Dollhouse renovations, part 1

Here is my old dollhouse, shipped over from England when we moved in 1977, in the early stages of renovation. I love how the glue remnants on the wall make it look like a condemned crack house. I am giving my daughter free rein to update the interior,  so we had a great day scraping off layers of wallpaper and ripping up felt carpeting–seriously dusty and gross. This house was a major part of my childhood, and truth be told my early teenage years. It will be a test to see how “free” I can really let her be. I have landmarked the exterior, since my dad is still very proud of his handiwork. (He worked through the night to have the house painted for my birthday morning.) We have plans to make a hot pink sectional sofa, and some pendant lamps. So, expect more dollhouse posts in coming weeks!

Minor Renovations

House renovations on the large scale take time, money, and decision-making skills. But renovations in the miniature don’t really involve a lot of commitment on any level.

Zeke & I have been sprucing up the ole dollhouse–repainting, wallpapering (with scrapbook paper), and yes, we “caned” these chairs using thin ribbon and Original Tacky Glue (great stuff). Zeke says we’re going to do this every year but I think this may actually be the last (bittersweet) time.


Matchbox Chest of Drawers

We’re not pyromaniacs, really. But we do manage to go through matches at an alarming rate. And I always squirrel away the matchboxes–like clementine crates, I find them impossible to toss. So I guess that makes me a pyromaniac and a hoarder.

After I wrote about dollhouse love last month, I remembered making this matchbox chest of drawers as a kid. For those of you who share my affection for little things, this Lilliputian project is fun & quick. I used 4 matchboxes, a piece of polka-dot card stock, and those doodads (not brads–snaps?–but brads would do the trick). Here is a downloadable pdf with step-by-step instructions for making your own mini dresser.

I also admired this groovy homemade dollhouse in the April issue of Family Fun magazine (“House & Carton” by Amy Brown). This Family Fun link shows you how to make your own (from two cardboard boxes) complete with the fancy furnishings (all fashioned from egg cartons).

House & Carton

(Photo by Andrew Greto; ideas and craft stylings by Lynn Zimmerman. Reprinted with permission of Disney FamilyFun. Copyright April 2011.)

And while I’m on the topic of the miniature (I know, I know–again!) . . . I thought I’d mention the three-book series, Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, with exceptional black-and-white illustrations by Brian Selznick (including a cut-away of an antique dollhouse).

Yes, the doll people are alive & there’s a creepy baby doll in one of the stories–but the books are gentle and true to a kid’s perspective. They are emphatically not Toy Story. Toy Story 3, with its hints of torture and apocalypse, left my 5-year-old weeping in the theater aisle. And me, too, for that matter. But Zeke & I just finished these books & we loved them.

Dollhouse Love

Abe was indifferent. Zeke was a step up from that–fond? bemused?–whatever implies a distant affection. It was clear: neither of my kids toppled head over heels in love with the dollhouse I rescued from the curb, took home and painted, papered, and decorated with homemade furniture and–get this–a miniature Frank Stella.

I mean, I went through a lot of (happy) trouble working on that thing. To make the Lilliputian furniture, I drew up little elaborate blueprints. My husband then took the plans to his architecture firm and asked the model shop to cut the pieces to size. (Did the model shoppers ever figure out the identity of the “client”? Was it, in fact, completely obvious?)

I sewed tiny pillows & stitched mini felt blankets. I made side tables out of those plastic thing-a-ma-bobs that come in the middle of pizzas. Bunk beds. Books as big as postage stamps. A bath mat the size of a match box.

My family (and the model shoppers) humored my obsession with the small scale. They regarded me with polite–and always kind–detachment. But in the ten years since, I’ve learned something important:

Sometimes, it takes a village to love a dollhouse.

First it was Sophia Alvarez, my seven-year-old neighbor. When she wasn’t constructing a Playmobil megalopolis in her bedroom, she’d come over and rearrange the dollhouse furniture for me. Over the years came other caretakers–Addie, Lila K., Lila M., Sophie U., Sophie B., Mary, Danny, Norman, and every teenage babysitter I have ever hired. It ends up I’m not the only one who appreciates the little things of life.

So if you’re with me, make sure to check out these shrunken exemplars of pristine Modernism in a NYT slide show.

(Photo by Robert Presutti for the New York Times)

Or creep yourself out with this slideshow of shoebox crime scenes beautifully photographed by Corinne May Botz in The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Or admire this 23-room, 5-story house made by Faith Bradford, in this online tour. You can also see it in person at the National Museum of American History in D.C. (And yes, I was just in Washington for school vacation week. Guess what? No one in my family wanted to go see Faith’s dollhouse with me. Sigh.)

America's Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford