Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoroughly Moderne Henry Colbert

I fell in love with Henry Colbert's work when I first laid eyes on his Art Deco house in Jean Nisbett's book The Modern Dolls' House (2004). Years later, here I am staring at these gorgeous works of art and reading a brilliant article on his work (THANKS AGAIN Writing Sideways!) I scanned the color copies of the article from Dollhouse Miniatures magazine and you can download the article in its entirety here (thanks DudeCraft, I borrowed your idea to use MediaFire to share this file). I am sure this is copyright infringement, but I couldn't buy the Sept 07 issue anywhere, so we'll see how long I can keep it up. The image quality is the best I could get scanning the color copies of the magazine, but still quite drool worthy. Click on images to see the larger version. Enjoy!

House in Poole, Dorset — The Amyas Petite
Henry grew up in "Barnet, Hertfordshire, just north of London, his world was a wealth of modern inspirations: the architecture of his local cinema; Arnos Grove, the nearby underground station; the Penguin Pool at the London Zoo; a Sun Trap House he passed on the way to school; and a Clarice Cliff vase from EW. Woolworth sitting on his mantel. Nearly 70 years later, many of these landmarks Henry remembers still look fresh and modern."

House in Hendon, London — The Amyas Deluxe
In 1997, ill health forced Henry into early retirement and he began to search for a hobby that could combine his skills and background in architecture, engineering, computers and a home workshop to die for. "Having attended some local miniature shows, Henry realized no one was making modern-era dollhouses. With interest piqued, he attended an evening class on 20th century architecture, bought a camera, and set out to photograph every Art Deco house he could find within a 150-mile radius of his home. Two houses stood out from the rest: a small house in Poole, Dorset, and a larger house with interesting features in Hendon, London."

The Amyas Grande
"Since the style of his dollhouses would be unique, and no parts readily available in miniature shops, apart from the hardware, Henry had to design and build every component himself. For the next 18 months he experimented by trial and error, producing the necessary jigs and fixtures to build his first models. He uses computer-aided-design (CAD) software to design each module; walls, ceilings, and floors are constructed from top-quality birch plywood with lime-wood trim. His dollhouse designs leave no room for error; the minimalist style dictates that mistakes cannot be covered up with paint, paper, or fancy trim."

The Amyas Grande Deluxe
"With key components designed and prototyped, he was now ready to launch three models that would incorporate certain key design elements. Designated the Amyas series in honor of New Zealand native Amyas Connell (1901-1980), who studied architecture in England in the 1920s and designed High & Over, one of the first International Style houses in England. Along with architect Basil Ward, they later designed their Sun House for a proposed Moderne community to complement High & Over. When war intervened, the project ended with only four houses constructed. The Amyas Petite, inspired by the Poole house, has Crittall (steel) windows, a flat roof and sun terrace, a portholed front door, and a conventional staircase."

"The Amyas Deluxe, a combination of the Poole and London homes, is a medium-sized dollhouse with the same features of the Petite, plus a flat-roofed wing, railed porch, imposing entrance doors, portholes, decorative chevrons on the bay wall, a spiral staircase, and wood-strip floors. His Amyas Grande contains all these features plus symmetrical front bays on either side of the central hall. Later Henry added an Amyas Petite Deluxe. Each house is one room deep, to make them, as Henry says, 'playable.'"

Sun House
"Henry has also reproduced a Sun House in 1:24 scale, using original house plans and photographs to ensure authenticity. The finished product is mounted on a turntable with hinged panels to access all the rooms; the house is fully electrified and has been fitted with a bathroom and kitchen."

"As demands for dollhouse accessories has grown, Henry has also designed period lighting, fireplaces, bathroom fixtures, and even a swimming pool illuminated with blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that shine beneath the resin to create an underwater glow. The pool steps are nickel-coated brass cast into the resin to create an underwater step. The pool deck is tiled with products from Richard Stacey. The end result is impressive and will delight anyone desiring a swimming pool for their dollhouse."

"With his meticulous attention to detail, Henry typically makes two dollhouses a year. His dollhouses have found homes throughout England and Scotland, with one currently under way for a customer in Wales. As interest in Art Deco has grown in the U.S., and accessories are becoming more available, hopes are that one of his houses will find a home outside the U.K." As of the writing of this article three years ago, Henry is stiff with arthritis, and is booked with orders for the next 18 months. I've read elsewhere that the wait list is over 2 years now. By my calculations there should be at least 15-20 of Henry's dollhouses in existence. I wish the owners would share some photos of these treasures.

The article continues with the topic of the future of dollhouses and miniatures artisans and the replacement of small miniature/hobby/toy shops with the big-box craft stores. It's a great read, but a much longer conversation that I'll save for later.

I have an email in to Henry and I will post his response if the email still works.

Here are pictures of the four constructed houses by Amyas Connell and Basil Ward. Sun House 2 & Sun House 1, Sun House 3 and High & Over.

(Henry Colbert images from article "Thoroughly Moderne Henry Colbert" by Deb Weissler published in Dollhouse Miniatures Sept 07 issue, top High & Over and Sun House pictures from flickr page of Metro-land revisited and bottom High & Over image from


  1. Ohh! Wish I could get my hands on one of these. MIAIM is probably going to make an Art Deco house. Very very cool!

  2. Sigh, I know. I would love one of these too!! I can only imagine what the shipping costs to the US would be. Ugh.
    I can't wait to see what MIAIM comes up with.

  3. Really nice work. Thanks for sharing these beautiful images.

  4. You are most welcome, Assembly Fixtures. My jaw dropped when I saw The Amyas Grande Deluxe and I had to share. :)

  5. Thanks for sharing; I just bought a copy of the magazine but there is also one on ebay now.

  6. Thanks for the update mini2b. Ahh, I missed it. Looks like it sold for around $10.

  7. I wish someone would post the interior pictures of the Amyas Grande Deluxe house...

  8. I know, I know, my only hope is that maybe one of the owners will stumble across this blog and send me lots of pictures to share. One can always dream...

  9. Sorry, I had to turn off comments on this post, as I kept getting tons of spam comments. The other posts have the comments option turned on. Or you can email me via my profile page. Thanks.

  10. Wow, He is so talented. I'm so glad that he represented this era of architectural history, in doll houses. I wish I could be his apprentice. Thank you for the informative article.


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