Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Doll's House

The Doll's House
9 October 2012

Now for this one, I take full credit.  Why if it hadn’t been for me, none of this would ever have started.  Seriously!  So, let’s begin at the beginning – normally a very good place to start.

Once upon a time, a very, very long time ago, my Ouma Helene was walking along outside a shop, when something inside the shop window caught her eye.  When she went in and investigated a bit closer, she was delighted, because what she had found was a little miniature scale model of a cast iron stove.  Just too darling for words.  And with that Ouma Helene, promptly bought it for me, her only grandchild at that stage.  The fact that I was a mere few months old, was beside the point, as she was sure it would eventually give me great joy, what with it being so cute and all.  But here’s the thing, once the little stove had been given to me, she realised that the truth of the matter is that she actually wanted one too.  I’m assuming that it reminded her of the stove on her familie-plaas, Welvanpas, where she grew up, and it probably took her back to her youth.

I’m also assuming that she came home that day, and showed it to my grandfather and that both of them greatly admired it – the craftsmanship and attention to detail.  But what is one to do with a little cast iron stove in itself?  Surely it deserved a place of pride in a homely kitchen.  And with that, my grandmother and grandfather’s Doll’s House was born.  They called it Klein Cloetenberg, after their home in Somerset West, called Cloetenberg.  Both of my grandparents are extremely creative.  As in ridiculously creative – you simply have no idea.  It didn’t take long for Ouma Helene to start making little bits and bobs of furniture from scraps of yellow-wood, balsa wood, cereal boxes, pieces of material, and just about anything she could lay her hands on.  If my calculations are correct, Ouma Helene must have been about 43 at the time.  They had just been transferred to Pinetown for a stint with my grandfather’s work.  And where she had previously had 5 children in the home, as well as a son-in-law  and granddaughter (my folks and I lived in a downstairs flat - part of the house), she now only had 2 kids in the home.  She clearly had more time on her hands and had not yet formed many friendships yet.  I picture her sitting around in the evenings after supper, plotting, planning and playing.

And not to be left behind in all of the fun, Oupa Willem soon joined the fray.  Now while the kitchen is the heart of the home, and this is all fair and well, what self-respecting family would sleep in one?  Or dine in one for that matter?  The Doll’s House needed a bedroom, a dining room, a playroom and a lounge.  Initially the Doll’s House was made in a make-shift cupboard so to speak, made of wooden egg crates stacked on top of each other.  But this would not do long term and Oupa and Ouma quickly realised that a more formal cupboard was needed.  And so, Klein Cloetenberg, was transferred into their Jonkmanskas – it’s home till today – a beautiful yellow wood and stinkwood cupboard.

They took to their hobby with great gusto.  On their first Easter in Pinetown, Ouma Helene was very homesick and heart sore for her large family, and so to console her, Oupa made her a little table for her kitchen.  My grandparents had bought many beautiful antique furniture pieces over the years, and Oupa Willem had always lovingly restored him.  So they always had small pieces of different woods on hand.  And so, bit by bit, Oupa Willem started making scale models of the furniture in their very own home.  As well as pieces from Welvanpas, the farm that Ouma grew up on, and that is still in family hands. 

The attention to detail is astounding and mind blowing.  Exact replicas of tables, chairs, beds, etc.  Soon, Oupa Willem put electric lighting in the Doll’s House, with special little bulbs – just the right size, which he sourced with great difficulty.  Very few items were bought.  A great many were given as gifts, and everyone always has an eye open for something that would fit.  The scale of the Doll’s House is 1:8 and not 1:12 as is the norm with many.  My uncle Jac, travelled extensively and he always managed to find marvellous treasures on his travels.  Ouma Helene’s sister, aunty Noo, helped with the dolls – Mr and Mrs Van Der Kas and their children.  Their clothes, etc.  Oupa Willem made a scale replica of their canopied brass bed.  A working grandfather clock that actually chimes and is a smaller twin of their very own one which stands on the staircase landing.  The bedspread on the brass bed is Ouma Helene’s wedding hanky.  Many of the paintings in Klein Cloetenberg are scale replicas of real paintings in Cloetenberg and were done by my dad and my aunt, Elske – so talented and a marvel to behold.  Oupa Willem made his own little bricks for the fireplace and hand fired them to get them just so.  Basically, every single person in the family has contributed in some way or another to the Doll’s House.

The list of treasures goes on and on and on.  And in actual fact, Ouma Helene has written a book (self-published and printed at home) about the Doll’s House and has also been known to give an awesome talk about it.  It is utterly mind blowing and extremely interesting.  The details are immense – nothing was spared in getting everything exactly right – perfectly so.  The little eggs on the table in the kitchen are actually gecko eggs that my uncle Dan found – luckily they never hatched.  Jac made the guitar when he was still a teenager.  My aunt, Trish bought the little early telephone from Sydney.  My uncle, Willem gave Ouma the little spade that stands in the kitchen.  The wooden staircase is handmade, as is the louvred door underneath the staircase – too intricate and tiny to even imagine crafting it.  There are lampshade and chandeliers, teeny little candelabra’s with even teensier little candles.  Ouma Helene hand crafted the carpets - some of them copies of Kelims in Cloetenberg.  The pictures of the children on the mantelpiece are of my uncles and aunts.  Many other pictures are taken from my grandmother’s incredible postcard collection

My gran goes in for intense detail.  So, every single item is listed in her book, with a history given.  When they got it.  Who gave it to them.  If it was handcrafted, what materials were used, where they got the materials from, what it cost and what was it based on.  Also from which countries some items came from as many pieces are from overseas.  The detail is astounding and enthralling.  And I would love to arrange for her to give a talk on a larger scale, in Cloetenberg, as she’d done before.  Klein Cloetenberg, is simply too beautiful and special to not share.  It cannot be transported anymore as the task is too monstrous.  It has however had a few outings at museums, but it is a mammoth task packing everything up safely and setting it up again on the other side.  And believe it or not, many years later, the Doll’s House is still an on-going project.  Not too long ago, Oupa Willem made a sword, complete with scabbard, naturally a replica of one that he has and which hold great sentimental value to him.

The Doll’s House has been extremely well documented with loads of photographs taken by all in the family and the many people who visit.  I think it’s unique enough to warrant a slot in Top Billing, or something to that effect.

And then, two years ago, quite unexpectedly, within relatively quick succession, Ouma’s brother and both sisters died.  She was in deep mourning, heartbroken over her loss and took a severe knock.  She needed something to keep her busy and her mind occupied.  So, one day, when I visited Ouma, she suggested that we unpack all of her other Doll’s House treasures that she had collected over the years.  Pieces that never actually made it into Klein Cloetenberg, because their size was wrong.  Or they had been upgraded to better pieces.  Ouma was convinced that she might have enough to do at least another Doll’s House Kitchen.  We got the boxes and started unpacking and unpacking and unpacking.  We unearthed some marvellous treasures, including some of the original cereal box pieces that Ouma had made so many years ago.  It was quickly blatantly clear, that there were ample goodies for a second kitchen, and in fact, even a third.

So, would you know it, that at the age of 80, Ouma Helene started another two Doll’s Houses.  I think they have given her immense pleasure and joy.  And I know that personally I have spent many hours scouring second hand and antique shops for goodies – with great success at times.  We shared great excitement over the new Doll’s Houses and I visited daily to look at the hourly improvements.  Ouma has done a new carpet and made a few new pieces already.  Great discussions were held over the flooring and material wall covering for the new rooms.  Two cupboards were needed.  One they already had and with a bit of shifting Ouma cleared it and Doll’s House number two moved in.  And Doll’s House number three was made of stacked boxes, yet again.  When I close my eyes, I have a vivid mental picture of Ouma Helene sitting in front of one of her Doll’s Houses, humming to herself.  Lost in her own little world, with her hand buried in the cupboard, magically rearranging something until it looks just exactly right.

She has the same ability to work her magic in a real home as well.  A gift.  My grandfather always teases her that she’s the architect of the Doll’s House and that he’s merely the craftsman.  I say nonsense – they make an awesome team.

And so, I invite you to enjoy a few photos of Klein Cloetenberg.  And at the bottom I’ll add a few of the two new ones as well.  Brace yourself, you will be spellbound, amazed and enthralled…

Mrs Van Der Kas and her lady friend sitting down to tea
Oupa Willem working his magic - sorting out the lighting

Oupa and Ouma made their own Christmas Cards every year - dressing up and the whole toot - Oupa Willem glued a fake moustache on his top lip for this particular year (I think its about late 1960's or so) and nearly pulled his whole lip off when he removed it after the photo shoot.  These look realistically old and were promptly framed to take place of pride.
My "baby" uncle, Willem, he is now 46
Some of the furniture unpacked for a photo session
The real grandfather clock on the staircase landing - note the cane holder, also replicated in the Doll's House elsewhere
Ever so dainty hand crafted furniture - replica's of furniture in the house
Little sideboard - complete with glasses and carafes
Just look at the detail in the carving of the chairs and the little round table - all made by hand
Little recessed display cabinet built into the wall of the dining room - reminiscent of Welvanpas
Beautiful ladle
The display cabinet, slightly closed
The scale model of a brass bed at Cloetenberg - ingenious
The dumb waiter - all set up and ready for entertaining - the real one is in the downstairs dining room at Cloetenberg and is used all the time
The baby's high chair and hand made teddy
A good look inside at the vases, platters and silver tea set
The whole picture
Some of the more everyday crockery in the kitchen cupboard downstairs
The domestic help in the kitchen - spot the gecko eggs
The sitting room - the father's chair takes place of pride, close to the grandfather clock
Bigger view of the sitting room - all of the dolls removed to get a better pic
My Dad did the scale model of this original painting which hangs in the downstairs sitting room at Cloetenberg.  Pics of all five Lombard kids on the mantelpiece
The Playroom. Hand fired bricks for the fireplace. And dad is reading a newspaper.
Little nook
Little footstool and broom - Oupa made both.
Grandfather clock face - hand crafted and it really chimes. Ouma took note of the hours that Oupa spent on it. She documented the first 100 hours religiously, but then gave up on keeping track. She estimated he spent at least another 100 hours on it after that.
The complete kitchen
Copper pots and pans as well as a little brass coffee mill - all polished beautifully as always
The craftsmanship on the cupboard is incredible
The little stove that started it all
The sword and scabbard that Oupa made - it is alarmlingly sharp
Little what-nots. The little Bible has many verses and passaged from the Bible that can be read with a magnifying glass
Meet the Van Der Kas family of Klein Cloetenberg
Oupa's elaborate moustache again - Jac and Dan as little boys
Ouma Helene holding Bettie - Jac on her side
This beautiful leather and brass chest, engraved "Helene" is in Cloetenberg
Books in the book shelf
Carpet Ouma weaved
Awesome little gramophone, complete with records
The hand built staircase with the louvred door that Oupa made - incredible
The little stove unemcumbered by pots and pans
Little tables
Footstool again. Oupa made his own concoction of wood stains and treatments through trial and error in order to get the authentic weathered look.
Amber and Cole peeping in
The Jonkmanskas closed - hiding a wealth of treasures inside
The brass bed in the bedroom, covered with Ouma's wedding hanky
View of the whole bedroom
Does the cane stand look familiar? The knopkierie was copied from an original as well. Just look at the delicate detail on the chair
The magnificent Grandfather clock
More kitchen shots
Kitchen from a different angle
Preparing a without doubt awesome meal
The tea party

Ouma Helene, hard at play in Doll's House 3

Rearranging as just Ouma knows how to do - Doll's House 3 - the exact replica of the little footstool that Ouma is sitting on is in Doll's House 1 - Klein Cloetenberg

Completely absorbed - you can see her humming to herself - Doll's House 3 - Number 2 is off to the side, close to the door, in the cupboard
Amber and Ouma marveling at Doll's House 2 - the newbie

Closer inspection - Doll's House 2

The beginning phases - Playroom Doll's House 2

 The bedroom - Doll's House 2

The new little kitchen - Doll's House 2

The sitting room - Doll's House 2
The dining room - at this stage it's all cardboard boxes mixed with the odd treasure - Doll's House 2

Doll's House 2 - The Beginning. No proper flooring yet. No wall coverings - it's all just styrofoam for now. No room dividers.

Doll's House 3 - things starting to look a bit more settled now. Oupa cut vinyl squares for the kitchen floor and the walls have been painted.

Doll's House 3 - The sitting room. The walls have been covered with fabric.  As has the floor. Both little round tables, are sweetie tins, covered with a beaded doilies.

Doll's House 3 - The children's room. Ouma made the bed from a cardboard box. All will be upgraded and continually improved upon in good time.

Doll's House 2 - another cardboard bed and baby cradle. The walls and floor look fantastic!

Doll's House 2 - The children's playroom come sitting room. Ouma found the three dolls at Mrs Sybil's in Somerset West - they are the three Retief Sisters - Ouma Helene, Aunty Ydianne and Aunty Noo. The little green couch in the back is one of the first pieces that Ouma made for Doll's House 1 - Klein Cloetenberg.

Doll's House 2 - The dining room - starting to take real shape now.

Doll's House 2 - The sitting room. The fireplace is made from an old Jungle Oats cereal box. All to be upgraded as and when the time comes.

Doll's House 2 - really takng shape now. Kitchen floor done and walls painted.

Doll's House 2 and Doll's House 3

 Doll's House 2 - All the floors and walls are done. Rooms are divided and Oupa finished these off beautifully with little wooden slats on the ends. Too beautiful for words!

Doll's House 3 - stacked boxes on top of each other, but finished off beautifully. All the floors and wals are done too.

Doll's House 3 - magnificent!
So, all in all, I'll think you agree.  Three beautiful labours of love, done by two amazing people. So very, very proud of them and honoured to call them my Oupa and Ouma.



  1. Impressive indeed. I hope 'Ouma and Oupa' get to see their labour of love on the computer too.

  2. An amazing treasure. I am so proud of my Mom and Dad.

  3. Most enjoyable reading - thank you Helene - I only knew you as a tiny tot. Absolutely fabulous being transported back to Cloetenberg where I spent so much time with your mom as a child and later with them when we were teenagers, and then of course at the time of your parents wedding and...

  4. so inspiring! maybe one day...