When a little French girl called Elyane was seven years old, she fell in love with a miniature writing desk. Eventually the Count of Vendeuvre fell in love with this little girl, married her, and today they own probably the world's largest collection of miniature furniture.
They live at the Chateau de Vendeuvre in Normandy, where there is a display of over 700 miniatures, including Niches a Chien, a type of portable pet bed. We may think like to spoil our pets; so do the French. Throughout history they have been dog lovers, and before their Revolution people at Court would think nothing of spending today’s equivalent of £10,000 on a miniature bed for their dog or cat.
These Niches a Chien (loosely translated as dog kennels) were very luxurious, and were often copies of their owners' furniture, especially miniature four-posters. They had a handle for carrying, and nothing but the best and most costly materials were used. Decorated with gold leaf, with covers and curtains of cut velvet and silks, softest down filling the mattresses, they might even copy their owners with a miniature travelling clock hanging above the bedhead. Fido (or Filou) could recline in total comfort whilst Mistress chatted to friends at Court.
In 1585 Julien de Paulmier became owner of Vendeuvre. He was doctor to King Charles IX, who so loved his dogs he declared royal mourning when one of them died. Later on King Louis XV told friends his dog Filou was "the only person in the world who loves me for myself". Filou slept on a velvet cushion wearing a gold and diamond collar.
It was the famous wit and woman of letters, Madame de Stael, who wrote "the more I see of men, the more I like dogs". Eventually she fell foul of Napoleon and was banished from France. Earlier, the courtier Chateaubriand had written about cats, particularly their "independent character that doesn't attach itself to one person", and it became fashionable to carry your toy dog or cat around on its own bed.
There were different types of niche, and some of the most famous cabinet makers were commissioned to produce more and more extravagant designs. In 1697, Godron, a famous ebeniste (carpenter in black ebony wood) was commissioned to make two twin portable kennels for Marly, one of the King's residences; rather like Grinling Gibbons being asked to produce dog kennels.
At the Chateau de Vendeuvre, in Normandy, the Count and Countess have a special display of these pet beds, which is on all this summer. Among the collection is an adorable beach hut bed, and one very grand travelling niche complete with its own clock. There is a triple wooden portable kennel (pity the poor footman who had to carry that!) and sumptuous beds from the Court of the Sun King, where dogs slept under superb silks and velvets. Then there are 'Niches d’Architecture'; perfect copies of little houses, and ones that look like those enclosed beds used in cold countries, padded and lined with embroidered silk.
The Chateau is a typical country seat of a French nobleman, with a formal garden in front. The car park is exposed, so you need to search for a tree to park under if you have your dog with you. There is so much to see you need a long afternoon, and kids will love the gardens, full of amusements like the bridge with the singing water birds, the surprise fountains and the crystal tree.
Inside the Orangery there is the incredible collection of miniature furniture, silver, cutlery and clocks. The house itself is full of fun, from the kitchen in the basement, to the goldfish swimming around in the chandelier in one of the main rooms. It seems incredible that the house was completely stripped of all its furniture during the last war; it became a soldiers' barracks and the garden was torn up by tanks. Today the loudest noise is children's laughter and the tick tock of the clocks.
The Count and his