Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Saga of Refurbishing an Art Deco Dollhouse....George Mundorf


I bought this house on eBay because - well, I bid on every Deco house that appears on eBay.  I specialize in collecting Art Deco houses, but feel that it’s like saying I collect Hope Diamonds!  This one looked good and solid, and it had characteristics that defined it as definitely Deco:

1. Flat roof.
2. Windows that meet at the corner 
    (and, in this case, also streamlined).
3. Round windows.
4. Patio on second floor.
5. Streamlining - one corner of each level is rounded.
6. Architectural emphasis on the horizontal.

In addition there was an intriguing combination of sophistication and naivety in its construction.  For example, the niche in the fireplace chimney is straight from the 1920s and an unnecessary but well done detail.  But the built-in furniture in the living room was clunky and amateurish.  The idea of curved banquettes is interesting and they were well built.  But the side tables, nicely designed and style appropriate, were terribly executed.  

The second floor decorative wall with the circular cut-out is terrific.  One can imagine standing on the patio and looking at the well groomed estate grounds in the back through that opening.  However there is no way to utilize that opening - there is no door nor exterior staircase to the patio.


In the same vein, the house violates my need to have a house that makes sense.  As mentioned above, there is no way to get to the patio.  But worse, there is no way to get to the second floor!  There are no staircases - interior or exterior.  There is no door on the bathroom entrance. Privacy is apparently not a consideration.  There is no “glass” in most of the windows - nor had there ever been.  The front door looks good - but is just a piece of wood nailed to the wall with a circular window.  It does not open nor close.

I believe the most attractive and “curb appeal” aspect of the house are the curved sections of the main floor facade.  And those were precisely the parts of the house that needed immediate attention, the parts that almost made me give up on the refurbishing process.  The original walls were made of two cardboard pieces with rectangles cut out and a plastic window sandwiched between them.  Then mullions made from cardboard were applied over the plastic.  The cardboard was crumbling, the plastic brown with age, the mullions torn and ruined.  So everything had to be replaced - but how?

I had a “demolition day” - taking off the roof, stripping the interior of wallpaper, furniture and appliances, and some layers of paint and flooring.    

           The bathroom had two layers of flooring in different colors.  

The refrigerator and kitchen sink were kind of modern - manufactured, I believe, by some company I don’t recognize but made for young children.  The stove was “dad made” and very well done except for the burners which were haphazardly incised and then filled in - badly - with paint.  

It was apparent that the house had been “updated” sometime in the past.  I believe the house was made in the 1930s and redone in the early 60s or later. 

With the house down to the bare walls, I decided to concentrate on the curved facade.  

  • I started with extremely thin wood that would bend easily.  But doubling that wood and putting plastic between it made the flexibility fly right out the window.  
  • Then I tried white plastic sheets with holes cut in each, with clear plastic sandwiched in between them again.  They were still flexible and worked, but when I wallpapered the interior section, the paper buckled and looked terrible when I put it into place.  There were too many layers for the wall as a whole to curve properly.  
  • I thought about using oatmeal boxes.  But I really didn’t want to use cardboard as I saw how the results deteriorated after passing years.  
  • Every now and then my brain works and I came up with a solution that seems to do the trick.  I made the wall out of clear plastic and painted around the rectangle that became the window.  

So before I added the wallpaper, the wall was only one layer thick, plus paint.  
It was a hassle - frankly because I kept forgetting which side was up and which side needed the wallpaper.  You might think it wouldn’t really matter, but the wall was not reversible.  So if I put the wallpaper on the what was the exterior wall, I had to begin again.  Four tries later I was ready to install.  And it worked!  

You’ll notice I made the windows larger, giving up a little of the horizontal aspect for more light.


The kitchen is by far the boldest of the rooms.  I wallpapered it in red stripes because it was done originally that way - though admittedly the stripes were thinner.  I was going to put down a floor of real tiles but my source has stopped manufacturing them for the duration of the virus, so I painted separate wooden squares and made my own “tiles”.  

The whole room is sort of circus-like, which would be more appropriate for a room from the 1940s than the sleek 30s, but I went with what was apparently the history of the room.  I refurbished the stove, using bits of found hardware for the burners and replacing one of the knobs.  

I decided to eliminate the modern updated refrigerator and sink and replaced them with Lincoln-Wright appliances.  But then I thought the original stove looked out of place with the Lincoln, so I replaced that with Lincoln-Wright also.

I bought a white “tin” ceiling on-line and used that on the ceiling.  I have used this product before and it adds interest to a room - though admittedly it isn’t that readily seen.



                     The bathroom was the most fun to work on.  

I bought 3 variations of green tiles and decided to go to town with creating a Deco bathroom.  The circular window was the catalyst and I think dividing the tile paper around it, in half, worked out perfectly. 

Then I did a staircase look for the side of the tub which is a typical Deco motif. I wanted to do something special with the mirror.  I usually use a round mirror in my Deco bathrooms, but in this house, to be different, I thought I’d use a long rectangular mirror.  The problem I have with miniature mirrors is that too often they are 1/4” thick - the same thickness as full-sized mirrors.  Therefore they are out of scale and look it.  I have been unable to find anyone who sells, cuts, or knows anyone who can supply 1/8th thick mirrors - used in powder compacts, and Dol-toi furniture for two examples.  Fortunately, I made a lucky discovery.  A pair of socks I bought came with a hard plastic card that had a mirror finish.  And it worked very well over the bathroom sink.  I know mirror paper is available, and in a pinch I might use it in the future.

I reused all of the original fixtures, repainting them in white.  One nice touch from the original bathroom were the faucets.  They were very small and delicate - you might almost say dainty - a word I hate using!  One was broken on the sink so I bought a modern plastic set on line and painted it silver.  I salvaged the ones for the tub - surprisingly embedded in the wall behind the tub, not on the tub itself.

Window Glass

I discussed the curved windows above, but the other windows have pliable plastic “glass” - so one piece could be bent in half for the corner windows in the bedroom. They were also “printed” with white blinds on them.  I had them made for a different Deco house I restored and had another set done with red blinds.  I find these windows add the appropriate look for an Art Deco house, not fussy and stressing the horizontal.  The  windows with “blinds” worked especially well on the round bathroom window.

Living Room


As the room next door, the kitchen, was jumping out of the dollhouse with its bright red and white stripes, I decided to cool things down a bit with a very muted and calming wallpaper in the living room.  

It is a garden scene and has no visual punch.  But it is a good background for the banquette and built-in table.  

The other table originally was next to the banquette also and looked strange to me, so I cleaned it up a little and made it a focal point on the center wall.  I found a green plastic ring in my stock pile of “stuff” and decided to use it as a frame for a round mirror that I had intended using in the bathroom.  

The fireplace and chimney I pulled out, repainted, and made it more “usable” by doing the inside of the firebox in stone.  Perceptive readers might recognize the stone wallpaper as the same I used on the “Strange Dollhouse” I wrote about in a past issue of My Vintage Dollhouses.  I checked Google as to what was put into those little niches in “real life” in the 1930s and a small vase is appropriate.

At this point I added base boards, door surrounds, and window surrounds in all rooms and windows.  

On the exterior, I added surrounds too - except on the round window for the entrance door.  Instead I put Decorative Deco surround pieces around the door in black and red.



I bought a very Deco carpet on eBay and decided that that would be the object to determine the Decor and color story in the bedroom.  The rug was very busy with lots of colors and patterns.  Therefore the walls, I decided, would be a solid color so as not to compete with the rug.  I used sheets of blue paper, not paint.  But, of course, my watching too much of the House Network on TV made me add a small section of wall in a different pattern in complementary colors.  Too contemporary?  Too much going on?  Yup.  But I like  the result.  Note the large framed picture.  I used an age appropriate tally card and made the frame.  For those unfamiliar with tally cards, they are score cards used to sum up points for the game of Bridge and were popular in the 1920s and 30s.  There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of different pictures on the cards and some are extremely Art Deco.  Some are very reasonable (some not!) and can be found on eBay.

I bought most of the wallpaper I used in the house from Michael’s Craft Store. I think it’s sold mainly for people who “Scrapbook”, but also miniaturists.  Buying wallpaper on line can be so expensive and the paper I used in my house - the checkerboard, the blue bedroom, the kitchen stripe, the bedroom focal wall - cost something like 79 cents a sheet, a far cry from the $14+ (for 3 sheets) you pay for miniature wallpaper.  If you have access to a Michael’s and go my route, buy more than 3 sheets per room so you won’t have to run out and buy more when those mistakes happen!


I thought the corner window in the room was going to be a headache what with the glass meeting at the corner, so I put off thinking about it.  But the bending of the plastic worked right off.  Problem easily solved.


Note there is now a physical working door to both the patio and bathroom.  


Patio and Exterior

The patio now has a defined space, complete with entrance, a surrounding wall, and (paper) tiled floor.  I added thick surrounds to the round look-out window - front and back - as it looked unfinished, especially from the back.  

As you can see, I have changed the color mix of the exterior of the house from blue and white (and green base), to black, red and white.  There was nothing wrong with the original color scheme, and I rather liked the blue, but the new combination packs more punch.  I know fellow “realists” will complain about the use of shiny black enamel for the roof and base.  I get it, that just doesn’t exist in real life.  But it certainly stresses the Deco look - even if false - so I decided to keep the look, though I might add a grass covering to part of the base in the future.

I particularly like the door to the patio.  It has regular mullions on it, but that would have meant I would have had to cut clear plastic to fit the window space exactly.  Four times!  Not these days with my old tired eyes!  So I cut one piece of plastic to cover all four window spaces and then added red horizontal bars over the bigger piece of plastic.  It looks good and detailed and best of all, more Deco than I could ever have hoped for.

I knew those curved walls would be the most trouble!  I was wondering how to put mullions on the “glass”, knowing I wanted them to create horizontal and not rectangular panes.  It came to me: pinstriping vinyl (used on automobiles).  I bought two rolls in different widths in red, but I was frankly apprehensive in applying it - what if it ruined the window?  Those curved window walls were just too hard to create to wreck them now! Maybe the tape wouldn’t stick.  Maybe if I got it on crooked, it wouldn’t come off.  And I was right to be concerned.

When I first applied the tape, the windows looked perfect!  My worries were over.  Except I didn’t know the tape would shrink and pull away leaving gaps, becoming uneven over a few hours time.  Maybe the curving of the tape caused it to stretch and it just slowly went back to its original shape.  I redid both windows, and the tape still shrunk. So I put tape over the existing tape over and over: well what you see is what you get.  Not bad but not perfect.

I painted the front urns red and bought some train layout plants to put in them.  And once the exterior chimney was put back and the roof back on, the house was finished.  I liked the result.



 I’ve decided to furnish the house, at least for this Article.

I have chosen period correct Miniaform and Lincoln-Wright furniture for decor, and some other manufacturers here and there.  Take a look at the interiors of the house.  For those who collect 1930s dollhouse furniture, there are arguably nine of the rarest pieces of manufactured 1930s furniture in the room settings.  

Can you find and identify each piece?  Give it a try!



1. Patio - Strombecker Jardiniere.

2. Bedroom - Silver Miniaform Clock. 

3. Kitchen - Red Miniaform Clock (recently discovered
                     Lincoln-Wright stove with “light” (usually missing).

4. Living Room - Green Menasha Bowl, 
                             Gold Miniaform Bowl, 
                             Black Realy Truly Clock, 
                             Miniaform Mirrored Coffee Table. 

5. Bathroom - Yellow Miniaform Scale.


Thank you to George for sharing his remodel of this wonderful vintage art deco dollhouse. And thanks also for the hints and suggestions that will help other collectors of vintage dollhouses bring their treasures back to life.