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Inside Suffolk woman’s incredibly realistic dolls’ houses

PUBLISHED: 13:28 02 June 2020 | UPDATED: 13:28 02 June 2020

One of the first rooms Emma did, featuring real silk fabric on the walls Picture: Emma Waddell

One of the first rooms Emma did, featuring real silk fabric on the walls Picture: Emma Waddell

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Sudbury-based Emma Waddell is an interior designer...for dolls! From detailed silk walks to tiny apples, she’s got it all covered.

The exterior of one of Emma's houses Picture: Emma WaddellThe exterior of one of Emma's houses Picture: Emma Waddell

Have you ever wanted to turn one of your hobbies into your dream job? Well that’s exactly what Emma Waddell has done.

Emma runs and owns Sudbury-based Dolls House Grand Designs, a company that specialises in the building, designing and renovation of dolls houses - to an incredibly intricate and high standard.

Having previously worked as a corporate banker in the City, she left that life behind and has been spending the last 10 years renovating dolls houses for a living.

“It’s a bit of a change, but I enjoy working with my hands better,” explained Emma.

A dolls house kitchen, featuring pet dogs and working lights Picture: Emma WaddellA dolls house kitchen, featuring pet dogs and working lights Picture: Emma Waddell

So just when did her passion for all things miniature begin?

Like many young girls, Emma first fell in love with the world of dolls houses when she was a child, after getting her very own one at age 10. “It’s a form of escapism,” she said. “You can have a palatial Georgian mansion, or a chocolate box cottage in miniature form if you wish.”

Years later, she stumbled upon a shop in Colchester that led her to her reignite her passion.

“I found a shop in Colchester, which is no longer there now, and discovered that there was a market for someone to build, decorate and renovate dolls houses,” she explained.

A yet-to-be furnished living room, complete with miniature fireplace Picture: Emma WaddellA yet-to-be furnished living room, complete with miniature fireplace Picture: Emma Waddell

“Most people like to have a go themselves, but it can take time and expensive tools - something we don’t all have.”

And from there, Dolls Houses Grand Designs was born. Established in 2010, Emma has since spent endless hours toiling away and crafting hundreds of decorative houses for an array of clients.

So just how does one go about getting a bespoke dolls house created by Emma?

“Clients usually contact me with their house details - either they have had one languishing about for years, a family heirloom maybe, or an impulsive eBay or Facebook purchase that has been sat about, looking forlornly at them. Sometimes they just don’t know where to start. That’s where I come in,” she said.

A dolls house bedroom designed and restored by Emma Picture: Emma WaddellA dolls house bedroom designed and restored by Emma Picture: Emma Waddell

Working alone from her Sudbury workshop, Emma does consultations remotely, and can work with clients to help them achieve their dream dolls house.

“I will collect the house, and room by room, design whatever period or feature they wish into the house, from fireplaces and pillars, to secret passages. Or simply I’ll restore the original colours, and repair hundreds of years of damage. It’s a tad varied at times. A consultation is free, and from there I do a quote and the work is scheduled in. I can do one room, to a whole house.

“I draw each room and email them over for the clients to approve. They can change what they like and between us finalise what they want,” she explained.

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“With each person, I find they have a dream in their head - you just have to get it out. It’s a question of getting to know them a little.”

Once the consultation and design stages have taken place, Emma then gets to the physical restoration process.

“I use the same paint as real houses,” she explained. “Match pots are great - the better-quality ones I would recommend, the same as a real house. With the mouldings however, it has to be the specialist ones.

“For the fireplaces, cornices, skirting and lighting, there are some amazing suppliers here in the UK and usually some brilliant local dolls house fairs to go to, that have been sadly postponed because of Coronavirus. This is a place to meet traders who will help you with your projects and sell you what you need to do it yourself. Hopefully in some form or another these will be back soon,” she added.

One of Emma's intricately restored dolls house bathrooms Picture: Emma WaddellOne of Emma's intricately restored dolls house bathrooms Picture: Emma Waddell

While Emma doesn’t make any of the dolls house furniture herself, there’s an entire industry of people who create the components needed to complete a miniature home – much like a real-sized house.

“I know the most talented crafts people you could wish to meet,” she said. “From upholsterers and plaster casters, to brass metal workers and miniature food geniuses. I even know a lady who can knit with pins to make miniature baby clothes, how clever is that?”

With a number of impressive projects under her belt, ranging from creating dolls house window displays for Jo Malone, to appearing on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Emma is certainly not short of fans from around the world, with her impressive works of art reaching all corners of the globe.

“I had a message about a month ago from a lady in Italy when it was at the peak of the Coronavirus crisis. I post photos of my projects on my business page and had a message saying: ‘Thank you for the photos of the lovely rooms. Here in Italy, we need to dream right now, and this is giving us something to dream about.’ I was very touched by what she said, and it was the nicest comment I’ve ever received.

A tiny built-in aquarium, with a compass for scale Picture: Emma WaddellA tiny built-in aquarium, with a compass for scale Picture: Emma Waddell

“I think that epitomises what dolls houses do - they enable people to dream, wherever they are, no matter what’s going on around them.”

For anyone looking to kindle (or rekindle) a passion for the smaller things in life, Emma has a few tips to help any budding dolls house enthusiasts get started.

“Get a secondhand dolls house off an auction site - if it’s a mess, you can’t do much worse,” she explained. “Practice on it, draw out ideas and set yourself up a Pinterest page for ideas and inspiration.”

“What do you love? Georgian features with an Edwardian family so you get the best of everything? Or a modern house with iPads? You can even make it Harry Potter-inspired if you like - there are lots of wizard bits out there if you look.”

A contender for the world's smallest pool table Picture: Emma WaddellA contender for the world's smallest pool table Picture: Emma Waddell

Once you have a theme or an idea in mind, it’s important that you take your time over it. “Don’t rush, and do a room at a time. It’s meant to be fun - it’s a collection after all.

“Sometimes the simplest of rooms, décor-wise, can look the most beautiful if you furnish them correctly. Just the same as with a real house.”

For anyone who may not have the time or money to dedicate to an entire dolls house, you can start small and hone your interests in one on specific room.

“You can just do a room box, which is as it sounds, just a box,” said Emma. “A client of mine has one - I helped her do a 1950s kitchen, which was colourful, nostalgic and hilarious at the same time.

A tiny kitchen, complete with fittings, shelves and food Picture: Emma WaddellA tiny kitchen, complete with fittings, shelves and food Picture: Emma Waddell

“I personally like food shops, but you could also make a tea shop, a bridal shop, or a department store.” The possibilities truly are endless,” she added. “The only thing stopping you is your imagination.”

For further information and to see more of Emma’s dolls houses, visit www.dollshousegranddesigns.com


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