When in 1922 the renowned architect Edward Lutyens was commissioned to build a dolls’ house for Queen Mary he created what is still considered today to be the ne plus ultra of miniature architecture. At 5ft tall, the Edwardian stately home of tiny proportions is impressive in itself but it is the extreme detail that really makes Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House – from the basement complete with a fleet of Rolls Royces, Lutyens filled the house with the very best of modern architecture, craftsmanship, art and interior design.

It was Lutyens’ art and design-filled dolls house that inspired property developers Cathedral Group to commission 20 dolls houses from some of the world’s best architects, to be auctioned at Bonhams in London on November 11 in aid of the KIDS charity. From Adjaye Associates to Zaha Hadid Architects, each design studio was briefed to collaborate with artists and furniture makers on diminutive decoration. Among the fusions of art and architecture is FAT architects’ house made with Grayson Perry and David Adjaye’s work with Chris Ofili.

A final component of the brief for the dolls’ houses was that they must include a unique feature that make life easier for a child with a disability – a nod to the fact that the KIDS charity they will benefit supports disable children, young people and their families.

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All photos: Thomas Butler

In collaboration with Base Models and artist Chris Ofili

Electra House

This is flexible home that contains a live/work space. Designed to be accessible to all, the ground floor is a continuous space, undulating between outdoor courtyard and creative indoor space. Light is a phenomenological presence inside the house, its properties of reflection, luminosity and movement provide the focal experience for all.


Compass House

This house has been designed for children with visual impairment in mind. “We expanded our use of colour and texture to bring the house to life for them. It's a weekend retreat - a place of escape that acts as a backdrop for ever changing scenarios,” say the architects.


Elvis’s Tree House

This house is based on a real playground in Southampton. The simple concept was to be as physically challenging as possible, because kids learn for themselves faster that way.


Inside Out

This was conceived as an inclusive dolls' house for all children whatever their needs and abilities. One element is a concrete house with a bonsai tree and herb garden which sits outside. The second, a series of elements that are individual oak rooms, hollowed out in bright colours that can be inserted into the house. It is fun for children and encourages outdoor play and most importantly raises a critical housing issue for families with disabled children.


Haptic House

Based on the concept of 'sensory play', this dolls' house encourages children to look, listen, touch and feel. A series of components, identical in character, which aim to inspire children, bring the house to life by stimulating the primary senses. Unlike conventional doll's house design, the 360-degree access means there are no defined rules of how it should be played -inviting the option of group play or individual discovery.

In collaboration with Norwegian artist Anne Katrine Dolven

Play House

This is less a house and more of a toy theatre, based on the 18th-19th century paper Theatres Popular. The dressing rooms, scenery and lifts can be enjoyed as a dolls’ house for imaginative play, or as a true theatre for children to stage performances. The theatre features working scenery lifts and curtains in the fly tower, making all floors accessible to its actors and audience. “We hope that future owners might have fun creating their own worlds and stories within it,” says the architects.

In collaboration with Richard Woods Studio and Grymsdyke Farm

House for a Deaf Child

Designed around the consideration of a deaf child, this is an object to play and learn with, but also a space to inhabit, designed to support visual communication through sign language. The exterior has adjustable pieces to give colour expression on the outside, and control of light and views from the inside. With further discovery these pieces can be reconfigured into new spaces and furniture.

In collaboration with Unit 22 Modelmakers


This house has been designed to aid early intervention strategies for children with developmental disability Autistic Spectrum Disorder. In consultation with Christina, mother of high functioning autistic Louis (5), the house swaps the visually noisy cross section of the typical dolls house with a set of rooms arranged in either a stack or plan form. Each room can be used in isolation or as part of a sequence to provide a focused platform for learning and role play.

In collaboration with artist Grayson Perry

Tower of Fable

This is a fantasy about a very real piece of architecture: a toy sized remake of the Balfron Tower. This transformation brings out qualities of Goldfinger's architecture that lie just beneath its surface. Brutalism here is revealed as exciting as a country cottage. High architecture joins with the imagination of inhabitation and fantasies of play. Which of course, is exactly what architecture should always be.


The Extra-Ordinary House

“This project was conceived around two ideas. Firstly, the most important house type in the UK is the most ordinary one: the terraced house. This simple idea has produced some of the best and most durable accommodation. Secondly, that our dolls' house will be a robust timber construction that explains how this house works through touch and feel rather, so enabling a child with impaired sight to understand how its volumes relate to living.”
- Glenn Howells

In collaboration with Hemingway Design

Jack in a Box

This design solution makes the imaginary reality so that the child can live within their fantasy, becoming 'Alice'. They are confronted by a simple box. When switched on, the inflatable structure inside begins to fill with air powered by an integrated fan. In a sequence of events, the dolls' house roof opens and the walls collapse to allow the organic structure to grow out of the box.

In collaboration with JuJu Ross Design/A&J Hilliard Cabinet Makers

Sound [Play]ce

HLM architects have created an interactive tower which focuses on the movement of a body through both urban and domestic spaces by creating a series of unique environments to which the body will respond acoustically. The differing sounds generated by a marble running through this system highlights a responsive design that aids visually impaired children with the often difficult process of forming global spatial images - be it during play or in the urban realm.

In collaboration with artist Lara Apponyi

The Grimm’s House

Not just a dolls' house, this is an interpretation of an illustrated fairy tale book for blind children. White, enigmatic, and somewhat menacing, the house is meant to be explored by touch. The story of Hansel and Gretel, written in braille, circumscribes the exterior, its jagged path mirroring the narrative of the story. The interior cavity is a tactile exploration of the fairytale, sculpted from hard candy, braided hair, and bones. The house translates an unnerving yet universal experience for children with sight into a new interpretation for those without.


A dolls’ house made of three-sided rooms is a miniature domestic world where rooms are composed and stacked by children with learning disabilities and sensory impairments. Small houses, cities, even worlds are created by the children and the rooms rely on connections with one another to form a whole. Rooms of delight react to movement and respond to touch and hearing senses with particular appeal to children with sight and dual sensory loss.

In collaboration with MAKLab and Burro Happold

Mae-Mak House

A house that can grow and change, this project engages the senses and allows kids to stick and stack walls, floors, roofs to form a simple house, a complex house, many houses or a very big house. Brightly coloured and textured panels are made to stimulate the senses and inspire customisation. It exploits Mae’s interest in flexible housing, MAKLab’s skill at fabrication and Buro Happold’s understanding of inclusive design.


Jigsaw House

Inspired by one of the oldest and simplest games, the jigsaw puzzle, this large house was created, made up of many small houses. Each partner in the practice was encouraged to invent their own house filling each room with their own sensory expressions of play and colour. The result is 26 fully designed houses with a further 20 empty houses to combine and complement the Jigsaw House.

In collaboration with artists Ishbel Myerscough, Chantal Joffe and poet Lemn Sissay

There’s a place out there to the west of town, where nobody pushes no one around
A place where birds and fishes play, on a giant coral far away
Where the sun is warm and the breeze is cool, and the sea is bluer than a swimming pool
You can play music and dance all day, on a giant coral far away
A house on a coral in the deep blue sea, a house on the coral in the deep blue sea
Just imagine you could be, in a house on the coral in the deep blue sea

In collaboration with artist James Ireland


A collection of exterior-like spaces that celebrate the sensory experience of being in the landscape, this house is elemental in its experience, with colour, light, shade, reflectivity, and long-distant views being important stimuli. It rotates like a Rubik puzzle around a spiral stair. We have considered a house that could provide escape for a visually impaired child. This house is about looking through and beyond.

In collaboration with Andrew Logan

Puzzle House

A house with 2 distinct embodiments, when not in use it's a tidy colourful rectangular box and when in play mode, the construction explodes into 7 separate pieces, which are hollow spaces. Each space contains a jewellery-like object designed by artist Andrew Logan: a stair of mirrors, a ladder, a diving board, a few thimbles, a chain, a propeller. The house avoids any inhabited formal space and instead stimulates play focused on performance. The emphasis is on imagination rather than re-enactment.


This Must be the Place

An interpretation of the Ideal House pavilion commissioned in 2007, the ZHA dolls’ house is a puzzle offering many possibilities to play and experiment in creating endless variety of unique compositions. It is designed to encourage a continual re-evaluation of composition and form. Pieces can be assembled and dismantled in many combinations, to be re-assessed with each new composition – voids are interpreted as new unique rooms or courtyards for dolls to inhabit.