Local woman does a studs-up remodel of a vintage dollhouse
As a young child, Linda Wilcox and her parents lived in a tiny, two-bedroom apartment in Tarrytown, New York. Her father, a carpenter and cabinet maker, built their next home, working nights and weekends, with help from friends and using salvaged materials from old homes no longer in use. It took him three years to complete the Cape Cod-style bungalow in Chappaqua, where she and her younger sister grew up.
But it only took one year for Wilcox to build her own dream home, a 1950s-themed Colonial with kitchen, living room, primary bedroom and bath, girl’s bedroom, and a sewing room, all spread over three levels. Total cost, including flooring, appliances, wallpaper, paint, landscaping, furnishings, and accessories, was a mere $2,450.
Of course, her house is scaled at 1:12 — one foot equates to one inch — the most popular scale for dollhouses.
Wilcox, who is 79, says she didn’t have a dollhouse as a child; she preferred reading and riding her bike outdoors. Even so, this is not her first foray into the world of miniatures. “I got my first dollhouse in the ’70s, when I was in my twenties,” she recalls. “My grandmother and I were on a road trip through Vermont, went into a little toy store, and I was so intrigued by the dollhouses and miniatures.”
She bought a dollhouse kit, convinced her father to build it, and then she furnished it; her grandmother hand-sewed all the towels, bedspreads, curtains, and rugs. When Wilcox moved into a small apartment, she stored it in a shed in the yard. Arriving home from work one day, she found the lock cut off the shed door and the blanket that had covered the dollhouse on the ground.
“It was the only thing in the shed that was stolen. I hope whoever took it gave it a good home and valued it.”
It took nearly 50 years and a pandemic for Wilcox to pour her heart into another dollhouse. She had retired years before to Hendersonville and was living in her own home in a retirement community. Out of curiosity she frequently went on Craigslist and eBay perusing used dollhouses for sale, but ones in her price range and with the number of rooms she wanted were scarce. “I finally found one a gentleman in Georgia was selling that had been his aunt’s and [was] gathering dust in his attic. He warned me it was a mess, and he was right. But that’s what I wanted — I wanted to fix it up.”
The house arrived in April 2020, perfect timing for a pandemic project. Just like on HGTV, the first step was an interior gut. “I pretty much ripped out everything,” she says. “It had been electrified, and I didn’t want that. I took out the floors, the staircase. Other than the bones and some wallpaper, it was pretty much starting from scratch.”
She set up a workshop and got some tiny tools. “You don’t need a hammer and saw for a dollhouse renovation,” she says with a laugh. She sanded walls and floors, learned how to work a tiny miter to cut door and window frames, used an Exacto knife to slice flooring and wallpaper, painted interior walls with an artist’s brush, and used paint samples from her own home for the exterior and shutters. She had the most fun tracking down the tiny furnishings online, all of which are old and pre-loved. “I got so much stuff for the kitchen I couldn’t find room for it all, but I couldn’t stop.”
When the house was completed, she had fulfilled her vision to recreate something similar to the ’50s-era home she was raised in. That meant mama in the kitchen, father in the living room reading the paper, and a little girl with blonde braids in her attic bedroom with a dollhouse of her own. The finishing personal touches were gifts from her daughter-in-law. “She took and reduced photographs of things from my home and had them framed. The gold-framed photo on the landing is a replica of a painting of my family’s farmhouse in Chappaqua, the framed photo on the bedroom bureau is me at [age] three, and the double frame on the mantel is my parents in one and my mother and me on my Christening day in the other.”
Just like a real home, it requires ongoing TLC. “I was looking at it the other day,” says Wilcox, “and realized it really needs a good dusting.”
Linda Wilcox, Hendersonville, email@example.com.