Ding dong, dollhouse! A working doorbell — and tiny hi fi to hide the sound module

miniature vintage furnituredollhouse furniture retroRobert Dobrin, self-titled Chief Ding Dong at ElectraChime, has outdone us all this time — he has built a mini chime doorbell for my in-progress DIY 1955 Betsy McCall dollhouse. But where to hide the miniature ding-dong electronics? Robert also built a miniature stereo console — the cutest one you’ve ever seen! 

besty mccall dollhouse

We know Robert as the meticulous creator of long chime doorbell reproductions and original designs. As it turns out, he also has a fondness for miniatures. He’s made mini chime doorbells before, but he had never attempted to make dollhouse furniture. Holey moley — this sounded like it was going to be so cool!

A working doorbell system for the Betsy McCall dollhouse

Robert chronicled the project at every step. He writes:

Kate’s DIY Betsy McCall dollhouse project stirred my life-long love for miniatures. Since doorbells are pretty much my life, I anxiously volunteered to supply a miniature long bell door chime. A quick email exchange with the Dollhouse Owner/Builder (aka Kate) provided the green light so long as I didn’t spend too much on the project.

#1 — Make a miniature Rittenhouse Lyric doorbell

Trusting my own instinct I modeled the door chime itself after a popular 1950s model from Rittenhouse known as the Lyric. The Lyric, was originally designed by famed industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes.

dollhouse furniture retro

The musical note badge came out of a scrap-booker’s bottle of glitter.

mini-chime-doorbelldollhouse doorbell

The dollhouse door chime in one inch scale is a a little over three and one half inches tall compared to almost four feet for the real thing.


While the scale chime provides the necessary sculptural element for the wall, it’s entirely lacking in the ding-dong department. So even if we could miniaturize the mechanism to strike the bells, the three inch bells would produce a note so high it wouldn’t even summon tinkerbell, much less the real and make believe people who will actually inhabit the dollhouse.

So what’s a doorbell guy to do? The dollhouse’s button could be hooked up to a real doorbell, but that would only confound the family dog who wouldn’t know whether to bark at door or the dollhouse. The answer is: a recorded doorbell. By way of disclosure, I generally find the use of electronics for doorbells an abomination. As far as I am concerned, proper doorbells derive their call from striking real metal bells. However since the ding-dong was sampled from an actual ElectraChime long chime doorbell, I will let practicality rule the day.

I was going to upcycle a recordable greeting card I had lying around, but it sounded truly terrible and lacked a proper button.  Instead, I found this ten second recordable sound module on ebay for just under $2.00 which included batteries and shipping:

midcentury dollhouse furniture

#2 — A reproduction Packard stereo console to hide the sound module

While waiting for the sound module, I wrapped my head around housing the electronics. The original strategy was to put the electronics under the house. Then inspiration hit me upside the head — why not hide the module in plain view inside a handsome mid-century Hi Fi console?! Another brief exchange with Kate, who was now acting as the Decorator-in-Chief, assured me a Hi Fi would have a place in her dollhouse extraordinaire.

retro hi fi cabinet retro hi fi cabinetAbove two photos of vintage Zenith Hi-Fi stereo cabinet courtesy of Ebay seller mbolzies.

We settled on one modeled after the Hi Fi I grew up with.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

The first step was to mill some furniture grade dollhouse lumber. I used my table saw to rip a scrap piece of straight grained North American Black Walnut into some thin 1/8 inch thick boards for the cabinet, some 7/64 x 1/8 pieces for the legs and some 3/32 inch thick boards for the louvers.  If you don’t have access to a table saw, you can find what you need by searching “scroll saw lumber” on eBay.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

The next step was to cut some tiny rabbets to join the sides of the cabinet and a wider rabbet for the reveal on the front of the Hi Fi. The reveal was critical to keep the look of the cabinet in scale, and to provide a gluing surface for the louvers.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

These tiny bar clamps came in handy. I knew there was a reason I picked them up at some garage sale years ago.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

For the legs and undercarriage, I used an old modelers technique that uses pins as clamps through wax paper on top of cardboard.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

I used a similar tack-tic (pun and misspelling intended) to glue the thin brass tubing to the carved head of the door chime. Those are coffee stir stick spacers.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

dollhouse furniture retro

dollhouse furniture retro

I’m not going to lie to you, attaching the side louvers to the cabinet was tedious. The fixed center slats are two joined pieces of the same walnut as the cabinet sides. I etched vertical grooves and blackened the lines with a pen. Here’s the cabinet ready for finishing.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

Now for one of the more rewarding tasks: finishing. Here the HiFi console gets the first of three coats of satin urethane varnish.

midcentury dollhouse furniture

#3 — Finish the sound module for the ding dong recording

Onto the electronics. The speaker that came with the sound module was a bit big and didn’t sound so hot. So I harvested the one inch speaker that used to be the speaker-phone from an old cordless phone. The speaker on the left came with the sound module. The speaker in the center is the one I used. It’s still not iMax quality sound, but it’s a whole lot better than where we started.

midcentury dollhouse furnituredollhouse furniture retro

I soldered the new speaker leads to the module and added longer leads for the push button that will become the doorbell button. Speaking of speakers, I found that putting the speaker behind a one inch tube really amplified the sound. You can see the tube inside the cabinet on the left. The sound module is held in place with a bit of hook and loop fastener that allows for battery replacement.

#4 — Finishing touches aka These (teeny tiny) Boots are Made for Walking!

dollhouse furniture retrodollhouse furniture retro


And here you have it. For grins, giggles and easier identification of this unit as a Hi Fi, I put a few swell records on top of the cabinet. Next time we’ll make an actual hood that opens to reveal the turntable.

I am in awe — those itty bitty records were a perfect final touch — you did a fantastic job, Robert!

Robert even sent along the leftover walnut wood scraps from building the Hi-Fi for me to use to make some of the other dollhouse furniture needed. Double thanks!

dollhouse furniture retro
Above: Hi-Fi sitting out in front of the dollhouse.

Where should I put the Hi-Fi?

besty mccall dollhouseNow I have to decide which of the two locations will be the future home of this amazing Hi-Fi doorbell cabinet:

dollhouse furniture retroEither a) the far right wall in the living room (shown above) or…

dollhouse furniture retro dollhouse furniture retro

b) the far right wall in the dining room (shown above).

Where should the hi fi go, readers?

Golly, anyone with a dollhouse is certainly going to want one of these. I asked Robert if he thought he might eventually offer these for sale on his website — since he did such a fantastic job and really seemed to enjoy the project. He replied:

I’m not sure I have the inclination to get into the dollhouse furniture business, although I’d certainly change my mind in the face of overwhelming demand. I could make a more detailed sketch for download if anybody wanted to duplicate the project.

Kate-Builds-a-DIY-DollhouseMega, mega thanks goes out to Robert for building such an amazing miniature doorbell system for the 1955 Betsy McCall Dollhouse project!

You can follow all the stories about
building and decorating my
1955 Betsy McCall dollhouse by clicking here.

Categoriespostwar culture
  1. Jean M Quintana says:

    Is this doll house to regular doll house scale, or it to scale for an 8″ tiny Betsy McCall doll? It looks like the regular doll house scale to me.

  2. Miriam says:

    This is wonderful! Miniatures are so addictive but the Betsy McCall dollhouse in progress is really impressive!

  3. Toni says:

    Wow!!!!! Amazing stereo! And that doorbell is to die for!!! The sound is fabulous, and the chime unit itself looks so real! I’m loving this whole house redo!!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Ang says:

    I almost fell over when I saw the mini stereo model.
    I have the “original size” version in my swinging, sunken, sixties, living room. The model looks exactly like it. Great job!

  5. Joyce Wagner says:

    Oh my goodness – this is the most awesome thing ever! My husband is working on my Betsy McCall dollhouse right now and I would love to have one of these for the house, as I plan to decorate it all in Mid Century Modern decor. If I can’t buy one, I would love the plans to download for the husband to make.

    Also, Robert may be surprised how many people would love to buy one of these (price pending of course). I belong to a Lundby DH FB Group and we have over 600 members and I’m sure many would love a doorbell like this!

    1. Joy Haddow-Allen, London. says:

      I, too, am in the Lundby collectors` groups that Joyce (above) is in. I would absolutely love to have the works of this doorbell, or perhaps more than one, but would rather make or adapt my own cabinet. I can do a little electrical work and think I could probably assemble the components if I had them! I think I could make the visible part of the bell. I am in England and would love to either buy the parts from you (that would help so much!) or at least have a little more help with what to get and how to do the job. A tiny push-button, for instance? Thank you.

      1. ElectraChime says:

        Just saw this or I would have responded much sooner. Search recordable greeting card on ebay and you’ll find the works you need. A suitable button is included. Good luck

  6. Mary W. says:

    When I grew up, the stereo cabinet was in the dining room, and doubled as a server. The giant tv cabinet was in the living room!

  7. Linda Hansen says:

    Oops, forgot to say living room for the placement.
    Our record player was always in the living room.
    Sound will travel though out the house.

Comments are closed.