A Depression Era Dollhouse
by Judy Spadoni, Pixie Packet Miniatures
There are so many reasons people love doll houses and everything within a dollhouse. And I bet that these reasons have been debated and analyzed many times. When I think of my reasons for creating the 1935 Dollhouse, I realize it was a way of working through and making order of my family heritage. I felt strongly drawn to the American Depression Era (20 years or so before my birth) because that was such a dynamic period in my family’s history. It is the period that formed my father’s life and robust personality. His character of course impacted me and my siblings’ personal development. Also, that era is not unlike our current times. We live in times of uncertainty too. I was feeling psychologically uncertain when I embarked on this dollhouse constructing journey. I remember pondering the metaphorical description of the home as a sanctuary. No matter what is happening in the outside world, the home is a refuge. That is why this dollhouse exists. My Depression Era dollhouse provides a three dimensional sense of security to me in uncertain times.
My real life father, Bernie Engels, and his extended family lived close together on small subsistence farms in western Washington State during the Great Depression. The family was thrifty and physically energetic. My Grandma Della is recalled as sweating over a hot summer wood burning stove to put up the jars of produce that would be used throughout the year. My Aunt Dottie claims that the kids all thought anything “store bought” was a thrill and way better than anything made at home, which was most everything. Each family member had a role and was depended on to make their daily contribution. Fixed patterns of outside farm chores, performed mainly by the men and boys and the “inside work” of housekeeping by the women and girls created a family mythology of security through consistency, practicality and social cooperation. Those solid, admirable characteristics were embodied by many folks living through that era.
The intention in creating this dollhouse was to honor and symbolize my family characteristic of internal security. I also challenged my creativity to take it another step by answering the question-“what would it look like if the proprietors were a bit more educated and had the financial means to increase their leisure time and creative pursuits?” I wondered what type of house those kind of people would have in the year 1935. I realized the house would be rather traditional but not pretentious. It would have a sense of activity, but also there would be places where one could find quiet and contemplation.
This 1935 Dollhouse is made from the 1:12 scale Real Good Toys Classic Colonial Quick Build Kit and, Houseworks’ Conservatory Kit for the Greenhouse. The Kitchen and Music Rooms were made from Houseworks’ Junior Conservatory Kits. The entire house is 48 inches wide and 31 inches tall. There are 10 rooms plus and outdoor Roof Patio area. The house is wired in a 12 volt system. The Greenhouse’s string- light electricity is run off of a separate 3 volt adjustable transformer.
My husband Mike was the builder and electrician. He found many ways to improve the structures, including changing the windows, taking out doors, eliminating a staircase and other modifications. He learned a lot about things he didn’t know were there to learn. I did the rest. The house was completed in the winter of 2008. Working pretty steadily, it took us a little over 4 months to complete.
Our 1935 Dollhouse combines purchased furniture and accessories in 1:12 scale as well as many items we made. I bought a lot of Town Square and Concord Miniatures from dealers in the U.S. The internet was a great source of vintage labels and period ephemera. I looked to Etsy for custom made items. My hope was to make the dollhouse look as real as possible, so when people looked in at the rooms they would have the experience of being in the house.
Although there are antique dollhouse furnishings and accessories available now that were made in the 1930’s such as Tootsie Toy or Kilgore, I felt they looked too rudimentary and well, like toys. I also ruled out going for a dingy, aged look. I wanted my Depression Era house to not be depressing. I wanted to see if it could be light and cheerful.
Sewing Room - Mini Handmade quilt by Judy.
Mike and I have a background in Art Pottery and Porcelain Restoration and have dealt a bit in the world of Antiques and Collectibles. I was able to expand on my sewing, painting and crafting abilities and learned how to make rugs, window treatments, food, product boxes and many more items. I created wallpaper from fabric by photo scanning. The internet was a great source of vintage labels and period ephemera. The kitchen stove was modified to look like a vintage Chambers or Tappan by adding some wood and aluminum. The dials and knobs are made from painted air dry clay and epoxy for a high gloss finish. I used this new skill to make the alarm clock in the bedroom. The plates above the stove are mostly handmade and painted by me based on 1930’s designs. Fruit and vegetables are made of colored wax for translucency and realism.
From my research on homes of the Depression Era, décor was relatively muted in colors. I found that very attractive and soothing. The exception to this muted color palette is in the kitchen- the heart of the home. Snappy jadeite canisters and radio from Twelfth Dimension on Etsy, along with bright red preserves in glass canning jars contrast and add to a sense of activity. The kitchen is packed with personality. The stove is on year round - day and night - pumping out hearty meals, breads and pies.
Other rooms are demure and peaceful. The bedroom was made in tones of blue and white and coordinating opposite toile.
Bedroom - Bedding, wallpaper and round rug made by Judy
Many parts of the house look very much like a home of today with the exception of modern day electronics. Also, houses of an era do not contain strictly one era. They encompass the styles and objects of what has come before. So we may have furniture and art that could be from a previous time. Lee’s Line suited the needs for chairs and sofas throughout the house.
The Art Room - Radio by Twelfth Dimension; splattered apron by Marquis Miniatures; art and supplies by Judy
The Greenhouse - Antique Seed box, Trellis and climbing roses made by Mike and Judy
The 1935 Dollhouse is just a joy to me. Every time I look at it, I feel an immediate sense of accomplishment and serenity. It is always the same, no matter what else is going on in the real world.
Through the process of research and creating the 1935 Dollhouse with Mike’s invaluable skills, I came to realize that there were some gaps in purchasable Depression Era décor. I also had a lot of energy and excitement about this time period and just didn’t want to stop creating. So, in 2011, Mike and I opened an Etsy Shop - Pixie Packet Miniatures - to sell handmade home décor representative of the 1930’s but also other American historical periods. An exciting trend we are seeing from our customers is a desire to recreate beloved objects from childhood. We get a real sense of satisfaction making these miniatures that are so close to the heart.
We are so grateful to have found our way into this imaginative miniature world. We look forward to years of creative delight.
Pixie Packet Miniatures Jadeite Seed Box, Bolster and Jadeite Sink and Stove