Zoom in to tiny worlds in National Trust’s Doll House quirky showcase

Reopening this Saturday, get big with all things tiny at Doll House- Miniature Worlds of Wonder. From facades and patterns, to servants and masters, you might even pick up a few retro home design ideas!

Showcased within one of The National Trust of Australia(Victoria)’s most stunning wedding-cake mansions, South Yarra’s Como House, cast yourself as a character inside its inner world and domestic history as you explore idealised representations of life from room to room.

Emily Boutard’s scale model of Como House, 2021

With 40+ museum-worthy examples ranging from 1880 to Emily Boutard’s 2021 scale model of the House, with samples loaned from scions of the Melbourne establishment, discover the development of the artform and trend for design from the Victorian age through post-war modernism and into the era of low-cost, ready-made cardboard houses.

These exist as small repository of social value, tiny depictions of everyday worlds which speak so much about the families who owned them as well as the local and international companies who designed and produced them, and the social appetite for making play with the small. As cultural artefacts, they also reveal aspects of class and gender.

Mattel’s Barbie’s Dream House, 1967/2020

As always with The Trust, Dr Annette Sheill’s first-class curating delivers history, humour and curiosity, each exhibit supported with detailed provenance and family history whilst placing the artefact in social context. The exhibition sits within each room of Como House, itself an historical treasure store of articles which tell stories, including hallways and second floor bedrooms- even bathrooms!- and it’s a treat to see this clever placement within a life-size dream house. 

Enhanced with retro audio and delicate lighting, you’ll peer in through glass windows to observe tiny cups and copper kitchenware, tiled fireplaces and floors, floral carpet squares, pet cats and dogs, wall paper samples to rival the best of British palaces, upstairs/downstairs divides, and, my favourite, a tiny landscape painted for a Gentleman’s Study inside Rutland House, Belgravia from Archibald-prize winning Australian painter, Ewan Macleod. See if you can spot it!

There’s lots to discover. Learn about the ‘Queen Mary’ scale measure and see Princess Elizabeth’s 1935 Doll’s House. From mock Tudor houses through 1950s urban living to a 1967 Barbie’s cardboard recreation to her 2020 Dreamhouse, learn that German furniture was the best and about the 1891 Cape Otway shipwreck which washed miniature toys ashore.

It ain’t all traditional. Seek out and relish the 12 wittily relevant 21st century-themed dioramas of Australian artist Tinky(Liz Sonntag) dotted around the spaces- such cute stories with tiny people embroiled in everyday dilemmas! VAME(Victorian Association for Miniature Enthusiasts) links also feature.

Look under the staircase- see the incumbent Armytage family’s luggage suitcases stacked as if the family had just returned from an overseas jaunt with whimsical miniature suitcases sitting afront them, likewise, a miniature telephone sitting beside the heavy black early telephone in the ground floor office injects humour into the grand Victorian house. 

Minecraft Doll House neighbourhood, doll house set inside a level two bedroom

A Giant Miniature Art Exhibition wall greets you as you exit towards the servants entrance of over 200 small works- each For Sale! Also part of the exhibition is a CollArts Interior Design students’ activation of a working construction studio and chair scale model demonstration. 

Upstairs a modern take comes via Monash Academy of Art, Design & Architecture’s interactive green screen situating YOU inside a dolls house. A child’s bedroom film exhibit by horror expert Joel Zika shows the links to the genre with a truly scary gothic sculpture by Tarryn Handcock.

Zoom in for close up detail delights such as this hand-woven shopping bag with newspaper

Delve deeper via allied events including a Curator Talk, miniature furniture market and Stories of Fashion miniature anthropology live session led by Tom McEvoy. 

You always get so much for your ticket entry with the Trust and it’s a fun session with friends. Being a winter exhibit, bring a scarf and jacket. 





Check out their partnership with The Rose Street Market’s pop up store in the Servants Quarters at the rear of the mansion which sells luxe furniture and portable houses like the ones seen inside the exhibition, alongside the work of Fitzroy artists.

– Sarah Wallace

is the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones, Melbourne.  A dance and English literature graduate of VCA, UOM and Deakin, she has a flair for bold, non-traditional performance platforms. An active contributor to The Melbourne Shakespeare Society, on the street, or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.

Doll House- Miniature Worlds of Wonder runs 22 June – 29 August, 10am – 4pm (timed sessions – morning or afternoon, last entry 3pm) at Como House, South Yarra. Book tickets here. Ground level is accessible.

Want free entry? Become a National Trust Member and receive a complimentary ticket.

Keep your eyes out for the Trust’s famous Vintage Clothing Sale, dates to be announced. 

Images: Courtesy of Suzie Potter.

Disclaimer: The Plus Ones were the guests of The National Trust of Australia(Victoria).