It All Starts Here

Sometimes our ideas flow from an existing kit to bash, a house style to scratch (aka custom) build, or from an interesting doll who needs a place to live. Our settings are always modern-day (ca. 2001 when we started this hobby). We try to create things that will make people smile and feel good.

We think that if we had to build the same house twice, we literally could not do it! Fortunately, we have very unique little people who have definite opinions and so far, no one has wanted a house “like so-and-so” has.

We work as a family unit: my wonderful husband, my beautiful sister, and I. We don't always agree as to the direction of the build, but I think that we end up with a better dollhouse because of all our grumblings -- and we do have a lot of fun!

The Purpose of this Blog

We needed a place for all we wanted to say about the background of the build and the nuts and bolts of the design and build process. Thus this blog.

All our dolls' homes have families living in them and a story is built around their personalities and lifestyles. This story is an integral part of our building process. We would like to share these stories -- actually, the little people insist upon it!

Many of our houses are located in Fredericksburg, Virginia because that is my sister's favorite place.

Also, we have started a Rouges' Gallery with photos of our little people and information about the dolls.

If you would like to start with the dollhouse that "started it all", it is the Original Rowbottom Manse; if you would like to see the scratch-built Georgian that our first build gave us the confidence (or fool-hardiness) to do, it is Sunnybrook Farm.

Let the stories begin!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Behind The Build: MacPherson Farm (Custom Build)

(For a complete pictorial chronicle, see the Webshots album listed on the left.)

This build started in the winter of 2007. When I was looking for a home for the MacPhersons, I realized that I could now build a plantation house style (aka “Southern Colonial” -- Tara is a good example of this style).

As soon as I bought “Angus”, I knew that he lived in this type of house and that he raised Saddlebred horses. I also knew that he worked for the CIA (but that’s another story). I had already built an elaborate Georgian (The Big G) so I didn’t want anything of that scale, and I didn’t even want a hint of Palladian. The MacPhersons are a casual folk.

I researched real houses and found a great range of stunning plantation houses. I kept looking and finally found a very nice "homey" style. The following picture is the model I am using for the exterior of Mac pherson Farm.

I bought an Earth & Tree Hancock 3/8 " birch plywood kit to turn into a front-opening house. When I unpacked the kit, I realized that the dimensions were not what I thought they would be and some of the wood was warped. This, plus the bashing that I had planned to do: front-opening with different size windows and doors than the cut-outs, and expanding the attic, made me realize that I should have scratch-built. I decide to go ahead and simply bash it into what I wanted. Big mistake! As a result, not very much of the original remains and I had a lot more work this way. My husband and sister kept saying to start from scratch, but I didn’t listen. We like the way the house is turning out, but it has been a discouraging build.

I decided to build a six-room house since I was tired of doing kitchens and bathrooms. The interior is a basic center hall colonial with living room and dining room on the first floor, 2 bedrooms on the second, and an expanded attic with a den for really relaxing and a “collections” room for rare books and objects .

As with all best laid plans, my sister decided to build an addition: a ground-floor kitchen, and a 2nd floor bathroom and dressing room for Celestine! This is on the dining room side of the house and is a separate unit just pushed against the main house. So much for just a six room build.

Design Features:
This is a front-opening dollhouse. The front section (with 2-story porch and its roof) pulls away from the house in one 36” section and turned out to be heavier than I thought. The attic roof flips up. The house is electrified by pulling the wires of the lights under the flooring or straight out the back and plugged into a power strip attached to a transformer. This method needs no tape wire – me hates tape wire!

The house exterior is brick – but a simple and inexpensive way. I bought Handley House brick sheets and sprayed them with Fleck-Stone “Fiesta”. This gave them a wonderful color and texture! The house has a wood shake roof. The chimneys use a form made of builder’s foam insulation and then covered with the brick sheets. These were very hard to use around the chimneys. Actually, it was a mess and I wouldn't use this method again! All the windows and doors open.

To have the floor space I wanted in the first floor hall, I cut off two steps of the staircase and turned the straight run staircase into an “L”. I also added a niche in the dining room for a wonderful Reutter breakfront. To have more room in the fireplace fireboxes, I cut openings in the walls to give depth. For the first floor flooring, I made patterns with parquet and regular wood flooring sheets.

To have good sized rooms in the attic, I added a long back dormer with an 8" back wall. Also, to have the roof come down over the porch, I increased the height of the peak and increased the length of the main section. This hinged roof section comes down over the static roof section of the porch.

The pull-away front includes the entire 2-story porch section. The porch will have steps. The porch was a bit complicated to make. I did measure and sketch it out, but it still needed adjustment as I was building!

The kitchen addition is a separate section with a flat, walk-out roof. The front is also a pull-away section. Since this was a late-comer, to make internal doorways easier, I used faux connecting doors.

=-=-=-November 25, 2010-=-=-=
I thought I should add a long-overdue comment on this house: I am still working on it! I took almost a year off from it due to other demands on my time. As a result, now that I have time again, I have to remember what I wanted to do and what I have to still think about doing, such as how to build the "pull-away" front and steps for the addition. Also, some thinking is still needed for the front of the main house.

I do have the electricity working in the house (except for the attic) and in the the addition. The rooms have all their furniture and incidentals-- except for Celestine's dressing room where I am fighting with little clothes and little hangers! There is even a pre-Christmas party going on inside the house!

A note about electricity:
Having the wires connect to power strips beings a problem since one power strip can only handle 20 bulbs. This house will need two to three power strips and they all will connect to one 40-watt transformer (the transformer can light up to 60bulbs); therefore, I will need an electrical connector block into which I will connect the transformer and the power strips. I am also considering making my own "power strip" from 1in x 3 in pine, lay down tape wire, put in grommets for the plugs, add a junction splice, and connect the transformer to that. Then I will not need any commercial power strips.

MacPherson Farm- The Plantation Style Home of Anne & George MacPherson & their children Celestine & Angus; McLean, Virginia.

The MacPhersons: Biographical Infornmation
This branch of the MacPherson family has been in Virginia since the early 1700s when Jacob MacPherson a Scottish Quaker received a small Royal land grant for land in what is now the town of McLean. Jacob named his property Clunie after the ancient seat of the MacPherson clan and turned the land into a tobacco plantation.

During the Revolutionary War, some family members became privateers in the American cause. Many privateers lived very well and were noted for their taste in fine houses, excellent wines, superb furnishings, and fine clothes. This branch of the family lived simpler. Becoming closely involved with politics, gave them friendships beyond Virginia. One friend who was to have a profound influence on their lives was John Dickinson of Delaware.

After the War, the family decided to “Americanize” and renamed the property simply MacPherson Farm . At this time, they decided that the main focus of their livelihood would be raising horses , followed by raising vegetables and flowers . Tobacco growing now became a small part of their business. Shortly after this, influenced by friend John Dickinson, they freed their slaves--some of whom remained and continued to work on the farm.

The present house is not original, but a "new" house built in 1782. Through the years the house has seen some changes but the house still retains its original look – a simple, comfortable, small plantation home for a country family. (In the late 1800s, one major change was to modify the kitchen dependency and attach it to the main house.) Fortunately, the MacPherson family was able to keep ownership of much of their holdings through the tumultuous years after the Civil War and later during the Great Depression.

The current owners are Anne Laurie Gilbert and George Catlin MacPherson. They recently decided to retire and to do some serious traveling. They left the running of the farm to their grown children Celestine Elspeth and Angus Robert .

Angus broke with family tradition and went to Stanford University. He enjoyed California and ended up staying to get an MBA. After a while though, all that “fun in the sun” paled and he decided to carry himself back to Ole Virginny and look for a job close to the farm.

Celestine is Angus’s little sister. She, too, left Virginia to go to college but went across the pond to St. Andrews in Scotland. She fell in love with golf and played so much of it that she kids that golf was her major! She loved Scotland, but she said “there’s no place like Virginia”, and came home after graduation.

Both Angus and Celestine are quiet, relaxed, and charming. In Angus’s case, the surface hides an interesting livelihood. Angus works for the CIA gathering intelligence worldwide. The family suspects that he may be doing cloak-and-dagger stuff-- or-- they may just have an over-active imagination! Anyway, in character and temperament he is more like Jack Ryan (hero of The Hunt for Red October), and definitely not a James Bond! His hobby is cooking and everyone turns out for a feast at MacPherson Farm!

Celestine does most of the farm management. She and Angus love the farm and have won awards for their horses, their horsemanship, and their flower gardens. For relaxation, Celestine gets out her golf clubs and heads for the links . She is a very good golfer (thank you, St. Andrews) and is always ready to participate in tournaments. Her flower gardens at the farm are also well known and she delights in bringing flowers to everyone.

Besides their horses (who tend to have Scotish names), they have an Old English Sheepdog named Mac Tavish.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Behind the Build: Badger's Hollow, a Two-Kit, Bash of a Bash

(For a complete pictorial chronicle, see the Webshots album listed on the left.)

This cottage is a bash of a bash! The first bash was simple--use a DuraCraft Ashley as the main section and a Corona Buttercup as the add-on. Actually, I walked into this bash with my eyes wide shut! My sister had an Ashley kit but couldn’t deal with thin plywood. She gave me the kit in case I “could use the wood for something”. The picture of the house looked appealing so I started to do a dry fit. All of a sudden I saw some interesting possibilities. (I never learn and I was at a bad point with my Georgian, anyway.) The Ashley was much too small—what to do? I couldn’t find another Ashley but I found that the Buttercup had “merge” possibilities.

This build would solve another problem the little people were experiencing. The Georgian was to be the new home of Rebecca and Derek Rowbottom and I had planned that Iris March and Roderick Alleyn would move into their old house. My sister felt that the house should go to Martha and George Wells. Well, since we do team building, Martha and George won and Iris and Rory were left out in the cold -- but -- if I did this bash, they would have a home! My sister disassociated herself from the “thin plywood” build but offered to supply furniture. Fortunately, my husband said he would help with the build.

As the kits were merged, the ceiling height on both floors was increased to 8” and a couple of inches were added to the depth of the cottage. The end bays and some of the windows were eliminated. These changes made rooms that were easier to furnish but made a messy bash. The cottage was now 30” wide x 16” deep (includes porch) x 16 ½” high. This was done in late 2002 into 2003.

The house was sided with brick plasticized, paper sheets (Noch) and vinyl plaster sheets (HBS) with some timbers here and there. I made some of the windows “leaded glass” casements. The roof tiles are sandpaper. The chimney was my usual of a Styrofoam form covered with spackle stucco imbedded with red quartzite chips. The wood floors in the house are wood-grained Con-Tact glued to cardboard, cut into strips, and then glued to the floor.

All in all, it did turn into a delightful home for Iris and Rory.

In summer 2006, my sister decided that Iris and Rory needed more elbow room. Since the house is on a plywood base of 36” x 25”, the only way to go – was up! The design called for making a true second floor and to put useable attic rooms over it. The added pieces were made of 1/8” MDF. I found one type that had a white semi-gloss layer on one side. I used this for the attic and then did not have to do any interior painting!

I would not endeavor a bash of a bash of 1/8” plywood houses again. The plywood was fragile enough on its own, let alone after the original bash! The house is now 25” tall. I wonder about the stability of this structure since the remodeling process was a mess. The landscaping was a lot of fun, though. The grass is Woodland Scenics Spring Green grass mat.

The new look is interesting but somehow I miss the look of the little cottage. Oh, well…

Badger’s Hollow- Home of Iris March and Roderick Alleyn, Williamsburg, Virginia


Historian Iris Sophia March & Professor Roderick (Rory) David Alleyn: Biographical Information

Iris Sophia March is the daughter of Lillian Susan Raleigh (deceased) and Frederick Walter March , Professor Emeritus, William & Mary. Iris has a younger sister Helena a volcanologist working in Hawaii.

Roderick is the son of Jessica Gwyneth Jones and Gerald Henry Alleyn (deceased), and has a younger brother, Christopher, an archaeologist at the U. of Virginia. Jessica recently retired from her position as Head Librarian at the Williamsburg Library. Both Jessica and Gerald were born in Britain but came to the Williamsburg area due to Gerald’s parent's good friend, Jacques de Winter extolling the wonders of Virginia.

Iris and Rory and Max grew up together. (Helena and Christopher sometimes joined them but both preferred to sit in a quiet place and read). Their childhood was somewhat tumultuous since they and their families were all caught up in Max’s great-uncle Jacques’ passion for fast cars and vintage cars. (Fortunately, the adults had business savvy and turned it into a profitable business.)

Even Iris, to her amazement, was a part-time grease monkey and gymkhana enthusiast. While her sister and most of her friends were involved with horses, she was involved with cars. As a result, her parents never had to worry that she would have a date whose car mysteriously broke down in some out-of-the-way place! Perhaps because they were all such close friends, the group never thought of each other as someone to date.

As they went from high school to college, they expanded their interests --Max studied botany, Iris volunteered at digs at Colonial Williamsburg, and Rory discovered the world of literature. When they graduated from William & Mary, they put away their cars and went to Cambridge for graduate studies. Here they meet the very British Harry Holbrook, the younger son of the Marquess of Caterham and an archaeology student. He quickly became a close friend.

After graduation the trio returned to Williamsburg. Rory and Max accepted teaching positions at William & Mary. Iris received a position as an assistant curator at Colonial Williamsburg.

At long last, Iris and Rory “discovered” each other and married a couple of years ago. They bought a house next to Max and then bought an Old English sheepdog named Whimsey (named after Lord Peter) and an orange Tabby named Clementine (named after the fruit). Max couldn’t figure out what took them so long. Now, he too, could have a life of his own!

Besides teaching British Literature, Rory (now a full professor) writes mystery stories, a genre that has always fascinated him. His protagonist is a professor at a Virginia college whose hobby is vintage cars and who keeps finding dead bodies! He is a successful novelist much to his delight

Iris has received a number of promotions and is now in the Department of Historical Research, the lynch-pin for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Here she is involved with evaluating programs and exhibitions, training interpreters, reviewing manuscripts and study guides, and involved with charting new directions for Colonial Williamsburg.

Iris and Rory’s exciting backgrounds and abilities make them popular, and they think there is nothing better than good times with family and friends.

By-the-bye, they still have their love of fast and vintage cars!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Toad Hall- the Tudor Revival Home of Max deWinter, Williamsburg, Virginia

Professor Maximillian (Max) Paul de Winter: Biographical Information

Toad Hall, a 1922 Tudor Revival, is located in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was bought by Max’s late great-uncle Jacques deWinter in 1935. Jacques named it “Toad Hall” since he shared an affinity with Mr. Toad (Wind in the Willows) – fast cars. (In fact, Jacques participated in a couple of Gran Prix races.)

Jacques was born in Aix-en-Provence, France to a French father Alain and an American mother, a southern belle named Madeleine Edwina Hughes . (The Hughes family became friends with the deWinters during WWI when family members were stationed in France.) At her suggestion, Jacques went to William & Mary. He was so taken by the area that he bought a house there and eventually settled at “Toad Hall”. His family remained in France but visited him often. During a visit to Williamsburg, his brother’s son Pierre fell in love with LauraAnne Wilkes , the daughter of one of Jacques' neighbors. Pierre and LauraAnne married and returned to live in the Provence region of France. It was there that their only child Maximillian was born in 1963. Jacques never married.

After Max’s parents tragically died in a train crash, Jacques asked his great-nephew to live with him in America. Thus Great-Uncle Jacques became Max’s Aunty Mame. Max had an incredible childhood – including learning to love sport cars-- but most-importantly, to make the most of his life. He followed in his great uncle’s footsteps and majored in Botany at William & Mary.

During college, Max kept up his friendship with fellow car enthusiasts and lifelong buddies Roderick Alleyn and Iris March .
After graduation, they all went to Cambridge for graduate studies. At the university they added British friend, Harry Holbrook --an archaeology student--to their close group. After their Cambridge studies, Max, Rory, and Iris returned to Williamsburg. Max is now a professor at William & Mary and is also head of the Herbarium. Harry continued his studies in Britain and became a lead archaeologist at an important site in the Middle East.

Max inherited Toad Hall when Great-Uncle Jacques died in 2003 at the age of 93. Max was devastated but with the support of his friends and students he carried on. Max loved his Toad Hall but realized that it needed a bit of restoration. Max wanted to preserve the Tudor Revival style but give it a somewhat minimalist and lighter look. He had the exterior re-surfaced in brown sandstone stucco. Only a few lighter-colored timbers were put back. The heavy dark ceiling timbers and paneling were removed and replaced with an airier style. The slate roof was repaired.

Max lives at Toad Hall with his dog Henry (every Tudor should have a "Henry") . His housekeeper Agatha comes in daily to make sure that Max has a good evening meal and a clean house (Max can be a bit absent-minded). He is fortunate to live next door to his best friends, the recently wed March-Alleyns (house on right)
Their college chum, Harry Holbrook is a visiting professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology at William & Mary and will be Max’s houseguest for a couple of years. Also a frequent visitor is Max's girlfriend Emmeline di Pietro an Assistant Professor of Architecture at William and Mary.

Max has a big bash at Christmas time and his Uncle Louis and Aunt Simone often come and bring great wines from the family vinyard Chateau Neuf de Winter. Of course, Max always adds some Virginia wines to the table .

Max loves teaching Botany and chronicling the economic and sociological importance of plants from Colonial times to the present. He is actively involved with the plantings and studies at Monticello and Mount Vernon, and with those closer to home in Colonial Williamsburg. Max grows many plants around his house and in his greenhouse. His plantings are an eclectic mix: a vegetable garden, a formal English garden, and romantic groupings of any plants that appeal to him. Max and Henry are a welcome sight everywhere and his house is always open to his friends and students.

Behind the Build: Toad Hall (GL Glencroft)

(For a complete pictorial chronicle, see the Webshots album listed on the left.)

This dollhouse was built in 2004. It was a "surprise" build to me. On Labor Day weekend, my sister arrived with this kit. She had bought it a couple of years back but had decided that while she loved the house, she could not contend with Greenleaf’s 1/8 inch plywood. Therefore, it was now mine and “we” would now build it. Fortunately, I have always liked this house and I already had a person in desperate need of a place to live, Professor Max deWinter.

Max teaches Botany and is head of the Herbarium at William & Mary. He is a bachelor and is looked after by his housekeeper Agatha Smith. She insists that Max would never have a neat house, nor eat a decent meal without her (probably true).

This dollhouse was built without very much bashing. We decided to do a minimalist-look Tudor Revival exterior and interior, since the story is that the house was originally built in the 1920s and is now being rejuvenated. We left out most of the outside “timbers”. The house was spray painted with Fleckstone “Santa Fe Sand” as stucco. We made our own leaded glass windows: leading tape on acrylic. The chimney is spackle “stucco” impressed with red quartzite chips on a Styrofoam form. The roof slates are made from vinyl tile flooring.

In the interior, we decided that we wanted a larger living room so we left out the fireplace wall with its bookcase and built-in stairs. We left out the door to the kitchen. We added a den addition off the living room. We decided to forego a visible bathroom and “put” it on the forth wall instead.

We made our own living room and bedroom corner fireplaces, and covered them with the same “slate” as is on the roof. We added a standard staircase at the viewer’s end of the living room. This connects to an upstairs hall to allow separate entries to two bedrooms. (The original house has the staircase come up into a room and has another room off of that- no privacy for the little people!) The hallway has a wall with a door to a guest room and a longer wall with a door to Max’s bedroom.

This wall is removable so that one can view the hallway as “hallway” or remove it and have a view of Max’s bedroom.

The wood floors in the house are Con-Tact glued to cardboard, cut into strips, and then glued to the floor.

Since I love to landscape, and since the owner is a Botany professor, he had to have a property with gardens and greenhouse. Also, he likes to entertain, so he had to have a patio. The house was placed on a 2’ x 4’ base and we landscaped every inch of it -- in fact, we had to add a piece for Max's vegetable garden!

Since Max and Iris and Rory (Badger's Hollow - very bashed Ashley+Buttercup) are friends from childhood, we decided that their houses should be next to each other so we made a "neigborhood"! We just love the look and we since discovered that someone thought our idea for the Glencroft and an Ashley-similar house was a good one, but gave the greenhouse to the "Ashley".

Behind the Build: SunnyBrook Farm - A Scratch-built Georgian

(For a complete pictorial chronicle, see the Webshots album listed on the left.)

Early in 2001, after we did our first kit-bash, I fell in love with RGT Foxhall Manor. I wanted to build it, but differently. I wanted to turn it into a Georgian/Palladian style with the appropriate windows and doors within a slightly larger house, and make it front-opening.

We spoke with a dollhouse shop to have the house shell custom-built to my specs. The builder argued with some of my ideas, gave an estimate beyond my budget (and I still had to buy all the components), would only ship a completed shell rather than a flat package, and could not do the project for at least six months! I was heart-broken and we were annoyed. My husband said, “Heck, we’ll build it ourselves”. As we were mulling this, I saw a different Georgian house I liked better, anyway!

I like front- opening dollhouses and the Georgian/Palladian style, and I saw a beautiful one in Doll’s House World magazine. Buying it was not an option so my husband said we should scratch-build this one instead! I am attaching the dollhouse picture. This was mid-2001.

Of course, the house grew in size and number of rooms as we designed it. I had thought that this was going to be the only other dollhouse I would build (hah), so I put as many things as possible in it, and I had no idea how to build many of those things. The only power tools we had were a drill, a jig saw, and a circular saw. We quickly went out to buy a table saw, a scroll saw, a band saw, and a Dremel. We built a workshop in the basement and renamed it “Judith’s Dungeon”. Boy, were we babes in the wood!

The building and creative process did not go smoothly. At one point, I was so discouraged; I stopped building for a couple of months. Two big early problems were the kit-bashing to make Palladian windows and doors from a couple of different components, and the Foyer. I wanted an elegant Foyer and none of the commercial staircases seemed right (besides, the ceiling was 11” high). For the Foyer staircase, I ended up bashing a Classics curved staircase (I needed a different curvature), widened the staircase (needed more elegance), and added an extra turn at the bottom and more steps.

The windows, doors, and the curved staircase were such an important part of the design that once we resolved those issues, I finally felt that I could do this house.

My family’s ideas and help got me back on track. Believe me, without my husband’s MAJOR support and help, I could not have done it (and still could not). My sister also has always been there whenever I needed her – even before I asked.

This is the design we did (see Webshots for more views and details):

The major mistake on this house is that I didn't follow my own advice. I did build the two wings as separate structures-good. I knew that the main house was going to be large and heavy to move so I had planned to make it as three units: basement, main floors, and attic, but I didn't --very foolish of me not to listen to myself. Oh well ...

Some of the hardest lessons I have had to learn were to accept frustration, to have to do something more than once, that everything takes longer than expected, and that it is nothing personal -- some of this is really hard to create. Also, I had to learn to relax and to have fun!

Some of my ideas worked; some did not and had to be scrapped. I have tape wired, and pulled out tape wire and grommets, glued walls in and taken them out, put in doorways and windows where there weren’t any, and glued the wall pieces back when I no longer wanted the openings, I have recut sections, etc, etc, and etc. Believe me, nothing in this house was easy.

I keep learning and I am still working on this house.