Friday, April 30, 2010

The "Someday" Cupboard House

This one is for me.

I have no idea how long it was after the old dollhouse went to live with my nieces that I realized that I still wished for a dollhouse of my own. Perhaps a "grown up" version where I could assemble all the lovely delicate items I had made and collected in my youth, as well as indulge my creative side by making even more elaborate ones yet to be imagined. But I'm pretty certain it was quite a long time. Because I was in denial about my own obsession with dollhouses and everything miniature. After all, I was an adult and didn't really have time for playing with my childhood "toys". There was the boys' Rustic House to keep me occupied, or distracted from, any urges that might sneak up on me. And I always thought that "someday" I would find the time to get back into the miniature world. But someday was never "now", and time kept moving on.

But just because I was in denial about my dollhouse dreams, that didn't mean I stopped collecting litle things for my "someday" dollhouse! On the contrary! Because I was in denial, I had less awareness of just how much I was collecting! I might spot some tiny trinkets and think "Oh that would make a perfect dollhouse ____ (fill in the blank with anything you can imagine!)" I am sure you all have experienced this.....the fine-tuned awareness of everything miniature that makes dollhouse scale things just JUMP off the shelves of stores into your basket, or leap off the forest floor or the seashore into your hands just crying out to be in a dollhouse! It is impossible to resist. It is futile to try! And so I continued to gather stray items whenever they presented themselves to me, always with that lovely little rush of excitement that here was another lovely little thing that would be just PERFECT for a doll house! Cloth scraps with lovely little patterns, tiny books, bits of leather for making things, tiny pieces of jewelry or hardware, little picture frames, beautifully patterned paper, bits of wood scraps, tiny ANYTHING was carefully gathered and saved for the eventual "Someday" house.

I can't recall exactly when it was that I found the old doll, but I remember where she was quite clearly. We were cleaning out the attic of my then in-laws very old house. The attic was one of those attics antique collectors dream of. My in-laws had lived in that house their entire married life (better than 50 years), and the attic was HUGE. And it was filled with several life-times of discarded stuff. I was just one of many family members pawing through old boxes and trunks exclaiming over forgotten treasures. The doll was in an old trunk with piles of old linens and bedding. One can only wonder why it ended up there! My first thought was that she might be just the right size for a dollhouse. (She is a little tall at 6 inches) I really have no idea how old she is, she is most likely a reproduction made in the early part of the 20th century, but her costume is clearly of the middle of the 19th century. As no-one else was interested in her, I brought her home with me.

Of course, just because I had a doll it didn't mean I was any closer to having a doll house, or even admitting that I was wishing I had a dollhouse! I was still in denial. I really didn't have time for a doll house. Occasionally I would buy a set of furniture that was meant to go in the boys' Rustic House - but somehow it never made it out of the box - not that the boys noticed! But I didn't want them breaking the nicer things - and besides, the Rustic House was getting pretty full and they didn't play with it much anyway. At some point I even bought a kit dollhouse - but didn't build it (until many years later as you have no doubt recognized the "Folly"!)

I was in denial, but I didn't fool my sister at all. She kept the dream alive for me by giving me little gifts when I most needed them. One miserable winter she sent me this tiny box with this lovely invitation in it! Of course! I went to Tea! (She knows how I adore tea!)

She was fortunate enough to live in a town that had a dollhouse miniature store (a VERY dangerous thing for some of us!) and she sent me more than one delightful present.

One Christmas it was these tiny little rascals! After all, every OLD house has a few little mice!)

(This picture was supposed to be a blue tea set, but I uploaded the wrong one, and haven't figured out how to delete use your imagination, PLEASE!)

And after a trip to England she brought me a tiny blue tea set (just barely visible in the cabinet to the left below) which I stashed with my other mini tea sets in the little curio cabinet in my bedroom. A constant reminder that I still didn't have a dollhouse of my own.

And when toy shopping for the boys, I occasionally found myself coming home with a toy that really was for me. Like the miniature sized "Ken" doll below. (I have no idea if he really is a Ken doll)......but he seemed to be about the right scale for a dollhouse doll. And when I found myself buying dolls for a dollhouse I didn't have, and for the child that I wasn't, I was a little embarrassed (Denial!) and I did what anyone in denial about a habit does...... I hid him in a cupboard. It was a sturdy old cupboard, part of a dismantled kitchen cabinet set. I have two of them. Very useful for storing supplies for projects and other stuff. Fortunately, he didn't mind. Because it would be a long time before he was let out to play!

And my Sister, knowing just exactly what I love, kept sending me treasures. Like this (still) unfinished kitchen hutch - just waiting for my creative paintbrush. (I had just finished painting a full scale one for my real kitchen). But did I take the hint? *Sigh* Not yet.

Nonetheless, the collecting was relentless. Never mind the boxes (carefully labeled) of old things I mentioned in earlier posts. The collection was starting to be hard to hide. (As if any one would want to!) There were tiny Christmas wreaths for doors that didn't exist, little pots and dishes, packets with tiny food, kitchen equipment, mini radiators, tiny toy rocking horses, baskets.....items too numerous to list! Check out these baskets! Aren't they just amazing!

I even got so carried away in a hobby shop at one point that I came home with a set of kit windows that would be just PERFECT inserted in the front of the old cupboard doors... it would turn the old cupboard into a stately Victorian "Town House"! And someday they probably will. But for the time being, they sat in their packages INSIDE the old cupboard, carefully out of sight! And when it came time to move, they went into a box, carefully labeled.

But really, that idea was too good to ignore. The cupboard would make a lovely temporary dollhouse. Nobody needed to know it held a doll world inside. I could set things up, sort of, just to see how they might look all put together. The new dolls would have a home of sorts. Because, of course, there were some new dolls. The lovely old china doll (I think her name is Charlotte) has some very well behaved very Victorian children (they are very quiet)! Which is a good thing because nobody knows they are there!

They can't wait to be let out to play with their new sleigh - even though there is no pony to pull it and snow is a long time off.......

(Sometimes Christmas decorations make the lovliest dollhouse things!)

And every year I go to the ocean and comb the beaches looking for the tiniest seashells I can find because, of course, they would be PERFECT for the doll house!

I really have no idea when I realized I still wanted a doll house of my own.

I didn't have "Time" for one, but it sort of happened anyway. It wasn't perfect - far from it! It was just the shell of a dream, hidden in the back corner of my studio, unknown to anybody but ME......but there.... just waiting for "someday"

And it was even decorated for Christmas!

With a dining room all set for dinner!
(And a lot of other stuff just shoved in there out of sight)

It might not yet have any windows or doors but it looks as though Charlotte and her children have made it their home.
Is that cake and tea I see there? Would you like some too?

It seems as though THIS one is for me after all.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This One Is For My Boys

The lovely old dollhouse was far away being adored by my nieces when one day my older son returned home from a classmate's kindergarten birthday party and said "Mommy, I want a dollhouse!" Being a thoroughly Modern Mom, I only paused for a second or two before saying "Really? Well, I guess we can try to find one......" Of course, being a kindergartener, he meant right NOW, and I was thinking we'd look around and see what was available in local stores.(This was LONG before the internet made finding things so simple...) And since we lived waaay out in the country and the choice of places to shop was quite limited and because I really had no idea where we were going to "find" one, I started to think of building one instead. We had been doing nearly constant renovations on our old 1:1 scale home and therefore had piles of scrap material to play with, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea! So it was settled. Within five minutes of first entertaining the idea, I had decided I would build the dollhouse from scraps we had lying around! You must understand that this was before I was aware that they MADE kits for dollhouses, or I just MIGHT have encouraged them to wait for us to order one! But luckily, their expectations were NOT very grand and my skills were equally not grand, so it was a good match after all and nobody was disappointed!

So, I pulled out the trusty electric drill and the skill saw and very quickly had screwed together enough small scraps of plywood to resemble a rather rustic, "house that Jack built" dollhouse. And almost as quickly discovered that what my son was REALLY interested in was the electrical and plumbing systems rather than dolls. Fortunately it WAS a rather rough shell of a house and we were able to drill any number of holes in the walls to run experimental wiring and plumbing systems (made from tinker toys, as I recall). Where I was thinking of painting and decorating, my son really just wanted the electrical stuff! Fortunately, they were young and their imaginations were not too hard to please, and as my skills with wiring were far short of adequate, we were able to get by with running a string of Christmas tree lights through all the rooms, suspended from little hooks around the ceilings.

It took me a short while to realize just how easy their imaginations were to please! Once the house was built, the issue of furnishings quickly arose. He wanted a kitchen stove. I was racking my brain to try and figure out how to build something that would have a little oven door that opened, when he asked if he could have a scrap of old pine 2X4 we had lying around. I said "Sure!" And the next time I looked, he had taken his markers and drawn what looked like burners on the scrap of wood! That was when the lightbulb went on in MY head! The whole project took on an entirely different aspect! This was easy! Have Markers = Can Decorate! We "made" all sorts of furniture out of scraps of 2X4 and 2X6 in no time at all! Of course, I had to make a few tricky things like the stairs (staggered stack of blocks cut from 1X2 strapping) and shelves in the kitchen (strips of moulding tacked to the wall). I even "covered" 2X4 scraps with cloth to make a chair and sofa for the living room. The boys used a cut-off cuff of a tube sock over a scrap of 2X4 for a bed cover! They were very clever with scraps! Towels and rugs were easy! Soon the only thing the house lacked were the inhabitants.

First to move in were a couple of baby dolls that came in sets along with some furnishings. One came with a little bunk bed, the other came with a plastic bath tub. I am CERTAIN that the dolls were more for MY benefit than that of the boys. Each year at Christmas time some creature or other would arrive in their stockings destined for the dollhouse. First it was the Trolls. Remember Trolls? Well, my Sister and I had Trolls when we were young and spent hours sewing for them and playing with them, but somehow they had wandered off when we grew up. So HOW could I resist Trolls? Then there followed a batch of BABY Trolls!! Of Course! Too cute! We never had BABY Trolls! After that I think it was the Stuffed Teddy Bears.... then some BABY Stuffed Teddy Bears. Then some Beanie Baby Dinosaurs arrived........and you get the picture. MOM had definitely taken over! The boys were older and only played with LEGO sets, or Transformers or other action figures.

So here we have the Rustic House

The Rustic House with lights on!

Come look a little closer...

The Living Room

Two Babies on the bunk bed (behind that state-of-the-art computer and sewing machine)

Kitchen with Dinosaur at breakfast

Upstairs bedroom with Mouse and dinosaur babies (Sock-covered bed at back left corner)

Close-up of the two young-uns.

Close-up of Mouse and Dinosaurs and dust. (More about the Dust later)

Close-up of the living room with the Christmas tree still up!

The Bear Family, waiting for bed-time stories, I think....

The Trolls sharing the easy chair, resting now that the little ones are tucked in bed

Who is this? Blossom Babies too? And a Star Trooper?

Well, I guess there's room.....

The House at night


Troll Baby tucked in bed

Another close-up of dinosaurs' dinner

So I promised to mention more about the dust.... well, as you can see, the Rustic House became the gathering place for all the small beings that wandered into our lives (well, maybe not ALL ....but more about that later) and whenever I found some stray creature that looked at me "THAT WAY" into the dollhouse it went! Occasionally the action figures would swoop in and take over for a while, but they never stayed for long, which was probably a good thing.... they aren't very CALM, and usually left a lot of chaos behind them which had to be put to rights!

The house sat in the corner of the living room (the playroom really) for the longest time, ocasionally played with by a visiting child or two, but my boys forgot all about it. Eventually it moved out to my studio when the livingroom space was needed for more important things like computers and punching bags. The boys were growing up. But I somehow never found the time to "pack up" "THEIR" dollhouse! It collected DUST. Lots of it!

There it sat, until it was time for me to sell my house and move to a much smaller one where space was limited. I thought it was TIME to let it go. I tried to find it a new home with another family, but no-one seemed to need it. I thought (VERY briefly!) about taking it to the "Dump" where it would be recycled.....but couldn't bring myself to do it. I took a lot of pictures of it with my then-new digital camera so that I would always have it just the way it was......

Filled with tiny beings who just wanted a home.........

And somewhere along the way I realized that the dollhouse was MY dollhouse. Perhaps it always had been. Had my son really asked me for a dollhouse? Or did I just Dream that? But no matter, it was Mine and I knew I couldn't part with it!

So I packed all the furniture and the small creatures up and put them in a small box labeled "Boy's Dollhouse Furniture". And brought them and the Rustic House with me to my new home.

But wait, who is this? Cinderella? Where did SHE come from? And what is she doing HERE?


You are a long way from the Palace!

You are late! You missed the PARTY! The Prince is gone!

And where is your pumpkin?

For my boys, with Love

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This One Is For My Sister

Just a "little" history.

Of course, this lovely old doll house did not always look this old and worn. But it came by it's "patina" honestly! And I will share some of that history with you friends (and family!) who might not know it all as well as I do. You see, this house is very dear to my heart. I can still remember the exact moment I first laid eyes on it. It was Christmas morning and my sister and I were coming down the stairs and from the bottom landing one could see into the livingroom where the Christmas tree was set up and there it was! My sister said "Oh look, a house!" But I was trying NOT to look, because it wasn't wrapped and we never opened our presents until AFTER breakfast, and she was only three years old and didn't know any better, but I was FOUR years old and knew better! And besides, there was just the tiniest worry that maybe it wasn't for me! So I was trying hard NOT to look! But there it was! And I don't remember whether or not it was given to "Us" or just to "Me", and I hope you have forgiven me dear Sister, but I claimed it as mine!

But I shared!

And oh how we played with that house! It was made by my Grandpa from drawings done up by my architect Daddy, and fortunately it was sturdily built. We climbed on it and could lie down full length in the attic when we were still small. We tipped it on its side and pretended it was a boat and climbed right in. (I'm pretty sure that was my brother's idea!) We "decorated" it ....with crayons of course! My brother wanted the upstairs bedroom to have palm trees on the walls. At six years old he was an authority that we gladly followed! I remember some terrible plastic furniture that even at that age I knew was out of scale - way too small for the house - and we didn't even try to treat it gently so none of it lasted more than a few months. But for the longest time, I seem to remember there were no dolls!

Then came a day of enlightenment. When I was six years old we were taken to the Children's Museum in Boston. At that time it was still old fashioned - not so much a hands on place - but full of fascinating exhibits. They had a whole ROOM full of dollhouses of the most AMAZING details and furnishings! I had never imagined such exquisite things existed! They were all protected by glass covering the open sides so I pressed my little nose right up to that glass and stared and stared and stared. They couldn't make me move to another exhibit and they had to pry me out of there when it was time to go home! I can still see the tiny chess set on a little table and mini playing cards dealt out in a game, and kitchen brooms and dustpans! Such funny things to remember! But I knew right then and there what MY dollhouse was lacking! And it was just about everything! And from that day forward I have been trying to make things (with varying success) for my dollhouse.

This was my first attempt at a doll's gown, influenced clearly by Cinderella's gown in the Disney animated movie which had probably recently come out.

"What, you still HAVE it?" you ask!

Well, of course I do! I have a whole collection of tiny things which I have been carefully saving for the "Someday" of my dollhouse being "Finished"!

My sister and I spent countless weekends and summer mornings sitting on our beds with the scrap cloth bag and our needles and thread sewing tiny clothes for our dolls (and our trolls and stuffed animals too!).

Here's a lovely stylish coat with a real fur collar! And a tiny leather jacket with a button!

Check out that button-hole stitching!

And nightgowns made from flannel scraps from our own nightgowns!

And an almost functional parasol made from pipe-cleaners and cloth!

And an especially stylish outfit with a hat made by my sister.....she is so clever I always had to copy her ideas! The skirt was made from an embroidered sleeve cuff....I am not sure at what point we started cutting up clothes that weren't quite "all used up" yet!

And as time went on we got more and more sophisticated! This ensemble was made at least in part by altering some Barbie Doll clothes! The Muff and Stole were adapted from a Barbie outfit. Oh, did you have that Barbie outfit too? The one with the black evening gown?

And speaking of Barbie's contributions, I'm sure she never noticed that her curlers and glasses went missing. I KNOW.... they aren't QUITE the right scale........

But I still have them!

And speaking of making things... we tried our hands at furniture too! Here are a little painted spool table and a matching umbrella stand, complete with umbrella, for the foyer.
(You can't quite see the pink flowers and edges we painted.)

And yes, the umbrella is OLD too!

And did I mention that old easy chair?

I FOUND it !

My sister made it and I have always loved it! So I still HAVE it!

Well, you might be justified in thinking I have said enough about the "Little" history. But it is a much longer story than that and I am just getting started! If you are bored you can skip the rest of this post and I will not mind at all! But if you are not bored yet and you want to hear more then here goes more!

I remember finding some beautiful wrapping paper all covered in lovely little violet blossoms that I thought would make a lovely wall paper. Of course, at nine years old I knew nothing about wall-papering, so I was not at all daunted and I jumped right in! Glue! Ordinary Elmers glue and lots of cutting and snipping little pieces to cover little gaps later there was some paper on some walls. There wasn't enough paper to do the whole job. But it was a good learning experience! That particular decorating job was removed at some point in favor of a more unified look.
And as for dolls....well, that has been an elusive and unsatisfactory part of the whole history. I remember at some point having some rubbery-bendable dolls, a little too small for the scale of the house (which is true 1:12 scale) and which had felt clothing STAPLED to them! I took the clothing off! And then it wouldn't go back on! Hence the NEED to learn to sew and make the above clothes. But the dolls were really not much fun. And then at some point I remember trying to make my own sewn doll........with hideous results! The pipe cleaners just wouldn't stuff right into the stitched body WITH the stuffing.... so I gave up. For the time being. And years passed and I became a teen-ager interested in boys and full-sized clothes and the dollhouse sat in solitary splendor at the end of the hall in our third floor attic. But it was just waiting for me to stop being so distracted! And to gain a few more skills. And to try again. Which I did!

We moved to a farm in a very rural part of Maine when I was 16. Many toys were sold or dispersed prior to the move, but NOT THE DOLLHOUSE! And soon I was back to work! This time I was really intent on upgrading the whole decor. I mean, the house had no doors between the rooms, just openings. I wanted real doors on little hinges. And the windows were just holes in the walls! They needed glass panes at the very least! And while I was at it, the whole house could use door and window trim and wainscoting in the better rooms! I had my work cut out for me. And I made good progress too! Doors for the downstairs rooms were built and painted. And wainscoting went in in the parlor and the hall (carved from some wood my brother had planed to the right dimensions in his woodworking class at school). And some attempts at wallpaper (again) with a little better success. (But more on that another time.) And even one whole window completed with tiny panes of real glass set into a frame constructed by me!

But I was MOST proud of the new attempts at furniture making! I had gotten hold of a book with photos of dollhouses from all over Europe and down through the ages and I was VERY inspired! I was able to get hold of some needlepoint cloth and some wool and I stitched the covers for this settee, which I had carved and built myself!

And I painted a few miniature paintings sort of copied from pictures in a costume book I had - hoping they would pass for "Old World" oil paintings.

And I tried my hand a a very tiny quilt for a cradle I had built (but which has since broken).

But as is the way of TIME... it was passing, and I was growing up and there came a day when I was leaving home for the wider world.

So all my treasures were packed up and fitted into one small box (the stuff is tiny, after all) and labeled very clearly:


And did I leave it behind? I most certainly did NOT!

It AND the doll house came with me!

But I was too busy. First with college, then with marriage and eventually with children, to spend any time on the doll house. Wherever I moved, it moved with me. Until the time came for me to let my Sister's daughters love it for a while.

The old house was already showing signs of age. The chimney, which had always fallen of really easily, was removed and stored in the attic for safety during transport.

Here's the old house with my first son, then age two, leaning on the roof, and my sister with her two daughters about to take the house with them.

So I Share Again!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Houses

After the Big MOVE (empty nester down-sizing) the old dollhouse stayed on the shelf, or WAS the shelf for the longest time. Somehow, projects that are labeled "someday" in our minds almost never make it to "Today"! Sometimes baby steps are required to sneak up on those BIG projects and make them believable. So it happened that one cold winter night the empty nester was browsing old magazines and came upon an image of a beautifully crafted dollhouse made in England and it included a web address! Well! That was perhaps worth a look up on the amazing internet. Of course, the beautiful miniature dollhouses lovingly crafted in Tudor style with half timbers and worn brick and thatching for roofs was just too yummy for words. The long buried dream was jiggled awake. And suddenly, in the way the mind has of making connections that seem SO OBVIOUS after we think of them, the empty-nester/dreamer remembered a doll house kit she had purchased at least a decade before, on impulse (gotta love those impulses!) but put aside and never built because it was going to require more than a half a day of concentration (a commodity hard to come by while raising two boys) to build it. So there it was, just waiting for her when the desire really hit to build a dollhouse! But, as anyone who has built a kit house knows, it is a bit daunting to open the box to find sheets of wood with punched-out pieces ready to pull apart and a Looooong list of instructions which must be carefully followed if success is desired.

So began the long process of punching out small carefully numbered pieces, sanding them, priming them, painting them ......oh my, painting them! Before they are even glued together? Well, that means knowing what colors you want them BEFORE the house is even assembled! This was a very novel approach for me, used to the idea of decorating a room or house that was already complete and had a character or a "vibe" that you could feel and connect with. Hmmmm. Colors. I LOVE colors! I have a lot of colors of paint left over from various previous and on-going decorating projects in my 1:1 scale house. It was really just a matter of trying to get enough colors worked into the scheme without it being too outrageous. The picture on the box was mildly helpful in that where they put cream I put orange (well a lovely peachy orange) and where they put green on the trim I put some dark royal blue and some light sky blue, and where they put brown I got to put a lovely deep raspberry purple (that I had just been using on my little sitting room walls)! This was really exciting! But the best was yet to come! Because I very soon realized that I was going to have to paint the floors, and the ceilings, as well as the walls on the INSIDE of the house before I assembled any of it! This required planning! And ideas. And inspiration! The real inspiration struck when I came to the ceiling of the main room. I have always loved those baroque painted ceilings with clouds and cupids cavorting overhead.... so WHY NOT have a ceiling like that in my tiny little very Victorian dollhouse? Well? Why not! The whole house could be a lovely little Romantic Folly, or a Hunting Lodge where the owner goes to escape ....a trysting spot.... a Poet's Artist's Playhouse.....well, I'm sure you get the idea! The possibilities are lovely! So I got going right away on the ceiling and even came across some scrap-booking embellishments that would stand in for sculptural plaster! Of course, up to this point it had not occurred to me to take any photos of the project, but luckily my photo urge kicked in when it came to the painted ceiling. And, of course it just took me about 2 hours of searching all my old files to FIND the photos because it was a while ago and I take a LOT of photos! But here they are......
The idea was (Is?) that eventually a light fixture would be suspended from the circle that the cherubs are holding up. The detail is not very refined in the painting, but I consoled myself with the thought that not many people would notice!

Here are the colors I mentioned above, beginning to show off the decorative details on the front.

Come on in! I had to work at it, but I made the door hinged to actually open! (The doorknob is still in the works, so you'll have to pry with your fingernails to open it.)

And the whole house as seen from the back. Did I mention that I love color? The Chinese red parlor is just begging for a fireplace and gilded mirror.

And yellow kitchens are so classic and cheery. I can't wait to get a stove in there!

And of course, if you get down on your knees and look up, you can see the ceiling quite nicely! I love the way the morning sun pours in the big bay window. Where did I put that old easy chair...

The Folly's trim is nearly finished. Now all it needs is the shingles! Ah, the shingles you say.....ALL it needs is the shingles. Well, that is going to have to be another story!

And the big old dollhouse still sleeps.