Words: Joan McFadden
In an increasingly hectic world, where we’re constantly bombarded with adverts, imagery and news on a loop, there’s a particular appeal in miniature worlds. Model railways, diminutive soldiers on historic battlefields, dolls’ houses set in times past, and collections of tiny porcelain, exquisite artwork and pocket-sized trees are becoming increasingly popular. Whether preserving history or enjoying the psychological benefits of a world captured in miniature, you may find that small really is beautiful.
Staying on track
The traditional view of model train enthusiasts is changing, with people such as Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen and Roger Daltrey revealing their passion for all things tiny. Rod Stewart’s 124ft-long, 23ft-wide miniature replica of a 1940s’ US city took him 23 years to complete and now includes 5ft skyscrapers, bridges, a rush-hour traffic scene, ‘transition era’ facilities for both steam and diesel traction, and a power station.
These celebrities are not alone. During lockdown, particularly, people discovered hobbies when they began to tire of screens and endless images of a world in crisis. Pottery and crafts, dolls’ houses, miniature painting and food creation gathered new fans, while model railway maker Hornby reported a big jump in annual sales – up 28% – as children and adults alike bought its toys as they sought comfort in stressful times. Trestle tables were set up in attics and construction began countrywide, with the attention to detail required taking people’s minds off the fear and chaos of the pandemic.
One third of the industry’s sales of children’s toys, models and puzzles are sold to older generations, a segment of the market the industry coins ‘kidults’.
Good things come in small packages
It is thought that small things elicit the security of childhood, a time when we felt in control of our own world of toys while knowing that our parents were taking care of all the big stuff. Things that gave us comfort at an early age resonate through the years, which is reflected in elderly adults taking comfort from a teddy bear or doll; transporting them back to a time when practically any problem could be solved by an adult.
From an early age, children begin to create different personas and new worlds. Miniature playthings, such as dolls’ houses, forts and castles let our imaginations run wild, as do small garages, medical sets, mini kitchens and shops. Miniature houses with their people and accessories offer an alternative life, which never loses its appeal. For grown-up dolls’ house enthusiasts, the meticulously crafted collectables also provide a (tiny) window on the past.
The Sims is the modern-day equivalent, a video game whereby players build and decorate their virtual dream homes in unimaginable opulence, and has sold over 200 million copies since its creation in 2000 – it has since been relaunched. These creations allow people to build the places and lives they would never experience in real-life.
Animal Crossing takes things further with players stepping into a world populated by anthropomorphic animals. They are encouraged to spend time in a village, performing various activities, such as collecting items, raising plants, and socialising with village residents. The open-ended gameplay and simulation of the real passage of time are mesmerising, as is the comfort of domesticity and security of knowing you are earning money to make your online home ever more comfortable.
On a more macabre note, at the beginning of the 20th century, forensic investigation was greatly influenced by Frances Glessner Lee, an expert in forensic science, who taught crime-scene detection skills through meticulously recreating crime scenes as doll-scale models. These scenes are still used by students today, with the extraordinary attention to detail as relevant now as when she first painstakingly put them together.
Read the small print
Miniature books were originally believed to be created for convenience – such as tiny bibles for monks to carry with ease or small books about etiquette for young Victorian ladies to discreetly check – but they now inspire extraordinary passion. It’s not so much about the reading, though that can be done usually with a magnifying glass, as about the exquisite craftmanship that has gone into their production.
Live with less
The ultimate move into miniature has to be downsizing and embracing minimalism, with all the added benefits of reducing living costs, streamlining your life and reducing clutter. Studio flats, static caravans, cabins and boats have traditionally been the obvious destination for those looking to downsize, with ingenious storage solutions providing a place for everything.
Now, tiny homes are being built to order, often transportable and eco-friendly.
The US even boasts a Tiny House Movement, actively advocating living more simply with less and enjoying the freedom of not being tied to a huge mortgage or property.
To quote Winnie the Pooh, whose claim to be a bear of very little brain was constantly proved wrong by his profound thoughts on life, “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart” – as anyone with a passion for miniatures would agree.