Chalet Dolls Houses
by Rebecca Green
I have thought for some time that it would be interesting to survey dolls houses in a particular architectural style or shape (for example, art deco, or round dolls houses), made by different manufacturers in various countries at different times. As the topic of chalet dolls houses arose in the discussion forums, I will begin this series by investigating chalets.
Postcard of 'Chalet in Flims-Waldhaus', Graubünden, Switzerland.
In order to decide which dolls houses to include, I wanted to define ‘chalet’. What is a chalet, in real life? I learned that the word originated in a French dialect spoken in the west of Switzerland and the Savoy area of France, and referred to a herder’s hut, used during summer when herds were taken up to the alps from lowland pastures. They were built to withstand heavy snowfall, with a masonry base, upper levels of wood, and a sloping roof with wide overhanging eaves, supported by exposed beams at right angles to the walls. The gable end faces over the front wall, and often extends the full width of the house. These chalets did not have verandahs or terraces, but often had balconies protected by the overhanging roof.
The name ‘chalets de plage’ was also given to beach huts in the north-west of France – these were small, light wooden constructions which provided protection from the wind.
In German-speaking alpine areas similar huts were called Almhütten or Alphütten. The Alm Uncle in Heidi lived in an Almhütte, or alpine hut.
Heidi and the Alm Uncle, illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/heidi/heidi.html
The Romantic Period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries brought a new appreciation of mountainous landscapes, for their picturesqueness and their untamed nature, in contrast to the increasingly urban and industrial towns and cities. Folk arts too were seen as more authentic and noble than formalized portraits and allegorical paintings. The chalet embodied both picturesque alpine landscapes and folk architecture, and it became fashionable for the wealthy to have a chalet in their gardens. Charles Dickens had one at his house at Gads Hill Place, Higham, Kent, which he used as a summer study.
Left, postcard of Charles Dickens' Chalet in 1895 at Cobham Park (where it was moved some time after Dickens' death). Right, the chalet from the side.
Chalets also influenced architectural style in America and Europe in the 19th century, and Jennifer McKendry, in her history of dolls houses, “suggests that the late 19th–century interest in houses with pronounced front gables, featuring broad overhangs with fretwork and balconies, owes an ancestry to the Swiss chalet. Echoes of this are seen in some Bliss dollhouses of the early 20th century.”
Chalet des Roses, Vichy, France, built in 1864. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalet
The South Tyrol region was annexed by Italy after World War I, and this apparently played a large part in the continuing popularity of traditional Tyrolean style architecture. The Italian Rationalist style, characterised by geometrical simplicity, functionalism, and sparing use of ornamentation, was seen as “occupier’s architecture”, and repudiated by the local population.
From 1925, Elinor Brent-Dyer began her very popular Chalet School series of books, which introduced the Alps and chalets to many girls. The books were set in the Austrian Tyrol, in a fictionalized version of the village of Pertisau am Achensee, where many houses and hotels in Tyrolean style can be seen today. It seems likely that the author, in describing the school building, chose the word ‘chalet’ because it had already become part of the English language. It would not have been used in German-speaking Austria.
Left: Cover illustration of Jo Returns to the Chalet School by Nina Brisley, 1937
As more and more people began to holiday in the Swiss Alps (and to some extent also on the French beaches of the Pas de Calais), both before and after World War II, the word chalet started to be used for any holiday house. In Britain, it was the name given to the basic accommodation available at the very popular holiday camps like Butlins and Pontins. Then, in the 1960s the term chalet started to be applied to brick houses with a wide sloping roof high enough to accommodate a second storey.
So there is quite a lot of variation in real life chalets, and this is reflected in dolls houses called chalets by their manufacturers or designers. Other dolls houses were named Alpine or Tyrolean, reflecting the landscape and other areas in which these similar styles originated.
Most of the chalet dolls houses I have discovered date from after World War II, probably because I have more sources for the post-war period. The American toy store FAO Schwarz was already selling German-made chalets by 1937. They were described as "a perfect model of the picturesque Swiss home, even to the stones on the roof". The cost was $26.50 for the house completely furnished with three dolls and "a typical group of peasant hand decorated furniture." It measured 23" wide, 13.5" deep, and 16" high.
Swiss Chalet in the 1937 FAO Schwarz Christmas Catalog, courtesy Florine Bettge
I also spotted this dolls house on ebay four years ago. Although definitely not in chalet style, the nameplate above the front door reads "The Chalet". I wonder what the inspiration for the name was?
If you know of other chalet-style houses from before WWII, please share them in the Photo Gallery or let me know about them.
The first post-war chalet dolls house I discovered was, very appropriately, made in Switzerland, by the wooden toy artist Antonio Vitali. These were sold at the Swiss National Crafts Store in the 1940s and 50s. Vitali later designed wooden figures and dolls houses for Creative Playthings, an educational toy store in New York.
Antonio Vitali, Dollhouse from the kindergarten Zürich-Letten, 1948. Switzerland.
Hinged chalet dolls house by Antonio Vitali, early 1950s. (On ebay in May 2010, shared by blogger Daddytypes.)
Other chalet houses followed in the early 1950s in Germany and the UK. In East Germany, Albin Schönherr offered this chalet in their 1952 catalogue. Note the 'stones' on the roof, to hold it down in high winds.
1952 Albin Schönherr catalogue, dolls house No. 102/2, front and open back. © diepuppenstubensammlerin.
In the UK, Woodworker magazine was the pioneer, publishing a design for an Alpine Villa in 1952:
France has had few dolls house makers (farms and stables were more popular), and I do not know of any French chalet dolls houses. However, a “Chalet Suisse” construction set was available in the early 1950s.
Catalogue of Toys, 1952-1953, Comptoir Général de la Bimbeloterie, Paris. © Rebecca Green
In England, Hobbies of Dereham first capitalised on the attraction of chalets with designs for musical cigarette boxes. A single storey chalet appeared in 1957, followed immediately by a two storey chalet in 1958:
Hobbies Swiss Chalet Musical Cigarette Boxes. Left, No 3152, 1957-1968. Right, No 255 Special, 1958-1968
From at least 1955, Playcraft offered a series of wooden picture carvings, or hanging shallow three dimensional rooms, one of which was a Swiss Kitchen:
Picture Carving No 8002, Swiss Kitchen, from a Playcraft ad in Hobbies 1957 Handbook.
German manufacturers continued to offer chalet-style dolls houses. Dora Kuhn, based in the Bavarian Alps in West Germany, exported "peasant dollhouses" to the USA. They were sold exclusively through the US toy store FAO Schwarz, and appear in their catalogues from the late 1950s to the 1970s, at least.
Chalet-type Peasant Dollhouse in FAO Schwarz Christmas catalogs. Above, 1959 © flickr user Wishbook Below, 1970/71 © Rebecca Green
Susan Hale has the earlier version, with applied wooden decoration above the windows, rather than the painted decoration of the later model:
FAO Schwarz chalet-type peasant dollhouse, ca late 1950s, early 1960s. Above, front; below, side. © Susan Hale
Interior of the FAO Schwarz chalet-type peasant dollhouse, with Dora Kuhn "decorated peasant-style furniture". The dolls are Caco (as sold by FAO Schwarz) and Erna Meyer. © Susan Hale
FAO Schwarz also offered another chalet, as the house of the Three Bears!
Bear House in FAO Schwarz Christmas Catalog 1970/71. © Rebecca Green
As well as Albin Schönherr and Dora Kuhn, other German manufacturers who included chalets in their range were C Moritz Reichel, Gottschalk and Prestofix.
Dolls house by C Moritz Reichel, Erzgebirge, East Germany ca 1960, front (above) and side (below). © diepuppenstubensammlerin
Landhaus ('country house'), from Moritz Gottschalk, Erzgebirge, East Germany ca 1960. Katharina's Collection, photos © diepuppenstubensammlerin
Gottschalk produced later models of the Landhaus in 1966 and 1969:
A dolls house in Swiss style exhibited by Moritz Gottschalk at the autumn toy fair, 1966. From an article in the newspaper Neue Zeit, © diepuppenstubensammlerin
A Gottschalk country-style dolls house in an ad for the East German export company Demusa, 1969. © diepuppenstubensammlerin
A chalet-style inn made from a Prestofix construction set, 1963. Wilhelm Kuhn, Fürth, Bavaria,West Germany. © diepuppenstubensammlerin
Rosemary's Austrian Chalet was made by her father in the UK in 1961, and now stands on a steep hill above Greconville:
Austrian Chalet, homemade in 1961. Photos © Rosemary
Shanni in the US also has what is probably a homemade chalet, but whether it was made to a commercially available plan, or designed by its maker, we don't know:
Shanni's Summer Chalet. Above, outside when acquired; below, interior. Photos © Shanni Schafer
In Sweden, BRIO offered a dolls house called Alphyddan (Alpine hut or cabin) from 1963 to 1966. Features which distinguish this model from earlier BRIO dolls houses, and which are typical of chalets, include the forward-facing gable and a wide, sloping roof. These features continued in the later BRIO Mobilia dolls house, but the Alphyddan has a higher and slightly more steeply pitched roof than the Mobilia, and two narrow panels at either side of the upper floor. Compared to the other dolls houses seen so far, however, the name Alphyddan seems intended to evoke an idea rather than represent an architectural or decorative style.
BRIO Alphyddan from 1966, in the BRIO Lekoseum (Toy Museum). Photo © Elisabeth Lantz
The late 1960s and 1970s saw a profusion of chalet dolls houses. In England, Hobbies of Dereham offered their first Chalet Dolls House in 1968. While the Chalet Musical Cigarette Boxes replicated the typical Swiss chalet, this dolls house represented the brick bungalows known as chalets which sprang up in the 1960s.
Hobbies Chalet Dolls House FDW 105, from Hobbies Annual 1968. The ground floor opened front (above) and back, and the roof opened at the back (below). © Rebecca Green
When Hobbies closed in 1968, ex-Hobbies employee Ivan Stroulger designed several dolls houses which he sold under the names Dereham Handicraft Company and Hobbytrends, before being assigned the name Hobbies again.
His chalet design was published in Practical Woodworking magazine in November 1970; it has many similarities to the earlier Hobbies design:
Hobbytrends / Dereham Handicraft Company featured in Practical Woodworking, November 1970. © Rebecca Green
GeeBee of Hull offered both a Swiss Cottage and a Swiss Chalet. The Chalet had a balcony on both sides of the upper floor, supported on one side by a garage and on the other by two pillars. The Swiss Cottage also had the balcony over pillars, but did not have a full balcony on the other side. As few chalets had built-in garages, it seems to have been the second balcony which made the difference between a cottage and a chalet.
GeeBee DH12 Swiss Cottage, as shown in J. Dobson & Sons Toy & Gift Catalogue, 1969-70, Preston, Lancs. © Rebecca Green
GeeBee DH14 Swiss Chalet (with garage), as shown in A.J. Gardner (Stratford) Ltd's toy wholesale catalogue for 1972-73, London. © Rebecca Green
Most Kitfix / Severalls dolls houses, made at Severalls Hospital near Colchester, Essex, from the mid 1960s until the early 1980s, have a wide sloping roof with a forward facing gable, and many combine this with a balcony running the length of the front of the house.
Above, Kitfix / Severalls 'Cedar Lodge' dolls house. © ebay seller mm1962_112. Below, Kitfix / Severalls 'Birchwood' dolls house. © Veronica Tonge.
Even Triang, producer of dolls houses in quintessentially English styles, offered a Tyrolean Dolls House in 1972.
TM 7770 Tyrolean Dolls House in the Triang 1972 catalogue, courtesy Marion Osbourne
TM 7770 Triang Tyrolean dolls house belonging to Val Nash. Above, front: note the different plant decals from the catalogue image. Below, open back and inside. Photos © Val Nash
TM 7770 Triang Tyrolean dolls house roof and top balcony (above); side view (below). Photos © Val Nash
One of the most commonly found chalet dolls houses is that designed by Craft Patterns (the company founded by A. Neely Hall) in the USA. The patterns were available all over the world, and the chalet house, available from about 1975, was clearly popular.
Craft Patterns (Craft Creative Kits) ad in International Dolls House News, Autumn & Winter 1975, Spring 1976.
A chalet dolls house made from Craft Patterns design 1185, and sold on Australian ebay. The decals were supplied with the plans.
The Craft Patterns chalet has rooms on three levels. This house was clearly made in the 1970s!
Another plan for a Swiss Chalet dolls house was published in the International Dolls House Book by S. F. King (Mills & Boon, 1977).
While the Hobbies, Craft Patterns and International Dolls House Book chalets all required some skill in woodwork to build, here is one that could be made by a child using only scissors and paste (with a bit of help to measure out and draw the walls, floors and roof pieces on cardboard):
The magazine supplied colour prints of the internal walls, as well as a bed, settee, and sink unit to cut out and fold around matchboxes. For the exterior, there were brightly coloured eaves, window frames, window boxes, shutters, a front door, finial and chimney, to cut out and paste on to the cardboard frame.
Make Your Own Mini-Chalet, Woman's Weekly, 15th February 1969 © IPC Magazines Ltd
The two major dolls house manufacturers in the Netherlands, OKWA and SIO, both offered dolls houses with a wide, steeply sloping roof and balconies on the upper levels.
OKWA dolls house, 1975. Above: from the front; below: roof and balcony of the top floor. Photos © diepuppenstubensammlerin
In West Germany, Bodo Hennig named houses ‘Allgäu’ and ‘Tirol’, evoking alpine landscapes in Germany and Austria, but the houses themselves do not have particularly strong chalet features. Elfriede Lipfert (ELKA), however, did produce chalet style houses, as seen here at a toy fair in 1975:
Elfriede Lipfert (Elka) chalet dolls house at the 1975 Nuremberg Toy Fair, as shown in Das Spielzeug magazine. © diepuppenstubensammlerin
East German manufacturers also continued to offer chalets, including this simple one in 1/12th scale from VEB Holzspielwaren in 1973:
and this more sophisticated design from VERO:
VERO chalet front (above) and side (below). Photos © Shanni Schafer
The Spanish Hogarin dolls of the 1970s were provided with several models of chalet to live in. I am not sure if the name 'chalet' reflected the architectural style of their dwellings (although Model 3 does have a wide sloping roof and forward facing gable), or their function as holiday homes (although the Hogarins were not on holiday all the time!), or was chosen for some other reason.
Catalogue image of Hogarin chalets No 3 and No 4. © Luijuas & Co of El Cuartin de Juguete
Catalogue image of Hogarin chalets No 1 (ground floor) and No 2 (upper floor), which could be bought and used separately. © Luijuas & Co of El Cuartin de Juguete
Several major dolls house makers in England and Scandinavia brought out chalets in the 1980s. I'm not clear exactly how Barton's Claremont Chalet warrants the name - the main differences between this model and Barton's Caroline's Home seem to be a balcony on one side, opening off the bedroom, rather than a balcony railing running along most of the front; and closed sides and an open front, rather than an open side and a half closed front. The Claremont Chalet also came with an extension.
Claremont Chalet in the 1980 Caroline's Home Barton Toys catalogue © www.carolineshome.co.uk
Leisure Industries' 1981 Oak Leaf Chalet, on the other hand, had a completely different design from the Oak Leaf Lodge and Oak Leaf Dolls House:
Oak Leaf Chalet, 1981, Leisure Industries / Toy Works. © Rebecca Green
Lisa of Denmark's Chalets, numbered 521 and 525, both have a similar steeply sloping roof and balcony or terrace area opening off the upper floor:
Lisa chalet 521 © Elisabeth Lantz
Lisa chalet 525: above, front © ebay.de seller Brigitte; below, side. © Valérie Braun
Lisa chalet 525 back. © Valérie Braun
Lundby's first chalet, in 1981, has a symmetrically sloping pitched roof (in contrast to the asymmetrical Göteborg (Gothenburg) roofline or the flat-topped Stockholm roof) and a balcony opening off the upper floor. Its basic structure very much resembles the Vitali dolls house of 1948.
Lundby Chalet, 1981 © Valérie Braun
Lundby's next chalet, the Norrland produced in 1990, has a much more steeply pitched roof descending for two floors, and a balcony runs along the length of the first floor. (It also appears to have a verandah on the ground floor, not a feature of the original chalets, but often now found in the chalet inns and hotels of Switzerland and Austria.)
Lundby Norrland, 1990. Scan © Valérie Braun
Hobby's (W. Hobby Ltd of London, a different company from Hobbies of Dereham) had sold Hobbies' Chalet Dolls House FDW 105 as Hobby's Plan No 1509 (left), from at least 1976.
They also sold Ivan Stroulger's Dereham Handicraft Company Chalet Dolls house at the same time, and several Swiss Chalet musical boxes (Hobby's had started life as Swisscross Ltd, a supplier of musical movements).
In 1986, Hobby's introduced a new Swiss Chalet Doll's House, below (they continued to sell the two other models mentioned as well).
Hobby's Swiss Chalet Dolls House No 1590, published in 1986. Scans © Rebecca Green
Access to the interior of Hobby's Swiss Chalet No 1590 was through the removable back, and the folding roof.
I always think of this Hobby's chalet when I see the following model for sale, but it is not the same. We have not yet been able to identify the maker of this chalet (or smaller variations), so if you know who made it, please let us know!
Chalet dolls house by unknown maker. Above, front; below: back with roof removed. Photos © Chantal Powell
In the US, we have so far seen the Dora Kuhn "peasant dollhouse" sold by FAO Schwarz, and the Craft Patterns design for a Chalet Doll House. I am not aware of many chalet dolls houses being commercially manufactured for children in the US, although there were several log cabin dolls houses over the years. Brumberger did produce a chalet, in the late 1970s and early 1980s:
Boxed Brumberger chalet-style wooden doll house with flip top roof. © Deaun
Brumberger chalet-style wooden doll house on box, above, and below, with the roof flipped open. © Deaun
Later in the 1980s, two of the American companies who supplied dolls house kits mainly for adult collectors included a chalet dolls house in their range.
The "Julie" Chalet (left, from Dee's Delights 1987 catalogue), was made by The House That Jack Built. It is a traditional chalet, ready assembled in 1/12th scale.
The Artply "Somerset" gingerbread trim chalet (below, from Dee's Delights 1989 catalogue) seems to me a little less sure of its origins.
In a very different scale, Bluebird's Polly Pocket had a compact called Heidi's Swiss Chalet. The chalet is represented as a rustic wooden building with shutters on the windows. Like many Polly Pocket compacts, one half depicts an outdoor scene, here one of solid snow and ice.
Heidi's Swiss Chalet Polly Pocket © ebay seller serenahowes1
The chalet continues to inspire makers of dolls houses. Plan Toys Chalet is rather more impressionistic:
Plan Toys Chalet Doll House. Above, earlier version; below, current version with furniture.
while other makers produce more faithful representations of the traditional chalet:
Bricada'Bois Chalet dolls house by Jeanne Mathieu, Lyon, France, 2011 (Playmobil scale)
Real Good Toys Snow Country Chalet Dollhouse Kit
Chalets have provided a rich source of inspiration for dolls house makers. I'm sure there are more than the 40-odd I've shown here, especially from the first half of the 20th century and before. Do let us know if you know of others, or have one yourself!