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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Friday, October 23, 2009

La Malcontenta, the Spanish Eclectic-Art Deco Home of Arabella & Daniel MacPherson. Georgetown, DC


Arabella Joslyn Randolph & Daniel James Macpherson: Biographical Information

A MacPherson goes to Washington:
Daniel MacPherson' s family is also descended from the Jacob MacPherson of MacPherson Farm (see MacPherson Farm writeups with biographies in MacPherson Farm- The Plantation Style Home of Anne & George MacPherson & their children Celestine & Angus; McLean, Virginia) but this branch eventually settled in Middleburg and later in Washington, DC.
Daniel’s great-grandfather James was appointed to the Foreign Service by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. (Family members have been in the State Department ever since.) James decided that a Washington home was necessary and bought about eight acres in the outskirts of the Georgetown area of DC. There he built an elegant, but conservative, Georgian home , and he kept his farmstead, Evermore, in Middleburg as a necessary country retreat.
In the early 1930s, Daniel’s grandfather, Charles --a bit of an eclectic himself--built an elegant Spanish Eclectic-Art Deco

home on the Georgetown estate (his parents were still using the original house). Fortunately, there was enough acreage on the property to keep the house styles from clashing with each other!

When Charles retired, he gave the house to his son David who was following in the family tradition in the State Department.

David was settled at the US Embassy in Rome when he met his future wife Elsa Martinelli at a function at the Italian Embassy. Through the years, their friendship blossomed and they married at her family’s villa Bellaterra, in Tuscany.

After they married, David requested a position back in the states and David and Elsa moved into the Georgetown home. The name, La Malcontenta, which means “the disgruntled woman” in Italian, was given to it by Elsa. The name was not a disparaging one. She was having many tribulations while trying to renovate the house and thought the nickname of her favorite Palladio villa was apropos and very funny. Elsa and David have two children, Daniel and Cordelia .

David retired a short time after Daniel married. He and Elsa moved to her family villa --David had come to love Tuscany --and the Georgetown home was given to Daniel and Arabella.

How Daniel met Arabella:
The eventful day occurred when a 19-year old Daniel was at a horse show helping his Uncle George take care of the MacPherson Farm horses . Daniel was watching the horses when he realized that he was really watching a girl with flaming red hair talking with a group of friends, and that she was watching him! While watching them, he realized that there was another girl with flaming red hair and that three of the group were blonds. As the group walked over, all of sudden Daniel saw them turn into a bouquet of red roses and yellow daffodils! At this point, Daniel knew he had been put under a spell!

They introduced themselves – the Randolph sisters: Rebecca , Cecelia , and Arabella , and their brothers Thomas and Joshua . (They are the children of Grace and Graham Randolph of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico where they currently have a retirement home named Casa Lobo.)

As they were chatting, Arabella (the girl who caught Daniel’s eye) and Daniel were surprised to find that they both played the cello and were part of the evening's entertainment. The Randolph siblings all played musical instruments and were a giving a group recital, while Daniel was a soloist. Adding to their feeling that fate was playing a deep hand here, was the fact that Arabella was about to enter the University of Virginia and that Daniel was already a student there, that they both were Political Science majors, and that they both loved hiking in Virginia!

Daniel liked the Randolphs, including Grace and Graham. They were a warm, casual family with a BIG plus: they had an off-beat sense of humor and could poke fun at themselves; besides, how else could a family turn out when their parents referred to themselves as "George and Gracie" -- with Graham smoking cigars and Grace playing ditsy redhead to his straight man? These traits were a relief to Daniel since this meant that the Randolphs would fit in well with the MacPhersons (bless them all) who also had a reputation for being "lovable eccentrics". Of course, eccenticites often hide feet firmly on the ground.

As they say, the rest is history-- David and Arabella received positions at the State Department as political analysts; they married; they settled at La Malcontenta in Georgetown. When they decided to make some changes to the house, they really agreed with its name!

They now have two daughters: Annabelle Grace (5) and Francesca Elsa (2) and an Old English sheepdog named Foggy. When politics get out of hand, they retreat to the MacPherson family homestead Evermore in Middleburg or the Randolph domicile Carlyon in Charlottesville and play the cello together until the wee hours of the morning.

Behind The Build: La Malcontenta. (RGT Thornhill bash)

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

Early in 2004, we started to think about the next family of little people who should have a home of their own. We chose the Daniel MacPhersons. Now we just had to find a house style we had not built before (we don't like to build the same house again).

I perused the HBS catalog and I saw the Thornhill. I then remembered how much I had liked this house. If fact--and this was too much after the fact--but this house would have been a great start to the Georgian and would have saved considerable work since it has the same dimensions as I used for the Georgian main house! Oh well, too late now… but this definitely meant that its time had come!

Before we started to build, the usual search was on to find a style we hadn’t built before. Serious discussions with the MacPhersons and amongst ourselves, and reviewing house styles was the order of the day, I have a large library of real house books, but the one that usually gets my ideas focused is A Field Guide to American Houses by V. & L. McAlester.

Exterior Design Features:
By early June 2004, we had a style: a spectacular 1920s - 30s Spanish Eclectic – Art Deco look for the exterior and interior . (The Thornhill is a house with great “bones” – very adaptable to many looks.) Now, the building was ready to begin. As with all our houses, we like to stay flexible so that if a good idea suddenly appears, we can incorporate it into our plans. This does make for extra work and expense, but we don’t seem to be able to build any other way.

The design we came up with was to only have seven rooms: living room, dining room, and kitchen on the first floor, and on the second floor: den, library nook in the front part of the second floor hall, and master bedroom -bath suite. We also decided to divide the attic into halves. One half would be a pied-a-tier for Arabella’s brother Thomas (who works at the American Embassy in Rome but somtimes likes to stay in DC when he visits the States). The other half would be a nursery playroom and bedroom combination for the MacPherson daughters. Our interior design meant a “bit” of reworking from the manufacturer’s design.

We also wanted the house to open from the front for the living room, have a pull-away front door section, and open longwise on the dining room side. Also, the attic roof would flip up. (The living room had to open in the front because the room would have French doors leading to a wonderful Spanish style patio on the side.) We removed the front gable and made a continuous roof with three dormers across the front and one on each side of the house.

The front door was given an arched, covered entry porch with a second story balcony in a Spanish Mission style. All windows and doors in the house open and were custom made. All the first and second floor windows are casements. The attic has casement dormers and skylights. The second story windows in the front and the bedroom French door have black wrought iron rail balconies.

We wanted a large dining room and master bedroom. This resulted in the kitchen and bath being too narrow for comfort. Thus both rooms were bumped out— for the kitchen appliances and for a nice bathtub area. In retrospect, I should have made the width wider for the whole length of the rooms.

The house is stucco and has a red barrel tile roof (vinyl sheets).

Interior Design Features:
To be added

Casa Lobo the 1930's Pueblo Revival Style Retirement Home of Grace and Graham Randolph, Santa Fe, New Mexico.


*******************Grace Jennifer Trent and Graham Edmund Randolph: Biographical Information...

From friends to married life:
Graham and Grace, neighbors in Charlottesville, Virginia, were good friends since the age of five . Their friendship continued into their college years while Graham was studying law at the U. of Pennsylvania and Grace was studying art history, conservation, and restoration at Georgetown University. After graduation, they both rented apartments in DC. Graham was accepted at a Washington law firm and Grace obtained a position at the National Museum of Art. They soon descovered that they had become more than just friends. They married and continued living in the city but eventually they tired of the pace.

Since the Randolph and Trent families have been in the Charlottesville area practically forever, it was easy to decide to come “home”. Graham joked that he always wanted to be a “small-town” lawyer anyway. Grace accepted a position as an art conservator and researcher at the U. of Virginia. They bought a wonderful, spacious older home (which of course, needed work). They named their home Carlyon after the idyliic area in Cormwall where they spent their honeymoon. They immediately put out the Pineapple sign -- oh, that Southern hospitality -- and constantly welcomed friends and family for visits. They also found time to raise five children.

Graham and Grace love music, and Graham's favorites are string quartettes. He thought it would be nice to have his own quartette and offered parental advice to his five children: learn to play an instrument! Of course, he would not have insisted, but his children liked music and thought it would be a fun to give “dear old Dad” his own musical ensemble. Thus Rebecca learned to play the piano, Arabella the cello, Cecilia the violin, and Thomas the viola. Joshua considered the bass fiddle, changed to the piano, but then decided that the harpsichord was more interesting. Thus, the family string emsemble became "strings, etc." Many relatives and friends play, and on occasion, the ensemble includes a trumpet, a bass fiddle, a French horn, a trombone, a harp, and even a banjo!

They are a warm, casual family with a BIG plus: they have an off-beat sense of humor and often poke fun at themselves; besides, how else can a family turn out when parents refer to themselves as "George and Gracie" -- with Graham smoking cigars and Grace playing ditsy redhead to his straight man? Of course, never doubt that this family has its feet firmly on the ground and has a strong resolve.

Eventually, the children grew up and moved away. Rebecca married Derek Rowbottom and moved to Fredericksburg; Arabella married Daniel MacPherson and moved to Georgetown, DC; Cecelia went to work for the Treasury Department and moved to Alexandria; Joshua is a forensic scientist for Homeland Security and shares the Alexndria townhouse with his sister; and Thomas is a member of US Embassy in Rome and spends his work year there in an apartment near the Spanish Steps. However, the house is big enough so whenever the extended family wants to come, everyone can stay at the house.

They retire and build Casa Lobo:
When Graham and Grace decided to retire, they decided to try a very different locale. They enjoyed visiting friends in the Southwest and felt very much at home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since they were keeping their home in Virginia, there was no problem trying retirement in Santa Fe. They decided to downsize and look for a small, minimalist, 1930's Pueblo Revival style home. They found some in neighborhoods they liked, but the houses were in poor condition.

Finally, they decided to buy land and build their own. They ended further from town and further into the mountains than they had planned , but they did find property not far from a friend's ranch.

Here they built a home that looks as if it was built in the 1930s, but functional, functioning, and with custom touches. Then they added desert landscaping to give it a nice homey feel. It was so nice to have their son-in-law, Derek, who is a brillliant architect and landscape designer handle everything for them!

They decided to furnish their new home in a very comfortable style and with as many items as practicable that were either made between 1910 and 1940 in New Mexico or looked as if they were made in the Southwest.

Not long after building their new home, they had to build a guest house since their families and friends quickly decided that this area was a great place to visit. It seems everyone wants to be a cowboy ! So much for downsizing!

Graham is setting up an observatory on the roof. At 7,500 feet, the night sky is spectacular! He is now working on how to heat his viewing area because at this altitude, it can be very cold, to say nothing of the snow in winter!

Behind The Build: Casa Lobo. (Kit bash and scratch)

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

We started this build September 2006. I really don’t know how we came up with the Pueblo Revival idea or that Grace and Graham were retiring, but all of a sudden Grace and Graham were going to the high desert! (I like the Santa Fe area and it must have rubbed off on them.)
I looked in real house books and decided on a Pueblo Revival. I found a minimalist-look home from the 1930s in Santa Fe (from A Field Guide to American Houses by V. & L. McAlester) and immediately knew that was what I wanted .

Now, the search for a front-opening structure was on – could we find a commercial kit or would we have to scratch build? I looked at an Earth & Tree kit, the Ellsworth. It was very nice but it wasn't quite right. I also looked at the one room Adobe Room and Patio kit from HBS . The family said that this kit would be the place to start and we would scratch build on to it. The HBS kit was made from ½ inch MDF but the additional parts would be built from 3/8 inch Baltic Birch since we couldn’t get MDF .

We did not want many rooms and wanted large flow-through rooms on the first floor. The second floor would have a master bedroom and bath, and an entrance to a porch. From that porch, a Pueblo-style ladder would lead to an observatory on the bedroom roof. House guests would stay in a guest cabin (not to be built). This was not a difficult house to build, except for the U-turn staircase. This was a problem mainly due to the design I wanted (no floor support after the turn) and where I wanted to put it. We kept the minimalist look for the exterior but we did soften it. Also, we added some pizzazz to the interior.

All except one of the windows are simply-styled opening casements; some are from the kit and some we had to make. The window in the rear wall of the bedroom is a sash window. That window was an afterthought, and I just happened to have a spare tall, narrow sash window that looked good there.

The first floor has two 15” x 16” rooms: the living room with a U-turn stairway to the second floor, and the dining room-kitchen though an arched opening and down a step. The living room has all the original windows and the front door from the kit. We keep the scored floor and simply put a clear stain on it. The stone fireplace was made on a Styrofoam base with the firebox going through the wall to give it more depth, and is faced with cut up vinyl flooring tiles . The dining room-kitchen has tile-look real house wallpaper for the floor . The walls in both rooms are finished with a soft stucco-look real house wallpaper. The ceilings are painted white.

The second floor has the bedroom, bathroom, stairwell, and door to the porch . The U-turn staircase was a pain to make. The bedroom section has black walnut wood flooring, the bath and hallway have the tile wallpaper flooring. The second floor walls are painted. There was only room for a small bathroom. Thus the room has a “pocket” door and the front wall is removable to better see the bathroom and to decorate it.

We never could decide if the house should have beamed ceilings with or without the “vigas” through the walls to the outside. The real house we were copying didn’t have any beams showing outside, so we felt ok not having any, but of course, we still occasionally re-think it! The rooms do have thick rounded crown mouldings stained clear.

The exterior of the house is spray painted with Fleckstone Canyon Rock. The entry patio has real house vinyl flooring tiles cut up to make paving tiles. The kit came with two fireplaces which we used to make corner fireplaces for the entry patio and the second floor porch. The fireplaces were stuccoed. We didn’t add any exposed “vigas” to the house but we did add wooden water spouts from the roofs.

Windows and doors were painted Delta Nutmeg Brown. The second floor porch has the tile-look real house wallpaper for the flooring. Railings were added to the porch and the observatory to keep the little people safe. The front wall pulls away from the house in two sections.

The Observatory needs to be furnished.

The house is electrified by pulling the wires through the back wall and into power strips connected to a transformer.

Much of the furniture in the house is Shackman. We found a lot of Shackman pieces that looked well in this style house and also many Shackman pieces are scaled down a bit and fit well in a small (but still 1 inch scale) dollhouse.

What’s in a name, Casa Lobo? As we were building this house, I suddenly thought of “loco” and I started to call the house Casa Loco as a joke of sorts. This would never do since this wasn’t a difficult build however “loco” it might have been to build another dollhouse. So keeping with the Southwest spirit, the house became Casa Lobo and we even added a resident wolf .