Vintage dollhouse experts: I need your advice — 3 questions

vintage-dollhouse-2All this week, I have been overcome by an all-new mania: Miniature madness. To guide the remodel and decorating of this vintage dollhouse that I bought at a Lenox estate sale about a month ago, I launched my research in earnest this week. And in a flash, I was absolutely sucked into a whole new, wild and wonderful world! Like, seriously, I could not eat or sleep or do barely anything but search and research about the furnishings that can go into vintage dollhouses. I’m having So Much Fun, and I want to plow forward — but I have three important questions for seriously experienced dollhouse people. Can you help me?

Here are my questions, and Photo Viewing Tip: Click on any photo and it should double in size on your screen… click on right or left of photos and they *should* run forward or back like a slide show (gets quirky, though)… escape of clock outside photo to get back to story:

1. What kind/pattern of vintage dollhouse do I have — or at least, what era is it from??

vintage-dollhouse-11Of course, number #1 is: Does anyone recognize my dollhouse? I have done a fair amount of searching online and come up stymied. There were many plans out there for gramps or dad to make dollhouses. Perhaps it came from an A. Neely Hall Craft Pattern? … Does anyone recognize the designer/plan company?

UPDATE: I dug in online and *thought* I found it — an A. Neely Hall from 1937 — an early design, published in Science and Mechanics Magazine. It’s the Colonial Dollhouse — and the floor plan for the lower floor looks similar…. but not quite. In addition, my house is a Garrison Colonial (looking at the front of the house, the second story protrudes over the first story a bit.) Okay, so mine is not an A. Neely Hall Colonial — but, I really think mine is an A. Neely hall design. See the Cape Cod here — it is the same height, and the windows and doors seem to be in a similar scale to those in my house. Also fascinating: A 1905 book, The Boy Craftsman, by A. Neely Hall, digitized by the Gutenberg Project. Now I also need to research the seemingly prolific work of A. Neely Hall. Here’s betting that he and Royal Barry Wills were buddies!

It’s a pretty large dollhouse:

  • 28.5″ wide by 18.5″ deep by 21″ tall (to the peak of the roofline, the chimney goes higher.)
  • The roof is removable.
  • The doors are all 6″ tall[doors themselves, trim not included]
  • The downstairs ceilings are 8.5″.
  • The windows are 4.25″ tall [glass surrounded by mullion-trim, but not exterior trim]
  • The first riser is 1 inch tall, including the step.
  • The rest of the risers are 1/3″ tall, including the landing step.
  • The paint looks original, and pretty old.
  • The “wallpapers” in the kitchen and bedroom are fabric, a small pattern calico. Looks pretty old to me.
  • The “carpet” looks like wool cloth. Looks pretty old to me.
  • All the moldings are pretty darn chunky.

Here are some more photos for reference:

vintage-dollhouse-3 - Copyvintage-dollhouse-181930s-dollhouse-161930s-dollhouse-1What do you think? Any flashbulbs of recognition on plan- or pattern-designer? Or, era? And I will guess 1930s or 1940s — see more about my reasoning in #2. I will say: This dollhouse is beautifully constructed!

2. What scale is my dollhouse??

Second question: What scale is my dollhouse? I’ve read up on the subject a bit… the doors are all six inches tall, but, the house has a “big” feel. It also came with some furniture — including what I’ve learned is “Grand Rapids” style furniture — which looks pretty darned old — and which looks pretty darned good, scale-wise, in the dollhouse. The downstairs fireplace, which is glued to heck on the wall, also seems quite large (and looks great with the Grand Rapids dollhouse furniture sitting next to it.) On the other hand, the dollhouse also came with 1:12 pieces, including from Shackman. These look… dinky inside the dollhouse. All of this leads me to believe the dollhouse is not only from the 1930s or 1940s, but that it was built in a Grand Rapids size, more 1:10 than 1:12. What do you think, dollhouse experts????

Here are some photos for reference:

The larger scale furniture — including what I believe are several Grand Rapids dollhouse furniture pieces — that came with the dollhouse.


And... the smaller scale furniture -- no question, 1:12 -- that came with the dollhouse.
And… the smaller scale furniture — no question, 1:12 — that came with the dollhouse.

3. Is it a dollhouse decorating mortal sin for me to make changes to what appears to be an original finish vintage dollhouse?

I am, at heart, a preservationist. Of homes, for sure. But what’s the righteous approach with vintage dollhouses?

  • Is it a dollhouse decorating mortal sin if I wallpaper the currently painted walls? Note: I plan to keep all the trim in the original paint.
  • Is it okay for me to paper over the fabric walls?
  • And the floors: Okay if I replace or cover over them (I’ll seek out vintage)?
  • I have no desire to change the exterior paint — I love patina. But the interior: You know me, I am the world’s largest fan of vintage wallpaper and would love to add those design layers.
Artsy fartsy spider webs. For a split second I thought about preserving them. But then, I vacuumed.
The wallpaper in the kitchen is actually fabric — calico, I think. I will likely keep it.
I’m not so keen on the fabric wallpaper in the bedroom, but I will likely keep it for a while, at the least, to ponder. The carpet is a woven fabric, pretty blah, it does not make my heart sing.
The paint on the interior walls has nice patina but… I like pattern. If I use wallpaper paste (not glue) to add wallpaper, the original paint underneath could always be restored — right?

Why are dollhouses so much fun? I get to decorate an entire house! I can choose any style. Smaller is faster and cheaper (well, not always!) than bigger. This is so much fun!

All together now, these are my three questions about my already beloved vintage dollhouse:

  • What kind of vintage dollhouse do I have — or at least, what era is it from??
  • What scale is the dollhouse?
  • Is it a dollhouse decorating mortal sin for me to make changes to what appears to be an original finish dollhouse?
  • Okay and now I will also be greedy: What are your recommendations on the best websites and resources to learn more and engage with vintage dollhouses? THANK YOU!

Help! What do you think, dollhouse experts — and dear readers, you, too?!

Follow my complete series about restoring my circa-1940 Neely-Hall dollhouse

Categoriespostwar culture
  1. Angela Rivers says:

    Looking at the home I also would say it was a 1940s dollhouse. However it man be made later, like the mid 1950s. The construction and detailing reminds me of a German or Scandinavian style. Also the larger doll furniture also appears to be original to the set. The detailing and the way they are shaped and cut are similar to the way the house was built.

  2. Jacqueline Lee says:

    What is a forum open to Newbies that is active so I can learn? Also, is there a place to sell my 1978 big dollhouse? It was put together & I removed the flaking wallpaper. That was all that was done with it.

  3. Vivian says:

    Yes, it is a mortal sin to make changes to such a rare find. Older doll houses almost never come is such good shape and especially w/ their furniture. I would encourage you to leave it as is..I used to work in a museum as the registrar and I promise, you are doing the future a favor by preserving it-not “restoring” it. That said, she’s your dollhouse and I hope you enjoy it…and if that means redecorating..well, that’s what we all do best;)

  4. Jan says:

    Good questions! I’m not really an expert, just have loved and collected toys off and on all my life. Question 1 – This house looks (“feels”) a lot like the house my mother had around 1940. So I’d say you guess of 1930s-1940s is likely correct. Question 2 – As far as scale, I don’t think houses of that era really had a standard scale. I could be wrong, but the doors being 6″ tall would be about 1″-1′ scale, but the house itself looks larger. Not a real answer, huh? Question 3 – A sin. Hmmm…I think that’s in the eye of the collector/owner/antiques dealer. An antiques dealer would probably cringe at changing the original finish, much like it devalues, say, furniture by refinishing it. A collector of high-end items would also cringe because they wouldn’t want it in a re-done state, but a collector of only used toys might not mind, as a child who once owned it might have repainted, repapered, etc., as the home’s little designer. And you, as owner, well – I say it’s your house and you should do whatever feels right! I love the color combination it has currently, but others, including you, Pam, might not! I say go for it!

  5. KAte H says:

    We used fabric as wallpaper in my dolls’ house, too. We glued it to music comp paper (that nice thick cream kind) which we had cut to size. Once it was dry, we put glue on the back of the paper and slid it in and pressed it to the walls. That was about 35 years ago and it still looks good.

    For floors, we did something similar — we shaved off the edges of a bookshelf shelf, varnished them, and then glued them to already sized pieces of manuscript paper. Then we just slid them in. They are semi-removable in that they are just placed in (like floating floors) but you can’t really tell that once they are in.

    We used velvet and other thick fabric for carpet. Many rugs are either fabric mouse pads or bookmarks.

    Curtains and clothes were best made from either lady’s handkerchiefs or silk — something with a really fine weave.

    Have fun!

  6. Kathy says:

    That larger scale furniture looks real 1940s to me too. I like the sofa and chair with the contrasting piping just as they are!

  7. Kathy says:

    I too thought late 30’s to 40s when I saw the color combos and details. I don’t think it is perfectly to scale–the door surround and windows seem rather large in relation to the ceiling height, and I doubt that steps in most dollhouses were ever done totally to scale. I think the rooms are about 1:12 scale and the fittings about 1:10, so 1:11 is the perfect compromise.

    The shutters mounted as if they were operable (on the casing and tight to the sash) perhaps date it to around 1940 or earlier. Purely decorative shutters came onto the market after WWII, although I’m not sure of the exact date, perhaps around 1950, and are usually mounted outside of the casing. Narrow baseboards came after WWII, although of course the narrow baseboards may be just convenience to cut all the trim to the same width.

    The rooster cut out on the chimney is charming, and the sort of “cute” thing seen on Cotwold cottage homes of the period, usually with the chimney placed next to the front door. Silouettes and cute animal cut-outs are very 1940s. The Garrison colonial style became popular starting in the mid-1930s. The crossbuck door started to appear in the late 1920s and was really popular in the 40s and 50s, and survived into the 70s. Rounded steps with a small stoop is also a 1930s-50s detail.

    Window header trim went out after WWII, as did narrow vertical window proportions. Placing upper floor windows so tight to the roofline also came on the scene in the 1930’s to 40s and lasted until at least the 1970s, although you do see it in earlier vernacular houses. The stairs newel post is a chunky version of a style that had been popular for a long time. I’ve seen quite a few simple brick fireplaces with similar proportions from that period too.

    Putting all these clues together point to right around 1940 I think, give or take.

    I love the wood hinges. What a nice touch of craftsmanship. Perhaps it was due to frugality, lack of materials or just a challenge for the builder to make.

    Have fun decorating, and I wouldn’t feel too bad about redoing some of the décor, but I would keep the 40s flair.

    1. pam kueber says:

      Thank you, Kathy!!!!! I really appreciate your sharing knowledge, it’s like archaeology (sp?) I need to take and add a photo: On the narrow side opposite the chimney side, there is another cut-out, a half-round window vent near the peak of the roof!

      Thank you!! I most definitely am planning on keeping with the 1940s style. I think I will use vintage wallpaper in the rooms that have none — I will try real wallpaper adhesive and if it sticks, that means the original pant walls are still underneath and could be restored. I also wwill keep the original flooring — but probably just put stuff over it (no adhesives on the wool carpet.) I don’t plan to touch any of the original paint on the exterior.

      So, with that minor refurbishment, I will be quick as a wink focused on decorating!

  8. Mary says:

    Pam – have you thought about sending photos to a museum to get your house authenticated? I live in Rochester, NY and we have The Museum of Play, which has a massive collection of dolls/doll houses and I know they might be able to help.

  9. Laurie Louise says:

    You had me at little tiny teddy bear…Seriously, I know next to nothing about doll houses, but am glad you’ve discovered a new passion. Can’t wait for the posts!

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