Tuesday, June 22, 2021

George's Fantastic Apartment Dollhouse

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. 

I had the bare bones of it made by a carpenter years ago - even predating the other houses I've written about for My Vintage Dollhouses blog - but I just couldn't see past the problem that something was wrong.   So I shelved it. 
For years.

(Google Blogger doesn't currently allow us to link to previous posts to share information referred to. The other dollhouse posts George has shared with this blog can be found at 
https://my-vintage-dollhouses.blogspot.com/2020/07/ )

The house was built from plans from a 1941 article found in a magazine and they come up regularly on Ebay. The plans have only three rooms and a rooftop garden area.

I redesigned the plans so that mine is larger with five rooms and a garage. The concept is that this is a  skyscraper apartment building (despite the fact that it only has two rooms per floor with three floors and a penthouse roof garden). Note that this is not supposed to be a single family brownstone. So it is quite improbable, of course, once again going against my need for dollhouses that  "make sense"! 

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.

The plans called for the front to be open so you could see the interior immediately and therefore did not provide a façade. 

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 did begin on the interiors, making the fireplace, putting up wallpaper, finishing the elevator, and began adding the electric lights. This is the first time I ever really added electricity with hopes that it might actually work. I had tried the copper strips in other houses but failed miserably, and always hated the idea if something didn't work, I'd have to dig up whole walls or floors to find the problem. This building was pretty easy to add lighting to as the whole back wall was blank and the lights could poke through the rear easily.  

I tiled all the floors in real tile which looks good. I made each floor slightly different from each other and made the garage floor out of painted sandpaper.


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. 


In fact, one of the pictures shows the bathroom "furnished" in Rusco pewter and orange fixtures which looked, I think, amazing. But wouldn't you know it, I have lost all the main pieces and had to use Jenny Lind furniture for the sink and toilet which are OK, but not as good. I haven't solved the tub problem - probably a small scale Schoenhut tub would work  but 1) I can't find mine and 2) I wouldn't want to ruin it by either painting it or gluing it.

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.

Now the windows pretty much lined up..... 

.....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 grand piano in the living room is by an unknown manufacturer, but is very Deco with its tubular rear supports and has the name "Wurlitzer" over the keys. 

The coffee table is Strombecker, but has the second shelf which is the rare version of this piece (and took me forever to find!) The picture over the fireplace is a bridge tally card. The grandfather clock is unknown to me, but has Deco lines.

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.....





Dining Room

and Living Room

.....and also the exterior! 

First Floor Balcony

and Roof Top Terrace

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!