dress in typical Second Empire-style fashion with a flat bow on the back and she is about to serve tea. She came with the house and was for quite a while the only character of this mansion. I like her very much and I placed her this way, because she is such a perfect hostess. However, there is still a question whether she is the lady of the house or not, because she seems much more discreet than the Lady's bedroom on top suggests...
Other pieces of furniture include two low chairs covered in chintz with fringe, a large floor-standing candelabra, two opaline columns (matching the two others) with Limoges vases on them, a baroque mirror, a nature morte oil painting and a gilt soft metal wall clock.
The curtains in green taffeta are matching in both reception rooms and have a lovely gilt tin valance. A black chair with pale pink cushion, and matching table brings a lovely note to this lovely Second-Empire-style room.
The Lower Part
The doors of the lower parts are closed....with a tiny bread board.
The ground floor comes naturally as a surprise when one opens the lower doors with the crossed bars, which is a very French Directoire effect. The overall style is utterly enchanting. The surprise is greatly due to the fact that nothing in the outside front indicates the presence of rooms, the only windows of this level being placed in the back (they are also the only ones to open). Since it is low, adults are obliged to sit on the floor to see all the details, especially the ceilings and the wall corniches lavishly decorated with plates. I find this level particularly magical, each room having its own peculiar mood. They reveal the heart of a house: the kitchen, and in this case, the dining room and the pantry.
But first, let’s stop on the two doors which are particularly noteworthy: The inside is decorated with original daguerrotype-style chromolithographic scenes, most probably from Switzerland or Austria or even Bavaria. We were not capable of identifying the naturalistic sites yet. Unfortunately, the doors have suffered from heat and water damage and the glass is slightly broken. However, regardless of this accident, the effect is altogether lovely, refined and dreamy.
This valley with its lakes is most probably Swiss, possibly the Vallée de la Levantine, as seen from the Gothard mountain side
The kitchen is filled with a thousand details that are exquisite. The room is now more than just very full, it is actually overcrowded as kitchens should be in doll’s houses, at least according to BillyBoy*’s taste, to which I can only agree. Let’s be honest, too much is barely enough! The room is cream coloured with substantial wainscoting and a "real" fake door (meaning it does not open).
A collection of various appliances and kitchen tools. The chandelier is made with a fisherman's hook and four wooden balls, obviously home-made.
The floor is made with ceramic tiles in blue and white with checker-board motif and the walls are also blue, a colour traditionally used in the old days before window screens and insecticides, to keep flies away. Have you ever seen flies buzzing around a blue cow? Of course not, which is a rather good proof that it works!
The sink is a tin toy with a real reservoir by Märklin or Bing and the cooker is in lithographed tin in a smaller scale. The walls are covered with all kinds of utensils, pottery and tools, all very charming and authentic, ranging from different decades. The table is covered with cakes and food, and the other cat of the house, a white plaster one, is waiting, like a sphinx, in a seemingly sleepy haze. Something tells me that there’s a mouse in the house!
To be noticed also, the bell hanging above the wall, to call the maid (who’s nowhere to be seen). Near the open window, enhanced with lovely blue and white provincial Vichy (French gingham) curtains embroidered in red cross stitch smocking, is a nice chest of drawers which is made in waxed cardboard and boxes of matches with all its drawers opening, and probably dates from the early 1900s. Think of all the little secrets a child could have placed in those!
This lovely kitchen chest had drawers made with matchboxes, surely a home-made object. I made the breads myself as a surprise for BillyBoy*, one day I was baking a pie...in our larger-size kitchen!
The Dining Room
Next room is the dining room, which is quite stunning. The “real fake” door this side is oak brown, topped with a decorative wood device. The room has a definite Bavarian mood, though the fabric in the dark brown lacquered paneling is authentic early 18th-century French fabric. It has altogether a warm and inviting atmosphere, perfect to enjoy a delicious Sunday lunch.
The floor as well as the ceiling are in early painted linoleum. This room has a double door opening (this type of disguised door in panelling is called a jib door). They lead to the pantry, which usually is placed between the kitchen and dining room, which is not the case here. The window, which opens, has a simple curtain treatment, embroidered lace and "broderie anglaise", which is the French word for English eyelet.
The dining room furniture is composed of a classical German extension table, surrounded with an amazing set of chairs and armchairs, upholstered in petit point embroidery and edged in two-tone trimming, all matching to the carpet.
The table is set for a lunch for two with a big lobster waiting on a cardboard embossed plate, complete with vegetables and shrimps, "consommé" (soup), extra fish on a plate... a very nice meal if any. A buffet displays a fine set of dining ware and Germanic mugs as well as a very delicate white metal liquor set on a tray. It also has a set of three candelabras, all with birthday cake candles, which are not antiques. On the other side of the window decorated with lace curtains is a wooden grandfather clock, called comtoise in French.
The walls and the ceiling are decorated with a lovely collection of dishes, some in sterling silver, some in wood which is turned and painted, from the early 19th-century. Also to be noticed in the foreground a ceramic heater, very typical of this style of houses.
This very crowded room is filled with poetical bric-à-brac and has a particularly beautiful atmosphere when lit through the back window with natural daylight. It is the kind of place which evokes childhood, a place where a child would hide and play, smelling the nice odours coming from the kitchen and from the dining room.
The room is in a dominant ox blood red tone with similar dark brown lacquered wainscoting with two plate rails to carry all the various plates and chargers. Thusly it displays a fine collection of French doll’s faience plates with floral motif, and the room is filled with all kinds of mugs and crockery, as well as saucers, candlesticks, saucepans and other sundry wares.
On the table are some "cocottes", one in terracotta, two in pressed glass. These are used to bake meat pies. I especially love those, I love everything representing poultry in a doll's house (as well as animals and horses) and I also like kitchen-crockery poultry moulds in real kitchens which are always so decorative, probably a slight nostalgia of my childhood on my grandparents' farm. This is why I have placed a stuffed hen on top of this house, which some may find odd or weird, but poultry is actually the animal species I like to see stuffed, though I don’t like stuffed birds and especially don’t like stuffed furry animals. Much too morbid for BillyBoy* and I.
On the top of the Lala House, an antique 19th-century papier mâché cat and a stuffed black hen (which I have named Rodolpha), a gift to Lala from BillyBoy* found in Aarberg antique show, are on the watch.
Also to be noticed in this room, the armoire filled with linen, the iron sink to make salaisons (to soak pork meat in salt) - which you cannot see on the photograph. I'll have to make more shots for all these details. There is also an interesting array of various tools and objects, such as a straw basket, a sterling silver Swiss grape gathering basket and a tiny German bird cage in white metal with early celluloid roof, offered to us by a friend. It is nice to have a room where you can always add some object that you cannot really put in any other room. This is also our taste, since we especially don’t like to see a doll’s house room too organized or see it barren: you see, the thing is that we actually PLAY with these incredible toys, such incredible gifts from the past, and our motto is always the same: too much is barely enough in our doll houses...and I think you must have got the picture by now!
The visit of the Lala House has now come to an end and I hope you enjoyed the visit as much as I enjoyed being your guide. It has been a pleasure for me to share this house with you and to express my passion for this cultural subject.
Before closing the doors, if you look very carefully, you will notice, after the white mouse, another tiny grey one hiding somewhere in the kitchen. She hasn’t much to fear, because, except for the risk of being broken, there is not so much to worry about in the magical secluded world of a doll’s house: Steiff cats and plaster-moulded cats do not eat mice, they just stretch endlessly or lazily dream their life away; ducks in ceramic baskets never end as gourmet food and plaster lobsters do not scream when they’re put in a mould. They just look awfully decorative, which is a good reason enough to let them live in peace, as long as possible.
PS: Instead of naming this once anonymous doll's house "The Yellow House" or any other name, BillyBoy* named it "The Lala House", as a loving attention to his "long-time companion and soul-mate" and now husband as of February 6th, 2012 (30 years together), a very touching and loving attention. Now I know which doll's house to pick as a shelter if, like in the cult movie, I ever turn into an "incredible shrinking man".
Text and photography © Lala Jean Pierre Lestrade, September 2003/October 2012
Many, many more photos of this dolls house and its contents can be seen on the website Fondation Tanagra.