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Thirty-two years in the making, dollhouse makes second appearance under the Christmas tree

  • <br/> The Wilson home.  Douglas Wilson made a replica doll house of their home for his daughter which he never finished but was recently given to his granddaughter. <br/>


    The Wilson home. Douglas Wilson made a replica doll house of their home for his daughter which he never finished but was recently given to his granddaughter.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/>


    Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Detail of the porch railing made from wooden match sticks  on a doll house made by Douglas Wilson for his daughter.


    Detail of the porch railing made from wooden match sticks on a doll house made by Douglas Wilson for his daughter. Purchase photo reprints »

  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Isabella Wilson,5, plays with the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She received the house this year as a Christmas gift.

    CAROL LOLLIS
    Isabella Wilson,5, plays with the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She received the house this year as a Christmas gift. Purchase photo reprints »

  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Cheryl B. Wilson says her nerves were a wreck as she waited to see if her granddaughter, Isabella Wilson, 5, would love the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She needn't have worried, she says.<br/>

    CAROL LOLLIS
    Cheryl B. Wilson says her nerves were a wreck as she waited to see if her granddaughter, Isabella Wilson, 5, would love the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She needn't have worried, she says.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/>


    Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Sherry Wilson watches as her granddaughter, Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/><br/>


    Sherry Wilson watches as her granddaughter, Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Isabella Wilson,5, plays with the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She received the house this year as a Christmas gift.<br/>

    CAROL LOLLIS
    Isabella Wilson,5, plays with the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She received the house this year as a Christmas gift.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Isabella Wilson put Pandy the cat on her bed to sleep while playing  with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/>


    Isabella Wilson put Pandy the cat on her bed to sleep while playing with the doll house made by her grandfather.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Master bed room in the doll house made by Douglas Wilson.


    Master bed room in the doll house made by Douglas Wilson. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Nursery in the  doll house made by Douglas Wilson with painter doors and wall paper.<br/>


    Nursery in the doll house made by Douglas Wilson with painter doors and wall paper.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/> The Wilson home.  Douglas Wilson made a replica doll house of their home for his daughter which he never finished but was recently given to his granddaughter. <br/>
  • <br/>Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/>
  • <br/>Detail of the porch railing made from wooden match sticks  on a doll house made by Douglas Wilson for his daughter.
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Isabella Wilson,5, plays with the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She received the house this year as a Christmas gift.
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Cheryl B. Wilson says her nerves were a wreck as she waited to see if her granddaughter, Isabella Wilson, 5, would love the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She needn't have worried, she says.<br/>
  • <br/>Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/>
  • <br/>Sherry Wilson watches as her granddaughter, Isabella Wilson plays with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/><br/>
  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Isabella Wilson,5, plays with the dollhouse made 32 years ago by her grandfather. She received the house this year as a Christmas gift.<br/>
  • <br/>Isabella Wilson put Pandy the cat on her bed to sleep while playing  with the doll house made by her grandfather.<br/>
  • <br/>Master bed room in the doll house made by Douglas Wilson.
  • <br/>Nursery in the  doll house made by Douglas Wilson with painter doors and wall paper.<br/>

Many little girls dream of owning a dollhouse and my 5-year-old granddaughter was no exception. She already owned plenty of Barbie equipment and Fisher-Price houses with peg figures but she told her parents she wanted a “real” dollhouse for Christmas. Fortunately, in our basement was the dollhouse my late husband, Douglas, made in 1980 for our daughter, Emily.

My husband doted on his only daughter and decided to build her a dollhouse when she was 5 years old. No simple ready-made kit for Douglas, however. After all, when he was 14 he had crafted a 3-foot-long replica of a Mississippi River steamboat, using blueprints from an actual steam boat.

The dollhouse Douglas designed and built is an exact replica of our 1870 Amherst farmhouse, the Pomeroy Homestead.

During the fall of 1980, Douglas spent long hours in the basement after the children went to bed, working on his project. By Christmas morning, however, only the first floor was completed. He carried it upstairs to the dining room table where Emily found it. He promised she could play with it when he completed the other floors.

Over the next several months, he again disappeared into the basement, but by her July birthday it still lacked doors, window panes and shutters. For some reason which we have forgotten, Douglas stopped work on the project. One problem, I think, was the size of the dollhouse. It is 26 inches tall, 23 inches deep and 36 inches long, including the kitchen ell. Emily’s room was too small to accommodate it.

Emily herself has an explanation. “Dad was a perfectionist,” she said last week. He simply couldn’t bear to have it used until it was completed to his satisfaction.

Since Douglas abandoned the project, Emily never got to play with her marvelous toy — until this Christmas, when we decided to complete the house for my granddaughter Isabella, who is Emily’s niece.

When he was dying in 2008, Douglas had remembered the dollhouse and told Emily she would need to complete it for Isabella, who was then only a year old. Douglas had suggestions about how to finish the work. For instance, he recommended using corrugated cardboard to make exterior shutters.

Bella is now 5, the same age her aunt was when Granddad started the dollhouse. So, this December I hired two young men to bring the dollhouse up from the basement where it had sat on sawhorses for more than 30 years. Praise be, it wasn’t mildewed or a home for the ever-present mice in our old house.

Emily came home for Christmas two days early to finish painting some trim. She made rugs as well as coverlets for two doll beds she bought in New York.

Just like home

The dollhouse truly is an authentic replica of our house as it was in 1980. It includes the narrow-windowed plant room off the dining room, a round window in the upstairs hall and a veranda with porch railings, cleverly made by Douglas from wooden match sticks, along with the simple decorations on the porch posts. The thin walls are very sturdy but we don’t know what Douglas used to make them. Fiberboard is what is sold in dollhouse stores along with thin plywood.

Some of it, especially the roof, is definitely thin wood as are the window frames, perhaps basswood or balsa.

The south front and east sides of the house look like the real house. The west and north sides are open for easy playing.

The windows are still just openings as are the doors. Some interior doors are painted on. There are no real stairs. But the floors are painted dark like real wood, the upstairs bathroom has bead-board wainscoting and the downstairs bathroom is painted green like the real tiles. The front hallway is red, which was the color we had intended originally to paint that area. The dining room is green like the wallpaper in 1980. Douglas actually painted a design for the wallpaper in the master bedroom, more attractive than the real wallpaper, which was finally removed after his death.

The coverlets are white with blue stars similar to the antique quilts we use for bed covers. Emily also found some scrap fabric from the green and white checked quilted material I had used for her baby crib. She made a mattress cover for the crib with it. She also crafted two pets from Sculpey clay.

Nervous wrecks

Bella came the day after Christmas and Emily and I were nervous wrecks wondering if she would appreciate the unusual dollhouse.

Bella didn’t disappoint us. Her eyes grew wide when she saw the dollhouse and she and her little brother, Liam, immediately began to play with it. I had bought a set of Ryan’s Room dolls by Small World at Second Chances in South Amherst. The dolls immediately became Nana and Granddad, Mommy and Daddy, Bella and Liam. I had also bought furniture at Valley Dolls and Miniatures on Damon Road in Northampton, owned by George M. Childs. Alas, since his death this fall it is going out of business.

In the attic I found an upholstered wing chair, a china cabinet, a crib and three tiny blue children’s chairs, purchased for the dollhouse decades ago when Emily was a child. I hope to make a trip to Amherst, N.H., this spring (in time for Bella’s birthday) to Earth and Tree, a dollhouse specialty store, to purchase more furniture.

Bella was a little confused at first because the dollhouse lacks the room which is now the heart of the house — the library or fireplace room added in 1992.

Bella chose to have Aunt Emily fasten the Christmas wreath way up in the third-floor gable instead of beside the front door. She said that’s where wreaths are on churches.

She immediately placed the sculpted cat in the attic window, without even knowing that Tansy, the original cat, tried to live in the attic to avoid noisy children and the family dog. At the time we had a black Labrador/husky called Kipper so Emily made clay animals like the family pets in 1980. However, Bella decided the black dog was actually the current border terrier named Jarvis and the cat was her own cat named Pandora or Pandy. With true childlike imagination she was able to transform a black Lab into a brindle terrier and a marmalade cat into a black and white feline.

Wear and tear

Liam, almost 3, was happy to use his wooden school bus and fire engine outside the dollhouse but was forbidden from bringing them up on the porch — as he wished to do. There has already been some damage, inevitable when the new owner is merely 5 years old. Kipper’s legs broke off, making it more realistic that the dog is a short-legged terrier. The cat is minus an ear. The cocktail table has missing legs and the claw-foot bathtub (which so nicely imitates my old-fashioned upstairs bathroom) has lost a faucet.

My friend Katie George, who for years led children’s craft classes in Amherst including classes on miniatures, brought over some extra furniture: a sofa, another wing chair, two bureaus and some other chairs as well as a grand piano. Bella was thrilled.

My darling granddaughter has a little criticism of the dollhouse. Because it is an accurate model of a real house, some interior rooms are hard to access.

Dolls get stuck in the stairwells. Luckily the roof comes off as does the second story so rescues are possible. But on the last day of her holiday visit Bella said she was learning how to cope with the narrow hallways and open stairs. Perhaps she won’t drop Nana down the stairs anymore!

We thought we would have to ship the ungainly dollhouse to Bella in Connecticut, but her father, Jay, managed to maneuver the three pieces into the SUV along with Liam’s new tricycle — with just two inches to spare, he commented. Douglas knew what he was doing when he made the second floor and the roof detachable. Now the dollhouse is ensconced in the playroom in their new house.

Bella never really knew her Granddad, who died just after her first birthday. But his legacy continues with the dollhouse which Aunt Emily plans to finish for her niece. At least after all these decades, Emily gets to play with her dollhouse.

Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at valleygardens@comcast.net.

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