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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Deciding What to Build

Today's song inspiration, by the Lovin' Spoonful:

Being this obsessed with dollhouses is exhausting. The websites and online stores devoted to this hobby are endless, as is my interest, so I have learned a lot about what kind of kits are available.  


The most popular size for dollhouses is 1:12 scale, which means that 1 inch equals 12 inches.  There are also 1:24 or half scale houses, where 1 inch equals 24 inches. They're really cute,  but there isn't a big selection of furniture and things to decorate them with, so I am not interested in that size.

Tab and Slot Kits vs. Plywood Kits

There are two basic types of kits to choose from: a.) tab and slot kits; and b.) cabinet grade plywood kits.  A really excellent description of each type of kit and the associated pros and cons can be found at this great blog:

The tab and slot kits seem to be an enormous pain in the ass to build, based on everything I have read.  They come in sheets of thin plywood, and you have to punch out each piece as you need it, and it seems that often the pieces are flimsy and break, or you have to fart around with the pieces by sanding them and filling them to make them fit properly. They are assembled only with glue.  The major manufacturer of tab and slot dollhouses is the Greenleaf Company.  

I am lucky enough to have a few stores close enough to drive to that sell dollhouses, and neither of them carry this kind of kit, so I've never seen one in person. In pictures on line, the rooms in this type of house can be small and irregular, and seem challenging to decorate.  The advantage of these kits, if you succeed in building one, is that they are just really beautiful and detailed, as seen here in the Beacon Hill model, which is the one I would want!  

Beacon Hill - Tab and Slot Dollhouse - by the Greenleaf Company,
from their website,

With cabinet grade plywood kits, the wood is much thicker and heavier. Assembly requires glue and nails, and the process is more straightforward - but some of the steps can be a two-person job due to the weight of the pieces. I was able to see many examples of completed plywood dollhouses at Circus Dollhouse in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.  They carry the full line by the major manufacturer of this type, Real Good Toys CompanyIn the example below, the final product is also beautiful:

Harborside Mansion - Cabinet Grade Plywood Dollhouse - by the Real Good Toys
Company, from their website,

I decided to go with a plywood kit vs. a tab and slot for the reasons described above, plus I am married to a carpenter and I know he'll be able to help me with the plywood kit if I run into trouble, but would probably be just as clueless as I am with the other type.

American Style (Rear Opening) vs. British Style (Front Opening)

Although Real Good Toys makes both types, I have learned that the rear opening style of dollhouse is much more popular in America.  For example, here is the back of the Harborside Mansion shown above.  The front is positioned away from the viewer:

Rear Opening Style
American Style:  Harborside Mansion - Rear Opening - by the
Real Good Toys Company, from their website,

In Britain, where the hobby is enormously popular, the front-opening type is the norm.  Below is an example, the Country Victorian by Real Good Toys.  In this style, the back is plain and can be positioned against the wall, while the fully detailed front faces the viewer.  The rooms are accessed by opening hinged panels.

Front Opening Style

So to me, the Brits have it right.  The finished dollhouses can be really big, and I doubt most people have enough room in their homes to position them where you can walk around and appreciate both sides.  After doing all that work, why push the front of the dollhouse up against a wall where no one can see it?  Turntables are available, but again you'd need more room than most people probably have to make this practical.

Another advantage of the front opening style is that the closed house is protected from dust.  And if you are very interested in the interior decoration, as I am, the front opening style gives you more wall space, as the rear walls won't have windows.

Monsters in the House

But for me, probably the biggest deciding factor in choosing this style is the presence in my house of two furry monsters - Voodoo and Kato, pictured below.  If I got a rear opening dollhouse, their interest in it would probably be almost as intense as mine, but we would be approaching it differently: my goal would be to build and create; theirs to pillage and destroy.  I would spend a good part of each day retrieving broken pieces of dollhouse crap from under the sofa.

This website has some great pictures that back me up:

Voodoo surveys the world from his throne
Kato strikes a thoughtful pose on the
 counter he's not allowed to be on.

The Final Decision

After considering all the options, I decided to build the Strawberry Patch dollhouse from Real Good Toys "Liliput" line, pictured below from their website.

These dollhouses are slightly less complex and good for a beginner.  The Strawberry Patch has all the qualities I was looking for:  it is front opening; seems relatively easy to build; and has six nice, large rooms with no funny angles and lots of room to decorate.  I'm not crazy about the front porch but I have an idea of how I can modify it more to my liking.  I have ordered it from the manufacturer, and it should arrive in a few days.  So - we'll see how it all works out!

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