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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.