Dolls have found a home in Benalmádena

1. Collector Voria Harras, next to a recreation of Palacio de los Carranza in Cádiz.
1. Collector Voria Harras, next to a recreation of Palacio de los Carranza in Cádiz. / TENLLADO
  • Voria Harras' collection, which features toys and miniatures from the medieval era up to now, is available to visit five years on from the closure of her museum

Voria Harras didn't keep her own doll house, she gave it away to another little girl when she was just a child. However, this did not stop her becoming the collector she is now: the proud owner of the doll house that the children of the Andalusian aristocracy used to play with and a replica of the mansion on Paseo de Sancha.

For nearly fifty years, Harras has cared for and restored doll houses that date all the way back to the 14th century. Five years ago, her museum on Calle Álamos, in the centre of Malaga was closed, and since then the tiny art-deco lamps have sat in darkness and the minuscule curtains have remained shut. Until now. The dolls return to a new home in a different location: the Exhibition Centre in Benalmádena.

For six months, until 14 December, the cultural centre will be host to Voria Harras' extensive collection. Displayed across three floors is everything from miniature houses and 19th-century toys to authentic medieval show furniture.

Centuries ago, catalogues of furniture didn't exist and the only way that a carpenter or a builder could show their work to a client was to construct scaled-down pieces which he then gave away. This is the origin of doll houses and the purpose of the Buganvilla doll house, a building that still stands in Monte de Sancha.

"They weren't for children to play with. Architects used them as models and afterwards they were put on display in the hall or the living room of the house," explains Harras. People would decorate the house with furniture that the carpenter had made and lay the table with miniature cutlery from the goldsmith. Little by little, the model became an exact replica of the real house, in miniature. The collector says that this was a way for well-off families to "show their house to visitors without actually showing it".

Visitors to the exhibition can explore a replica of the Palacio de los Carranza in Cádiz (with a miniature porcelain Limoje dinnerware set), a stately home typical of the Malaga province compete with balconies, wallpaper and a sun room on the first floor for sewing, playing and painting. Or look around the tiny Cordoba palace, Villa Dolores, which has an arbour on the terrace.

Harras' vision as a whole combines various interests, from architecture to fashion and customs of the 19th century. None of these houses have water in the bathroom, some don't even have baths (each bedroom has a chamber pot and a washbowl), while others house more servants than residents. Some even have a chapel. Anything that you might find in a home has been put in one of these doll houses, there is even a tiny radio in one of the sitting rooms.

With the passing of time and changes in lifestyles, the replicas began to seem old fashioned and the little rooms became places for the children to play with. By the start of the 20th century, the Lenci dolls - one hundred years old by then - would get mixed in with push chairs, stuffed animals, toy kitchens and train sets. A spectacular Tudor doll house (found on the second floor of the exhibition) was used around this time, a typical English replica with not a detail missed.

The art deco style in the doll houses began to evolve alongside what was popular at the time. Telephones appeared and running water was accessible inside the home. Garages were built outside and people started to use washing machines. Each house tells the story of a home owner, as is the case of the Cortinas sisters, who burnt their doll house to keep warm during the war, but kept everything that was inside; or that of Carmen Marcos, who received her doll house as a gift from the King. It features a replica of her grandparents' living room alongside designs inspired by the Bauhaus school.

As the decades went on, many doll houses began to leave their original homes, thrown away or replaced by a plastic model. Voria Harras' collection invites onlookers to travel back to the time where these pieces would catch the eye of the little ones, but had a more important function for adults. "It's a mistake to think that these were just for children," adds Harras. Whoever visits this exhibition will know that she is right.