An Adventure Begins
I confess I’ve only worked on one miniature house, a little bungalow for my granddaughter Ella built from a Real Good Toys kit. The house came in hundreds of wooden pieces and I relished putting all the parts together, painting them, staining shingles (after first cutting two corners on each for a beveled edge), running electrical tape, wiring up all the lights and gluing in wallpaper. There was Arts & Crafts colors and designs to explore and choose. Furniture to fit the style. With each activity, I learned a little more about what to do and what not to do.
As the little house for Ella came together, I wondered what the next project would be and began searching for a high-quality house to last several lifetimes. My research kept bringing me back to the Lawbre Company, known for their museum-quality houses. I paid $19.95 just to order their catalogue because the website didn’t have detailed info about their houses. Turns out the catalogue didn’t either, but it did contain basic info on the houses (some of which they no longer sell), and lots of architectural items to embellish the house, like crown moulding and ceramic tiles for floors, ceiling medallions, etc.
I’d go to bed with the catalogue on the nightstand and think about ordering a dollhouse, then immediately reject the idea because of the costs. Premium quality costs money and I’m frugal. Why was I even considering spending that kind of money on something that just sits and looks pretty? And takes up space? But I couldn’t get the little houses out of my mind, especially after choosing the French Country Manor model. I’d fall asleep thinking about how I’d decorate it, either aged from its 1770s origin, or polished and restored to its former glory. Then I’d wake up and declare myself insane for considering such an expensive hobby.
Over the months, I had little talks with myself. ‘I work hard for my money and I share what I have with others, families and charities, and if the miniature house would bring me hours of joys while painting and sawing crown moulding, then I should allow myself this pleasure.’ That’s how the reasoning went.
One day in August 2016, I picked up the phone and called to place the order for a miniature French Country Manor built at 1:12 scale, which means each inch of house represents a foot in real life.
Teri owns the company and is the craftswoman who builds the houses. She won’t ship the kit in pieces to be assembled by the buyer. No. Teri controls the quality by building the dollhouse shell, crating it and shipping it by semi truck. For a higher price, she will complete the exterior, interior and even electrify the house.
I opted for just the plain shell, the windows/door package with real glass and the trim package that includes stone for the front courtyard, quoins for the front exterior and pieces to complete the courtyard walls. The windows don’t really work, which is disappointing, but I had to have the real glass to keep with the standard of perpetuity.
Teri said it would take her six to eight months to complete the build because she was finishing up one house, in the middle of another and was also busy creating all the architectural features ordered by her customers. She would start on the Manor when I paid the 50% deposit, along with a $200 crating fee. That’s $200 just for her build a crate around the house when it’s completed. The final amount would be due when the Manor was ready for shipping. And she’d also tack on the shipping fee to the final invoice.
As she was working on the Manor, I cruised Pinterest for French Country furniture and decorating ideas, snipping photos and fabric samples then gluing them into a leather book, which was a very welcome gift from my friend Susan Iwata!
Teri told me to feel free to check in with her throughout the months, to see what progress she had made. I tried not to think about the manor, particularly about the money. I worked on Ella’s house by adding finishing touches like canisters in the kitchen and floral arrangements, more furniture won on ebay.
Then, in early January, I sent Teri an email asking if she had an ETA, and she said she was finishing up and could ship it in February. Brent would need to be home to receive the shipment, and he had planned a few hunting trips, so we found a string of days when he was expected home and set a date.
Teri sent an email when the semi truck drove away with the created Manor. After five days, the house arrived on a Tuesday. Afraid the large truck wouldn’t make it down our dirt road (and turns out the trucking company wouldn’t allow the driver to go onto a dirt road), my husband met the the truck at the Roadrunner Cafe in New River, off of I-17. They moved the large crate onto Brent’s trailer and he brought it home, handed me gloves and a pry bar and demonstrated how to disassemble a crate.
Inside was the house, of course, and inside the house were boxes with very carefully packed windows, doors, stairs and exterior trim pieces, all safe after their cross-country trip from Ohio. Opening those boxes and looking at the intricate, well-crafted trim pieces was as much fun as opening the crate.
It was finally here, and at an expense I’m embarrassed to share with others, especially Brent, my husband. And believe me, he’s asked about three times and I misdirect my jokingly saying, “You don’t really want to know.”
But I have plans for this little big house and figure it will take the rest of my life to complete, so no hurry. Just planning to enjoy the process of painting and adding trim, shingles, making furniture and decor in shabby chic style, laying tile flooring and running electricity, hanging working lighting fixtures!
The exterior is pomegranate-colored Behr’s Venetian plaster, applied with my finger as a trowel, going for the texture. Exterior trim is dark gray and the shingle will be dyed dark gray, too, to mimic slate. Inside, I have no idea yet what colors to use. But I’d like to make the kitchen look old with a stone wall and other features common to a 1740s French Manor. So many possibilities.
For now, I’ve placed painting tape on the glass in the windows and double french doors so I can paint the wood frames. A little bit done here, a little more the next day and soon, it will begin to look like a real little house!