The Big World of Small Things

Zohra Abdullah Art History Children Curiosities Decorative Arts Furniture Miniatures

Art is exploration, and the heart always seeks what is next. There comes a time in an artist's quest for the ideal where they must invent the meaning of their next step themselves. For us, this often means pushing the skill of our artisans beyond comprehension. And when we tried to think big, we ended up thinking of miniatures. 

It is funny to think that the earliest 16th century Dutch Dockenhauses were carefully protected from children. A Dutch cabinet house was no child's play;  they would cost as much as an actual townhouse on the canal in Amsterdam. They are better described as cabinets with the features of a house. These were used to store objets d'art and curiosities from all over the world, at a time when travel was perilous and expensive. A cabinet house could only be afforded by the very richest and would be a prized family possession. 

Later English Baby Houses were still artisan-made but more affordable scaled replicas of your home which would include all the swag of your full-sized home, including the finest furnishings. Given the old English aversion to the sight of children, it is  no surprise that children were not seen anywhere near these either. But mothers would often use these to teach young girls how to manage a household. Many Palladian-style antiques survive as a fascinating glimpse into an 18th century English household. 


Children's dollhouse furniture is not to be confused with trade miniatures or apprentice pieces. Miniatures were carried by travelling salesmen all over the land to display the skill of a cabinet maker, as a three-dimensional catalogue. Apprentice pieces are rarer but also of inferior quality. They were made by aspiring artisans hoping to join a workshop, as a sample of their skill. They are often not of accurate form and made of inferior woods, as they did not have an ornamental function. Both miniatures and apprentice pieces are coveted antiques today, but our focus is on children's dollhouse furniture, which was purpose-made.

There is no standard scale for toy furniture; you would find variations even from the same manufacturer. For our pieces, we have kept in mind a rough 1:10 scale, but the scale would more accurately be described as « That Looks About Right »


It was only with a very fundamental sociological shift in the understanding of childhood and the possibility of mass production with the industrial revolution that doll houses became a toy for children. From the nineteenth century onwards, there is no dearth of miniatures. Dollhouses, toy furniture, trains and cars, books and many other collectibles were manufactured on a miniature scale.

Since the industrial revolution, miniature furniture is mostly mass produced in cheap materials. Initial models were in cast to moulded iron, but resin is ubiquitous today. While the online world is rife with visually appealing and seemingly classic miniatures, they are often in resin. True miniature collectors struggle to find handmade, academically accurate furniture in pure materials.

Achieving finesse by hand at this scale requires an immense amount of patience, time and skill. Skill that comes with years of practicing a craft and can only be exercised by our senior artisans over many hours. As is often the case with furniture, the price of these pieces are never directly proportionate to their size. With very few people appreciating the purity of materials and academic accuracy, these are hardly an intelligent business decision.

So, why do we do it? Parrot & Lily has always been driven by passion, often of the maddening variety. We will admit that even we were slightly concerned when our artisans set out to furnish a miniature claw-footed bathtub. But as we feel the gratification of chasing an ideal, we are also encouraged by our equally passionate patrons who appreciate fine things, pure materials and human skill, and renounce the superficial.


We often say that Parrot & Lily is not for everyone. There is value and meaning in partaking in a tradition of human skill and the quest for beauty. If you are baffled by what we seek, we direct you to a world of mass-produced resin miniatures. But those have no allure for the passionate heart of an unrepentant classist.

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  • Parrot & Lily on

    @Gaurangi Agarwal Absolutely, we just launched our set of dollhouse furniture. You can view it here –

  • Gaurangi Agarwal on

    Do you make dollhouse furniture?

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