Friday, May 21, 2010

The Next Step Is Simple

The next step was simple, or so I thought. The stairs were the obvious next project once the fireplaces had been roughed in. You may recall that I had never been happy with the stairs in the original arrangement. Don't get me wrong - they were very nice stairs and very well built by my Grandpa, but they got in the way of playing in the dollhouse! They slanted in a straight line from right to left going up across the open side of the hall room in the downstairs and in front of the two small rooms upstairs. They were positioned for ease of access to little people being MOVED up or down them, but playing in the rooms behind them was always awkward. And they had no railings. Because they were sometimes in the way they got wiggled loose pretty early on in our acquaintance. Then we could swing them up and down, like a drawbridge, sort of out of the way. This eventually caused them to simply come out altogether, and then they had to be kept track of, like the chimney which had also become detached. I wonder sometimes, whether somewhere in an attic or on the top shelf of an old closet there is a small pile of dollhouse parts.......and what someone who might find them would think........

So the Lovely Old Dollhouse had no stairs. And the big empty hallway looked like this:

This was an opportunity to start fresh and build the stairs just how they ought to be!

For starters, there would need to be a turn at a landing part way up so the stairs could fit along one side of the hall. To do this I would need to cut into the hall ceiling to make the new opening for the stairs at the top. And this in turn would make one of the small upstairs "rooms" into the upstairs hall landing instead. I liked that idea, as I had always thought the two little rooms were too small to be more than a bathroom, and only one of those was needed.

You must realize, dear readers, that I was still very new to this dollhouse re-building world. I had not yet gone to the internet to look anything up! There was a miniatures store in a nearby town and I knew there were kits for stairs, but I was fairly certain that a ready-built staircase would not easily fit the old house's dimensions. I was completely prepared to build the whole thing myself from scratch.......with the exception of the stair spindles perhaps. So I did.

I bought some very thin plywood with a nice smooth finish for the structure. And the treads are also made from the plywood. In retrospect, I maybe should have made them from solid wood stock so the plywood layers would not show. But I didn't. You can see the layers of the plywood on the ends of the stair treads.

Here is the framework roughed out and temporarily in place.

And here you can see it with the treads positioned in place.

And here's the second floor stairway roughed in - which had to take a slightly different position and required some fancy cantilevering to hold it up.

It was at about this point that I realized that BEFORE I fixed the stairs in place "permanently" I was going to need to finish ALL the details of the rooms BEHIND them! That meant completing the missing wainscoting panels and door trim in the hall, not to mention the front door itself! And the painting of said trim and paneling... and doorknobs..... and the windows of the upstairs hall, and the paneling....and the painting.... which meant deciding about colors and trim details. And it meant making the stairs "removable" for the time being. Maybe this wasn't so simple after all!

So I got to work on the missing wainscoting panels. Remember the box of dollhouse scale "lumber" that my brother had made for me all those years ago? The one that has moved with me for thirty five years and counting? I opened the box and found more pieces of planed pine wood in the correct dimensions to match the wainscoting I had built in my teen years! Eureka! What a feeling of profound satisfaction that gave me! The very same wood! So I carved it to look as much like the other panels as I could... ie. a bit rough and unrefined.

And for the door frames I decided to follow the inspiration of that book with the beautiful old photos of Vermont houses, albeit a bit crudely. I found some moulding trim in the lumber store that had a nice rope-like carving along the middle which I thought would make an elegant header for the doorways in the hall.

As for the paint, I had always loved the smokey blue color the hall was originally, and tried my best to match that color in a new paint. And rather than use the expected white paint for the trim work, I love to use a soft dove gray. It goes so well with the blue and has an old and moody feel about it. And this IS an old house, isn't it? Hmmm. That reminds me that I really haven't decided how modern I am planning to make this "Old" house! But no need to decide right now!

So here we have the hall with the new (and old) paneling and new door trim and paint.

And the side where the stairs will go.... with the removable stairs removed and only some of the paneling and trim in place. And the walls still the original blue........

And you can see the opening I cut in the ceiling for the stairway

I did make a trip to the nearby miniatures shop for the spindles for the stairway, and the newel posts because they are so superior to anything I could make myself. I have had to attach only some of them in order to keep the whole stairway removable while the rest of the work is done.

This is the upstairs stairway - the whole unit slides out! And you can see the second floor hall paneling under construction behind it......

And here is a view of both the stairways temporarily in place.

I decided against painting the stairways to match the hall trim after seeing several examples of unpainted wood staircases in the book of old Vermont houses. Not only from there, I also took inspiration from the beautiful walnut paneled staircase in George Washington's Mount Vernon. In the old days of this house's era, it was not yet fashionable to paint all the woodwork white. I have always prefered the look of the dark wood, so I decided to stain the stairs a dark walnut color.

Here you see the stairs temporarily fitted in place.
It remains to be seen how detailed I will get with the trim on the stairs and the under stairs closet. And the floor may need painting too. You can clearly see the "ghost" of where the stairs used to terminate... a savings of about two inches of space in the hall! And the stairs will have to remain temporarily in place at least until the new front door is built.....

The next step was going to be simple.

Or so I thought at first.


  1. CONGRATULATIONS! The dark walnut is a success. The staircase is a resounding success and the paneling sheer genius at such a young age! You are terribly good at building stairs and the little door below the stairs! You made it sound like such quick work when it took me weeks, if not months! :). And I have just finished making a tiny wee puny box and its giving me so much grief!! You , on the other hand built boxes and flights of stairs with fancy cantilever like you were born to do this! I envy you :).


  2. Oh Thank you Sans! Your words mean so much to me... as I show the close-up shots that reveal all the flaws (in my eyes) of my work - you see the beauty I hope for! It DID take me weeks - about three weeks last summer! I was in such bliss to be finally DOING the projects I had DREAMED of doing since forever....I think I WAS born to do this! Your work is so inspiring to me and your creativity and ideas with materials makes me feel like "If Sans can do this, then why can't I?" We will keep each other going.... and I always can't wait to see what you are doing next...:)! Thank you for being there!

  3. I am loving the process of you refurbishing your childhood dollhouse! It is looking so good and an inspiration to me. I bought a "fixer upper" a couple of years ago from a friend and have been nervous about starting as it will be my first dollhouse. Lately though I have had a lot of thoughts and now know exactly what I am doing to the exterior(someone told me to start there first???) and surprisingly enough, I think I have the idea for the kitchen formulated....It is quite are helping me realize I need to start the first step.....Thanks!!!

  4. Welcome Patty! And I can so understand how hard that first step can be! Especially if it means cutting holes in an old friend...but remember that most things can be changed again if you don't like the go ahead and PLAY! It is more than fun!