A hobby not just for little girls or for boys but for everyone who loves miniatures and playing with dolls.
Forget about buying your kids some expensive smarphone they'll only brick in a month or be lost to some thief prowling for hot gadgets. For the same price as a decent smartphone or tablet, you can get your boy or girl (or siblings) a really nice, big and awesome toy that they can treasure as they grow up and even be an heirloom to pass along to cousins or their own rugrats. Who cares for a smartphone that will die in a year or be obsolete in less time than that?
Dollhouses for Me-Time and Group Play
Kids need hours of me-time and space to de-stress in their own way--play. No other toy out there except maybe builder kits can provide as much fun and creative play for kids by themselves or with their siblings or friends like a dollhouse.
Dollhouse play has been a timeless hobby that not only works for girls and young boys but also for miniature hobbyists who are hard-wired for assembling small worlds--a home--and fill it up with neat stuff. Dollhouse play is better than "The SiMs" video game because you can actually touch and tinker around your dollhouse instead of zooming around a computer screen and you can also make funny voices for all of your toy dolls yourself.
Boys love to build miniature soldier armies and mini-forts (but would prefer it if dad and mom can afford them a cutaway Lego Death Star as their assemble-me fort) as their dollhouse. On the other hand, girls live to spend hours telling their dolls to be good while goofing around their mini-mansions—whether it be a Polly Pocket compact-toy or a full-scale, child-sized, Victorian dollhouse. Dollhouses these days have become bigger and more useful too because some can double as a toy cabinet or are built into bunk bed designs.
Hardcore dollhouse collector enthusiasts love to put together high-end room furnishings and prop miniatures that may not be suitable for very young kids (small objects that can cause choking—a no-no for children's toys) but complete the small world they escape for precious downtime. Since the toys have evolved into a handicraft industry all its own, there are communities of hobbyists and sellers of dollhouses who specialize in each and every genre and architectural style of the toy home along with the miniature home decor that goes in. There are online communities that show fans where they can get their good stuff. Let's look at the kinds of dollhouses available today for fans of the hobby and the places where you can get them for yourself or as gifts for loved ones. Modern Dollhouses for 18-inch Dolls MyGirlsDollhouse.com is a start-up dollhouse custom builder that found a popular niche in girl's toys--kids looking for dollhouses for 18-inch big dolls. Their biggest dollhouses are 6 feet tall by 5 feet wide and feature fully furnished rooms. You have an option for open faced rooms like shelves fitted out with miniature furnishings or have the dollhouse frame be some architectural style like traditional dollhouses--Country French or Dollie and Me--their toylines that have a house with attic style dollhouse. KidKraft.inc is another popular dollhouse maker that sells open-face styled dollhouses that range from miniature toy houses for smaller dolls to mini-mansions for 12-inch dolls and 18-inch dolls too.
KidKraft.inc has dollhouses with open sided structures for groupplay.
Another variation of the modern dollhouse are custom builds that double as a coffee table, work table, bunk bed, toy bin or any multi-purpose child's room prop that you can think of. The primary design function of such dollhouses is to have big enough mini-rooms for kids to have an easier time playing and space
enough so that they can have friends over and play with the dollhouse
without crowding each other out crouching over a very small toy like
older dollhouses. DollsVilla is a toyline of modern groupplay dollhouses by German customcraft toy brand, Liliane, which offers high-end four-feet high, open shelf-style dollhouses where playing with friends as wel as by yourself is the pay off--one child can play on one side of the open shelf room system and another child friend can play on the opposite shelf room because the entire dollhouse has open access room from all sides. These kind of dollhouse designs also work well for playrooms in nurseries and kindergartens aside from being personally owned.
DollsVilla is the toyline from Liliane, a German custom maker of open faced rooms that can be accessed from each side of the dollhouse to encourage group play. Their dollhouses also have coaster wheels.
Custom-crafted wood dollhouses are another hit among dollhouse hobbyists. Simply constructed with DIY instructions or built up from pine and other good but inexpensive woods, custom crafted dollhouse can take almost any shape and are mostly one-ofs or limited run craft products on sites like Etsy and other craft shops online. The folding tree trunk below that opens into a dollhouse is made by a New Zealand-based craftsbuilder, the woodbotherer.co.nz.Despite being a custom make which can take time to finish, having this kind of dollhouse makes ownership special because no other kid, except for a few, will also have a toy like yours--good for kid's bragging rights even if your kid doesn't. Custom built dollhouses also make better heirlooms in time when your kid outgrows the toy.
Custom made, hinged Fairy Tree Dollhouse from the woodbotherer.co.nz, which featured hand-carved, wood furnishings and custom detailed exteriors.
Antique / Traditional Dollhouses
If you like old school traditional dollhouses—Victorian, Georgian, Tudor, or even Gothic, haunted house mansion styled toys, there are plenty of those too and may be easier to find because of the hobbyist communities that congregate around each architectural style of dollhouse. Purist dollhouse collectors may also be obsessive about authenticity to detail of room furnishings although most regular sellers just offer a nice miniature themed dollhouse that any girl can play with once she and her dad put it together out of the box. Antique dollhouses are prized for the craftsmanship of their making and may fetch the price of a car or higher depending on the condition of the toy. Some of these antique dollhouses are made by designer toy makers with big names. You can also find antique dollhouses displayed in museums that feature turn-of-the-century western and European toys.
Antique French doll house on display in a museum.
Polly Pocket and Lantern Dollhouses
Dollhouses can be as small as a Polly Pocket compact toy--a huge hit inthe 80s and 90s when they were still made by Blue Ridge--the Mattel ones are not as highly treasured by toy collectors as the "Faberge egg design" of the Blue Ridge clamshell dollhouses.
A Polly Pocket toy clamshell dollhouse could fit into a kid's blouse or shirt pocket and they featured fully furnished rooms as pictured below, some even having lawns or a volleyball court, or variations of places like a zoo, a race track, a school, a ballerina at a theater, a date setting with a boyfriend--all esconced in a plastic molded diorama. These toys also had miniature free standing dolls as small as one's thumb along with all sorts of characters and gear: from pets to bicycles. Polly Pocket toys from Blue Ridge are now very expensive collector's items that can run up to $380 or more.
Lantern dollhouses are another offshoot of styled miniature toys hidden in a prop--a lantern housing--that work as bedside or work desk toys or props.
A lantern dollhouse is similar to a Polly Pocket toy except that craft makers do a DIY rig of placing a scene inside an actual lantern housing that usually resembles a room in a dollhouse. Buying lanterns from craft sotres is easy. Setting up the dollhouse effect by carefuly arranging miniature furnishings inside the lantern space to resemble a room is the hobbyist's job. Etsy also features craftsmakers who put together dollhouse scenes inside an actual working lantern and wire up the lights to look light room lights and function as the lantern's light source too. The image below from an Etsy artisan crafted dollhouse lantern and depicts a room in a home: the piano room.
Dollhouse hobbyists purchase their room furnishings as special
sets or as individual custom made items or handcraft them if they have
artisan crafting skills.
Roominatetoy.com is a website that teaches girls how to tech up their dollhouses with wires and LED lights and motors for moving parts--the site is also a tech jump-on teaching portal for girls who want to enjoy building other stuff than just dollhouse lights.
Dollhouse Miniatures is a hobbyist magazine with both print and digital PDF issues available that update dollhouse lovers about their favorite toy and tell them where to source the best stuff for their mini-mansions. Green Leaf is another long time dedicated forum and blog community for traditional style dollhouse collectors and fans. Handy House.com is a worldwide distributor for dollhouse miniatures. You may check out all of these places for ideas or just browse them for stuff you think you might want any time soon for that dream dollhouse.
Detail of old school dollhouse furnishings.
Etsy.com is an artisan shop that features dollhouse furnishings as one of their custom made one-ofs. You can look up your preferred doodads on Etsy if you want an established online seller of dollhouse miniatures. Today's 3D printers make it
especially easier to draw what you like on CAD and print it off a block
of resin plastic or practically any material that can be carved up by a
3D printing machine. The cost of 3D printers has also gone down and you
can even rig one with off-shelf parts via open source blueprints.
Some custom builders like the one based in New Zealand who made the fairy tree dollhouse are toy maker hobbyists who can create special items for themed dollhouses like haunted mansions, fairy castles, carved tree trunks with partitions within or the more traditional Victorian or French manor dollhouses. Check the web for any hobbyist group that specializes in any particular kind of dollhouse prop you want to add to your collection.