'Small Stories' at the V&A Museum of Childhood opens doors to astonishing miniature worlds

View of the 'Small Stories' show at the V&A Museum of Childhood featuring doll houses in glass display cases in a space with wood flooring and green and white walls with text and wall art
'Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House’ opened at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London this weekend. © Victoria and Albert Museum
(Image credit: TBC)

To anyone who fondly recalls having - or who ever dreamt of having - a dolls' house, new show 'Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House' at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London's Bethnal Green, is just what the doctor ordered.

Featuring a stunning selection of 12 historical and contemporary dolls' houses of varying sizes from the past 300 years, the exhibition is designed to tell the (fictional) stories of the people living in these houses - a set up that appeals to visitors of all ages. Many of the delicate objects - some are part of the museum's permanent collection - have been painstakingly restored by the museum's conservation department over the past two years.

And even if childhood nostalgia is not your thing, this show will also appeal to the discerning, design-aware visitor. Spanning different periods and architectural styles, 'Small Stories' is a neat whistle-stop tour of the country's design developments over the centuries, from a Georgian town house and suburban mansions, to a 1960s high rise and a Le Corbusier-style white villa; most come complete with miniature period furniture and sophisticated interior fittings. Highlights include the modernist-inspired 'Whiteladies House' by artist Moray Thomas (built in the 1930s) and 'Kaleidoscope House', 2001, by architect Peter Wheelwright and artist (and former Wallpaper* guest editor) Laurie Simmons.

As a contemporary update, the museum invited 19 London-based design studios to produce their own artistic interpretation of a dolls' house for a special display in the show. Entitled 'Dream House', the installation serves as the final stop on the exhibition's circuit and sees contributors, including Bethan Laura Wood, Peter Marigold and PriestmanGoode, turn their hand to creating their own miniature interiors - a fitting finish to the show, bringing the history of this much-loved toy to the present day.

View of a multi-level, brown doll house in a glass display case at the V&A Museum of Childhood. The space features wood flooring and green walls with wall art

The exhibition features 12 dolls’ houses, which span different architectural styles over 300 years. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

View of a modern style doll house with a swimming pool, tennis court and multiple miniature people in a glass display case at the V&A Museum of Childhood. The space features wood flooring and green walls. Another doll house can be seen on display in the background

’Small Stories’ includes a modernist-style white villa built in the 1930s. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Alternative view of a multi-level, brown doll house in a glass display case at the V&A Museum of Childhood. The space features wood flooring and green walls with text and various pieces of wall art

Many of the delicate objects come from the museum’s permanent collection. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features a light coloured floor and walls, red and white furniture, a wall-mounted clothing rail with clothes, small red buses and images of air balloons, Big Ben, The Gherkin skyscraper and a London Underground sign on the walls. And the second box features a wooden table, a bench, shelving, brick walls, grey floors and a large black grid style window

As a contemporary counterpoint to the exhibit, the museum invited several London-based design studios to produce their own artistic interpretation of a dolls’ house for a special display in the show, entitled ’Dream House’. From left: ’Room with a View’, by Nancy Edwards; and ’Bermondsey Studio’, by East London Furniture, Jessica Sutton and Reuben Le Prevost. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features a bathroom with a blue floor and walls, a toilet, a bath, a girl and various types of fish suspended from the ceiling, seaweed and coral. And the second box features greenery on the back wall, small white stones on the floor, a light bulb and two pale gold, curved pipes in different sizes

’I Always Dreamed of an Underwater Aquarium Bathroom’, by Katy Christianson; and ’Wellbeing Bathroom’, by Roger Arquar. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features stools, a ladder, a sewing machine, a rolling press machine, 3D cube patterned flooring and rust coloured walls with an optical illusion style pattern. And the second box features light coloured floral wallpaper, wood flooring, three armchairs, a rug, a wooden and tiled fireplace, framed wall art, a table, a wooden chair and wall-mounted shelving

’A Night in the Studio’, by Ina Hyun K Shin; and ’Library (A Recent Plan)’, by Liberty Art Fabrics Interiors. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features three different coloured monsters, shelving with white plates and cups and a table with food on top. And the second box features a mirrored interior, a ladder and blue, green and orange tubes in different sizes

’Monsters in the Pantry’, by Peter Marigold; and ’If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there’, by PearsonLloyd. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features walls covered with images of black four-legged animals and orange people, patterned flooring and a dark orange character in a bed. And the second box features patterned wallpaper, shelving units, a red tv, a strawberry, flowers in a vase, a multicoloured patterned chair, multiple birds and a white, yellow and blue plastic structure suspended from the ceiling

’Wilderness Dreams’, by Orly Orbach; and ’If a Budgie Dreamed of being a Magpie’, by Bethan Laura Wood. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features corkboard walls, an orange tree trunk, green leaves, a green slide and ladder, rope, yellow people, a yellow path with orange spots and chalk drawings on the walls. And the second box features yellow and white patterned walls, wood flooring, a rug, a desk and chair, wall-mounted shelving, a fireplace with items on top, a bear and framed images of bears on the wall

’Into the Trees’ playroom, by Pantxika Ospital; and ’Home Is Bear The Heart Is’, by Mister Peebles. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features blue walls, a table and chair. The space appears to continue further back along with the table and chairs. And the second box features tiled flooring and multicoloured patterned walls. There is also a multicoloured patterned light fixture, sofa and cushions along with other pieces of furniture

'The Longest Party Table in the World' by Paul Priestman; and 'Not a Magnolia Room', by Dionne Sylvester. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

Two side-by-side photos of artistic interpretations of a dolls’ house in square, wooden boxes by several London-based design studios. The first box features multicoloured wallpaper with animals, multicoloured curtains, a black tree trunk, a yellowy-green coloured character in a bed with a blue pillow and sheet, wood flooring and an orange cloud suspended from the ceiling with droplets in different colours. And the second box features light coloured walls, wood flooring and multiple wooden chairs and tables stacked on top of each other with a woman lying on a sofa reading at the very top of the pile. There are books, a teapot, a mug, a jug and glass of juice, a bowl of fruit, a clock and a candelabra on surfaces around the sofa

'Llama Dreams', by Donna Wilson; and 'Offline Hideaway', by Dominic Wilcox. © Victoria and Albert Museum

(Image credit: TBC)

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Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).