Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Dollhouse Tour

I have been asked on several occasions to do a tour, of sorts, of the rooms of my dollhouse.   The house has seen several changes over the years, and with each I have thoroughly enjoyed the process: from contemplation to design to completion.  However, much like a real house, the spaces are ever evolving, out of need or just for whim, so another update will probably be in order in a few years!

Collectors of anything, whether it be dolls, thimbles, soda cans or even cars- all have one thing in common: they need a space to display or store their collections. So in my house, when the dolls and their things started multiplying, seemingly exponentially, it was time to start thinking of building a dedicated space for them. And that meant a house.  A doll house.

Of course for dolls that are 18" in height, a less than what I shall call ordinary house was in order.   It would need to be tall enough to accommodate the dolls, wide enough to fit furniture with room to maneuver and deep enough to set up scenes in.  So it would need to have some moderate size to it.   

I started out by making lists of the spaces I could imagine wanting to create for the dolls.   I consulted my girls, who at the time were both under 10. (This project's first incarnation dates back to 2008). They wanted bedrooms and a bathroom.  I wanted a classroom, a colonial kitchen, a living room.  We'd have to do some compromising.

I decided upon four boxes each measuring: 24"D x 48"L x 28" H
And I wanted to add a bonus attic space on the third floor for Kit and her things.  

The boxes were built in the basement, then very strategically and carefully carried up and set in place.   They are comprised of two long plywood boxes stacked on top of one another, thus creating four separate spaces.  The attic was added separately, later on. The house is located in a first floor guest bedroom that also doubles as my sewing room. 

I knew I wanted the rooms to have windows and I wanted a door.  I tried to place the windows in sections of the wall that I felt would best suit various types of rooms, as I wanted to be able to change the rooms and their time periods when it suited me.

Walls were primed and painted and floors were covered in leftover pieces of carpet and engineered wood, repurposed from other real house projects.  The kitchen floor was taped off and painted in the checkerboard pattern.  I added trim around the door and windows.  Later I added interior bars to the windows.

After decorating and adding furniture, for a long time the house looked a bit like the pic below, though not always quite this tidy:

This picture was probably taken back in 2009 or 2010.  My two girls and their modern dolls had their bedrooms, Addy had her bedroom, we all agreed on the kitchen and Kit had her attic space. Everyone was happy. 

But like most houses, through the years, there's been a need for remodeling and updating.   Or maybe just because I love and embrace change.  Notice that the kitchen flooring had been repainted early on, changing from the blue to black and white.  That's me and my ever present need to refine.

Last month I decided that I needed to make some changes, yet again.  Now it's latest  arrangement looks like this:

No grand sweeping changes, just some cosmetic tweaking and furniture swapping.  And I'm happy to have added a 19th century parlor to the mix.  I still don't have my colonial kitchen though.

Now the tour....


                  19th CENTURY PARLOR

Would Addy have had this refined of a living space?  Not likely, but she is of course enjoying it anyway.  

Many of these items here you may recognize from various American Girl collections:  Caroline's parlor and accessories, Rebecca's settee and kittens, Felicity's nightstand and tea caddy, Cecile's desk and Kit's flowers and vase.  The other items are all found or made objects that work well for a parlor setting. The little rug was gifted to my by my mother in-law.  It was purchased by her sister, who lives in Italy.

Look at this little crystal door knob I fashioned from part of a wood finial and an acrylic bead.  I cut the top off of the finial, painted the base gold and hot glued the faux crystal on- and voila- vintage knob! 

                   Addy's a bit curious as to what is on the other side of that door....


                                  SALLY'S ROOM

                             Sally collects Hello Kitty. And loves Japanese anime.  

 The little shelf is just a small piece of wood that I cut and routed then mounted to the wall with wood glue.

I very recently added the door, complete with hinges and tiny knobs.   I had wanted to add a door from the house's inception, but just never seemed to find the time to commit to it.

All the little pieces and parts that comprise her room were collected over a span of several years.  The better percentage are actually not items purchased from American Girl.  They were found or made objects from a host of sources that work perfectly in scale for the dolls and the room.      


                                THE KITCHEN

This is the room that has seen the least amount of change over the life of the dollhouse.  I committed to the two windows, and mounted the cabinets to the wall making furniture placement limited.  I don't mind, as this arrangement makes the most sense.    Kit's stove works seamlessly with Molly's table and chairs and American Girl's Sweet Treats Bakery Case, from a few years back, functions perfectly as a peninsula in the space. 

         Much like a real house, everyone seems to gather together in the kitchen.     



                                           KIT'S ATTIC SPACE

 Kit could't be more happy to have her own space- to share with Ruthie and Grace too, of course!  The walls are constructed of plywood.   I stained and added trim pieces in strips along the walls to mimic an unfinished attic space.

Here Kit sits and types out her newsletters and stories.


My 10 year old claimed this room for her doll Kayla (seated) and went about arranging the furniture to her liking.  I think she did a great job.  

Kayla is a bit of a social butterfly and is always inviting this friend or that friend over to play the Wii, giggle, gossip and eventually raid the kitchen.

The white dresser is a vintage jewelry box that I stripped and repainted.  

 I painted the mirror to match the rest of American Girls McKenna's neon green room accessories.

More eclectic mixing of American Girl goodies and found objects.  

Another view.  For this picture I am standing, or rather shoved into, the far west corner of the room, in an attempt to capture the house in it's entirety.   

And following the theme of change...if you haven't noticed, you can see, my 10 yr old had her way just in the last few days with the kitchen space and was happy to remodel it with the addition of the red Our Generation kitchen.    She had always pooh-poohed Kit's stove and thought an updated modern look would be more appropriate.  I'm not sure I'm sold.  But if it keeps her interest in the dolls for just a little longer, then I'm happy.  

And just for a chuckle...my oldest and her amusing antics...

It appears that someone has slipped through the time warp door and discovered a found object of her own!  I keep removing that darn laptop (don't want the universal laws of time and space to go awry) and somehow I keep finding it again and again seated with Addy. Hmmm... Miss Addy looks innocent to me.  ;)   But my 13 yr old claims her innocence as well, so who to believe??

Have any questions about any of the items seen here or about the dollhouse?   I am always happy to answer.   


Saturday, June 28, 2014


One of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to the 18" doll lines, is the furniture. Miniature, true to life, wee versions of things just make me swoon.  A couple of years ago I visited the Art Institute of Chicago, where there's a permanent wing devoted to displays of rooms in miniature- ranging from the 13th century to the 1930's.  They are the Thorne Miniature Rooms.   The scale is much smaller than the 1:3 scale of American Girl dolls, but still it is a wonder to see.   I could have spent a couple of days in that wing alone, perusing.  I have always had a love of antiques and learning about different styles of furniture and how it has evolved throughout history.  Had it been a more practical choice, I might have studied it in school.

Coveting From Afar

I could definitely write a comprehensive book on coveting from afar.   Personally,  I feel longing can sometimes be a good thing,  especially when the object of your affection is generally attainable.  When it's not.... then that's a whole different book.   
So when American Girl introduced Rebecca's Sideboard a couple of years ago,  I was very oddly content to sit back from a distance and just covet.    I suppose I convinced myself that I did not need it, since I did not collect for Rebecca.  Mostly I felt something about the scale was a bit off, not horribly off... just off enough.   Rebecca was either too tall or that sideboard was too short.  

Here American Girl cleverly photographed Rebecca "next to" her sideboard. They positioned her just to the right and slightly in front of it to fool the eye a bit.  

The reality is more like this:

But shortcomings notwithstanding, the sideboard is still a fabulous piece.  The turned spindles, the scalloped front pieces,  the velvet lined drawer- all elements not lost on me.  

I had seen another collector ingeniously mount legs to the bottom of the sideboard to give it some much needed height.  And that was it! Those few inches made such a vast difference to me.   

With each visit to an American Girl store, I would casually pass the display case with Rebecca and her collection and each time I would secretly admire and long more and more for that sideboard, thinking I could also improve upon it's design and scale a bit, adding legs too.   So one day I finally stopped just coveting and the sideboard came home with me.  

I decided almost right away that, in addition to legs, I wanted to add a bottom section to increase the height even just a bit more. I found this piece of 1/2" thick oak planking at my local home center that I figured would work well.  I chose oak since that's the wood that Rebecca's sideboard is ostensibly made from. 

I measured around the sideboard then cut the piece about a half inch bigger than the bottom dimension, to leave room to route around the edges.  I did not add that 1/2" on the backside- because I wanted the back to be flush with the back of the sideboard, routing only the front and sides.  

 I used a 5/32 Roman ogee bit to route the edges.

The routed piece added 1/2 of an inch in height to the sideboard.  

Next I needed to find legs to mount to the bottom.  What I had envisioned and what was readily available at craft stores and on the web were two very different things.  Eventually I decided on the candle stick pieces below.  They would require some modification though.  

Out of the bag they measured three inches,  too tall for my purpose, so I cut them down to 2 1/4".  

Ideally, I would have liked the smaller end to delicately taper a bit more, but short of turing them myself, this was my best option. 

Next order of business was to stain the pieces to match the sideboard.  I used this summer oak color and gave the pieces several coats until I felt it matched the sideboard closely.  It wasn't perfect, but pretty darn close.

I then used wood glue to attach the legs to the oak board.  After that was dry I lightly coated the whole piece with a clear sealer.  The sideboard has a bit of a satin finish to it so I did not want to use a high or even semi gloss varnish.  

The end result added 2 3/4" of height to the sideboard,  enough to at least match the size of the dolls.

This project, like most for me, took far too long to complete, but was well worth the effort.  Now I just have to build a room to go with the sideboard! hah  It would be completely plausible for Kit to have a piece like this in her 1930's home.   Can't wait to make it happen...someday.  

If you have any questions about this project, or any other,  I am always happy to answer.