Friday, May 14, 2010

Someday Came Last Summer

The Lovely Old Dollhouse did eventually come back to me. My nieces had played with it and on it and in it, much the way my siblings and I had done many years before, and in the process had lovingly parted it from some of the frailer pieces. The front door was gone, as were the stairs and the chimney and the hinged half of the roof. I am sure some of the loose pieces were carefully taken off and put aside to protect them from greater harm, and as is the way of things, once separated, they never found their way back together again. I can truly say that this did not matter to me. I knew that "Someday" I would re-build the missing and broken parts, and perhaps even make them better in the long run. I never had been happy with the way the stairs were in the beginning. To have them gone was really a blessing. I would not need to argue with my conscience about destroying them later!

The Lovely Old Dollhouse did come back to me, but that did not mean I had any time to fix it up or do anything with it at all. It, too, sat in my studio, year after year, waiting. Until one gorgeous day early in October when I was packing everything for the big MOVE, and something inspired me to carry the house outside into my garden and take photographs. (I was photographing everything in my world, knowing I was leaving so much behind.) I even brought out some of the bits and pieces of furniture and dolls and set them up and PLAYED with them for the first time in FOREVER! It was a magical afternoon, and my faithful camera recorded much of it for me to share with you. You have already seen some of the photos........but here are some more anyway!

The house all set up!

The parlor, with just a hole where the chimney should be, and furniture hiding the missing wainscoting panel.

The kitchen - with no appliances! A VERY old fashioned place!

The Play session was LOVELY but brief. A thunder shower was threatening. I had to scurry and bring it all back inside. And besides, I had serious packing to do with less than two weeks left to pack up a home I had lived in for twenty years! But you know the dollhouses were ALL coming with me. And after this magical afternoon, I was more sure than ever that SOMEDAY I was going to find the time to fix up the Lovely Old Dollhouse.

So we moved. Me, the cat and all my houses, starting over in a much smaller space! The new house needed my attention. My boys (now out in the world) needed my attention. But gradually, and oh so slowly the dollhouses began to get my attention. It crept up on me, but "Someday" finally came!
Last summer.
The Folly still had only half of its shingles when my older niece came to visit me last June. She had just been visiting with my Father (her Grandfather) and his partner on The Cape and told me of an exhibit at a museum that was full of doll houses. She said it made her think of me! (Imagine that!) I was intrigued. And I decided I HAD to go see that exhibit. So I did. That very next weekend - which happened to be the last weekend of the exhibit.

And I'm SO glad I did! The dollhouses were Wonderful! They were created by a woman (and her husband) who lives on The Cape and runs a small independent school - I think it is called The Storybook School. Her work is full of imagination and artistry and magic. The biggest dollhouse was hand built and painted in the most beautiful vibrant colors and patterns! They had REAL stained glass windows! And flickering fire in the fireplace! And all the rooms were lighted and filled with an amazing assortment of items - not all to scale - but lovingly collected and full of character. And the clincher was that the dollhouse livingroom was inhabited by a family of small teddy bears! It made me realize that there were NO rules when it came to dollhouses. There was really no need to be of a particular period, authentic and precise in every way. I hadn't realized it, but my own timidity in starting on my own dollhouse was in part because I thought it would need to be made "perfect" in a way I couldn't imagine. Silly me! This was freedom! I Knew it was TIME for me to start on the Lovely Old Dollhouse!

So I did. Not the very next day, but the very next week saw me making the list of essential repairs. There would have to be new stairs and a new front door. The roof and chimney would need to be re-built. It would need a base to elevate it off the ground a little bit. And on the inside it would need the missing wainscoting in the hall and parlor replaced. And doors on the upstairs rooms. And the windows all needed glass. And trim. And paint. The list was long. And would have been daunting except that I was just SO EXCITED to be finally working on it!

I built a small base first thing, and attached it to the bottom of the Lovely Old Dollhouse. Then I started on the chimney. I planned to re-build it just the way it had been in my youth. It attached to the outside of the house at the parlor end, and had a small strip of trim at the top edge. It was painted brick red, of course. (We used to drop things down it and pull them out the opening in the parlor!) But something happened as I was building that chimney that was unplanned. I thought about the period and style of house that The Lovely Old Dollhouse was modeled on. In this part of the world they are called Colonial Houses - built during the time of the Colonies - known as Georgian in other areas. And a house of that type, built in the eighteenth century, would have had more than one fireplace. More than one chimney for that matter. There would have been a huge old fireplace in the kitchen as this pre-dated the invention of the cast-iron cookstoves. There probably would have been a fireplace in the best bedroom at the very least. Hmmm. You can see where this is going..... I had to decide HOW MUCH different I was going to make it from what it was in my childhood. Maybe this wasn't going to be so easy after all. But then I remembered that I had always wanted to make it different. I already had made it different by adding doors and wainscoting many years earlier. This was NOT the time to be fainthearted! So it was decided. There would be fireplaces in the kitchen as well as the parlor, and one in each of the bedrooms, because once you add the kitchen chimney it is just silly not to add the upstairs hearth as well.

I pulled out my trusty jig saw and bravely cut holes in the walls of the Lovely Old Dollhouse, upstairs and down. Then I built little firebox inserts for each hearth out of thin plywood, to resemble the brick shape of the fireplace. At this point I remembered to take a few photos of my progress.......

The parlor fireplace and the master bedroom

Close-up of the parlor firplace

The second best bedroom fireplace - roughed in

And the huge kitchen fireplace opening

Kitchen fireplace with the hearth and the old fashioned beehive oven - before painting

The details of the mantel pieces I decided to vary on each fireplace. I have an old book called "Historic Houses of Vermont" that is filled with beautiful photos of the architecture of the area from the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, and I copied my mantels from ones shown in that book. Because everything was hand built back then, it wasn't unusual to have a lot of variation within one building. Of course, my versions are much cruder than the real ones. I decided I was going to allow myself to approximate the originals, not going for perfection as much as trying to capture a resemblance, in keeping with the somewhat rough work I had already added in my teen years.

Here we have the parlor mantel with the beginnings of the new design.

And the second best bedroom mantel

And the master bedroom mantel - plainer because it was built first

And the kitchen hearth - just waiting for the fire!

Did someone say fire?

Could it be that instead of just one flickering fire in the fireplace we will now need FOUR? I guess it is time for a daring trip to the miniatures shop for some supplies! For now that I have started re-building the Lovely Old Dollhouse, there is no stopping me!

So you see,

"Someday" came last summer, after all!


  1. I can see you are really going to enjoy restoring your lovely dollshouse, what a good job you've done on the kitchen hearth already. Some nice pieces of furniture have survived.

  2. wow, you are going to have a great time... enjoy.

  3. I really like this dollhouse of yours, the fact that it is old and has so much history and it going back and forth 3 generations made it special despite its simple design. It would have taken me forever to try and restore it because I wouldn't be able to decide whether to paint the exterior. I think it is likely that I would keep it in its original colour for the exterior at least. I really love how it has acquired a vintage patina over the years. I just love old things. Don't know....

    I am now also seriously cutting holes in my tribal house to build alcoves. Decisions , decisions.

    You must be really good with the saw. The holes are cut perfectly!

  4. Sans, you see it so well...all the layers and all the decisions! I am sometimes NOT good at decisions... but in the case of this old house, I have decided to follow my heart and let it BECOME what the child in me always wished it was...I am still agonizing over what the outside will look like....but you will see all that in more posts! Alas, it is impossible to keep it just as it is and have it follow my dreams.....

  5. And thank you, Christine, for joining my blog and leaving a is SO MUCH fun! I am happy to share!

  6. Thank you Margaret! I love checking in on your blog and soon will get myself up to speed with joining peoples blogs! I'm still new to this....I was prety happy with my hearths until I saw what detail other people put into their brick work and ageing ther will have to be some more work done here....I will keep you posted!

  7. Oh, I am so relieved! Thank you Betsy for not being mad at us for enjoying the dollhouse as much as you and Mom did. Enjoying meaning, as all kids do, destroying. We really did love it. I guess it is sort of like the Velveteen Rabbit.

  8. I was going to say the same as Umm Zahira. I was thinking, "OH NO, we destroyed and Betsy secretly is mad at us!" But of course you aren't. :) We love you and love that you let us play with it.

  9. Welcome Hali and Phoebe and Umm Zahira! I am so happy you are following my blog! And you did NOT destroy it! You added to the "patina" that makes it so special! I only hope that in re-building it I do not undo all the very well loved feeling it has! But only time will tell. I love you too!