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.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year Miss Sophie

Same procedure as last year miss Sophie?

Same procedure as every year, James!

Happy New Year miss Sophie and a Happy New Year to all of you!
Thank you all for brightening my days with your inspiring posts and kind comments.

I'm late - again, I hope you all can pretend this was posted yesterday :-)
This Christmas I have divided my time between family and work since I have a big deadline in just a week. So not much time spent on miniatures. But I think this in a way sums up 2010 for me too, it's been a busy year, both home and at work, which I of course in these recession times am very thankful for; not many have been as lucky as us, but it often doesn't leave much time and energy for playing with miniatures or blogging.

But blogging brought lots of joy and pleasure this year as well.
- The contact with new and old blogger friends, I so appreciate our friendship and you are all a great inspiration for me!
- Many of these friends have given me lovely gifts, which I really look forward to show you!
- Meeting callsmall in New York, which was one of this years highlights for me. Too bad I hate longdistance travels or I would have bought tickets to meet many more of you! (I'm looking at you Sans!)
- The growing interest for modern miniature design. This year has given us both more mini modernist bloggers and more mini modernist designers, and some of us (ha!) have even made it into various newspapers. The article with Karl Edo and me has now been translated to English (mainly by my better half) and will be posted soon.

If 2011 will turn out only half as great as 2010 was, I have a lot to look forward to! I, for one, will do my very best! Cheerio!

UPDATE: For those of you who are not familiar with Miss Sophie and James, this post is referring to this sketch with Freddie Frinton, which is a TV classic and a tradition for Christmas or New Year's Eve in most European countries.