The Ugliest Dollhouse: Part 1, Origins

Open side of vintage dollhouse, showing six rooms and much need for restoration.
Tons of character, needs TLC.

Restoring dollhouses is one of my other hobbies, and I figured I’d share this project since:

  1. The houses always get a music room or home studio;
  2. I found this one while on a trek to Willimantic Records;
  3. Lots of the musicians I follow also have artistic hobbies; and
  4. It’s my blog, and it’s now or never, I don’t wanna live forev–

Okay, okay. I was driving through the damp and cloudy forest on Easter Sunday, on my way to Willimantic, when I saw an open antique store. This was Trailside Treasure, where you betcha I got a business card, as if any place in Connecticut is going to be a vanishing entrance to the Fair Folk realm under the hill, a good antique store open on a holiday is it.

The first thing I saw, after petting the resident French bulldog, was this house, high up on a shelf, looking disheveled.

It is ugly.

It is in poor condition.

Oh hell to the yeah, I must bring it home.

It’s most likely a Basement Workshop Special, lovingly created by a parent with power tools in the mid-1970s. Kit houses virtually always have larger windows and more of them.

Back and one side of goldenrod-colored modernist house.
Tiny little windows.

Long-time friends will see a certain resemblance in shape to Meow Manor, the 1:6 modernist handyman special that did not make the trek to Connecticut. Paradoxically, although I can’t stand modernism in my real-life home (the furniture I paid a few bucks for at Goodwill, rather than finding on a street corner, is Colonial Revival or vague offshoots of “traditional”), I am deeply attracted to modernist dollhouses.

This one has been through a few storms. The roof peak appears to have been originally constructed with duct tape, in one of those welp, got this far, have no idea how I’m attaching slanty bits together moves that I can appreciate.

Roof peak held together with duct tape.
Oh. Dear.

It’s unclear what the scale is intended to be. The lower floor has 6-inch ceilings, which would be 12 feet in 1:24 and 8 feet in 1:16. While 8-foot ceilings were standard in new construction on the west coast when I was a kid, and I’ve seen them out here in genuine colonial homes and even in low-end Victorian workers’ cottages, they seem mingy. And upstairs, the lowest end of the slant is less than 5 inches.

Ruler against upstairs floor, showing 4.5" lowest ceiling height.
No hefty furniture against that wall if this is 1:16.

I tried out some existing furniture. The 1:16 Lundby bed and mysterious modernist lounge chairs fit in the smaller bedroom, but it looks crowded.

1:16 bed and chair looking crowded in smaller bedroom.
Is this creepy af? This is creepy af.

But a 1:24 vintage kitchen looks like it’s scrabbling around at the bottom of a pit in the kitchen.

Stove and refrigerator looking too short in kitchen.
Parts of my Nancy Forbes 1:24 kitchen.

Shall we take the tour or skip straight to the cat photo? Let’s take the tour and see what home renovation hell we’ve gotten ourselves in for. You may find this acoustic version of Walk The Moon’s “Anna Sun” soothing as we progress (“this house, this house is falling apart”), and it opens in a new tab.

Living room: wood floor, yellow walls, red brick fireplace.
Mr. Blandings tries to determine if the fireplace chimney is holding up the house.

In admiring the parlor, note that the fireplace and the windows appear to be designed on entirely opposing methods of logic, if they’re even from the same space-time dimension.

Lower hall: narrow, white, spotty.
Mostly about despair down here.

The halls in this house demonstrate why dollhouses don’t usually have halls. I guess the intent was to be a center-hall colonial?

Blue gingham room.
I’m figuring on the left wall for the “wet wall.”

The kitchen is comparatively non-appalling, because three rooms in, we’re already a bit jaded.

Blue-striped bedroom
There appears to have been a wallpapering accident on the right wall.

Here’s the smaller bedroom, over the parlor. There’s no way that tiny low window isn’t creepy af.

Upper hall with peeling beige paper
All it needs is a small child singing in a creepy high-pitched voice.

The upper hall probably has to be the first room stripped, for the sanity of everyone involved. Don’t tell me that ain’t haunted.

Burgundy bedroom
Squirrels must love that gap between the wall and the roof.

My options for adding a bathroom are:

  • Put it at the front of the hall, with a removable wall so the back hall can be dusted (assuming fixtures fit, which depends); or
  • Carve a bathroom out of the larger bedroom.

The first things that have to be done, though, are:

  1. Strip all the flooring and wallpaper. None of it is salvageable.
  2. Attend to structural integrity, which is mostly the roof’s problems.
  3. Repaint the exterior and roof.

But wait, you say, what does the kitten think of it?

White kitten crammed into upstairs smaller bedroom.
Building inspector is worried.

The kitten is angry that he doesn’t fit easily. Onward to stripping wallpaper.

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