Opening up the world of doll’s houses with German curriculum project leader Elena Salassa.
When German teacher Elena Salassa finally decided to restore her childhood doll’s house, there was one thing she was adamant about. “I don’t believe in a ‘don’t touch’ attitude when it comes to toys,” she says. “As a child, I used to visit my great uncle; he had the most wonderfully landscaped train set – but all we were allowed to do was look at it.”
Elena comes from a creative background – “my father was crazy about model trains and my mother is very artistic and does porcelain paintings” – but it is as a teacher that her true interest in play lies. “It’s not only relaxing and rejuvenating, it also brings us closer to the children,” she says, “I love to play in the school garden with the kids. Anything that pulls people away from their devices.”
Elena’s doll’s house has an array of exquisite details, but she admits it might not quite come up to the standard of the model that originally inspired her – Queen Mary’s doll’s house at Windsor Castle, which she originally came across in a magazine. “The Queen’s house sounded so charming,” she says. “It had running water and a working electrical system, a wine cellar with drops of real wines and liquors, and, on a desk in one of the rooms, an authentic Fabergé jade frog as an ornament.”
Her own version is hardly rudimentary, however, with ornate, painted porcelain bathroom fittings, brass-effect taps, a candelabra in the dining room, a high-chair (complete with baby) in the kitchen and miniature toys in the playroom, including an exquisitely small doll’s house of its own. Pictures are hung with tiny nails and there are mini dog bowls by the sink for the spaniel upstairs.
“Mine is not as grand in size or style as the Queen’s,” says Elena, “but I’m always finding new things to add.” At Christmas, the house gets a festive makeover, and this summer, she worked on the garden, building a small pond with clay bricks. “You have to plan everything like you’re building a proper house,” she says. “You can only put electricity in once you’ve done the roof and the floors – of course, the Queen had people doing it for her...”
Elena was born and raised in Switzerland, completing a degree and PhD in German before teaching German, Italian and French in an international school, then in Sweden. And now, as ZIS German lead, overseeing curriculum development and teacher professional development across the whole school, finding time to indulge her passion may be her biggest challenge.
If she does ever manage to “finish” the house, she and her husband plan to work on a model railway. He’ll do the tracks and she’ll build the houses. In the meantime, the doll’s house is definitely there for all to enjoy, much to the delight of her grandchildren: “If a toy is broken it means it’s been played with. And if they break them, it means they’ve had fun.”
WORDS HAZEL DAVIS PHOTOGRAPHY OLIVER OETTLI