Saturday, May 23, 2015

How To Build a Dollhouse in a Week

I must be completely insane.

In the midst of building the Jungle Cruise boathouse (and still decorating the bungalow!), I built ANOTHER dollhouse.

This one isn't for my collection, I built it as a Mother's Day surprise for my mom.

The seed was planted last year when my mom fell in love with L'Artisan des Glaces, an ice cream and sorbet shop in EPCOT's France pavilion (most of my French ancestry comes from her). Then, upon finding a dollhouse she'd started building for herself (and never finished), she made an offhand comment that she'd love it if someone else built her a dollhouse so she could get to the fun part - decorating it.

Challenge accepted.

I couldn't just start building her a house - Mom comes over a lot, and I didn't want her to stumble upon the surprise. So I waited for her to go out of town for a week.

Before she left, I designed the house, cut the plywood, and hid the pieces in a closet.

Mom doesn't have room for a big dollhouse, and isn't as concerned with realism as I am. So, although this was largely inspired by a real building (the actual ice cream parlor is rather large and has a shingled roof), I designed it to have a small enough footprint to fit on a shelf or side table (8" deep, 16" wide, 24" high).

Simple houses are the simplest to put together. Case in point: this house has one room per floor and no stairs (I also eliminated the attic window found on the real building, as it would have been very difficult and time-consuming to build).

With the house mapped out in my head and on paper, and with the pieces ready to go, I started building the shell as soon as Mom left on her trip.

I also wrote up a schedule for building the house, taking into account my work schedule and times of day when hammering might annoy my neighbors or when I wouldn't be able to spray-paint outside. Day 1, build the shell and paint the outside trim after dinner. Day 2, build the big triple window after work and paint it just before bed. Day 3, stucco and paint the exterior after work. Etc.

I am happy to report that I was able to stick to the schedule, although it did rain at one point and I had to rush to finish spray sealing the house before it got wet!

I opted to finish only the ground floor, leaving the upper two rooms "as is" so Mom could choose the decor herself (I'll install interior walls, ceilings, and flooring when she's decided what she wants).

On the last day, just as her plane landed, I hid the finished house in the closet and managed to keep it a secret (Mother's Day was a month away).

This is what my mom found waiting for her on Mother's Day, and I'm happy to report that she loves her new French dollhouse. She's even having me help her finish the dollhouse she started building two years ago (my work table has never been messier or more crowded, as I currently have this house, her cottage, and the boathouse on it).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Disneyland. Jungle Cruise. Gotta do it.

Like a lot of Southern Californians, I have been to Disneyland many, many times. One of my favorite places in the park is the Jungle Cruise queue, built to resemble a ramshackle outpost/boathouse in an exotic jungle (full story here).

To me, the boathouse has always felt like walking through a life-size dollhouse. From front to back, it isn't that deep (Disneyland's Adventureland is rather small due to its age and placement, so the current boathouse was built to fit a certain footprint, and the two-story design keeps the queue from blocking the already-congested walkway outside on busy days). The windows, for the most part, don't have glass in them but do have shutters. The back of the boathouse (which faces the jungle and is where the boats load) is largely open (for obvious reasons, there are railings). There are doorways with no doors, the fruit is definitely plastic (ironically, there are a couple of live birds in cages if you know where to look), and the crew have re-purposed items in pretty much the same way that children re-purpose small items as dollhouse furniture.

Jungle Cruise skippers are notoriously witty (some of them are brilliant comedians), and many of them like to start off the eight-minute voyage by asking for a show of hands: "How many of you woke up this morning and said 'Disneyland. Jungle Cruise. Gotta do it'?"

Last summer, I did exactly that. Instead of going there in person, I decided my next build was going to be a dollhouse version of the Jungle Cruise boathouse. 

Obviously, I have a LONG way to go on this build. But, with the outside painted, it's at least somewhat recognizable.

I hasten to add (for the benefit of Disney purists) that this is NOT an exact copy. If it were, the base would be too big to fit on my work table, the additional materials required would blow the budget, and due to the unique structural challenges of building in miniature, certain areas of the boathouse wouldn't be stable. Add to that the fact that I am not a carpenter in the first place, and in a nutshell, I have to take some liberties (which I'll detail in a future post). I'm aiming for the overall feel of the boathouse, not perfection.

Expect progress to be slow - I'm going to have to make the shutters, some of the railings, and most of the props myself. And although I didn't include the adjoining Tropical Imports shop, I've left enough space to build it later (I'm still not sure I will, since the merchandise consists mostly of bottled drinks, packaged snacks, and rubber snakes...).

P.S. There was an auction of vintage Disneyland items in Los Angeles a couple of months ago. I wasn't able to attend, but was thrilled to see that the very first item listed in the auction catalog (see page 13) was one of the miniature potbellied stoves Walt Disney made and hand-painted himself (if you've missed certain previous posts, Walt collected, and occasionally made, miniatures).