Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A Charming Art Deco House from the UK

This is a guest post from George Mundorf, an avid collector of Art Deco dollhouses. George has shared several of his dollhouses with us....you can see them here 

 and from George.....

I wanted to write an article on “what makes a dollhouse an art deco dollhouse?"  That would allow me to write about a couple of my pet peeves--"A flat roof does not make an art deco house!” and also, “Art Nouveau IS not Art Deco, despite what you read on eBay”. 

But then I decided these “peeves” make me sound like an old, nasty man, shuffling down the street mumbling and grumbling to myself. I’ll have you know I am not nasty. 

So, instead, I decided to tell you about a dollhouse I got years ago on eBay: “A darling deco/nouveau/mid-century modern dollhouse. Just precious!” (How many pet peeves can we find in that title?) 


OK, enough of my peeves – as this dollhouse is the panacea – a dollhouse that makes sense! I did see it on eBay, at a reasonable price, from Britain. But oh-oh – “will not ship to the United States”. Tell me I can’t have something and of course, that’s the house that I must own. So, I offered some outrageously high price to ship it to me and she accepted. Did I eat baloney sandwiches for dinner the for the next two months? Why, yes, I did.

It arrived safely and I was very pleased with my purchase. Strangely, I can’t tell if it was manufactured or was a very talented Dad’s handiwork. Nor can I date it for certain. It would appear to be a transitional piece – going from the 1920s bungalow style (with the roof being the major emphasis) to the Moderne Style (windows that meet at corners, round windows, emphasis on the horizontal). Or it could be transitioning from the Moderne to the after-war cookie cutter houses for soldiers coming home from the war. 

The only clue I would find is that the bathroom had remnants of Fairylite fixtures -which were from the 30s. Hmmm – still no help. They made Fairylite into the 40s. (If anyone had this exact house – or a similar house -- please let me know. Knowing there was more than one would push it into the manufactured category!

The house was in good shape. It looked worse than it was because a child decided to ignore the good paint job on the interior and added a lot of decorative touches her/himself – without a thought of straight lines. 

Much of the trim was painted on, such as the picture rails, the trim around some windows, and the trim on a wall separating it into two colors. Window “glass” was missing – or was never used to begin with – in many of the windows. The back door was missing. As I said, the bathroom had remnants of Fairylite fixtures, but were not usable. It needed work – but luckily not structural.

What I liked about the house were the unusual features. The brick circular arch in front of the entrance porch was a feature I’d seen in real life, but never in a dollhouse. 

The metal windows to the left and right of the door are also ones that I had never seen before. Did they begin life as something else? 

The second “story” (really only one room) lifts off with the roof, so the dollhouse is approached from above. This allows the dollhouse to make – wait for it -- perfect sense! There is a central hallway, and the living room, dining room, kitchen and the bathroom all are entered from that hall. There is no need to go through one room to get to another.

 And, there were doors on every room! There are two fireplaces, and the chimneys line up to the fireplaces properly. There is a small hallway that leads from the kitchen to the dining room – another first in my experience. There is a staircase that leads upstairs to the second floor. The floorplan was just what I liked!

One of the first things I decided to do was to replace the single door to the living room and to the dining room with French doors. I know a lot of you are cringing at this “corruption” of the original intent of the dollhouse. Well, I understand totally. But I rationalize by saying this was a homemade house to begin with – until I get proof to the contrary! – and that dad would have done this had he thought of it. Well, that makes sense to me anyway. I had them made to my design – horizontal windows.  (And as a side note, my apartment in New York, redone in the 1920s, has two sets of French doors too.) 

The problem had been that it looked like a boarding house or an institution, with this big dark hallway with doors spaced out on the walls with no windows except those in the front door. 

I added a door to the end of the hallway between the kitchen and the dining room. The door has a round window and required a wall over the door to blend in the adjacent wall. This was difficult to install because the opening was narrow – so the door, with its hinges and surrounds was a tricky proposition.

I decided to add lighting – which as you know, is rough for me. Luckily, everything could be done through holes I made with a drill through the bottom of the second floor, so all the lights on the main floor are ceiling lights. All the wires, and plugs, and what-all are hidden behind the walls of the bedroom. 

Originally the second floor was one large empty space. It can only be entered from the front window and so working in that room was difficult. I put up walls, one with a door to the stairway, so it works as a bedroom.

After getting the house basically in shape to decorate, I started in the bathroom. I got some Fairylite and repainted the fixtures pink. The colors I used – pink, black, and white are the exact colors of the house I was brought up in. The colors were not my mother’s favorite, but war shortages made tiles in other colors unavailable. So the pink and black ruled in my house, and they rule here too. I didn’t use actual black tile as I usually do in my restorations because the tile I use is for a 1/12 house, and this house is a 1/16 house – and let’s face it, it is easier to use those plastic tile sheets cut to size. I salvaged what I could of the old fixtures, got some replacements, and painted them pink too. Yikes! You’re shuddering again at my ruining vintage furniture by “improving" it. Even I’m shuddering at this one. Still, sigh, it looks good. 

The bathroom is a good place to show you one of my “tricks” that I use when I fix-up a house (I’m sure I’d get comments if I used the word “restore”.) I outline many of the features with strips of wood, giving it a highly detailed – and if I paint them a different color as I did on the exterior – distinctive, colorful note. So outlining existing woodwork or brickwork with yet more woodwork is time consuming but I feel well worth it. Do you see the black trim around the white door frame in the bathroom? Or on the exterior, the brick topped with white wood, and then a strip of blackwood?

I found a shopping bag that was printed in stripes of green in different shades – I knew I would use it in a deco house sometime in my dollhouse world – and the living room in my “transition house” is just the place. I used real wood sheeting on most of the floors and cork sheeting on some walls. Those are real tiles on the fireplace. The dining room and bedroom have fabric on the walls.

The dining room is furnished in a nautical style.  Another one of hints repeated 
from a past article: you can find age and style appropriate pictures by using the 
backs of playing cards. Ebay usually has a good representation of single cards for
 sale – and they are reasonable.

The not-easily-reached bedroom with Twiggs furniture:

The hallway floor, also used in the bedroom, is paper and a copy of flooring done in old dollhouses, 

and the kitchen uses a copy of old linoleum on a hard-paper stock. Note: you can print many of the old wallpaper and flooring found for free if you hunt for it on your computer. I don’t have a printer, so that leaves me out.

The round windows have an interior hexagon pattern on them. I save old plastic bits I find in the streets – admittedly, New York is more likely to have strange junk on them than most places – but I recommend you start saving scraps of “stuff” for your dollhouses. They came in useful on the windows!

Most of the furniture is made by Twiggs – a British company – manufactured in, as far as I can tell, the 1940s and 1950s. It has its own look and is made in a 1/16 scale. It’s not as encompassing, say, as Dol-toi (which has stationery, glassware, bedding, over 20 different fireplaces, food, etc.), but it is well-made and interesting. The leopard rug in the living room is Dol-toi.

If you have a specific question (I couldn’t talk about every piece of furniture) please feel free to ask me in the comments. And, please, if you have this house – let me know. 


 Years after I purchased the house, I Googled "Art Deco Dollhouses" and this house - this very house - appeared on the images page. It hadn't appeared there before - and is not there now.  I was...surprised. I hadn't put it there and I knew by the previous owner's "redecorations" that it was my house.  No information, no little blurb - maybe someone took the picture from eBay and decided to publish it.  I just found - maybe unreasonably? - the whole thing strange.