The Dollhouse Project Finale, Finally.

Without obsession, life is nothing. — John Waters

I finally finished The Dollhouse Project (the origins of which I detailed in earlier posts here and here), but for some reason have not, until now, shared the photos of the completed project, which I exhibited in 2012 at the Tusinski Gallery in Rockport.

The Interiors

I furnished the dollhouse as though its interiors had seen several phases, just as interiors do in real life, devolving or evolving with our rising or falling fortunes, suffering from neglect, bad taste or even an excess of good taste. The decor of the dollhouse is part homage to the famous style of the 2oth-century decorator Dorothy Draper, and part homage to the television show Hoarders, in which generally decent, intelligent people show no restraint when it comes to their obsessions.

TRH dollhouse studio 5

TRH dollhouse living room 2

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TRH dollhouse living room 3

The Story

The story behind the interiors is this: the last occupant of the house was an unemployed, middle-aged aspiring artist who lived alone, moving in to his parents’ house after they died. He left his mother’s Draper-inspired interiors largely intact, except for her sewing room, which he turned into his studio. He was obsessed with the human form as the focus of his painting, especially inanimate versions of the human form, returning for subject matter to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii again and again.

TRH dollhouse studio 6

TRH dollhouse studio 1

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TRH dollhouse studio 4

It Really is Done. I Think.

It’s kind of a sad, broken-down little place — my 6-year-old son is irritated by how depressing the interiors are (he’s constantly asking me, very diplomatically, if we can spruce it up). But to me, its imperfections make it seem more real. I find myself staring at it and thinking about the imaginary occupant as though he really did exist. That’s because somewhere, at some point, someone just like him lived a life just like the one depicted in this house. A frustrated artist, finding a sort of satisfaction in a life dedicated to a single pursuit.

TRH dollhouse bathroom

TRH dollhouse bedroom

TRH dollhouse bulletin board

TRH dollhouse kitchen sink

Estate Sale for Tiny People

yard sale 2

I’ve wrapped up the interiors of the Dollhouse Project — details on that later. In the meantime, it’s time for a yard sale. Too much tiny furniture, and as decluttering comes second only to losing weight on the list of annual New Year’s resolutions, clearing out extra furniture, even if it’s on a 1:12 scale, still feels pretty good.

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yard sale 1

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The Pop-up Shop is Open!

We’re up and running through May 13th at the Tusinski Gallery, 2 Main Street in Rockport. Karen Tusinski, the artist-owner at the gallery, hosts a show every April in conjunction with Earth Day, and this year she opened her space up to The Roving Home.

Our pieces are a great fit with the idea behind Earth Day, one of appreciating our planet’s resources, and by extension, conserving these resources. We take the old and, in a sense, make it new again by presenting it in a fresh light. Of course this has always been done — antiques shops are not a new concept — but the difference now is that old stuff doesn’t have to be valuable to be valued, if you know what I mean. People are catching on to the fact that vintage pieces add depth and patina to a home, and vintage doesn’t mean fine antiques. It can mean a collection of humble milk glass, or a cast iron gooseneck lamp — the type of lamp that was at every work desk in every factory in America for decades. These seemingly insignificant items provide a real connection to the past. And even better, they’re still functional. (Yet another reason to keep them around.)

Some of the pieces in the show are old items, pulled apart and re-worked into genuine originals, like our handpainted taxidermy boxes. And other pieces in the show are re-worked ideas from our collective domestic and decorative past. Such as the chinoiserie panel that is hand painted over a base coat of chalkboard paint so that the colors of the design could be changed according to whim, the owner able to interact with the piece in a way that traditional hand painted chinoiserie wall coverings do not encourage.

We had a little party to kick off the shop; a few friends contributed their talents by making deviled eggs and red velvet-esque cupcakes — both old fashioned culinary delights that are back in vogue. My husband made a brutal batch of Haymaker’s Switzel, a drink designed to put some pep in your step back in the 19th century. Here in the 21st I don’t think we have the stomach for it. (Some things are better left un-recycled.)

Here are a few shots from the shop’s opening, thanks to friend-of-The-Roving-Home Carolyn Mohr!

One of the gallery windows. The light is built from a reclaimed beam and massive cable.

Handpainted taxidermy in vintage box. The photography light is part of a set of three from the 1940s.

Like all good hipsters, we listened to records while looking over the recycled glass bottle lanterns.

Checking out the Dollhouse Project in front of a wall of snapshots in vintage frames detailing our obsession with our possessions.

The living room in the dollhouse, with its Dorothy Draper inspired interior.

The sign for the pop up shop.

Haymaker’s Switzel, a hair-raising ginger infused drink, with vintage glassware on a vintage tray.

A large vintage photo print of elephants, taken on safari, and other manly-themed elements on the gallery wall.

Projects: The Dollhouse

In my ongoing hate affair with my Dollhouse Project (or “Little House Project” which I call it when I am trying to make it seem more dignified), I came to a realization which has allowed my hate to morph into love. My revelation? The simple truth: a perfectly executed miniature world, where I bring every room up to standards suitable for the pages of House Beautiful, is just not going to happen. It’s just not in me. I can’t even be trusted to bring my people-sized house up to a certain standard. So why would I create a miniature house that forces me to transcend my lack of thoroughness? I just want to make the house interesting, not perfect. Some people are capable of accomplishing both, but one of those people is definitely not me.

Now that I’ve realized this, now that I’ve fallen back in love with my project, like any love-sick fool I am a bit obsessed, working out the scheme for each of the house’s little rooms with a view toward the details. Only in my case, the details run more along the lines of an episode of Hoarders. Or more along the lines of an episode of Eccentrics, if such a show existed (why doesn’t such a show exist? It should. It would be a lot more enjoyable than Hoarders, which crosses a line into intense sadness. I always want to take some sort of medication that can eradicate sad images after I talk myself into watching a segment).

The inhabitant (yes, an imaginary inhabitant) of my little house is a reclusive artist. The type of artist who has never sold a painting in his life, yet manages to eke out a living, Grey Gardens style, by buying cans of pate on a small trust fund. This is a photo of his studio, stage one (the room has since acquired a lot more detritus).

Early stages of the art studio

The project is coming along nicely and will debut at our upcoming Home (re)Cycled Show at the Tusinski Gallery in April. Meanwhile I’ll try to tamp down my enthusiasm and avoid inundating you with progress reports.

And for a small taste of perfectionism, you have to check out the Thorne Miniature Rooms housed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unbelievable. Mrs. James Ward Thorne, a woman with an obsession and loads of money, recreated period rooms so perfect your eyes will bleed if you stare long enough. These rooms give all of us a view into, not only American interiors circa the past, but craftsmanship in the service of detail that is truly a marvel.

Mrs. James Ward Thorne’s collection: Tennessee Entrance Hall, 1835, (built c.1940)

Mrs. James Ward Thorne’s collection: Shaker Living Room, 1800 (built c.1940).

Interiors: Of Dolls & Murder

Last year around this time I mentioned the a book about the work of Frances Glessner Lee called The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. A documentary on the same subject has just emerged, and no wonder, as the fascinating vignettes  depicting crime scenes created by Frances Glessner Lee in the early 20th century are truly compelling, both for their function as small studies in crime and for their macabre quality. These dollhouses are all work and no play, a deadly serious business, and still in use today for training detectives, surprisingly enough. Frances Glessner Lee’s attention to detail, her obsession with getting everything just right, was not only the hallmark of a serious craftsperson, it also allowed her to create timeless pieces that will, sadly, always offer a story to tell, no matter the technological advances we make when it comes to catching murderers.

Check out the link to the documentary here: Of Dolls & Murder. And here’s a link to more information on the Studies themselves from a book by Erin Hooper Bush — well worth a look.

The Dollhouse Project: An Update

What a disaster.

Like its real-world counterpart, this remodel is killing me. I’m still stuck on pulling off the wallpaper. It’s amazing, really. Removing the wallpaper in this dollhouse compared to removing wallpaper in a human-size dwelling is roughly parallel to the mild exertion of a 5-minute walk to the beach down a grassy path compared to the misery of running the Boston Marathon on a cold, drizzly April day. And yet, I still can’t get it done. It evokes the exact same feelings of rage that yanking off the paper in my full-scale bedroom did oh, about 3 1/2 years ago. Which feels like yesterday.

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