The first dollhouse was made for me by my mother at the base craft center. I only recall playing with it at the Cedar St. house in 1966 although I know there is a photo of it as early as the Big White House. There was some nice furniture for it, plastic mostly. It was four rooms, one room deep, open in the front and about 3 or 4 feet wide. It has a roof that was loose by 1966 and I recall that it looked ‘played with’.
What happened to it? My brothers were using the fireplace one day (Mom wasn’t there) and convinced me to let them burn it although it was good for no one’s health since it was no doubt painted with oil paints. I remember them pointing out how shabby it had gotten, how the roof was broken. I took some convincing but then, I always liked pleasing my brothers in those days.
It wasn’t my dollhouse but I remember it so poignantly that I have to include the memory. I was 7 years old visiting a doctor’s daughter at their Pebble Beach home on the shores edge. In this girls room her father had built her, into the room itself, a floor-to-ceiling 2" to 1' scale dollhouse with a working elevator. I was agog but the girl was blase. I desperately wanted to play with it but being old hat to her she had no interest. And since I was the guest, we played outside on the shore. But I still can see that house...
In 1969 I got, after breathlessly waiting for it, a plastic ‘troll house’ like a friend had. I just adored that house and how you opened the top and it came down and became a table and chairs and opened up on the cave. I never tired of opening it.
In 1973, when I was 13 years old. Mom brought me home a book, 1940's vintage, about making dollhouse rooms from common cardboard boxes and making simple cardboard furniture and wall sconces with a hairpin and bead. She meant it to keep me interested in something for the summer and did it ever! I created a curious open-on-three-sides kind of dollhouse and made some very crude furniture for it. I still have one or two of those pieces...
Somewhere along 1975 or so I had a child’s sort of put-together toy that I think was supposed to be a dollhouse but had no sides merely uprights that slotted together with floors in between. I did all sorts of crazy things with it, built it up high with only two supports per floor instead of four so I could get more floors out of it. I don’t know what happened to it but I do know that as I was carrying on with that the okay came through the landlord of the house we were living in at the time (a converted barn) to use two rickety old bookshelves. They were painted a sickly yellow green and were a bit wobbly but placed together and adorned with contact paper they made the grandest dollhouse I’d had to date. It gave me twelve rooms once I’d scrounged pieces of wood or cardboard to use as wall partitions.
That was in 1975-1976 when I had one whole summer almost to myself working on dollhouse items and learned what a coping saw was. I made most of my “Windsor” balsa and toothpick chairs and stained the wood with a brown magic marker because I hadn’t the slightest idea what real wood stain was. I still have many of those pieces I made and they are all still in use.
I had taped a library record called “At the Drop of a Hat” which was a British team of Swann and Flanders singing funny and sometimes risque ditties. I listened to that tape over and over while I was doing dollhouse work and learned it by heart. I still have the tape 25 years later and it still plays fine. When I hear it I feel as though I ought to be doing doll house things.
As I graduated from high school and went into the Air Force the dollhouse things were packed away for I knew not how long. The bookcases, never in the best of states, went to the dump.
In 1979-1980 while living in base housing by myself, there occurred a little dollhouse renaissance. I found some issues of a dollhouse magazine and was amazed to see there was enough interest out there for a magazine to be produced. I found a shop in a nearby town selling miniatures and had my first experience with Chrysbon (plastic) pieces. Through some pamphlets called Diminutiques I learned that balsa wood could make more than just chair seats. I got a discarded library book that gave me instructions for making drawing and painting equipment and made a drawing board, posing stand, easel, taboret etc. that I still have and use. I recall that the easel confounded me as I had no idea how one was used and had never encountered one. Well over a decade later when I did encounter them and used them I found I’d not done a bad job.
I made a cardboard box room done up as a parlor and submitted it in the base talent show. It took first place in that part of the competition while some drawings of mine took seconds. I hung on to that ribbon for many years in fond remembrance.
But then all those pieces were again packed away as I was looking forward to getting out of the military.
Somewhere along the way my original boxes from home traveled out to me in Indiana from the West Coast. In 1987 after my first marriage ended and I was living on my own, rediscovering some of my own books and other treasures that had been packed up for many a year, my miniatures came out and were housed in four sided but backless wooden boxes I built as shelf supports for my books. Then, after a brief look they were packed away again and stayed that way through a second marriage and past it until I graduated from college in 1997. During those years I would find or buy the occasional item and stuff it into a miniature box and forget about it. I purchased a set of black and gold oriental pieces, nothing of very high quality but nice enough, and when I rediscovered it in 1997 it was a most pleasant surprise.
Books had been bought over the years as I came across them and they were packed and moved nearly a dozen or more times. I told myself that I would build myself a doll house and get back into making miniatures when I retired. I had a plan made up from 1979 when I drawn out the ideal dollhouse which, like my two bookcases of old, was in two halves and numbered well over a dozen rooms including a ballroom and servants quarters.
In 1997 I graduated with B.F.A. in painting and was on a job search, an occupation I detest. In order to distract myself I visited friends who had been neglected in the last few years while I’d pressed hard working on my degree. One of those friends was a retired woman and as I mentioned to her something about miniatures and my plans for retirement she said to me, “Maybe you shouldn’t put off making a doll house till then, your hand and eye coordination may not then be good enough to build a doll house and make miniatures.” This really made me think.
Coincidentally, that spring while looking for decorations for my wedding in a second-hand store, I’d seen a complete Greenleaf 78 piece doll house furniture set moldering in a corner. I went back to the store months later and it was still there. I bought it and immersed myself in bits of splintery wood and wood stain (which, thanks to my degree I now knew about). The day I got offered a job I was knuckle deep in stain at the dining table.
I had made a simple house from bits of wood I had around since I now owned wood-working tools and power saws. It was in two halves and had tiny rooms. I had unpacked my miniature boxes and had quite an emotional reunion with my balsa & toothpick chairs and roughly finished old wood pieces. I took apart a couple of them and stained, painted them, sanded them and re-glued them together. Only a few pieces, my utensils made from tin cans and unsealed had rusted and old salt dough bread loaves and meat items had disintegrated.
My new job was stressful but the money was welcome. I bought more wood, expanded the two halves, painted and papered like a madwoman on weekends and purchased many items now that I had at least some money for, if not time.
And then we moved into a house we were buying and shortly thereafter I got the part-time job I wanted. All through the tumult I kept working on the doll houses and what they were supposed to end up looking like kept changing. The previous fall I had discovered that now there were numerous magazines being published and my favorite became the British Dolls House World. I ordered 7 years worth of back issues and found that front-opening houses were the only way to go in my opinion.
In the process of closing up back windows and creating on paper the inhabitants of the (now) several houses that were evolving, I became thrilled with the idea of shops. Using up yet more scraps of wood I made the beginnings of five buildings. This inspired the creation of an entire town on paper. Thus the town of Facetious was born, it’s name and residents names thanks to the influence largely of Patricia King’s books.
At this point I had to stop and consider where all of this was going to fit. Instead of working on one and finishing it I worked on all of them simultaneously, much like my ability to read several books at once. I did narrow it down to three houses and the shops that I am finishing completely.
It’s been a long journey and dollhouses and miniatures are only part of it. But oh, what a part! I’m in good company as many a prestigious name has been so obsessed.