Sunday, June 10, 2012

Big Renovation, 1/12th the Calories

If you're following this blog, you might have picked up on my interest in dollhouses.

I was completely obsessed with them since I was 4, and that only stopped in high school because I was playing the Sims(technically also dollhouses). On the one hand it's kind of a dork hobby, but meh. We're all dorks.

Sophomore year of college I decided that I had to find something creative to do in between stressing over my design courses, and ended up getting into sculpting mini fruit/food out of clay. A member of my family noticed, and gave me a dollhouse kit for Christmas. Didn't have time to build it, but over the course of 4 years-I made time.

It's so close to being finished I won't post photos yet, but here's one of it's future (also unfinished) inhabitants chilling on the balcony before I install the railings.

More on that later. (If you've visited the mini section of my Etsy shop, you already got a preview of the interior)

Right now I'd like to show you my next project, which I've just started and will keep you updated on as I go.

This beat up beauty is the Van Buren by Greenleaf.  It sat in my basement for a year before I managed to dig up that info. It's a discontinued kit(they re-released it in half-scale though), so I was having some trouble tracking it down.  Ended up finding a stock photo on Deviatart that looked just like it, and messaged the photographer to ask if he knew anything about it. Many thanks to Rodney Smith for helping me out. Nice guy, he didn't know much about the house in his photo, but he did know that it was around 30 years old and purchased at a store in the state, which narrowed my search enough to find out what model it was.

So how did I get the Van Buren? Someone was throwing it out and my brother picked it from the side of the road. He restores old furniture, but dollhouses weren't really worth his time. So he was going to resell it as is. After being lectured, by most of my family, that I wasn't allowed to buy it from him ("There's no room for it"), I got it as a Christmas present. (my family's weird/cool like that).

I've been dying to fix it up for almost two years now, but some stuff got in my way. Like time, money, and the fact that I had to scrub a layer of crud off of it first.

Here's the interior;


Here's the interior again after I lathered, scrubbed, rinsed, and then practically hosed it down;


I know the basics of restoring a dollhouse-Don't destroy what's already there. It couldn't be helped though. Between the dirt, hair(disturbing amount of that, btw), and pre-existing water damage there really wasn't anything to save-it was already destroyed. And it's got this old damp basement smell that I'm still working on getting rid of. I just had to get it clean. My philosophy regarding this house; It was practically land fill anyways, so everything I do is an improvement.

I was also given a box of things that were found in/with the house(Neat!, but also in need of cleaning);


The Good news-The bones of the house are pretty much ok. The house was sagging when I got it, but I took a good look at it-turns out it's got a crumbling foundation. <-Sounds bad, but balsa wood and some glue and she'll be good as new, if not better.

All of the acetate in the windows needs replacing(already tore some out), and the frames have some cracks/broken pieces, but it's all fixable.

Biggest problems are the missing balcony and upstairs exterior door. I have the door's mate, which I should be able to copy, and I've got the supports for the balcony-that's the tricky part. ...The roof is going to be a big mess, I'll probably just pull off the shingles and start over(if they don't fall off first).

So right now I'm broke and have no budget for this project, but between stuff I've collected and leftovers from building the last kit I'm hoping that I can make this an awesome dollhouse, and since it's already put together I'm hoping it won't take 4 years.


  1. I am very excited to find your blog! I have to same doll house. My grandparents got it for me at a garage sale when I was young and I enjoyed it for a long time. It sat in my mother's basement while I was in college and graduate school and I just bothered to bring it to my house a couple of weeks ago and I want to fix it up. It had all the doors and balcony when I was little, but they are now gone. I may attempt to fashion a balcony out of balsa wood if I can't figure anything else out. My roof was shaky, so I reglued everything today and replaced some shingles. I'm a little to excited about fixing it up - you would think I was 10 years old again.

    1. Hi, I'm so happy that you found my blog! I tried finding photos of what other people have done with this dollhouse model, but there weren't many online. So I decided to post this project. And you found it-I'm glad. Clearly there is something wrong with the balconies, they're all falling off. XD I haven't gotten to that part though. I'm still pulling out the parts that need to be replaced/fixed. I'll probably end up rebuilding one with balsa wood too.

  2. So glad I found your blog! I too have the same dollhouse. I purchased it back in 1980 for a whopping $20.00! Hey, that's a lot of money to a starving college student. Fast forward 30+years, the kids have grown and gone and it's time to get the old Van Buren out of the basement. It's still not all put together but I'm working on it.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Awesome, another person with a Van Buren. ^_^ And I get the trying to work on a dollhouse while broke thing. It's what I do. XD

      Glad you found your way to my blog, I was hoping that posting my Van Buren would help a few collectors. The blog itself is on a brief hiatus while I work on some offline things, and the Van Buren...well I'm working on that too, slowly, but surely. (I feel like all dollhouse people work on their houses like this) Just wanted to respond to your comment to say, Thanks :) , and to let you know I will be posting more on this project as soon as I can. :D

  3. I have the exact doll house. My grandparents gave it to me for Christmas years ago. Mine is still in pretty good shape.. I guess from age the chimneys have fallen off and the upstairs railing is warp from being in the article for years.. any suggestions on how to fix this and also where Can I find new shingles?

    1. Hello, I always think it's neat when somebody else pops in saying that they have one of these dollhouses.^_^ Even knowing that the model is a Van Buren, I still don't cross paths with them often because they are pre-internet. Unfortunately, my little house here has been shoved to the corner of the basement for a few years, so no progress in a while, but I am hoping that changes soon.

      For shingles, I would check out any kind of dollhouse or miniatures supply website - Unless you happen to have a hobby store nearby, then try there first (help keep those places open)You might even be able to make your own out of cardboard or something - For my house I was thinking about using strips of cardboard and making it look like a new steel roof.

      Not sure what to do about the warping since I can't see it for myself, but I'm guessing heat from being in the attic caused it the wood to dry out and warp. In that case maybe there's a way to heat up or steam the railing and then very carefully bend it back, weight it down for a while, or clamp it down until it's reshaped. <- Again though, I don't know what the situation is, so I couldn't really tell you what to do. And you might wind up cracking the wood, so be careful.