Retirement Hobbies:
Doll Houses

Retirement Hobbies, Doll Houses for example, are great for your memories. Something you once loved can be a revived hobby, or it can remain a lifelong interest!

By Sandra Lee Smith, CA

When I was a little girl, Santa brought me a dollhouse for Christmas one year. It was one of those 50s tin-dollhouses, furnished with bakelite furniture and a bendable family of four.

I loved that dollhouse and spent many hours playing with it and rearranging the furniture.

Then when I was about twelve, I came home from school one day to discover that my mother had given my dollhouse to an acquaintance for her daughter.

”You never played with it anymore!” my mother asserted. She was wrong. I did. I had never tired of arranging the furniture and moving the dolls around. I had a tiny little lamp that you could hold close to an actual light and then the tiny lamp glowed in the dark. Needless to say, this dollhouse didn’t have real, working lights!

I never quite got over my mother giving away that dollhouse. Needless to say, I was ripe for collecting dollhouses. I didn’t intend to collect dollhouses but I’ve heard that if you have more than three of something, it’s a collection.

I found the first dollhouse was found in a thrift store in Burbank. It was in five or six pieces. The dollhouse was only $10.00 so a girlfriend & I carried it out, gingerly, to my car, as there were nails sticking out in places. I brought it home and Bob reconstructed the dollhouse. It sat on a coffee table for several years and my grandchildren played with it whenever they visited.

I wanted a Christmas Dollhouse. Bob began working on the dollhouse in his spare time and some ten years later, the dollhouse is on display in all its glory. It’s always Christmas eve in the dollhouse. Santa is taking off the roof with his reindeer. Presents and toys are under the tree. The father is eating a Dagwood sandwich while the mother labors over a gingerbread house in the kitchen. The babies are all snug in their beds while two teenager daughters are dressing to go to a dance. The rooms light up and we calculate that some of the lamps, and the chandelier, cost more than some of our life-size lamps. But, I still longed for that 50s tin-dollhouse.

A few years ago, we found one in an antique store in northern Ohio. Those tin dollhouses had tabs and could be taken apart and laid flat, so- we took it apart and laid it inside one of our suitcases to bring home. Meanwhile, a girlfriend found another tin dollhouse for us, complete with furniture, at a shop near her home and bought it for me. Ok, I now had three dollhouses. A collection.

Then a friend found “Grandma’s cottage”, a little dollhouse constructed from one of those kits. It was perfect for a grandmother’s house. Grandma is sitting in her rocking chair while two grandchildren play at her feet.

The piece de resistance is a huge, heavy dollhouse that we learned about from a doctor friend. It once belonged to the daughter of an artist who lived in the nearby Hollywood Hills. The artist had built it for his daughter. He had passed away, the daughter had outgrown the dollhouse, and her mother was moving to Santa Barbara. Did we want to buy the dollhouse? Of course we did! We lugged it home in the truck of my car, tied down with rope.

This dollhouse shows obvious wear from being played with for so many years and will require paint, wallpaper, wiring—the works. The neat thing about this hobby is that it’s a joint venture; Bob does all the actual work while I stand back and make suggestions.

Recently, my oldest granddaughter was visiting so Bob gave her a paintbrush and let her paint the attic of the new dollhouse. We both pore over hobby catalogs choosing wallpaper and bathroom tile flooring. We’ve acquired a respectable collection of books about dollhouses, including some that are hundreds of years old—fascinating! There are actually tours you can take to visit those dollhouses throughout Europe!

I search constantly for just the right dollhouse furniture. Another neat thing is that now my best friend has gotten into dollhouses too—she’s refurbished and furnished one and is working on her second.

When we are together, we can always go antiquing and search for anything suitable for our dollhouses. Another friend found some 1930s oak bedroom dollhouse furniture and gave it to me one year for my birthday. Another time a niece sent me a boxful of ornate dollhouse furniture that I have since seen featured in a Hobby magazine. Who knew?

I still yearn for my original tin dollhouse and – oh! That Bakelite furniture! Do you know what Bakelite is worth nowadays?