Dollhouse warming party: Kate’s 1955 Betsy McCall DIY Dollhouse tour — finished!

midcentury dollhouseKate-Builds-a-DIY-DollhouseIt has been five months since I began work on my built-from-scratch 1955 Betsy McCall DIY Dollhouse — a project that has been labor of love and one that I didn’t realize would take me so long to ‘finish.’ I say that the dollhouse is ‘finished,’ but in reality, it will probably always be a work in progress. With that  said, it’s time for the grand tour, which I know many readers have been awaiting. Let’s take a look, shall we? 

Viewing tip: Click on any image and it should double in size, to up to 1,000 pixels wide, on your screen for viewing more detail. 
midcentury dollhousemidcentury dollhouseI can’t begin to estimate the total amount of hours that I’ve spent working on bringing this dollhouse to life. The hours were spread out over many weeks. Some days I worked on it all day and others for only an hour or less. And, I did suffer a bit of dollhouse DIY burn out shortly after finishing the kitchen cabinet build and install, necessitating a few weeks off from the project for a break before I felt I could begin building furniture for other rooms in the house.

midcentury dollhouse
To say I’m in love with this midcentury split level dollhouse would be an understatement. Not only is it adorable, but it is peppered with treasures — both new and old — from the items that my Mom and I played with as kids to the vintage wallpaper from Pam’s collection and Hannah’s Treasures.

Midcentury Dollhouse

The pattern I used to build my dollhouse — see my construction story here.

The dollhouse has become much more than a child’s toy — it is a work of art build with blood, sweat, tears, memories and the kindness of those who have donated their time, materials, skills, and enthusiastic words of encouragement during the five months that I’ve been building and decorating this house. Now without further delay, let’s take the tour!

Porch/Carport

midcentury dollhouseIn the plans for the dollhouse, this area of the house is supposed to be a carport, however I found some too-cute-to-pass-up patio furniture that needed a proper place in the dollhouse. Not to say that I couldn’t park a car in there if the right one made itself available, but I do like it as a patio space.

midcentury dollhouseYou’ll notice that I’ve added one more piece of patio furniture since I shared the furniture budget breakdown a few weeks ago. This little chaise lounge chair popped up in an ebay search recently and even though I was already $8 over my furniture budget for the house, the chaise perfectly match the rest of my vintage dollhouse patio furniture, making it irresistible. Oh and the patch of ‘grass’ the chaise it is sitting on? It is a few free sample squares indoor/outdoor carpet I found at Menards.

midcentury dollhouseAll of the original upholstery on the patio furniture pieces was in iffy shape, and I wanted all of the pieces to feel like a matched set, so I used some red and white dot fabric that was left over from the cafe curtains I made for my kitchen a few years back. I even made some tiny pillows for the bench. That potted plant in the background was made using a vintage brass dollhouse-sized crock that was my Mom’s from when she was a kid. The pink flamingo peeking out of that pot was something my Mom recently found at Michael’s  and sent my way.

midcentury dollhouseThe floor of the porch is a sample piece of vinyl flooring that I had laying around. It reminded me of those epoxy floor coating kits you can use to jazz up concrete floors.

Porch resource list:

  • Chairs and table set, vintage from ebay
  • Bench, vintage from local antique mall
  • Chaise lounge, vintage from ebay
  • Flooring, vinyl floor sample
  • Grass is indoor outdoor carpet sample from Menards
  • Brass potted plant, vintage from my collection with new plastic greenery
  • Flamingo, new from Michael’s courtesy of my Mom

The Kitchen

midcentury dollhouseI’ve already covered the kitchen in depth in these two posts:

But here’s another quick look:

midcentury dollhouseMy favorite parts of the kitchen are: (1) the flooring made out of several different colors of white and red VCT flooring samples, which I think I like more because of its imperfections… (2) those vintage yellow sparkle laminate countertops that are pretty much perfect for the space…

midcentury dollhouse… and (3) the drainboard kitchen sink and the cabinet knobs made out of thumbtacks. 

midcentury dollhouseI added a few more its and bits. For example, I made the cookie and tea kitchen canisters by cutting off a few scraps of dowel wood and painting them. Over time, I would love to add more small dishes, food items and perhaps a few tchotchkes for the shelves by the windows to the kitchen. Another goal — to find just the right fabric to make tiny cafe curtains for the window over the kitchen sink. 

Kitchen list of resources:

  • Flooring, various red and white samples of Azrock VCT flooring, cut into small pieces
  • Wallpaper, vintage from Hannah’s treasures
  • Cabinets, sink cabinet, sink and dishwasher are refurbished vintage from etsy, rest of cabinets are made from basswood and scrap pine with thumb tack handles
  • Countertops, Vintage formica sparkle yellow laminate from Pam’s stash and edged with silver decorator tape
  • Appliances, Stove and fridge are both vintage from ebay and etsy
  • Food items, Vintage from reader Janet
  • Pots, pans and other dishes, a combination of new, vintage from my collection and vintage from reader Janet
  • Cookie and tea canister and cook book, made from scrap wood dowels and pine
  • Phone and toaster, new from Michael’s craft store

Dining room

midcentury dollhouseThe dining room is mostly complete. All that is missing are a curtain for the picture window and possibly some sort of ceiling fixture, perhaps a UFO style pull-down light centered over the table?

midcentury dollhouseOne of my favorite new additions is the banjo clock that I made from a vintage pendant necklace and a sewing pin. Most of the wall art — including the framed painting, clock, doorbell chime and mirror — are all attached to the wall with Velcro, so they can be removed and rearranged as needed.

midcentury vintage dollhouseI love the little table setting!

midcentury dollhouseSince I wrote about the table setting from reader Janet and Mom, I found four navy blue vintage buttons that are curved upwards and resemble tiny bowls, so I added them to the table.

midcentury dollhouse

midcentury dollhouseI felt like the credenza needed something hanging over it so I made a tiny framed print using an art sticker of VanGogh’s Sunflowers, and framed it with the remaining walnut wood scraps.

Dining room list of resources:

  • Wallpaper, from Hannah’s Treasures
  • Flooring, cork from Pam’s stash
  • Rug, a scrap of upholstery fabric
  • Table, vintage Strombecker that was my Mom’s as a kid
  • Chairs, made with basswood and wooden dowel rods
  • Buffet, made from basswood and wooden dowel rods
  • Plates and cutlery, new from Hobby Lobby thanks to Mom
  • Glasses, rye bread, butter dish, vase, candles vintage from reader Janet
  • Bowls, vintage buttons
  • Placemats, scrap of upholstery fabric
  • Wall art, VanGogh Sunflowers sticker and scrap wood
  • Wall clock, vintage pendant necklace and a sewing pin
  • Built-in planter, scrap wood and plastic greenery

The Living Room

midcentury dollhouseThis is a split-level house: From the dining room, you walk up a small stairway to enter the living room. Note another built-in planter!

midcentury dollhouseThe living room is mostly complete, except for needing curtains, some coordinating throw pillows and maybe some painting for the walls that are still bare.

midcentury dollhouseFirst of all, let’s talk about the focal point of the room — the fireplace — which I tiled using two different kinds of vintage mosaic tiles that Pam found at World of Tile’s going out of business sale and nabbed specifically for this dollhouse project. She believes the orange tile is Venetian glass! The fireplace tiles provide some great texture for the room.

midcentury dollhouseThe logs are cut from a stick that came from my backyard.

midcentury dollhouseI love the gold starburst mirror — it is made from a pin that Pam found in her stash of vintage costumer jewelry. She saw its potential to transform into a starburst mirror and indeed, all I had to do was remove the pin back, glue on a small circular mirror and wrap the edges of the mirror in gold cording for a finished look.

midcentury dollhouseI took Robert of Electrachime’s suggestion to hang the doorbell chime on the wall half way up the stairs in the living room. Robert thought that this point would be a good spot to ‘install’ it so that it could be heard throughout the whole house. I agree!

A video of the dollhouse doorbell in action — be sure to watch til the end!

I love that the house has an actual working doorbell — mega thanks to Robert at Electrachime for creating the tiny doorbell chime and midcentury hi fi sound module especially for the dollhouse. You can see more of Robert’s work in these stories:

midcentury dollhouse

The original instructions for making a Betsy McCall DIY Dollhouse suggested using a ping pong ball on a string as a light fixture in the living room. I took that idea one step farther. Using an orange ping pong ball, glue and a few different colors of orange thread, I created a spaghetti-style light fixture, which attaches to the ceiling by a swagged chain supplied by Pam.

midcentury dollhouseThe trickiest part of making this lamp was figuring out how to attach the chain to the ceiling and the spaghetti light shade.

midcentury dollhouseI ended up using a gold button to attach the ‘wired’ end to the ceiling, then I made a wire hook out of picture hanging wire and fed it through a white button — for a more finished look — and glued it to the ceiling. Finally I attached the fixture to the chain with the gold half circle that I pried off of the starburst mirror flower pin prior to installing the mirror, to act as the connector to the shade.

midcentury dollhouseI had a novelty clock in the shape of a television set kicking around my house for several years, and I realized that by taking out the clock mechanism and replacing it with a clipping from a vintage magazine, I could create the perfect TV for the dollhouse!

midcentury dollhouseWhile I used my good camera to take most of the final dollhouse shots, I did use my phone to take a few shots from angles where it would be impossible to fit my full sized DLSR camera — like this view from the center of the room looking up the stairs into the first bedroom.

Living room list of resources:

  • Wallpaper, vintage from Pam’s collection
  • Flooring, cork from Pam’s collection
  • Rug, upholstery fabric sample
  • Tile for fireplace, mosaic tile from World of Tile, Pam’s collection
  • Sofa and chairs, vintage from Ebay, recovered with vintage upholstery fabric
  • Hi-fi and records and miniature doorbell chime, made courtesy of Electrachime
  • End table, made with leftover walnut wood sent by Electrachime
  • Hanging spaghetti light, made with: buttons, wire, chain, ping pong ball and sewing thread
  • Starburst mirror, made with vintage flower pendant from Pam’s collection, mini circle mirror and gold cord
  • Firewood, twigs from my back yard
  • TV, repurposed novelty clock

Child’s bedroom

midcentury dollhouseThe child’s bedroom is a fun and funky space. This is the first room that received window treatments, since I had a solid yellow linen fabric scrap that coordinated well with the gold wallpaper and the yellow in the furniture. I used a small dowel rod and some small metal rings — meant to be used for jewelry making — as the curtain rings. These curtains can open and close and are oh-so-cute!

midcentury dollhousemidcentury dollhouseI also made a matching yellow pillow for the vintage bed.

midcentury dollhouseThe lamp is made of beads and one of those coffee creamer containers that you sometimes see in restaurants. I bought it at a craft fair when I was a kid and it just so happens to be the right shade of green to work in this bedroom.

midcentury dollhouseA kid’s bedroom needs at least a few toys, right? Here we have the marionette and Captain America book sent by reader Janet along with a vintage ’57 Chevy miniature car toy donated by my Mom.

midcentury dollhouseIt would be nice to add a few more toys to this room over time and maybe a piece of art on the wall over the bed, but for the most part, this room is complete.

Child’s bedroom list of resources:

  • Wallpaper, vintage and newer grasscloth from Pam’s collection
  • Flooring, cork from Pam’s collection
  • Rug, upholstery fabric sample
  • Window treatment, made from scraps of yellow linen fabric, dowel rod and necklace clasp loops
  • Bed and dresser, vintage ‘Made in Germany’ from ebay
  • End table, made from painted scrap wood to match other furniture
  • Table lamp, from my childhood dollhouse accessories
  • Mini toy car, gift from my Mom
  • Marionette and Captain America book, from reader Janet

Bathroom

midcentury dollhouse

I’ve covered how the bathroom was constructed already in this post:

Still, it is always fun to take another look.

midcentury dollhouseI’ve only added two more things since you last saw the vintage pink dollhouse bathroom. The first is the roller shade — aka Holland (!) — window treatment. It doesn’t roll up and down, but I only glued the top, so you can flip it up to peek through the window. I made the shade from a piece of vintage, silky wide bias tape with two pieces of small pink rick rack glued onto it. Both sewing notions were from my Nana’s sewing stash.

midcentury dollhousemidcentury dollhouseThe other new item in the room is a bathroom fish wall plaque — made from a vintage pin that Pam sent from her collection.

midcentury dollhouse

midcentury dollhouse midcentury dollhouseI used my phone to take photos from a few different angles, like this overhead shot that shows off the vintage alabaster World of Tile flooring tiles.

midcentury dollhouseThe bathroom could still use a light fixture or two, and perhaps some accessories like a tissue box, toothbrushes, soap dish, etc. Otherwise the room feels ready for an itty bitty pink potty party to me.

Bathroom list of resources:

  • Floor and wall tile, vintage mosaic from World of Tile, Pam’s collection
  • Wallpaper, vintage from Pam’s collection
  • Tub, toilet and sink, vintage from etsy and ebay
  • Countertop, vintage wallpaper from Pam’s collection
  • Bathroom mirror, pocket mirror free from the dentist
  • Towel and bathmat, pink microfiber cloth
  • Towel bar and toilet paper with holder, made from wire, wood, dowel rod and white cotton fabric
  • Window treatment, made from vintage wide bias tape and vintage mini pink rick rack
  • Wall fish, vintage pin from Pam’s collection

Master Bedroom

midcentury dollhouseThe master bedroom feels quite a bit groovier than the rest of the house. Why? Well, I think the home was built in 1955 and fully decorated then, which explains the vintage kitchen and bathroom. However, as the 50s came to an end and the 60s stretched on, Mom wanted to do a little redecorating to show the family was “with it,” so she put up new, flower power metallic wallpaper in the master bedroom and added a few other groovy touches to the rest of the house — thus the orange spaghetti lamp in the living room.

midcentury dollhouseThe touches of gold on the window treatments, throw pillow and lampshades mirror the gold in the wallpaper pattern.

midcentury dollhouseThe Mr. of the house thinks that the bedroom is a bit over the top, but you know the saying, “happy wife, happy life,” so he wisely keeps his objections on the new decor to himself.

midcentury dollhouseThose matching bedside lamps are made from vintage buttons — one standard black button for the base and a wood toggle button for the lamp body — topped with a fabric covered shade.

midcentury dollhouse

There’s a framed photo of the happy couple on the nightstand! And yes, that is my husband Jim and me. I made the frame out of a broken vintage pin that was missing its stone, sent by Pam with the notion of using it to make a photo frame. The tiny photo is from a contact sheet of our engagement photos that I found as I was working on my journey with stuff. Oh, the timing.

Master bedroom list or resources:

  • Wallpaper, decorative paper from Paper Source
  • Flooring, cork from Pam’s collection
  • Bed and end tables, made from walnut scraps sent by Electrachime
  • Bedding, scrap orange fleece
  • Rug, upholstery fabric sample
  • Window curtains and decorative pillow, fabric sample sent from Pam, dowel rod and necklace fastener hoops
  • Lamps, wood buttons glued to plastic black buttons, topped with shades made using a pattern via Dollhouse Miniature Furniture Tutorials
  • Picture frame, broken vintage pin from Pam’s collection and mini photo of my husband Jim and I from the photo contact sheet of our engagement photos
  • Purse, perfume bottle and shoe box, vintage from reader Janet

midcentury dollhouseAs of this moment, I have only one resident for the dollhouse — the family dog — whom I affectionately call “Little Leo.”

midcentury dollhouseLittle Leo enjoys walking around the many rooms of the house, testing out all the furniture and sniffing the plants.

midcentury dollhouseHis favorite room — the one I find him hanging out in most often — is the kitchen.

I think this has something to do with all of the food he finds in there because just like his real-life counterpart, little Leo seems to have a thing for roast turkey dinners.

midcentury dollhouseWhat do you think about “Little Leo,” Leo?

Leo-handsome

Touché.

I now have my kitchen table back

midcentury dollhousemidcentury dollhouseI’ve had a few friends and family members over during the process of building the dollhouse — it was hard to miss as it has been living on my kitchen table for the last five months — and they always ask me the same thing: “Where are you going to put this giant dollhouse when it is done?” I’m not going to pretend I knew the answer to this question back when I started construction, but since I’ve been rearranging my stuff and making room in the house during my “tidying up” project I realized that the vintage Lane coffee table that belonged to my husband’s grandparents was the perfect size for the Betsy McCall Dollhouse. I carved out a corner in my guest room where the dollhouse can live and be enjoyed buy visitors without worry that it will meet the peril of an ‘earthquake/tornado’ caused by an overly waggy dog tail.

midcentury dollhouseWell that’s a wrap, folks! Thanks for sticking with me throughout five months of dollhouse building — and a special thanks goes out to everyone who contributed time and materials to the dollhouse — Pam, Electrachime, Hannah’s Treasures, reader Janet and my Mom. I couldn’t have done it without you guys!

See all the stories about building and furnishing the dollhouse here

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Comments

  1. René says

    What an inspired project for Retro Renovation! I’ve enjoyed these posts so much. I have my fingers crossed that this will not be the last dollhouse we see here.

    Congratulations on a job well done, Kate.

  2. Lisa says

    What fun! The house turned out absolutely fantastic! Kudos Kate, a job very well done. Although the ‘Lil Leo’ turkey dinner gag leads me to believe you may have fallen victim to glue fumes? LOL
    PS: What’s stored in the secret drawer beneath the living room? Hmmmm?

    • Kate says

      haha nope Lisa, I’m always like that. No fumes required. 😉

      So far there isn’t much in the drawer. Some stuff i’m gathering for future dollhouse projects and holiday decor. 🙂

  3. Heather says

    So much detail! Love it! My mom made me 2 dollhouses in my lifetime. One very basic from plywood that I could sit on. 70s carpet samples and wallpaper. Oh how I wish I still had that one!. The other one was in the late 80s and is a turn of the century farm house with all the details. Mom made the furniture too!

  4. Paul says

    Thank you for sharing the dollhouse! Kudos to you for all the time and detail it took to create this wonderful 3-dimensional time capsule. My favorites: The dining room set and the living room are incredible!!!

  5. says

    Kate, your Mid-Century dollhouse is absolutely adorable! What a creative spirit you have!! This project entailed a lot of hard work and the fruits of your labor will be enjoyed by many people on this website. You have been blessed with an abundance of talent, ideas and ingenuity. Your dollhouse is a dose of sunshine on a cloudy day!!

  6. Leslie says

    There are no words. This is phenomenal! I’ve been collecting miniatures my entire life and have been waiting for my ex to build my dollhouse kit since 1994. I finally bought a dollhouse at a resale, treasure mart store and put some of my things in it but have not yet started a remodel. So excited so finally see this and others like minded. Thank you so much for sharing this adventure !! 🙂

  7. Susan Sykes says

    Kate, I just spent two hours reading the blog and looking at every picture of your dollhouse. It is incredible! There is so much attention to detail. Congratulations on a job very well done!

  8. says

    This is the most amazing dollhouse I’ve ever seen, esp. since you made it youself. And I kind of think that’s how doll houses should be made!!

    But where is Betsy!? When I first saw the kitchen entry to Betsy’s house, I thought there’s no way she’s going to fit a kitchen in there! (This is Betsy’s house that I have http://www.rubylane.com/item/572910-777/Original-8×22-Betsy-McCall-Vinyl-Case).

    …I’ve got to get my hands on that pattern. I love Betsy and dollhouses and of course mid century. Though..I don’t know if I’d find the time to make it. Really amazing job!!!

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Miranda, the house Kate built is a Betsy McCall pattern, but it doesn’t fit the 8″ Betsy doll we had as kids. I think it is a regular one inch = one foot scale.

      I also had furniture for the 8″ Ginny doll which was interchangeable with the Betsy furniture. But I didn’t have a house for them.

      • says

        Thanks for clearing that up for me Mary Elizabeth! I noticed across the internet, no one who’d made the house had a Betsy in it. Kind of a bummer. But still an amazing dollhouse and what a treat to make.

  9. Page Kaviani says

    Your dollhouse is wonderful! I love your stories and accompanying photos! I have a dollhouse Santa brought me in 1968 via my daddy’s handiwork. It was made for my Liddle Kiddle. Luckily 1/12 scale furnishing fit. I am starting to work on it. You are a wonderful aspiration!

  10. Marie says

    I am ABSOLUTELY Gobsmaked with your talent, ingenuity and most of all patience!!! It’s simply extraordinary!!😃😃
    The kitchen is over the moon! My personal favorite is the joy little Leo is having exploring his new space…. Especially the kitchen!! You girls are just delightful… Thanks for always making my day and teaching me plenty in the process…

  11. rona dexler says

    This has become a huge inspiration for me! I have decided to make (from scratch) a 1:12 scale kitchen, and eventually a whole house…
    As a former interior designer, this should be a great and rewarding challenge. I will photo-document the progress to share.

  12. Brenda says

    Your dollhouse is beautiful! I actually had the same dollhouse growing up. My grandfather made it for my mother in 1950-whatever for Christmas. He was quite the craftsman! He re-did it for me for Christmas in 1972 or so, and then my mom and I re-did it for my cousin for Christmas in 1982. I did not have a dollhouse family. I had Dawn dolls in the early 1970s that were the right size. It’s now back in my mom’s possession and she keeps it under the window in my old bedroom where I used to play with it, perched atop an old coffee table. My kids, who are grown, played with it, and my niece and nephews did as well. It is truly an heirloom.
    The red and yellow checkered kitchen floor he made from tile from their kitchen at the time. He also made logs for the fireplace and made a piece or two of furniture. Most of the furniture I had and my cousins had was plastic replacements, but Hall’s out of Chattanooga made some nice pieces mid-century that would fit. They made many sizes of the same styles.
    He also made a great fireplace tool set from brass pieces and a fireplace log holder from pennies.
    Enjoy your treasure!!! I admire your work!

  13. Debo says

    I still have my Betsy McCall and she’s in a little wool sweater right now. You’ve put a lot of love into this little house. I envy your project. Have Fun!

  14. Susan says

    I have a Betsy McCall dollhouse that my dad built for me in the 50’s. It is way past time for some renovation and your story has inspired me to get going on it. I loved you ideas for furniture etc!

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