Friday, December 4, 2009

Converting a Greenleaf dollhouse kit into a fantasy "Mouse House"

I have nearly completed a fantasy Mouse House from a converted 1:12 scale Greenleaf dollhouse kit, specifically the Arthur Cottage. This is for my mom's Christmas present this year and I'm just tickled with how it turned out!

I know that many warn against purchasing these type of kits, especially older versions that float around online auction sites. Yes they are often very confusing to put together with pages of directions. They do need to be ‘popped out’ from their perforated sheets and then sanded. There are splinters and cracking and warping. The wood is usually very thin. The doors and windows are not quite to scale… hmm. So why did I choose a Greenleaf to work with on this project? First, the kits are cute and readily available. Second, they are fairly inexpensive and so I don’t mind chopping them up and making my own alterations. I would be reluctant to do that with a pricey ‘furniture quality’ dollhouse. Third, because these kits are composed of thinner wood, they are very easy to alter. Below are product pics of Greenleaf's Arthur Cottage.
How did I make the kit stronger and more durable? The most important point to prevent the structure from leaning and eventually collapsing is to base it on a solid surface and seal all joints. For the base, I chose a thin highly compressed chip board often used in painting classes. This product does not warp and is pretty inexpensive and easy to cut. After I built the basic walls, floors, and roof of the cottage, it was glued down and weighted. I then used a variety of materials to strengthen it and give it the texture I wanted.

My mouse family lives in a meadow and so their home is composed of moss, twigs, rocks, vines, and mud spackle. This allows for a very organic and highly textured look using inexpensive materials and freely found natural supplies from my walks around the lake. I made hundreds of paperclay rocks to cover the exterior sides of the home, giving it the appearance that it was built from fieldstones. I then mixed my own spackle from craft glue, gesso, acrylic paint and layered this all over the ‘stone’ surface. This was then sealed with a glaze and painted with dry brushing and inking techniques.

From this point, I added sticks along the roof and on the exterior of the cottage. I focused on the joints at corners, windows, under the eaves, and along the base. I built flower beds and a porch and then layered bark and moss on the roof and along the front walkway.

In the interior, I layered the floors with peel and stick linoleum floor tiles, cut to the room’s shapes. This is a very inexpensive product, often under a $1 per foot, and it comes in a delightful range of colors and textures. With the mouse house, I was not concerned about the color, just that it further secured the structure and gave added thickness to the floor boards. I then attached balsa strips along interior surface edges, giving it a clean finished look and covering any gaps. The entire interior, including the ceilings and the floors were then covered with my spackle mixture in two layers. This was followed by two heavy glaze layers and then painted with acrylics and inks. Although the house is small, it is heavy and very sturdy!

The Furnishings! The kit was in 1:12 scale but since it is a fantasy piece for mice, I am making it true to life scale and so mix actual items like acorns and life sized mushrooms and flowers with 1:12 scale dollhouse furniture. A lot of furniture and accessories I made specifically for this project:
Above is the Kitchen pantry hutch with a set of my handmade mushroom dishes.

Above is my OOAK orange mushroom and twig table and chair set.

Above is the wash tub I put together from odds n ends. The bubbles are actually oxidized gorilla glue! I found this works well for foam and can have ink and sparkles mixed in while wet for added effect.

Fantasy Miniatures by Etsy Artist FairyFurnishings!
I've also been collecting many artist items for the Mouse House and will be featuring these in a future article. Today, I'd like to showcase FairyFurnishings very cute fairy toilet set! Made from natural wood bits, the potty has a flip top seat with sparkles inside (what has that fairy been eating?) and just the sweetest little toilet paper dispenser on a twig. She is an extremely creative new artist on Etsy and a member of TeamMIDS! I've also gotten a fairy mailbox too ;) Her shop is at

Above is the fairy bathroom set within the house.

Above is FairyFurnishings' mailbox, stuffed with letters and little flowers.

Additional Links:
Greenleaf Dollhouses

Greenleaf provides detailed photos, online support for kit construction questions, and a forum for discussion among collectors. I actually had so much fun building this house that I have since bought 3 more kits for future projects!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vintage Petite Princess by Ideal: Plastic and Modernism in Miniatures

I stumbled across treasure...
I began buying various lines of older dollhouse furniture, ranging from the 30’s through the 80’s, while working night shift at a hotel in 2006. It was addictive and I ended up with boxes and drawers full! I wasn’t sure what they were actually worth or the history behind specific companies but in the end, I did get quite a few deals. Upon seeing the glow in my mother’s eyes and a few other women in that generation as they gazed on my little treasures, I realized I had something special. My mom would say “Oh I had one just like that” or “I always wanted one of those”. In a way it was heartbreaking that I had found by chance what she as a child had dearly dreamed of but never been given.

My intention originally was to artistically alter these into gothic and fantasy works. I was tired of the same old 1:12 scale kits China has been pumping out and was not yet ready at the time to buy a saw and make furniture from scratch either. Reusing vintage pieces seemed like the best idea. However, after researching the history of many of these unexpected gems, I just couldn‘t chop them up. Yes, I liken my approach to a ’chop shop’, get a basic old frame and build a wonderful new marvel! I decided to put the best pieces up on eBay for collectors and donate the rest to a children’s bookstore..

This was the right thing to do. One collector wrote in her Dollhouse Blog,
“Missing the umbrella from the Plasco Little Homemaker garden set from the late 1940s? Wait and one will turn up on eBay. When placed with its pole into the patio table's hole, the resulting set looks as if it had never suffered the indignity of parts having been misplaced. While Tomy items are still plentiful and inexpensive, the pioneers of plastic – Renwal, Ideal and Reliable from the late 1940s and early 1950s are becoming more costly and, if a more unusual pieces such as a sewing machine or carousel, more difficult to locate. That, of course, only serves to whet one’s appetite.”

I didn’t make a mint on my auctions, but felt good because these little finds are worth something emotionally to many collectors. I also don’t plan to purchase any more of these lines but consider the experience a lesson in a very important point of dollhouse history: how radically new styles and materials can swoop onto the scene! One question in my mind remains: These widely distributed plastic brands brought modernism into miniatures in a big way. However, today it is only a small number of artisans and collectors who focus on what is perceived as ’modern’, either in the retro or current fashions. Why didn’t a larger interest in modernism continue in the dollhouse community?

The Dawn of Plastic:
I found that the brightly colored plastic pieces of furniture I have came into popularity in the 1940’s. This decade proved to be a watershed for dollhouses and actual real life furnishings because of the introduction of new easily produced materials such as plastic. In the 1950’s the post war economic boom in North America only increased the popularity of dollhouse products. Brightly colored sturdy steel homes became common and their hard plastic accessories could be intricately detailed. However, the very ease with which molded plastic could be made in factories also spelt the end of individual variations as manufacturing throughout the first half of the 20th century often fell into repetitive forms. Even so, many 1900 to 1950 miniatures had aspects of hand finishing and variations in color. Now pigment could be controlled at the time of molding and medium blue, strong blue, pink, red, cream, brown, and even marbling and faux wood grain were popular. Rarer colors like robin’s egg blue, orange, and bright red can also be found.

Above are examples of the spectacular metal candelabras by Ideal that were the original impetus for my spending spree. I still have a drawer full of these and will eventually put them into my Spooky Mansion.
Above are examples of the robin's egg blue with gilding. I also had a pretty cool kitchen in this color with red detailing.

Plastic was used to represent every texture and material found in the modern home from wood, upholstery, bedding, metal, ceramics, enameled steel, etc. There were older precedents for faux work in the dollhouse world, for example cast-iron standing in for wood, textiles and ceramics as seen in the Arcade line of dollhouse furnishings. Some plastic pieces were only molded on 3 sides while others were fully molded and included moving details, such opening doors, dropping crib sides, potty chair with lifting trays, and agitators spinning in washing machines. The scale could be quite small and this meant a child could place many pieces in an average dollhouse. For today's collector , there is particular interest in "dated" items such as phonographs, floor radios, wringer washers, pedal worked sewing machines and smoking stands. The social mores of that period are also reflected in the furniture. For example, decorum was preserved by giving ‘married’ dolls twin beds. On the other hand, other items and customs are interesting because they have changed so little from that time.
Below are 2 Renewal pieces.

The product names associated with the American boom in hard plastic dollhouse furniture are Ideal, Renwal, Plasco and Marx. Items are usually marked and easily identified by the collector. For example, Marx is MAR imposed over an X within a circle. Some unmarked items originate in Canada from the Reliable Company of Toronto. They used many of the same molds as the Ideal Company. All of these companies produced ¾ scale pieces which worked well together. The smaller Allied Plastic Dolly's Furniture was in a relatively tiny scale. The Allied twin beds measure 2.75 inches long (representing 6 feet). These sets were also made in a more limited range of colors: white, red, blue and pink. Living room, dining room and bedroom furniture styles reflect variations on Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Chippendale. Kitchen, bathroom, nursery and utilitarian or entertainment items such as washing machines and radios were more modern in style.

There are numerous online auction sites and shops that carry these Dollhouse lines. Country Joe's Collectible stuff has decently priced and harder to find Renewal pieces. Below is an example of a Renewal nusery's washing maching which came in either pink or blue.
Another great site is 100 Tons of Stuff To Sell which had these cute Renewal sets:

Petite Princess, the pinnacle of plastic dollhouse miniatures:
Ideal’s Petite Princess dollhouse furniture represents the top of the line in the genre of plastic modern furniture. It was made by the Ideal Toy Corporation for a very limited time, from 1964 to 1968. These toys are often simply called Ideal, which is short for the Ideal Toy and Novelty Corporation, reportedly in business since founded in 1907 in Brooklyn, New York.
The Petite Princess pieces took plastic dollhouse furniture to new heights of elegance and detail, incorporating more realistic marbled surfaces, hand painted gilding, velvet like upholstery, and period décor such as brass candelabras and Buddhas, ceramic vases, and other lovelies. The line remains in the ¾ dollhouse scale.

Below is an available Etsy listing by IDConnection for a variety of brass Petite Princess accessories:
Below is a complete vintage Petite Princess dollhouse loaded with furnishings and accessories. Posted by Vixie Vaporous is Vaccilating on Flickr. Go to the link to view many more photos!
The following information is taken from The Ideal Petite Princess Information website:

In the “Petite Princess” line, the company sold groups of furniture that were often very stylish and indicative of the time in which they were made. All furniture was hand painted and hand tailored. Special attention was given to detail with an “antique look” which was indicative of the 1960’s. Petite Princess vintage miniatures were produced in ¾ inch scale (.75 inches=1 foot).
The manufacturers of this beautiful furniture line describe Petite Princess furniture as “The fulfillment of every girl’s dream.” Ideal explains, “Here, at last are beautifully detailed, hand crafted furniture and accessories to fill many hours of fanciful play. As explained in their 1964 black and white Petite Princess brochure, “Petite Princess Fantasy Furniture is hand crafted of satins, brocades, porcelain, brass, glass mirrors, and other fine materials. You will find soft, plush chairs and sofas, gilt-edged mirrors, dressers and cabinets with drawers and doors that really open and close. Everything you can dream of. Perfectly made, so you can play with it, collect it, and be the perfect Petite Princess."

Ideal’s Petite Princess Fantasy Furniture first appeared in the Sears Christmas Wish Book in 1964. They offered the originally boxed thirty main pieces, as well as the original Fantasy Family (father, mother, sister, and brother) and their Fantasy Rooms (available in pink, blue, and yellow.)
Some of these pieces returned in 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969 Sears Christmas Wish Books. However, neither the name Ideal nor Petite Princess were featured in these later Christmas catalogs with their furniture, possibly because Ideal had produced their less expensive Princess Patti line in 1965. The Princess Patti house featured the same furniture in four of the rooms- a bedroom, living room, music room, and dining room, and furnished two additional rooms- a bathroom and a kitchen.

In 1966 and 1967, twenty of the original thirty pieces of furniture were offered in red roofed vinyl colonial dollhouses that could only be purchased at Sears. These pieces included the dressing table and stool, bed, lyre table and lamp, piano and bench, treasure trove cabinet, guest chairs, occasional chair with ottoman, sofa, tier table and lamp, and occasional table set. A different family than the original Fantasy Family came with this furniture.

Similarly, in 1968 and 1969, Sears sold thirteen pieces of the original collection in orange-roofed colonial mansion dollhouses. Included in these mansions were the dressing table and stool, bed, tier table with lamp, host chairs, sofa, salon wing chair, occasional table set, and a new bathroom set with a bathroom tub, stool, and towel rack. The original fantasy family didn’t return this year either and was replaced by a different family once again.

Pictured below is another shot of Vixie's collection, representing the full range of Petite Princess.
-A wonderful site called Petite Princess Collectibles provides an online store for these vintage pieces, links to collectors' galleries, and the history of the line.
-For the ONLY published complete Petite Princess Reference Guide:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Latest Fairy Abode: The Pumpkin House!

My fascination began with this picture...
This photoshopped frosty pumpkin home was an 2006 art entry by Worth1000 for a contest entitled "Edible Architecture" I found the pic floating around the web and had to do some digging to find the original source. Just so cool!
When building miniature fairy homes, artists often think of mushrooms or twig structures with moss roofs. How about using a pumpkin! With the popularity of resin and foam realistic looking pumpkins, this becomes a very do-able idea. In late summer through Thanksgiving, you can find these in varying sizes, shapes, and colors at Walmart or various craft stores like Micheals. There are also paper mache pumpkins that are easy to work with too, found in limited quantities at arts and crafts stores. They tend to be a bit smaller too, about 5 or 6" tall. The resin and foam pumpkins, on the other hand, can be large enough to make a two story dollhouse in. All of these are fairly easy to cut and the nice thing is, the scraps can become gazebo or porch roofs! I've even thought about lining 3 pumpkins up beside eachother with doorways cut between, making a 'ranch style' fairy home. I am currently building a single pumpkin structure and will be posting pics soon...

Various Artist Examples:
I found a variety of miniature Pumpkin homes online.

Above, a very cute little Pumpkin home by Grahzinas:

Steve Weller and Tori West of MiniMotion studio have a very detailed tutorial on how to make your own 2 story pumpkin dollhouse. Their example is pictured below and info is available at:

Above FimoFrenzy of Flickr used her pumpkin as a case to hold a spooky diorama. More pictures available at:

Below, artist Cindy Gould made a smaller scale dollhouse using an altered paper mache pumpkin. She gave it a rustic interior look with wallpaper made out of book pages... a fairy who uses what she has lying around is a thrifty fiary indeed! To see more of Cindy's work:

Below is an unusual ceramic black pumpkin witch house by Bethany Lowe available at

Actual Pumpkin Homes:
To my surprise, when searching for miniature pumpkin dwellings, I came across several beautiful actual homes! Below is a house featured on the site Unusual Homes.

It was built in 1925 entirely be a blind man who knew nothing about carpentry and had very little economic resources. Looks to be maid of local timbers and field stone. Concerning the collection of odd homes on his website, the writer says "I'm always curious about these unusual homes that seem to be everywhere. Who built it and why? And who lives there now? What are the people like? Are they completely oddballs or are they normal like you and me? Although every homeowner is different, one thing is the same in almost every case: every homeowner is unique, sometimes more so then their house!"

Note: I cannot find the writer's name but the Blog is LostInJersey

Next I have the odd pumpkin log cabin found on Tom's LogHomeBlog. He didn't provide any info about it but it is an actual home. It looks like painted metal sheeting over the rounded log structure.! I also found a home famed for its yearly gigantic amazing display of Jack O'Lanterns. It is in Kenova, sitting on the banks of the Big Sandy River separating West Virginia from Kentucky. This town is an important stop on the way between the major cities of Huntington and Ashland. The name is a unique combination of the words "Kentucky," "Ohio," and "Virginia".

"Kenova is also a home of world-famous Pumpkin House with about 3,030 pumpkins, carved with everything from presidents and the St. Louis arch to West Virginia-themed pumpkins. The Pumpkin House, located at 748 Beech St., Kenova, recently got a national exposure when Emmy-Award-winning NBC day-time talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, gave this Victorian home some props." Doug Nicols, photo by Cabell County Schools

On there is a shot of an older home painted like a Jack O'Lantern. The author didn't have much to say except that it is in Concord?

In searching for 'pumpkin homes', I additionally found many shack type structers composed of wooden planks layered like shelves for pumpkins to rest upon. The pumpkins then make the walls.

Well there you go folks! Now go shack your fairy up in a magic pumpkin ;)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bountiful Harvest: The Cornucopia in History and Miniatures

I've always loved images and decor that feature a cornucopia or 'horn of plenty'. There is a sense of richness, bounty, and welcome in that symbol. In the West, we usually see it featured in the context of harvest but it also appears in Winter holiday imagery as a sign of feasting and wealth to be shared. Below is a lovely vintage Victorian card depicting seasonal sentiments.
Since the 5th century BCE, deities such as the Roman Fortuna, Goddess of luck and fate, would be depicted carrying a cornucopia. Today the “Horn of Plenty” is a symbol of the abundance of the harvest, most often associated in America with the Thanksgiving holiday. It is filled with New World pumpkins and maize. Also, the cornucopia is no longer a genuine goat or bull horn, but rather a large, cone-shaped wicker basket. Though the material may have changed, the meaning of the cornucopia has persisted throughout the centuries and many a horn of plenty graces the center of the Thanksgiving dinner table. I found many lovely examples in miniature!

Above is a handmade 1:12 scale work by Sandy Copeland, available in her Etsy shop:

Above is another handmade 1:12 miniature available on Etsy, this time by the artist Deana or 'minide'. Available at:

Above is a beautiful hand woven miniature cornucopia basket by Etsy artist Yahzmin available at:

The History of The Horn:
The cornucopia is an ancient symbol, deriving ultimately from the coveted horns of the now extinct aurochs, a huge breed of wild cattle. 'Corn' refers to the modern word 'horn' much as unicorn means 'one horned'. Above is a modern painting 'The Aurochs' by Heinrich Harder (1858-1935), probably created in 1920. The earliest indication of the importance of this animal can be seen in the beautiful cave paintings of Lascaux, France.
Below is the famous cave carving of the Neolithic Goddesses, found in Laussel, France. She holds a horn with 13 rings, said to symbolize the 13 full moons in a year.
New evidence shows that the Aurochs became extinct around AD 600 in most of Europe. The last known aurochs died in Poland in 1627. The animal was much larger than the common cows we know today, with aurochs bulls measuring between 160 and 180 cm at the withers, and aurochs cows between 140 and 150 cm. The huge species from the ice ages died out not only because it was hunted, but also because more and more land was being used for agriculture and the human population was increasing.

The Fighting Bull, also known as the toro de lidia, toro lidiado, ganado bravo, Touro de Lide, is a direct descendent of the highly aggressive and solitary wild auroch subspecies, Bos taurus Ibericus. In fact, this is thought to be the ancestor of all the dark colored breeds found on the Iberian peninsula. Modern breeding still selects for aggressiveness, strength and vigor. They are bred primarily in Spain, Portugal and those Latin American countries were bull fighting is organized.
Depictions of cornucopia also include the curved horns of rams and goats, symbols of male fertility and general earthly bounty. These horns were used as drinking vessels, musical instruments, and containers of prized goods. Below are a Victorian example of ornate drinking horns.
In my studies, I found pictures of numerous beautiful drinking horns from throughout the ages and all across the globe. I also discovered many depictions of horns of plenty carrying grains and fruits in Classical Greek and Roman artwork. Below, an ancient vessel painting depicts Hades carrying his bride Persephone's harvest grains and gourds as she returns to the earthly realm to visit her mother, a metaphor for the return of Spring. Below, the Greek God Zues recieves an offering within an ornate cornucopia. According to Greek legend, one day Zeus was playing with his goat foster mother, Amalthea (Amaltheia), he accidentally broke off one of her horns. To atone for this, Zeus promised Amalthea that the horn would always be full of whatever fruits she desired. Amalthea then offered it him as a sign of reverence. Zeus was humbled by her generosity and set the goat's image in the sky to become the constellation Capricorn.
The magic horn then became the cornucopia of the Roman goddess Copia, the personification of plenty. Other goddesses, including Fortuna and Pax, also held the cornucopia.

And so another year comes near its end... Everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving and eat waaay too much!!!


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