My mum was an antique doll restorer and dealer when I was growing up in London. While I was never that much interested in the dolls, I loved to observe her restoration process. Searching through the flea markets for the dolls, mainly French and made of porcelain, she would often find them in pieces. But once she had them in her work studio, the magical transformation would begin.
Watching her gather vintage bits of lace, velvets, silks and floppy flowers, and create new outfits, sewn by hand for the dolls, I learned to embrace the beauty of imperfection. Starting off with dolls a little wrinkled and faded, once Mum was finished, the pieces looked as though they had always been beautiful.
Because my mum was immersed in dolls every day, she would often come across dollhouses and furniture. They became my gateway to the world of make-believe, and in some ways interior design. I recall this fantasy world taking up hours and hours of my playtime, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. My mum would restore these dollhouses to a state of faded grandeur. She would sometimes add some wallpaper or create rugs out of old needlepoint pillows. The furniture would get little touch-ups of paint, or maybe she would make miniature bed linens from vintage scraps. It was a whimsical world.
And when I opened my store, Shabby Chic, selling mainly slipcovered furniture and bed linens, it was no surprise that I too would find dollhouses and vintage furniture that caught my eye. In a way similar to what we do with all the vintage treasures we sell, we would restore them, keeping as much of the original patina and details as possible, while giving them a refresh.
But the dollhouses are few and far between, and the restoration process can be lengthy. So, I was thrilled when I crossed paths with Ben Peck Whiston. He is a true master and artist, in many forms, but especially in this world of make-believe. His attention to detail is worthy of any museum exhibit. It is simply impossible to tell his pieces are newly made. His eyes capture the subtlety of patina and palette, and somehow his talented hands work the magic. Mainly through photographs he follows my journey of finding treasures and, when inspired, he begins his process to capture the details and replicate my vintage finds.
Initially he only made the furniture and accessories, but then the dollhouses followed.
For him this work is a complete labor of love, hand-painting wallpaper, installing wood floors and creating timeworn miniature exteriors and interiors.
It’s truly a privilege to work with an artist of his caliber. We have now built a clientele who are collecting his pieces, little by little. He is always adding new pieces. Funny for me, sometimes when he sees my posts on Instagram of new treasures I have found, before the piece is even loaded onto our trucks, he has somehow made a mini version (like the gold Spanish daybed).
Without any doubt, the world of make-believe is here to stay, and these miniature pieces are future heirlooms.