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Welcome to the Dollhouse

“It needs all new wiring,” she said, standing with hands on hips, looking into the living room.

“I know,” I said.

“We haven’t used this type of electrical system for about a decade,” she added, pulling a few stray wires out from the walls in the corner.  She was clearly not impressed.  I started to feel embarrassed for my lame old wires.

“OK,” I said.

“And the ceilings are damaged.”  She pointed out some strange dark stains in the corner, and I looked up.  “That will need patching and a few coats of paint.”

“OK,” I said again.

“And there are no partitions between the rooms.  I’m assuming you’ll want walls?”

“Yes.”  I believe very strongly that houses should have walls.

She began counting places where walls would be needed and then shook her head in a way that meant Lady, we have a lot of work ahead of us.  She scribbled furiously on papers attached to her clipboard.

We moved on to the inspection of the outside of the French Country-style home.  I admired the white stucco façade and the wooden shutters surrounding mullioned windows.

“You see the shingles?” She asked, pointing to the brown roofline.  “We don’t carry these.  It will be hard to find a match.  Eventually, you might want to re-shingle, but for now, I’d just patch them with something similar.”

“OK, patch.” I said.

“And, another thing.  With the new electrical, you cannot paint your rooms, because you’ll see the wiring.  You’ll need to pick out wallpaper for each room, and then paper them all.  I can do that too,” she added.  She paused.  It seemed that we had reached the end of the walk-through.

“OK,” I said, taking a deep breath.  “How much?”

Together we considered the many insufficiencies of my quaint antique dollhouse, while my 7-year-old daughter, Zoe, looked on nervously.  The dollhouse, which looked almost exactly like the Edgemont house I grew up in, had been a 10th birthday present from my beloved Aunt JaJa.  When my parents moved out of that house, the dollhouse moved into JaJa’s attic, and there it had stayed, shingles rotting, wires cracking, walls magically disappearing, until my aunt couldn’t stand it anymore and gave it back to me several years ago.

The renovation of this dollhouse was part of The Summer of Zoe, a 7-week celebration of our younger child, home alone, while our older child, Andrew, attended sleep away camp for the first time.

“How much to fix it all?” I asked.


“Well, I have good news and bad news,” I told Brett, upon returning from the visit to Whimsies Dollhouse shop in Greenwich.  “The good news is that it only cost $350 to add walls and get the electrical up to code!”

Brett did not seem all that impressed with the good news.

“And the bad news?” he asked.

“You’re doing the rest of the work.”

“Oh, really.”

“Yes, really!  We’re putting your artistic talents to good use.  And, by doing so, I saved us $650.  Plus, it will be fun.”

Zoe smiled.  “Please, Daddy?”

I smiled.  “Please?  I mean, how hard could it be?”

“Fine,” he said.  Zoe and I high-fived.  We had found our new contractor, and we had big plans for a major renovation.

A few weeks later, we returned to Greenwich to pick up the dollhouse.  I made sure to bring Brett along so that he could learn first-hand what it was he’d have to do.  While he talked to Casey (the dollhouse specialist we had met on our first visit) about how to install sconces and chandeliers, Zoe and I started picking out sconces and chandeliers.

I mean, let’s be honest: decorating the dollhouse is the best part of having a dollhouse.  “Ooo..Zoe, look at these lamps,” I cooed.

“Pretty!” she agreed.  We picked some for the daughter’s room, where the interior decorating would begin.

“To hook up the lamps, first use this special tool to find the electrical panels which will be hidden under the wallpaper,” Casey was telling Brett.  “Then, you can insert these into the wall, but be careful not to push too hard.  Then, depending on the type of light fixture you select, you might have to change the top part. See here? To do that, you….” Brett shot me A Look.

I moved as far away from him as I could in the small shop and hid behind a Victorian mansion.  The light fixtures Zoe and I had selected were definitely the kind that needed to be altered.

Next we picked out wallpaper.  Zoe found a lovely patterned pink paper with white flowers on it.  “You’ll need about three sheets of paper,” Casey explained.  “You use this special glue – we sell it here – and this type of brush – which we don’t – and I recommend that you cover the whole wall with the paper and then cut out around the windows and doorways because the paper does shrink a bit.”

As she began to explain the great need for floorboards (which have to be cut to size with a miter that you can get at A.I. Friedman and then painted a flat white from the hardware store), Brett shot me Look Number Two.

It seemed like the perfect time to change the subject, so I did.  “Ooo!  Let’s install hardwood flooring!”

“Wonderful,” Casey said, not missing a beat.  “We have two kinds, oak and walnut.  Each has to be sanded and then coated with three layers of polyurethane. You have to wait about 24 hours between coats for them to dry.”

I imagined the dollhouse family having to wear little white masks over their faces to protect themselves from all the dust and toxins of their new hardwood flooring.  I imagined buying miniature fans to plug into the electrical outlets to speed the drying process.  And then I imagined wall-to-wall carpeting.

“Purple carpeting it is, then!”  I said.

Zoe then picked out some furniture, including a bed, a nightstand, and a picture of a kitty cat.  These were 7th birthday presents from several relatives.

“Can we get that bunny?” Zoe asked, pointing to a tiny clay animal with carrots in his mouth.

My aunt JaJa, who lives on a farm with bunnies and horses, was definitely the sucker in charge of buying the bunny.  “We’ll come back with JaJa when we decorate the outdoor English garden,” I promised.  “And we’ll have Nana come and buy us – I mean you — the fancy dining room table with china service for 8.”

As a girl, I had a hobby I loved, and that day, it all came rushing back: the wonder of miniatures, the magic of an electrified dollhouse in the dim afternoon light of my bedroom, the wind-up piano playing Bach, and all the stories of the families to be created and acted out within its walls.

I couldn’t wait to get home and move into this dollhouse.

But first, we needed to acquire sanding blocks, primer, and carpet tape.

As we pulled away from the dollhouse shop, I could imagine the finished home in my mind’s eye: the stone fireplace, the Viking oven, the porcelain tiles in the bathroom, an antique rocking horse in the playroom.  A family of four curled up on the couch, enjoying a miniature bowl of popcorn under the glow of a hand-blown glass light fixture.

And, if I were very lucky, my contractor would get the work done on time and under budget.

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