Every year, thousands of visitors—young and old, newcomers and long-time members—are captivated by the Thorne Miniature Rooms. The 68 period rooms built on a scale of one inch to one foot have something for everyone—a visual history of architecture and decorative arts, the astounding workmanship of thousands of tiny accessories, and memories of childhood dollhouses. But this year, the rooms will prove even more delightful, donning new period-appropriate decorations for the season—a new holiday tradition.
As with any grand holiday project, planning for this ornamentation began very early, soon after last year’s holidays had passed. The first step was to determine which rooms would be adorned, with extensive research done on the history of holiday festivities and decorations. While perhaps surprising given today’s over-the-top decorations that cover every shop, city, and suburb, identifying eras that participated in major ornamentations was more difficult than expected. Many periods were rather spare in their festive trimmings, and some, in fact, banned the celebration of Christmas entirely.
Eventually six rooms with the most significant and visual holiday celebrations were chosen to inaugurate this new Thorne Rooms tradition. Among the most elaborate is the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, the only room with a Christmas tree. Now a ubiquitous feature of the season, the Christmas tree or tannenbaum, was only brought to England from Germany in 1840 with the marriage of Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. The Thorne Room tree and accoutrements are based on a famous engraving of the royal couple and their children surrounding a trimmed and toy-bedecked tree, an image that would forever popularize this holiday fixture. Other ornamented rooms include the English Great Hall of the Tudor period with a wassailing bowl, yule log, and an essential part of the costuming for that period’s singing-dancing revelers—a mummer’s mask; the Virginia Entrance Hall with mistletoe, wreath, and garland; the French Provincial Bedroom with shoes, or sabots, lined up before the fireplace, a crèche, and puzzle; and the modern-era California Hallway with an Otto Natzler mid-century menorah and box with a dreidel.
Keeping to Mrs. Thorne’s exacting standards of craftsmanship, several renowned artists from across the country and around the world were engaged to create pieces for the rooms. Tiny toys have arrived from Germany, diminutive delicacies from Italy, and petite plants from South Africa, while several pieces were made in-house by the rooms’ caregiver of the last several years, Lindsay Mican Morgan.
Step back into holidays of yore when the freshly decorated rooms are unveiled November 1 and come back to see a surprise addition later in the season.
The Thorne Miniature Rooms are made possible by the Narcissa Niblack Thorne Fund and the Chicago Community Trust.
Mrs. James Ward Thorne. English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, 1840–70, c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.