House proud and how!

TRENDS

House proud and how!

Mini-modernists are unlike dollhouse hobbyists, who tend to favour ornate Victorian and Tudor styles. (David Azia/The New York Times).

Christine Ferrara, a 39-year-old public affairs director for the Institute for Advanced Study, a research center in Princeton, N.J., has a passion for modern architecture and design. It began in 2008, when her husband, Steven Birnbaum, a technology consultant, bought her an airy modern home with floor-to-ceiling windows.

It was to be her own little place, to decorate as she pleased without regard for his more traditional tastes or worrying that their three children might break something.
“I had seen the house on Craigslist and thought it was too frivolous to buy for myself,” she said. “But he gave it to me for Christmas, probably not realising what he would unleash.”

Since then, she has bought six more modern houses and filled them with appropriately modern furnishings, streamlined upholstered sofas, leather loungers, molded plastic chairs, glass tables, Pop Art and steel lamps, which she is constantly rearranging and staging for photographs worthy of the cover of Dwell or Architectural Digest.

Except for one thing: the size of the rooms. An inch in Ferrara’s modernist world is equivalent to a foot in the real world.

‘Call of the Small’ blog

Ferrara, who posts the pictures on her blog, Call of the Small, is one of a growing number of devotees of miniature modern design. With their love of clean lines and sleek interiors, mini-modernists are unlike the vast majority of dollhouse hobbyists, who tend to favour more ornate Victorian and Tudor styles.

As recently as three years ago, an Internet search for “miniature modern” or “mini modern” would have yielded few, if any, results. But today there are a number of blogs like Ferrara’s showcasing tiny modern interiors. There is also a Flickr group called Modern Miniatures, with 370 members, many from the United States, but also from Australia, England, Germany and Japan. And an increasing number of manufacturers are producing mini-modern homes and furnishings for people to create fantasy spaces that, at full size, would be too impractical or expensive to own.

In real life, Ferrara lives in a typical suburban Colonial-style home, furnished with antiques she and her husband inherited, and various pieces from Pottery Barn and Ikea.
“With three kids, my house is fine, it’s comfortable, it works,” said Ferrara, who keeps her mini-modern houses and accessories in the basement. “But with my mini houses, I get to be creative and take risks,” like hanging bold geometric-patterned wallpaper in a sitting room or putting a white faux-fur rug on the floor.

She can also buy miniature replicas of modern furniture she loves by designers like Le Corbusier or Charles Eames for less than $30 apiece, a fraction of what the full-size versions would cost.

Even so, she said, the little things are adding up, and she’s had to cut back elsewhere: “I don’t buy clothes anymore.” Ferrara haunts Internet auction sites and online toy sellers for vintage and new mini-modern items made by companies like Reac in Japan and Elf Miniatures in England, as well as Minimodernistas, Brinca Dada and PRD Miniatures in the United States.

Particularly sought after by serious collectors is the Kaleidoscope House, designed by the artist Laurie Simmons and Peter Wheelright, an architect, in 2001. Back then, the colourful modernist dollhouse with its $250 price tag wasn’t exactly a blockbuster.

Indeed, the company that made it, Bozart Toys, went out of business two years later. But today, even a used and tattered Kaleidoscope House can sell for as much as $2,000.
Christy Schmidt, 30, a data analyst for an insurance company in Louisville, Ky., has two modern dollhouses, one of them a Kaleidoscope, that she writes about on the blog Petite Nouveau. And because “the supply of modern miniatures is pretty limited,” she said, “I am quick to buy anything as soon as I find it.”

Like other mini-modernists, Schmidt often resorts to making furnishings herself, lamps out of beads, tables out of Lucite pillboxes and rugs out of place mats.

Dollhouses

Annina Gunther, a graphic designer in Brighton, England, said that when she first started her collection, she “worried about telling people, like they would look at me funny. But when they see it, they get it.”

Gunther, 28, has four dollhouses, which she stages for photographs that she posts on her blog, Miniatures by Annina, and on Flickr. Others, however, are creating dream houses. Lee Downin, 56, designed window and floor displays for Crate & Barrel for 30 years, but is now caring for his elderly mother in Dallas.

Someday, he said, he wants to live in a house made out of a cargo shipping container, but since he can’t now, he had a miniature one custom built last year.

He has decorated it with replicas of modern furniture like a Noguchi coffee table and a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair.

“As life gets more complicated and cluttered, I am more and more attracted to the simplicity of modern design,” said Downin, who is working on plans to add a tiny deck, pool and yard.

Bebe Ventura, 70, a retired interior decorator in New York, has nine modern dollhouses as well as a miniature houseboat and Airstream trailer. “You can lose yourself for hours in your miniature world,” she said. “Whatever care you have goes away.”

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