Sunday, 2 January 2011

The D2 article in English

By Kristiane Larssen Photos by Ivar Kvaal

Architect Helene Madsø Engen has decorated five homes, her own cinema, a coffeebar, a pub, and a shop. The new Interior bloggers pursue their design dreams in scale 1:16.

KARL EDO SPOOK always knew what he wanted. The dark, silent man from Skien is constantly looking for new "design delights" for his new Per Spook [sic] shop, Spook House, or for his home, a modern villa with a roof terrace and a pool, an art deco inspired bedroom, art by Victor Pasmore on the walls and in-built led-lights around the bathtub.

He would gladly be posing for the cover of Dwell Magazine or Architecture Digest, if it weren't for the fact that Karl Edo is cast in plastic, born in 1:16, and a fictitious character in architect Helene Madsø Engen's (44) curious dollshow.

HOUSING BUBBLE. Karl Edo Spook's modern villa is only one of Helene Madsø Engen's four eternal renovation projects: Four dollhouses in scale 1:16, where every room is decorated and every detail meticulously planned -- a copy of the New York Times left lying on the dinner table, a Burberry bag on the floor and a forgotten teacup in blue porcelain on a bedside table.
The Architect from Skien, who publishes the stories from her miniature neighbourhood on the blog Pubdolls, is one of a growing number of bloggers who pursue smallscale design dreams. They call themselves mini-modernists, have a fear of pine ['Pine' here refers to the faux-traditional pinewood furniture that's been immensely popular in Norway for three decades. TE], and love clear lines.

On the photosite Flickr the Group "Modern Miniatures" have more than 700 members, and a number of manufacturers offer minimodernist homes and furnitures for those who love design, but who really can't afford to do it. The design chain Vitra's series of miniatures of modern classics -- by Le Corbusier, Arne Jacobsen and Ray & Charles Eames -- have become attractive objects for collectors. The miniatures in scale 1:16 [sic] all have pricetags between 100 and 600 dollars, are propagated as «great conversation pieces», and are anything but ergonomically
adapted to the tiny hands of children.

THE NEW CLASS. Helene Madsø Engen is bending down in front of her dollhomes fiddling with the miniature of a Barcelona chair, originally designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to the 1929 World Exposition. For the last few years the family's upstairs guestroom has been gradually gentrified by a style-conscious middle class consisting of different characters, twelve plastic dolls with sky high demands to design and quality.
- It does take some time and money, enough for me to feel slightly guilty now and then, says Madsø Engen, who earns her living at Arkitektkontoret Børve og Borchsenius in Porsgrunn.
- Sometimes my colleagues tease me for playing with dollhouses as an adult, but what drives me is a surplus of creativity rather than escapism, she says.

LIVED LIFE. The mini-modernists themselves claim it's not about fulfilling girly romantic fantasies, but rather a meticulous study of modern interiors and architectural history.
- The stereotypical collector of dollhouses is a nostalgic old lady, indulging in the oldfashioned Victorian style and striving for perfection. For mini-modernists it's about the love of good design, says Swiss Annina Diston (28), graphic designer and miniaturist blogger.
For two years she has created scenes from a life in miniature, with a richness of detail that has given her status among the other mini-modernists. A plate with some halfeaten cake, breadcrumbs on the kitchen benchtop and dirty ashtrays.
When the New York Times showed some of Diston's works this summer, the paper described her pictures as «remarkably evocative and artistic», not unlike the urban paintings of the artist Edward Hopper.
- I'm not aiming for an idealistic dreamworld. I make houses with life, rooms where the realism lies in the details, she says.

Miniature collector Christine Ferrara (40) of New Jersey says that mini-modernism opened a new world to her, a world that allows her to combine the interest for design with a childhood fascination for the miniscule.
- To me, this is about creating reflections on how we live and on the elements that make a modern home, says Ferrara, who once drove from New Jersey to Chicago, a drive of around 1290 km [over-exact conversion from miles. TE] each way, for the sole purpose of picking up a dollhouse.
In a mere two years as a mini-modernist she has already acquired ten dollhouses.
- My hobby may clearly be a challenge with three children under the age of ten in the house, but they're usually careful not to touch anything. It's obvious to them that this is not toys, she says.

GOD FOR ONE DAY. When the Danish designer Linda Stenberg last year decided to design a dollhouse with roots in Danish design tradition, she knew nothing of the emerging mini-modernism. Stenberg had for a long time tried to find a dollhouse for her daughters, but wanted something other than an American, suburban dream to lay under the Christmas tree.
- And then I discovered that there's a bunch of people around the world furnishing modern houses with designer furniture. It's really wild, says Stenberg.
Today she is employed as a designer and product developer in the company Minimii, which in the spring of 2011 will launch an Arne Jacobsen villa in 1:16, a faithful replica of Jacobsen's own modern villa in Charlottenlund.
The dollhouse will be complete with classic Arne Jacobsen furniture, and a carpet, wallpapers and art based on Jacobsen's own aquarelles.
- The interest has been overwhelming with more than 300 preorders five months before we're on the market, says Stenberg, who is marketing the dollhouse as a product «with appeal to playful adults with an eye for good design ... and to children of course».

FULL SCALE The American designer Paris Renfroe has established himself as a mini-modernist star, in part for his novel container dollhouse. For the furniture designer the mini-modernists have been a doorway to the market for fullscale design:
- When someone buys what I make in 1:12, they don't buy it just because it's tiny. They buy it because they enjoy my design. This makes it a unique gateway to the design market, says Renfroe.
He tells that many of his customers are well off, but have felt the financial crisis on their wallets, and will now make do with miniatures rather than expensive fullscale design.
- For many it's about control, being God for a day. The escapism is obviously part of this: Miniature design keeps the fantasies alive. Dollhouses are interactive rooms that provides the opportunity, both physically and mentally, to take part in this world where dreams can come true, he says.

THE HOLY GRAIL. In the workroom in Skien the housemarket is growing. Helene Madsø Engen dreams of acquiring both an Emerson House, an architect-designed dollhouse with seven rooms and solar panels, and a Kaleidoscope House. This colourful villa was designed by the New York architect Peter Wheelwright in 2001, and became a cult object for collectors after it was taken out of production two years later.
- The Kaleidoscope House is the holy grail of all dollhouse collectors, but is virtually impossible to get one's hands on. It sells for up to 2000 dollars [actually it's up to 1600 dollars. HME] on Ebay, says Madsø Engen, who has found consolation in naming her doll Karl Edo after the house of her dreams.
Karl Edo has great plans of his own for an entry into the commercial property market and an extension to Spook House. Whether Karl Edo is planning to extend by opening more design shops as well is difficult to say:
- Karl Edo is a man of mystery in that respect. He's not the type who talks a lot about himself, says Madsø Engen.

Captions: CLASSICAL. Minimodernist Helene Madsø Engen decorated Karl Edo's bedroom with "deco delights".
TINY ARNE. Danish Minimii makes Arne Jacobsen's popular furniture design in 1:16 - with the Jacobsen family's approval.
THE POWER OF DETAILS. In the miniature homes of the mini-modernists there's no room for the random. Every detail is meticulously arranged.
THE FAVOURITE. Of Helene Madsø Engen's four dollhouses, Polly Line's house is the only one she could see herself living in.

1: DREAMHOUSE NR. 1. The Kaleidoscope house, designed by Peter Wheelwright and Laurie Simmons, achieved cult status among mini-modernists after the house went out of production after just two years. The house can sell for up to 2000 dollars on ebay.
2: DREAMHOUSE NR. 2. In the spring of 2011 the Danish company Minimii will launch a dollhouse that is an exact replica of Arne Jacobsen's own villa in Charlottenlund.
3: REALISM. Minimodernist Annina Dixton strives for interiors with realistic details and lived life. - I spend a couple of hours every day working on my dollhouses, she says.

4: DREAMHOUSE NR. 3. Former toy dealer Doug Rollins and architect Tim Boyle recently launched the Emerson House, inspired by Richard Neutra's "Kaufmann Desert House" house in California. The house has 23 ledlights powered by solar panels.
5: THE DESIGNER'S MINIHOUSES. When Danish Linda Stenberg decided to make Arne Jacobsen design in 1:16, she had never heard of the mini-modernists. Now they're an important target group for the designer.
6: DREAMHOUSE NR. 4. The Container houses in 1:12 scale are designed by American Paris Renfroe. Each container is handmade and signed by the designer.

Credits: The translation is mainly done by my kind husband. Thank you Trond! The pages from the article aren't scaled down this time, so you can click on them to enlarge them.


Eva said...

Congratulations!! It's wonderful and well deserved :)
Happy new year!

Marisa Stein said...

Congratulations! I really loved reading about your work, Happy New Year!


Shipping Container Homes said...

Item 6 the 1:12 Scale Container Homes are wonderful ! I am a fan and advocate of the real thing and to see these in scale is just brilliant.

Thanks !

Lize said...

WOW, Helene!

Congratulations! You have been working hard and certainly deserved it.

Happy New Year as well.

Kind regards

Lize said...

PS Totally agree on the surplus of creativity!

don't think people realize how much work goes into planning, executing, tweaking and finally photographing even just a room.

Sans! said...

This article is very very well written. I have enjoyed reading it very much, Helene.

A big big hug to you , my dear. I can now boast that I am a friend of a mini (sic) celebrity , teehee!

Daydreamer said...

Congratulations, Helene! I really enjoyed reading this article (Thank your husband for translating...!)It really sheds an interesting light from "outside" onto the mini blogland! I like learning more about the history of some of the Modern houses.... I am SUCH an Old Fashioned type (a CASTLE for heavens sake!).... but I am sometimes really tempted by the beautiful Modern rooms you do! The photos are truly elegant!

Pubdoll said...

Thank you Eva and Marisa, the start of this year has been extremely busy, so a belated happy New Year to the both of you!

Pubdoll said...

Thank you Shipping Container Homes! So fun to hear from a seller of the lifesize container houses! Paris Renfroe works in another scale than me and shipping from the States is very expensive, so I haven't bought a container house yet, but I think they look just fabulous! You can find a link to his homepage on the right section of this page.

Pubdoll said...

Thank you Lize and a belated happy new year! I don't know if I deserve it, or if they chose me just because I'm the only Norwegian who blogs about modern miniatures :-)
And yes, it usually takes me more than a week to make a decent room, and then comes photographing it and blog about it. Blogging was much easier the first year when I had a big house filled with rooms furnished over a period of 20 years to start with :-)

Pubdoll said...

Thank you Sans, but since the word has spread around the world of the fantastic treasures Sans! makes for the Maharaja's palace and as gifts to be sent from the palace to friends in remote places, I think you're a much bigger celebrity than me :-)

But a big hug from me too! (Yay, tonight I didn't work until 1am, so I got time to answer comments)

Pubdoll said...

thank you Betsy, I'm glad to hear you liked the article, even though your more of an "oldfashioned woman" :-)
You know I love your castle and you can see that my New years eve post is set in a very traditional room :-) Infact I love medieval and baroque music and renaissance and baroque art. But I prefer my furniture to be modern.

Rebecca said...

Great article, Helene, and fantastic translation, Trond :-) The photos are great too - and the design and layout very satisfying - what a great magazine to have an article in!

I'm ashamed to say I had not got 'Karl Edo Spook'. Sigh. I get some of your names, at least!

Pubdoll said...

Thank you Rebecca, and thanks from Trond as well, but he says that he feares that what you mean by fantastic, is the opportunity to study non-native English by comparing the translation to the Norwegian original. (Readable in the photos if you click on them twice)

The journalist said that a good design and keeping a high standard on their photos was very important for the magazine, that's why they couldn't use my photos but had to bring their own photographer. He took a lot of photos of me too, but I think I failed their high standards :-) After looking through it, Trond said it seemed the magazine was mainly about exclusive objects with prominent pricetags. That's probably why they preferred to write about the expencive Vitra chairs instead of the cheaper Reac chairs. But after all it's a financial newspaper.

I think you've got most of my names, Rebecca, but Karl Edo Spook does probably sound more like Kaleidoscope in Norwegian (Kaleidoskop) with the primary stress on 'skop' and secondary stress on 'lei'.

Minnie Kitchen said...

Congrats!!! so good to see the article!

Pubdoll said...

Thank you Minnie :-)

Millimari said...

Hello Helene, and congratulations on your article! Would you be interested in appearing with your Polly Line house in a Finnish dolls' house magazine? Please contact me at vainiotiina (at)

sara marina said...

I love your blog!

Mimmi said...

Gratulerer igjen med artikkelen, kjempegøy! :-D Jeg har en award til deg på bloggen min...

Ingerid said...

Heihei! Du, jeg har enda et spørsmål. Du skjønner, før jul var jeg inne å sjekket litt på noen miniatyrnettsider, og kom til slutt fram til en Lundby side på svensk, der det var bilder av gamle Lundby hus og møbler. Det er en stund siden, så jeg husker ikke hva den heter og lurer på om du vet om en slik side? Trenger ikke å sjekke det ut veldig nøye, altså, bare lurer, siden du har litt Lundby tilbehør osv. : )

Amy said...

How fantastic! The best sign of your mastery of modern miniatures is that I would recognize your houses without a caption-that makes you an artist!

Pubdoll said...

Thanks Amy, coming from a gifted artist like you, makes it an even better compliment!
But it's also true when it comes to your warm and inviting mini-interiors, they're all very you!