You don’t need millions to enjoy the perfect period property. Caroline McGhie finds small can be beautiful too
This is a magnificent 18th-century wedding cake of a house, five storeys piled high with strings of grand rooms, attics, panelling, ornate plasterwork and an architectural masterpiece of a staircase. It is a small palace fit for a duke and duchess, all limestone dressings and Doric columns. Servants’ quarters, kitchens, pantries and sculleries are buried in the basement. It needs total decoration. How much is it? At just over 6ft tall and 6ft wide, Ashworth Grange can be yours for £2,500 plus a £250 delivery and set-up charge. Mark Wilcox will probably set off before dawn from Liskeard in Cornwall to deliver it to you. He will make it for you too. Mark began making doll’s houses nine years ago when he was made redundant as a lorry driver and thought his six-yearold daughter would like one. She preferred the idea of owning a pony, but he was hooked on miniatures by then. It was a good decade to start up The Dolls House Builder (01579 24168). Property prices were soaring, television costume dramas were thriving and those who couldn’t afford to buy the trophy house of their dreams opted instead for the miniature. All doll’s house makers say that nine out of 10 of their sales go to adults. Thousands of them attend dedicated doll’s house festivals around Europe. “It gives them back a bit of their lost youth. Most of them are in their mid-sixties and they always say they wanted a doll’s house when they were young,” Mark says. “A doll’s house is an asset, because it goes up in value more than money in a bank account. And it is all about having the fantasy house that you can’t afford to buy.” Much of the value is in the interior décor. “You can buy furniture room sets for £15 to £20 each, or you can go to proper craftsmen who will make furniture with inlaid marquetry at £400 to £500 a room. It isn’t the houses so much as the things which go in them which are valuable. You can get chandeliers, flock wallpapers, table settings, anything,” Mark adds. Fully decorated, Ashworth Grange could be worth £40,000 to £50,000. Dingley Hall, a doll’s house made in the 1870s from the carcases of two bookcases by two schoolboys who lived at Minley Manor in Hampshire, made a landmark sale at Christie’s in 2003, fetching £124,750. Early doll’s houses are prized as records of domestic detail at the time they were built. One of the most famous is Queen Mary’s, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and on show at Windsor Castle. Christmas brings out a surge of purchases for children. The Dolls House Emporium (08000 114422), which has a dazzling choice, sees young buyers going for the Wild West Rocky Ridge saloon bar and Mary Beth’s ice-cream parlour (both £73). Their finest, usually bought by adults, is Grosvenor Hall. It is more than 5ft high and costs £565. More affordable isWentworth Court at £169. Both come flat-packed for self-assembly. To what extent does play imitate life and vice versa? Few houses have a greater air of doll’s house proportion and fantasy than Ashdown House, a historic stately home in Oxfordshire. At £4.5m through Knight Frank (01488 688500) and Carter Jonas (01635 263000), it costs 90,000 times as much as its miniature. Built by the Earl of Craven in 1663, of dressed chalk with hints of French chateau, and eight bedrooms, cottages and parkland, it is known locally as “the doll’s house”. So now it seems that we spend per square foot on real estate what we are prepared to spend on a whole doll’s house. “Prime Oxfordshire houses cost £500 to £750 per square foot and prime Kensington costs £1,500 per square foot,” says Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank. In both, we appear to desire order, symmetry and period prettiness. The Queen Anne house ranks high. Mattishall Hall, inset, in Norfolk, priced at £1.55m through Strutt & Parker (01603 617431), has the exact façade, with seven bedrooms, swimming pool, tennis court and land. Shrink it to the playroom and you could have all the fun of decorating it for much less.
Ashdown House, full size, far left; left and above, Grosvenor Hall doll’s house; below, miniature pasties in the kitchen