The World of Interiors, c. 1735

The Nostell Priory doll’s house. ©National Trust Images/Mark Fiennes

The Winn  family doll’s house at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, is a remarkable time capsule of the taste in country house interiors of the 1730s, almost the equivalent of an interior decoration magazine like The World of Interiors today.

The Hall. ©National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

The furnishings and furniture were created with a high level of precision and detail, indicating that the house was made as a decorative model for the adults of the family, rather than for the children to play with.

The Drawing Room. ©National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

All the fireplaces are copied from James Gibbs’s Book of Architecture of 1728. In the early 1730s Sir Rowland Winn, 4th Baronet, was building a new house at Nostell and the doll’s house may have been commissioned at that time.

The Red Velvet Bedroom. ©National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

The late John Cornforth has pointed out how the Nostell doll’s house also illustrates the function of chinoiserie, or pseudo-oriental decoration, in the less formal spaces of 18th-century country houses.

The Chinese Dressing Room. ©National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

While the principal or state bedroom is decorated with red velvet, its dressing room next door has walls hung with either Chinese wallpaper or leather hangings imitating Chinese motifs. One of the subsidiary family bedrooms on the floor above has a bed and curtains hung with Indian chintz.

The Chintz Bedroom. ©National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

So while ‘west’ stood for formality and grandeur, ‘east’ indicated a more intimate, informal and feminine atmosphere. And that characterisation has influenced the meaning of chinoiserie to this day.

16 Responses to “The World of Interiors, c. 1735”

  1. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    I had not really thought of the decorative separation for ‘west’ and ‘east’, but it is a very interesting design philosophy. Today’s mass-produced Chippendale style furniture and expensive hand-painted Chinese wallpaper turn that around, of course, but I see your point, delightfully presented in this dollhouse.

  2. countryhousereader Says:

    There is never enough time on a visit to Nostell for examining this gorgeous piece!

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Classicist, yes the associations of particular styles with ‘high end’ or ‘mass market’, with ‘grad’ or ‘intimate’ are always gradually shifting, but the 18th-century link between chinoiserie and informality seems to have been particularly strong and influential.

    Of course this was an association in western minds which had very little to do with the original Asian significance of the objects and motifs. A case of appropriation and even misinterpretation.

    Also, the informal, feminine connotations of chinoiserie were sometimes used to condemn it as unclassical, insignificant and frivolous, which of course was a misinterpretation of a misinterpretation, but again that seems to have lingered to this day.

    Julie, perhaps you should make a special visit just to go and study the doll’s house 🙂 I am eagerly awaiting your forthcoming Nostell exhibition, by the way!

  4. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    LOVE it! Not only were the furnishings and furniture created with a very high level of precision and detail, indicating that the house was made as a decorative model for adults. But also the scale of the model was often a clue as to whether adults or children were going to be playing with the house.

    Do you know from paintings, drawings and written records whether the final design plan, as revealed in the dolls house, was the design plan that actually emerged in the 1730s?

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    The Palladian style of the architectural features of the doll’s house was also used for the exterior of Nostell, but apart from that the doll’s house does not seem to have been a ‘portrait’ of the real house, apart from the fact that it represented the interior decoration trends of the day, as the real house would have done as well.

    The slightly earlier doll’s house commissioned by Petronella Oortman, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, is comparable in being very realistic without being a model of an actual house:

  6. 18th c. Architecture in Marblehead / J. Anderson Says:

    Delightful ! Thank you for the great views into that enchanting miniature interior. It recalls a somewhat smaller house in the Museum of London (c.1759/60 – made for the Blackett family of Northumberland) with diminutive wallpapers. The two upstairs chambers show a miniature printed chintz type of paper (blue with birds & flowers) and the parlor downstairs re-creates in miniature a suite of painted scenic mural papers en grisaille.

    A high-end gentry house in Marblehead, MA (c.1768) has actual hand-painted English scenic grisaille mural papers that are truly magnificent — one of only two suites known. They cover large wall spaces above a raised-panel wainscot of mahogany in the soaring central stair-hall, and above a dado of painted pine in two principal front chambers above the main entry level. They were originally in the lower portion of the grand central entry hall as well, but were unfortunately removed in 1895.

    The other suite, equally splendid, is in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, from the Stephen Van Rensselaer manor house in Albany, NY (1765-68), which was torn down in the 1890s. The rococo carved woodwork and elaborate grisaille mural papers from the central entry parlor were saved and installed in the American Wing in the 1920s. Images can be seen on the Metropolitan Museum website.

    The Marblehead papers are in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion (1766-68). They are thought to be the only such mid-18th c. English scenic mural papers in the world still remaining in their original installation. (In England, two houses apparently had similar papers as late as the mid-20th c., according to several wallpaper history books).

    (In the 1760s, Marblehead was about the tenth largest town in British North America, and nearly 300 of 519 houses recorded in 1765 still stand in the delightfully historic town – tho’ about a third of them were re-fabricated in the 1830s-50s, inside &/or out.)

    The walls of quite a few other rooms in the Lee house were also originally graced by 7 different English block-printed patterns —
    2 chinoiserie and 5 floral rococo patterns — including a block-printed chintz-type pattern with flowers on a blue ground.
    All of the printed papers were in secondary spaces of the house.

    One of the two chinoiserie patterns was a simple, almost stencil-like pattern with pagodas and cherry blossoms in a fashionable pink, black & white on a grey ground. It appears to have been in the family’s entrance and 3-story staircase at the east side of the house — rising up to the third floor and down a 3rd-floor hallway on the long east-west axis of the house. (A reproduction of that pattern in its original colors can be seen in a second-floor chamber of Colonial Williamsburg’s Peyton Randolph House —
    or on the website of Adelphi Paper Hangings — where it is available in its original colorway or other color options).

    The other Chinoiserie pattern is a more complex paper with Chinese motifs (pagodas, peonies, and a Chinese man and boy) in green with crimson accent colors on a grey ground, with a matching border. It still remains on the upper half of the walls of a 3rd-floor hallway on the west side of the Lee house. It was conserved several years ago through funding from the Getty Foundation which matched a “Save America’s Treasures grant” administered by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts.

    The hallway served the two western chambers, which were more highly finished than three other chambers (two without fireplaces) on that same upper floor (in addition to a 7th room, a store room).

    The simpler Chinoiserie wallpaper pattern appears to have extended all the way from the ground floor side entrance, up to the third floor, down a hallway, and continuing up past the fourth-floor attic and clear up to a cupola – or belvedere – above the attic. In the cupola, benches afforded a way to enjoy the view of the town’s harbor and Atlantic Ocean in comfort. .)

    A suite of three rooms on the second floor — a chamber with two closets or dressing rooms, one with a small fireplace — was a more feminine space than a suite of three rooms directly below it. Located in the back quadrant of the house, the lower suite likely served as a ground floor business office for the merchant ship-owner for whom the house was built.

    Two more high-style chambers at the front of the house, above the ground floor, on the west and east sides, had painted scenic wallpapers. The images in the smaller of the two chambers were more informal than in the other, much larger and more highly finished room. The smaller room featured romanticized scenes based on French paintings, whereas scenes of grand Roman ruins based on paintings by Panini covered the upper walls of the larger chamber and in the upper central salon area at the top of the principal stairs.

    (For more information, contact or see Antiques and Fine Art magazine, early summer 2009, article by Judy Anderson, who was curator of the Marblehead house at that time. And for a more complete discussion about the wallpapers and their manufacture, as well as images of the house and the block-printed papers and painted scenic murals, see a more recent book by the same author — available directly from the author at or through the website

    By the way, your blog posts are always fascinating and insightful !
    Thank you ! And thanks to the National Trust for featuring them.

  7. Ana Says:

    There is something captivating about dollhouses, isn’t there?

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Judy, I wasn’t aware of the Blackett ‘baby house’ (as it is called) in the Museum of London ( ), thank you for mentioning it.

    Thanks very much, too, for all that information on the Jeremiah Lee Mansion. It is very interesting that the scenic grisaille wallpapers were hung in receptions rooms at the Lee Mansion, as they were in the Drawing Room of the Nostell doll’s house. But the use of grisaille and chinoiserie wallpapers on the walls of the hall, staircases and corridors at the Lee Mansion seems slightly unusual and ‘exotic’ from an English perspective — perhaps this was a practice or fashion that developed in America?

    And how charming that the cupola at the Lee Mansion was actually used as a belvedere, rather than just as a lightwell.

    Thank you for all the other references as well. Your book sounds fascinating.

    Ana, indeed. You may find this site about ‘modern historicist’ dolls houses of interest:

  9. frenzzee Says:

    I used to take my children to the Baltimore Museum of Art to gaze at the miniature rooms on display there. Years later they still remember standing on the little stools to peer into them. I believe they would be as interested in them today as they once were.

  10. 18th c. Architecture in Marblehead / J. Anderson Says:

    Glad you found that of interest …. hope others will as well.
    I hope some copies of the book will make their way to interested people in England, since it is such an unfamiliar topic but of significance to English wallpaper and design history. (Books are in the libraries of the Museum of London, British Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, since images were reproduced etc.)

    Yes, the use of Chinoiserie papers in those spaces of comparatively low hierarchy is perplexing, with several possible theories.

    The grisaille papers painted with scenes of ruins would have been among the most opulent options for wall coverings in a stair-hall or principal high-style room in late colonial America (short of embossed leather hangings perhaps, which would most likely have been seen in a parlor or other principal room, rather than a stair-hall).
    Examples of actual textile hangings are not known, to my knowledge, but certainly may have existed without a record surviving to the present.

    Large-format architectural printed patterns or so-called “pillar-and-arch” would have been seen in American stair-halls in the Georgian era (all of English origin up until and the war for independence), though only a few examples survive from the colonial period.
    (see Wallpaper in New England by Richard Nylander et al and Catherine Lynn’s comprehensive book Wallpaper in America.
    See also Historic New England’s excellent online wallpaper catalog for color images of fragments of at least two:

    The grisaille murals with ruins were the next step up from those architectural patterns. The late Guy Evans wrote about the use of scenic grisaille papers in England and America in the Wallpaper History Society Review in 2001. (That issue is not yet online at the website — which is an excellent online resource.) And the general subject of scenic painted papers is touched on in The Papered Wall (Lesley Hoskins, ed.) and in Gillian Saunders’s book Wallpaper in Interior Decoration (V&A).

    In the US, some scenic Chinese wallpapers are in Historic New England’s Beauport, and in Winterthur Museum.

  11. nostellprioryconservation Says:

    Thanks, Emile! Great post. Our dolls’ house is possibly my favourite object in the collection, and we had great fun cleaning it earlier this year in front of the public.

    It’s interesting that you note how the dolls’ house is not a copy of Nostell, as it’s more of a representation of the interior themes of the time, which is true. What’s fascinating is, conversely, how the dolls’ house itself was a model for one of the rooms inside Nostell. The room in the top right hand corner of the dolls’ house was a model for the Blue Bedroom inside Nostell, to the extent that the fabrics and furniture were copied and scaled up for the actual room. Amazing!


  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Frenzzee, yes there is something about tiny things that makes us focus, and therefore makes us experience something more intensely, isn’t there? I can still remember my first encounter with the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, and all those tiny crawling figures — although perhaps that also had something to do with a little boy’s taste for the ghoulish…

    Judy, thank you very much for that further information and those links.

    Ellie, I had no idea there was an actual link between one of the rooms in the doll’s house and the Blue Bedroom at Nostell — how fascinating. When was the Blue Bedroom furnished in that way?

  13. style court Says:

    Emile, I’ve scrolled through your post about five times, clicking and enlarging the images to try and take in every amazing detail. The rooms are astounding. Do you know if the rugs are little European needlework copies or handknotted wovens from the East? Or maybe they are painted canvas? In the pictures they look so convincing.

    I definitely agree that chinoiserie wallpaper — chinoiserie in general — is still today associated with feminine style and Indian export cottons are often linked with comfortable, approachable or more relaxed rooms.

  14. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, yes it repays repeated scrutiny, doesn’t it? I will ask Ellie, who has recently been involved in cleaning it, how the miniature rugs were made and what they are made of.

  15. Janet Says:

    Such an interesting observation Emile! I am working on a project right now, examining a collection of Indian chintz from The Netherlands. I wonder if the same concept holds true there???

  16. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Janet, I was just echoing John Cornforth — but yes it provides and interesting ‘gender’ angle on chinoiserie.

    Good question about whether the same applied in Holland. I am not sure, but the late 17th-century dolls house of Petronella Oortman, in the Rijksmuseum, might be interesting in that regard: Like the Nostell one it was designed by and made for an adult and it seems to be very realistic.

    An interesting chinoiserie touch in the Oortman dolls house is the use of ‘sassinetten’: lengths of painted silk stretched on wooden frames which were inserted in the window embrasures, like rigid blinds, assuring privacy while letting in light, and with the painted decoration providing a cheerful and colourful note. Full-size examples haven’t survived, and I am not sure whether they were genuinely Asian or chinoiserie, but they seem to have the same visual impact as the Indian chintzes of the period. They seem to appear in several different rooms, including the children’s bedchamber and the ‘pronkkeuken’ or ‘state kitchen’, an eating room furnished like a kitchen.

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