Following an article on fashion hoarding, Loo Loo Rose visits an antique London toy store to discuss the collecting disease.
Kristin Baybars owns a shop that is every child’s dream. However the majority of her customers are indeed adults. This secret little shop is hidden away and is stacked to the brim with hundreds of thousands of toys. Before I can even prepare myself for what’s inside, I am welcomed inside by little old lady with crazy hair. I am in absolute awe. “Do you prefer to sit or stand? Well I’m going to recline!” Kristin Baybars beckons me into the back of her shop. I feel very at ease with her due to her beautifully flowing story-telling voice. It really is a gift she has, and I remember the sound of her voice even as I type this interview and feel a warmth inside. My first question to her was just out of curiosity.
Do you get this type of thing all the time?
“Well, yes and no. I try to keep a low profile. Anything that’s put online is nothing to do with me!”
The humble and relaxed tone of Kristin takes me by surprise, does she really not realise that she is somewhat of a celebrity? I have researched her on countless websites and ready many interviews- I have even watched her on a ‘Channel 4’ documentary. People rave about her on blogs, posting pictures and compliments, visiting the shop purely to see her; purely to see if such a place really does exist.
I tell her that I have read up about her.
“Oh that’s interesting! You can’t keep a secret anymore with the internet!”
Your shop is like a museum. Do you get defensive over what people touch and how they react in your shop?
“I can almost tell by just the way they come in, their needs as it were, keeping a strict eye on them. Are they perfectly alright just by what they’re looking at. I immediately look at how they come in as well as their whole attitude with shopping in a place like this.”
You seem to appreciate children and the importance of a magical childhood, but how would you feel is a child came in and messed everything up?
“I wouldn’t allow them to do that! And most children if you speak to them gently and reasonably, they’re very good at responding, almost better than grownups sometimes.”
I see a sparkle in her eye.
Do you present part of yourself through your shop? How?
“Yes. I don’t buy things because they’ll sell, I buy them because I like them, and there’s quite a few reasons for liking them but that’s the main thing, so it is a very, very personal place.”
Do you get emotionally attached to items up for sale?
“Yes! Yes, oh yes. Terrible so. I have a few tricks up my sleeve to hold onto them, as they are like old friends. I simply refuse a sale because they live here, or I put a ridiculously high price on them, because some people get very cross if things aren’t for sale, but most things are.”
The items you have made yourself- do they take a higher status in your eyes?
“No. We are all equals in this shop, toys ‘n’ all!”
As I ask my next question, I hear a knock at the door. Kristin asks me to open it for her, and a friendly man with a rucksack is waiting eagerly on the other side of it. He knows the routine, and has clearly been here before. The shop is very narrow, and it was empty (people-wise) until now. I am interested to see how Kristin behaves around him. The man greets her kindly and speaks in a posh voice.
“A couple of weeks ago, I bought a tiny book of Rupert Bear and I wanted to know if you had another one…” The man looks at me. “My Mother wants two.” He hastily adds.
“It’s probably in this section here, if it isn’t, we haven’t got it. But that doesn’t mean to say we won’t in the future.” Says Kristin, as she tips out some tiny detailed books into a basket and the man begins his search and I continue probing. The tiny books were incredibly small but still printed real words. One would imagine, as the human eye cannot read such tiny font without a magnifying glass, that the creator would simply use wiggly lines instead of real text. I take a moment to appreciate the time and effort to keep the doll houses as realistic as possible – perhaps this is why collectors love them so. We carry on our interview, but in the corner of my eye I notice that the amount of time this man is spending searching through the tiny books. The fact he knew exactly what he wanted as substitute for the Rupert Bear book implied to me that he was indeed the collector, not his Mother. Perhaps he felt embarrassed in front of me of his passion, after all doll’s house collecting is stereotyped as a female passion, and for children. So I can imagine his anguish at being a grown man! Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how Kristin handles her customers.
Is dolls house collecting an addiction?
“It can be, just because there are so many things that you almost need to, or can put into your dolls house or wherever you’re collecting.”
One theory suggest toys come alive at night-time. How do you feel about this?
“Oh definitely!” She giggles. “They watch over the shop!”
What is your favourite toy and why?
“It varies from day to day but I’m very, very fond of.. this little black doll here. I don’t remember where I bought it. It reminds me of some of the wonderful black artists that have been alive and I think she’s just got that look of ‘how can a girl refuse?’ She’s just wonderful!”
What is your ugliest toy?
“I really don’t know! A lot of it is pretty hideous. But I like it.”
Is your home at all similar to the shop or completely opposite?
“It’s very cluttered, but I haven’t got a lot of beautiful things.”
When you sadly pass away, what will happen to your shop? Will your legacy live on?
“I really don’t know but I hope it will. It will never be the same, but it will, I hope, live on. The toys will live on with their secrets anyway.”
How do you choose your stock?
“By the amount of money in my pocket!”
Describe your worst customer.
“Those who don’t listen and do the exact opposite. Well, if they say “what have you got for a two year old” and you make suggestions and they do the exact opposite so I think ‘well why did they ask me?!'”
What happens when you’re uninspired?
“I don’t do anything!” She chuckles. I find it hard to imagine Kristin feeling uninspired with such a passion for miniatures and being surrounded by thousands of items looking down at her. After the interview is finished, I sit and listen to some of Kristin’s stories about previous interviews she has sat through,
“People come in for interviews and they seem to be totally disinterested and say things like what’s your most expensive house or what’s your cheapest house? I have no idea! It depends on the day, you know! Gosh, exactly, get out! I mean they’re very often very boring questions that are asked, and so much about finance! And you think ‘why?!’ And you see these articles there was an interview that I agreed to do for television and the woman said, ‘now I’m going to tell you about a woman who has one hundred and fifty doll’s houses!’ And actually, bless her heart they were very boring as she hadn’t got better or tried anything different, I thought why has she got one hundred and fifty doll’s houses but that’s her. You know, one hundred and fifty doll’s houses for whatever reason but it’s her thing. And when she went out, the interviewer sniggered and said ‘I wonder what my husband would say if I had a thousand dolls!’ and I thought that was so disrespectful and anyone who does anything like that, how unprofessional! And people said ‘oh Kristin you were fine’ but I felt very unhappy with the questions and things she showed me, and she hadn’t followed on with what she had originally wanted to do, and there was no reason for that when you saw the actual show! People thought I came across very well thank God, as I didn’t feel that I had. The other thing about interviewing is they always get things wrong and you think gosh if they’re a journalist they would take a bit more care but no!
At this point Kristin gets up (with difficulty) from her reclining mattress at the back of the shop and ushers me round to another secret section of the shop.
“Do have a little look. This cabinet kind of reflects what is in here, this is as cheap and as cheerful as we can get it, and this is a lovely dolls house which was arranged by young David who came into the shop when he was fourteen and I got on really well with him and one day I said, “David, would you like to arrange a house?” and he said “Oh yes!” So I said here’s the house chose anything you want to put in, and I tell you what he did! I was so delighted and so amazed! And I’ve kept it all these years and he’s now about forty two! He comes in to see me and he makes miniatures!”
I told her he clearly felt inspired by her to do so and she humbly said well he inspired himself but you could say it was, yes. And when I commented on the very pretty chandelier in the bathroom he said “well, that’s where I lay on my back and look up at the ceiling”
Her amazingly calming way of telling stories once again made me feel safe and in the world of childhood again. I wanted to hear all her stories.
“One little girl said well who lives here? And David says “I do!” And she said “well where are you?” And David replied “I’ve gone to get the cat food!” He wasn’t going to have any horrible humans in his dolls house! I’d only known him a fortnight and he said “I hate humans, I love animals though!” So I said “David! I thoroughly sympathise but I expect you’ll get to like a few”, and he has. I said “well what happens if the mice come down into the doll’s house?” he said “well that’s their problem!” It’s wonderful isn’t it! I guard it like a cat guards her kittens. And this is my speciality because nobody else makes them (she reaches into David’s dolls house and pulled out a tiny box which I had only read about. She opened up the box with care, which housed tiny individual pieces of a jigsaw. I do it with a fretsaw and a great deal of patience, but also I think that my father was a very wonderful fine wood engraver, so I think I laugh and say that linier thing is what I’ve inherited from my papa! I’m not as good as he was! The best things just come to you don’t they? It helps that I only have one working eye! I can see the saw going through the wood far better with just one.”
A lady came in with a pram. We were introduced and got talking, Jennifer was a collector. She wanted Kristin to pose for a picture with her new born and explained that she wanted the child to have proof of meeting Kristin,
“Because you’re legendary! When she grows up my daughter can say ‘she’s dead and gone but I did meet her!'”
Once again, Kristin is humble in her mannerisms and of course obliges. I take the picture for them. Then Jennifer tells me about her collections,
“The house I’ve had since I was a child which I have my childhood toys calibre of things in it, and I’ve put other high calibre things in it as well just so they’ve got somewhere to live and then I’ve got a cabinet with the really top end, the rest of the collection in it. The most desirable of desirables. I’ve always loved miniatures since I was a child and just continued and kept going. I don’t consider them to be toys I consider them to be art.”
Photography Credits – Loo Loo Rose
Model: Charlotte Holland