Big ideas for Maureen’s small world

IN a cramped living room, a young boy sits by the fireplace playing with a toy car. Next door, his mother is on a rocking chair, a serene smile on her face. And upstairs, grandpa has fallen asleep on the couch.

But these aren’t real people, and this is far from a real house.

Every smile, outfit and nook and cranny has been lovingly created by Maureen Caelli, in one of the many doll houses she makes from scratch.

Maureen‘s Chifley home is filled with her creations, from a huge, three-level Victorian-era museum to a small bakery – and each one tells an entirely different story.

“People say walking in my home is like walking into a fairyland or another world,” she says.

“I have a lot of people come here because they hear from word of mouth. I’ve got people who bring their families, they treat my place like a museum.”

Maureen first started making and selling doll houses about 20 years ago, and has created about 15 since.

“I’ve had an interest in doll houses and art since I was a small child and, for me, this was a hobby,” she says.

It takes Maureen about three or four years to finish a house, and she dedicates eight hours a day to her work despite suffering from multiple sclerosis.

With the disease often leaving her housebound, she says her creations can offer an escape.

“I’ve had MS for most of my life, so have never really been able to have a job,” she says.

“Sometimes, there are days when I’m working on the doll houses where my co-ordination is off or my eyesight’s no good, but usually I just push myself.”
Maureen’s latest creation will be a Roman villa. She says she loves exploring different eras.

“Each of my doll houses is from a different time, and I always research the different eras so every detail is historically accurate, from the outfits to the architecture,” she says.

Maureen usually starts with an architectural drawing when she designs a house, using cut-up pieces of wood for the walls and paint for the interior design. She then creates the windows, lights and furniture, even using light displays in some rooms.

An oven fire and clay is used to create most of the dolls, and Maureen often makes their outfits right down to the last detail – even a pair of tiny socks.

But for all their intricacies, Maureen says she has trouble selling the doll houses. In the 20 years she’s been making them, she’s sold just five.
She believes cost is a huge factor – none of the houses are priced below $1000 – so she usually designs the houses with older women in mind.
“They like to come back to it – they’ve had their kids, they’re looking at retiring and they want to collect them as a hobby,” she says.

“It’s about reminiscing on their childhood. And they’re a thing of beauty.”

Maureen has donated a few of the doll houses to children, and says she “loves seeing kids’ eyes light up” when they play with them.

“Although you don’t see them too much in the stores anymore… I don’t think doll houses will ever go out of fashion for children,” she says.

“It’s important for them to have that as well as the modern toys, because they’re using their imaginations.”

Despite her passion for doll houses, Maureen never owned one when she was a child.

“I was one of six kids and we didn’t have much money, it was during the 1950s,” she says.

“But I do remember spotting one in a store window – I was drooling. It was a shop doll house, and had the tills and scales and everything – I bugged my grandfather about it all day, but I think he just gave up answering me after a while.”

So is creating doll houses a way to fulfill those childhood fantasies?

“Oh definitely,” she says.  “This is what I never had as a child and dreamed of having.”

And Maureen says she can’t see herself ever growing tired of it.

“I think I’ll keep going for as long as I possibly can, I’ve never given up on a house, ever – and I really don’t let anything stop me.”

More information about Maureen’s work, email

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