Lerro and Lundby

 

“Room for Childlike Reality in 1:15 Scale” by Olle Wilson [1]

Lundby has entertained children for more than 50 years. Previously, dollhouses were  an exclusive toy, often hand-made in a large, heavy scale.
With efficient manufacturing methods, costs could be kept low, a prerequisite for the success of the modern dollhouse.

Lundby logo

It began in 1947, when Axel Thomsen delivered the first dollhouses from the Lundby section of Hising Island [2] to the Ferdinand Lundqvist Department Store in Göteborg. The houses were said to have been transported in a baby carriage (pram) over the Hising Bridge.

per-bornfelt-ltn

Per Börnfelt
*1926 – +2005

Two years later, Per Börnfelt (*1926 – +2005) began producing dollhouse furniture. The company was   named “Lerro” and production was done on the ground floor of his parents’ home. The house burned down in 1959, one result of which was the two companies merged.
Their joint factory was constructed in Lerum in 1962.

Per Börnfelt was responsible for interior design, everything from wall-paper patterns and lamp fittings to coffee tables and TV sets. He is retired now and paints watercolors in his studio in Åkersberga. The need for aesthetic expression has always been there.

He said, “It was Dad who saw I had ideas and invented things, and told me, ‘You   should not sit in an office.'”

A Feeling for the Details

Per Börnfelt

Per Börnfelt in “Toy World” (june 27, 2001)

Per Börnfelt decided to be a cartoonist and was admitted to drawing school at the Craftsmen’s Association. The work suited his feeling for detail and ability to create lifelike objects. Just for the fun of it, he built a group of dollhouse furniture, and when his father saw it, he encouraged Per to show his work to a wholesale toy dealer. And that is how Per Börnfelt obtained his first order.

“I was forced to leave school before I really got started, and started my own business when I was 23 years old.”

The young businessman did a market survey in the city’s toy stores and verified the   available dollhouse furniture was dull and poorly made.

“There weren’t any fine details, and children love details; it has to look real.”

Lundby

©Olle Wilson

Per went back to the basics, could recall himself how it felt to play with cars and   construct buildings and landscapes in damp sand. From that experience the interior designs were created. The biggest challenge was to re-create that feeling in large volume; everything had to be able to be mass-produced and sturdy enough for children.

In the beginning, everything was made of wood, and the house itself was the same as   it is today, asymmetrical in a scale of 1:16 with three rooms, a kitchen, and a little bathroom. The style of architecture was developed from the technical and financial aspects of manufacturing, just as it is today.

100 Worked at Home

Lundby

©Olle Wilson

The company expanded. Bror Åsberg, formerly a representative for Lego in Sweden,   was responsible for marketing and finances. One marketing gambit was to loan   dollhouses to the toy stores during the Christmas season, and see to it they were set up and displayed like sparkling Christmas Scenes in the shop windows. It was the Christmas trade which was responsible for the greatest share of sales that year. At the peak of the season, seven tractor-trailers were loaded with dollhouses every week. Soon Lundby in Lerum was the largest supplier of dollhouses in Sweden.

35, 000 houses were manufactured in 1967. The factory had 40 employees and some of the production was done by people at home. Approximately 100 people were busy   making furniture and other decorative accessories in their homes. They regularly received a box of materials, and had various patterns and templates to help them assemble the parts.

The full range of items grew in pace with the increase in prosperity in the country and homes began to fill up with more and more acquisitions. The TV set with Pippi longstocking or the playful kitten on the screen was immensely popular, as was the aquarium, the telephone, and the vacuum cleaner.

Per Börnfelt doesn’t want to name any prototype for his designing, but he admits the pattern “Virrvar” [3] on the kitchen table was stolen from Sigvard Bernadotte [4].

Sold without Profit

The grand piano had been part of the whole line since the 1950’s, but when pop music   took over a decade later, one could also purchase a modern electric organ. It had the same sheet of music, and with a magnifying glass one can see it is the introductory notes to “The Marseillaise”.

Per Börnfelt remembers, “We sold the houses with almost no profit.”

By the end of the 1960’s, the house alone cost approximately 50 kronor. It would then have to be furnished, and that’s when profits were made. The Rococo bureau with an oriental rug cost 5 kronor.

“For that matter, I designed the original of that rug,” explained Per.

That was how it went. He sat there and, by hand, meticulously drew every brick of the   house facade and the fire-place so they would look realistic.

Bourgeois and Old-fashioned

Lundby logo

Lundby received a great deal of criticism in the 1970’s. Dollhouses were said to   represent a bourgeois and old-fashioned life style and reinforced out-dated gender roles. They inhibited fantasy and the furniture was not ergonimically adapted to children’s hands.

“A psychologist called me one day and asked if I had any education, if I had studied child psychology. I replied that I was only self taught.”

Even if many boys who grew up in the seventies did not miss any opportunity to play   with dollhouses, there were few of them who had their own houses. Perhaps that depended on their parents’ fears of encouraging feminine traits in their sons.”

 

©Olle Wilson

©Olle Wilson

In 1979, Lundby in Lerum had a turnover of 30 million kronor [5]. A large portion was exported, to the U.S., among others. More flashy models were made for that market and Lundby was forced to omit the bathroom bidet which could give offense. On the   other hand, Per Börnfelt felt compelled to design a car and a garage. It was an open, 2-door model, the original of which was impossible to guess. The problem was to adapt the proportions to the dollhouse, and as a result, the car was as wide as a Mercedes and as short as a VW.

Lundby continued to expand internationally during the 1980’s and the greater part of   the production was moved abroad. Ownership changed and Lundby became a part of a larger company that experienced difficulties in the early 1990’s. The dollhouse factory went bankrupt in 1993 and the name Lundby was taken over later by Micki Leksaker. By then, Per Börnfelt had already retired.

“In any case, almost all the things I designed are still produced today, which is a good testimonial to my work.” Besides those, there aren’t so many additions to the assortment. Except for a personal computer in miniature. A dollhouse for our time.

(The article and photographs are posted here with permission from Olle Wilson)


[1]  Swedish journalist; published in Barometern, April 10, 2001. To contact the author: www.skrivoskruv.se
Translated by Patricia Harrington. Please contact the translator for permission to use the translation: newswedepat@yahoo.com
Additional footnotes added by the translator are for clarity to a non-Swedish reader.

[2]  Hising Island is part of the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) on the West Coast of Sweden.

[3]  word literally means chaos, jumble, tangle. See the table #2501, e.g.

[4]  Swedish designer, famous for applied art and industrial design which included furniture, entire interiors, silver for Georg Jensen, etc. Do a “Google” search for more information and photographs.

[5]  approximately $7.5 million using 1979 exchange rate.