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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.

miniature

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. KimberJ says:

    I’m in love!!! We have that exact stereo console in our basement. We just had the electronics refurbished (with vintage components). then at Thanksgiving we held a full on 60’s cocktail hour before dinner in the basement bar listening to oldies from Frank Sinatra to Led Zeppelin!

  2. midmichigan says:

    That’s really cool. I might have to get one to place on the real thing in our dining room. It’s a Zenith X960 called “The Lund”. Top of the line in 1967 and it still sounds beautiful today.

  3. SusieO says:

    I have that exact Zenith hi-fi, and it’s one of my prized possessions! I want the miniature version, too!

    Mine’s in my living room close to fireplace, and I use it all the time.

    1. Scott says:

      Ditto and ditto!

      Once again Kate you’ve really outdone yourself!

      Might I suggest a brass pulldown saucer over the hi-fi, just like my Gran had next to hers? It may sound whacky (or even a bit kitchen-y) but trust me they go together like ducks and water. 🙂

  4. Jay says:

    Thankyou Mr. Electra Chime for that great addition to the dollhouse. I vote for the living room. In real life these HiFis and credenzas always look best on a long wall to show them off to their advantage. Now you need a pole lamp or hanginging fixture next to it. The legs on the HiFi are just like the ones that were on my parents 1st color TV console from 69. Kate, did I miss where you are going to place the long bell chimes or do you plan to keep them as a brooch/pin?

    1. Kate says:

      I haven’t yet decided on where the chime will go Jay. Most likely in the dining room or living room. I’m waiting until I have all the furniture figured out for those spaces before I figure out what goes on the walls.

  5. Electrachime says:

    In the fifties and early sixties tubular doorbells were just as often installed on flat walls as regularly as in niches. In fact, the catalog picture for the Rittenhouse Lyric shows a wallpapered plain wall installation.

    Retro fitting a niche to a built house (or dollhouse) can be a substantial endeavor best reserved for a major remodel.

    I’d like to see the dollhouse door chime hanging on the narrow wall to the left of the fireplace where it would be heard upstairs and down.

  6. Jay says:

    My thoughts exactly! When you first proposed contributing door chimes I started thing about a space where they could be hung where they would be visable front-on and have their own space.

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