This is a guest post from my friend George Mundorf who constructed this amazing Art Deco apartment dollhouse....guaranteed reading enjoyment!
This is the third dollhouse I've worked on during my Covid hibernation.
There is no stairway though it has a "working" elevator, a single garage (attached to an Apartment House?), and an elaborate front door leading, not to a lobby, but to a living room. Still, it is an interesting, fun dollhouse and I have enjoyed working on it once I figured out what the problem was.
I received the dollhouse from the carpenter and immediately painted the whole outside in paint used for automobile trunk interiors. It is a mottled black and gray color and, I think, closely resembles real exteriors of apartment buildings built in the 20s, 30s and 40s.
But to me the fun of an apartment building dollhouse - especially it you're thinking of a luxury skyscraper in the ritzy part of New York City (unfortunately not where I live!) - is the Art Deco design elements that could be incorporated into the front façade which is divided into five opening sections. And as there were none planned by the original dollhouse designer, I had a free hand. I designed the front so I could add what Deco elements where I wanted, but my carpenter had to make doors that would fit, open and close, and also holes for the windows.
I actually finished the garage interior first, adding a work bench, tools, an outboard ,motor, and anything else I thought "garage like". The license plates I put up looked good even if not realistic, with the tabs on them which attached to a key ring originally. Don't look too closely at the years listed on them, as they are not in keeping with the date of the house. While one of them is in the ballpark being from 1942, the other is from 1964 and says "World's Fair" on it - and really the reason I put if up was to know where it would be since I misplace things so easily.
But after a while, I got discouraged. I looked at the building and just could not get inspired to continue. I tried, but nothing seemed right, no matter what columns and Deco touches I added. So I put it into the closet and ignored it - but did not forget about it.
Once I had the time and wanted to work on my dollhouses, the apartment house came out and I spent a lot of time trying to determine the big problem, then it came to me - the windows were not in line vertically with each other! Windows in apartment houses always line up with each other and since mine didn't , it looked wrong, unrealistic, and - let's face it - very amateurish. So I had my carpenter make a whole new façade made of five doors and an addition with larger hinges to the garage as the original hinges on the door were so tiny and fragile they popped off repeatedly.
.....so I added my old standby - plastic window "glass" with blinds printed on them made by my friend JoAnn Belanger (Etsy shop Dollhouse Wonders).
Because I had a front double door custom made before I had the new façade and thought it looked spectacular, I used it once again though it made the first floor not quite right in terms of the windows lining up. I'd have to work on that!
So the house was pretty much finished - though I had lights now that did not work. Here's a hint for all of you starting out refinishing dollhouses. Think twice before you add ceiling lights that don't have removable light bulbs. What happens when that beautiful lighting fixture you have hanging from the ceiling stops working and the problem isn't in the wiring? The bulb element might have broken for whatever reason and you can't change the bulb because the lighting part is this teeny bubble attached to the wire? You have to take out the entire light which is now useless, perhaps ruining the ceiling as the wire is hidden behind the wallpaper or embedded in the ceiling. Get a lamp where you can actually replace the light bulb! I tell you this from experience. I still have some fixtures - the Lundby chandeliers for example, that can't be replaced easily so that will be a problem for the future.
If you look closely, I also changed the wallpaper in the dining room. The one I had chosen was out of an Art deco pattern book and was loud and exciting. But it was too loud and exciting....and disconcertingly ugly. And, in the end, it wasn't too Deco either. It was sophisticated, but I decided to replace it after I had totally finished the room. That was annoying and a lot of work, but I'm glad I did it as it turned out very nicely using sheets of real cork and another pattern from that same book as the focal wall.
If you're wondering where in the world is there a building that has those bright colors - and after making another change - a building that has a huge man standing - or floating - near the roof, I have attached two pictures that gave me inspiration. The colorful façade is a picture I took here in New York City. I don't know what country the "Man Façade" building comes from (not New York) but it did exist!
If you check out one of the attached older dollhouse pictures, you'll notice a lady face on the top of the building.
Then while I was searching Ebay, I saw the wonderful addition that I exchanged for the lady. Supposedly, this resin man was from an estate of a man who built buildings for Disneyland. So, for all I know, a copy of my man is atop some construction in California, with Mickey Mouse looking on!
I had the railing on the main floor balcony made by a miniaturist and it is very Deco.
The metal decoration on the side of the building above the windows on the third floor is actually a fireplace fender. I bought it because someone had etched into the back "Christmas 1929", but I never paid much attention to the size. That would have been one large fireplace, suitable for a doll but not a 1/12 dollhouse! Now it works as a sort of decorative awning - I added fabric behind the cutouts.
The last work on the exterior of the dollhouse was the awning over the terrace. I tried a piece of wood covered with striped paper, but that didn't look realistic. Next I tried some ticking - doubled it using fabric glue - and used dowels to form a fabric awning. And I am very satisfied with the outcome.
I'm going to keep this dollhouse furnished, as it was the hardest to complete. I have used - for the most part - age appropriate furniture in the Deco mode.
Some of you might recognize the Lincoln floor lamps in the living room as the same ones I used in my refurbished Deco house last seen in this blog. They are - and in my mind - the perfect Deco lighting, second only to the tiered lights made by Strombecker (in another scale). The living room is furnished in tubular furniture made by Hermann Rolke, a German dollhouse furniture manufacturer, in the 1930s.
The dining room has a miniaturist made console radio with bar. The table is Adda-Room and is a part of a whole set of tubular furniture. The top is made of transparent yellow celluloid. The chairs are Kage. The picture above the radio is a framed vintage match box cover of an elephant.
The bedroom furniture is burled walnut and tubular, also made by the German manufacturer Hermann Rolke. The picture is a hand painted modernist painting of a lady that I bought on Ebay. The cheval mirror is handmade. The table lamps are modern, though I painted the bases silver.
The kitchen has a Strombecker refrigerator and a partial set of mystery furniture I found on Ebay. The pieces are very detailed in decals and very unusual. I would guess they are from the 1920s. Because of the round light that I made using plastic rings and tissue paper and the round window, there isn't a lot of room in the kitchen. So I painted a small table I had, to provide some counter space!
The roof garden has a trellis and train-layout plants. I have added an unidentified piece of machinery by the elevator exterior, with the thought that is looked like it had the power to actually run an elevator.
The interior of the apartment was successfully illuminated.....
.....and also the exterior!
This dollhouse was one hassle! I guess I didn't plan too well as I kept having to re-make, re-paint, re-wallpaper, re-build, and re-think the whole project. A word to the wise? Still all's well that ends well and this will be a furnished keeper!
Thank you George
for sharing your amazing creation with us!