A WWII dollhouse: My woes about an umbrella stand

The last couple of weeks, I have once again tried to move forward to have a WWII dollhouse, or should I say a dollhouse with the theme of a WWII house in London, during the Blitz. To create such, is no laughing matter. It demands oodles of money, which I do not have. So the first step is to realize, that this will have to be done in steps, tiny steps, over years and years to come. My daughter E. says I am an idiot, that I have talked about it now for years, and yet, I do not have a physical house even. Mmmm. To be called an idiot is not fun at all, and what she doesn’t understand is, that part of the fun, is the careful planning.

I did actually make an effort last Christmas and wished for the house of my dreams. No, not the house of my dreams. That can not be had, since it would demand custom carpentry. Who knows where that bill would land? No, that dream house was sold on eBay years ago, was custom-made and was pick up only, in Britain, for the sum of £300. I just have to show it right here, because it WAS perfect!

dreamhouse

Very simple front, but a typical Victorian house from the East End. Custom made by the seller’s husband and was an exact copy of the house the seller grew up in.

dreamhouseentry

Entering the house, the typical narrow stairwell and sitting room on the side. Master bedroom on the first floor.

kitchenofdrreamhouse

The unique part of this wonderful dollhouse was, that it was not made in the usual square way, but was built-in the way houses really looked and look. Rooms behind other rooms. Like this angle of the dollhouse, which shows the beautiful 30s kitchen with tiled floor and the smaller bedroom behind the master bedroom, on the first floor. And check out the garden with the outdoor loo door open and the Anderson shelter. Can it get more perfect than this?

sideofdreamhouse

The final view shown on eBay was this, where you once again see the kitchen door, tiny window and the open door to the outdoor loo. How I wish dollhouses were always built this way or that I had a handy father alive still, who could have built one for me. Or my grandfather, another true artisan.

No, I have had to lower my dreams to a pre-fabricated Georgian house, which will house the rooms I desire, but which might or might not be totally historically correct, for my Blitz”family”. But I will return to houses, in a later post. Especially since my husband was not at all interested in getting me a dollhouse for Christmas, saying we have no room for one. Like most women, I will have to go behind his back instead, one day, and buy it by myself, when I have got the money together. Sad, but when your husband do not agree with your plans, then you have to fulfill them yourself. Reality after 28 years of marriage!

No, this post is about something else. While I do not recommend panic buys or spur of the moment buys, there is something called waiting too long to act. And I have become the victim of this twice now, in a most disappointing way.

It is about two years or more now, since I decided that I finally want to fulfill this life long dream of mine. I started to research as much as I could. And that is an ongoing thing. Because if you say you are making a Blitz house, you can’t put the wrong items in to your house. You can’t put in things which were not invented yet, 1940. You can’t put in designs and materials not existing then. A Blitz house can’t have a cupcake on a table, nor any cake at all really, since sugar was rationed. It can’t have a wash machine or a modern looking closet or modern patterned wallpapers. You have to find out how things were done and look for the items used. Like how washing was done, cooking, etc. What was used to accomplish what we today do in a fast and maybe not so painstakingly difficult way. But, there are not that many things out there, which will  suit a Blitz house in particular.

What I have discovered during these two years, is the fact that Europe seems besotted with Shabby Chic. Cute houses in pink and scratched off paint, is all over Etsy, for instance. And while I love it, that is not the look you are trying to create in a Blitz house. Another thing I have discovered, is that the market, otherwise, pretty much gears towards “Downton Abbey” houses. You see it in houses available, everything from almost Downton itself, if not Mr. Darcy’s “Pemberley”, to smaller mansions. And the separate items are disproportionally Victorian. While I do not object to having Victorian items in my Blitz house, an ordinary family would not have had the same items as the “Earl of Grantham” and his descendents! There is a hopeless lack of ordinary people’s items, needed for a Blitz house.

How can I say that I do not mind Victorian items, in a Blitz house,  when Victoria died in 1901? Because when I grew up, I saw items in my grandmother’s house from previous generations. If the items still had a function and worked, they survived and were passed down from generation to generation. Why throw away something which works? The 1939-1945 house would have contained things from both the Victorian era, Edwardian era and Art Deco, which came after that. They mixed and matched, if they were ordinary people. And that is what I want to create, a pretty typical house in 1940-1941, which has not been bombed.

Art Deco is a wonderful period in my opinion. But from everything I have read, only the most brave in Britain went for it. And they usually had money. And money, is what you must have today, if you want to buy Art Deco things for your dollhouse. The items available are rare and hard to find. And they cost an arm and a leg. I would suggest perhaps a picture frame and a clock for your house, but I would not stretch much further than that. Most people did purchase little things like that, for their homes back then, but they did not go for any big things. It was too risky for a fad! They liked the old and traditional things!

But this brings me over to the real topic of this post. While looking for the perfect items for your period house, you need to be aware of that the item that you put in your note-book for future purchase, might not be there forever. Big shops like Doll House Emporium, will have mass produced items from China, which can be had for years no doubt. But the little perfect gems for your house, which will make all the difference, are not from China. They are handmade by artisans. And they might stop making the items that you are in love with.

Come to the point woman, is probably your thoughts by now. I will, soon…

Alongside, my historical research, I started to drool over things available on the internet. I got myself a big notebook, hardcover, and started writing down shops I am interested in. And I spent hours and hours going through all their categories and items. Painstakingly I wrote up all items I fell in love with, could imagine in my dollhouse, and their prices. Because it only took two-three shops, before I realized that there is a price war going on, when it comes to in particular houses, but also on other items like WWII packages of food etc. Did I buy a single thing? No! Because the sad fact is, that wherever you shop, you can’t just buy a small thing here and a small thing there. You have to make a large order with EVERYTHING you want out of a particular shop, at one time. Or most of your money will be eaten up by postage. Now, it might be easier if you live in Britain and shop from British shops, but the fact is that I, who live in Sweden, will be robbed every time I shop, thanks to hideous postage. Etsy sellers ask for the most outrageous postage of all. You have to remember that these items weigh absolutely nothing, so it is ridiculous to charge an arm and a leg for the items to be shipped. They certainly loose business from me, for sure, because of it.

But the same goes for British and Swedish internet shops. They make postage so expensive, that you are forced to make large orders. So most of the items I want, are written in those long wish lists, page after page, shop after shop. Waiting for me to have the extra cash, to buy some dollhouse items for a non-existing dollhouse.

All this said, two items in particular have been on my mind for the past year. The first one, is a Victorian umbrella stand. About a year and a half ago, I went to Miniatura. The dollhouse fair in Birmingham’s NEC, in Britain. I felt that before I made silly mistakes, I needed to go to a fair and see what is available out there. I wanted to HOLD the items seen on the internet and see what they looked like. To look at quality from different places but also get inspiration. I did spend money on little knickknacks, learned a little bit what to stay away from and what to aim for. It was a marvellous day which ended way too quickly. I learned that miniature people are a certain breed and most sellers were very talkative and very sweet. But not all!

My greatest disappointment was with a man hosting the stall for Phoenix and Warwick Pewter items. I LOVE those. The problem is, that they come unpainted. And paint is hard to locate in Sweden, as well as expensive. Add to that, my poor eyesight and you have a real problem. All the same, I was excited to go there and buy items. Only, they had hardly brought anything I was interested in. And the man was cold and rude, contrary to most other sellers.  I did not dare to walk up to the stall, to be honest, till he had walked off on an errand and his wife had taken his place. I managed to get hold of two of my most beloved wish list items, an ARP helmet and stirrup pump. But they are still to this day, unpainted, since I am petrified of ruining them with painting wrong/ugly.

umbrellastandphoenix

In another stall, I found their umbrella stand, beautifully painted, I thought, in petrol colour (see above). But of course, that seller wanted more than what Phoenix themselves charges. And I did not consider, in my amateurishness, that if you count all the work and paint required, and left over paint, good for nothing else perhaps, it might actually have been a tolerable price. It did not help that the lady selling, was also a rude person, sitting looking angry. I fled her table. Eight months ago, I could still not forget that umbrella stand. I got the floor plan out, for the shops at the fair, trying to figure out, what shop it was which had sold the ready painted umbrella stand. But to no avail. I could not find it on the internet.

So I started searching all shops for umbrella stands and nothing measured up. And the ones who sold painted Phoenix model developments’ umbrella stands, had all painted them black. Well, I can paint black thank you, perfectly, myself. And save half the price. Finally I contacted Phoenix themselves and had my heart-broken. While they had had a picture on the internet (the one above), which I long ago put on pinterest, as a thing I want for my dollhouse, with the petrol colour, they had taken it away. And the reason was, that they no longer have the painted version. And it was not paint but a manufacturing process, that created the colour I love so much. How angry did I get at myself, for not having bought the umbrella stand when I stood with it in my hand at Miniatura? Can’t describe it.

So I searched for similarly coloured paints, with no luck. And then I searched for a seller, I had seen on Etsy, which I thought I had seen selling that same colour umbrella stand, over two years ago. But I could not even find the seller again. Till about a month ago. Through some old tabs and I don’t know how, I finally found her again. A woman from Malta who paints a LOT of Phoenix things. And when you think about the added price, do consider the hassle, all the things you have to buy in order to paint, and with poor eyes, you might create nothing but a mess. That is how I ended up thinking. Unfortunately, she no longer had that petrol umbrella stand, if she ever did. I might have remembered wrong. I did contact her and ask her about it, and she just returned an answer that it was the factory which had created that look, not paint. After a lot of correspondence, back and forth, I have now made a special order from Rebecca, to have a Phoenix umbrella stand painted as closely to the original as possible. I am sure that she will be able to do a much, much better job than I ever could. And she sits with ALL colours at home. Add to that, all the experience of having painted these items for years, having mixed colours and so forth, to get the right effect. I totally trust her. I had to, since it was pre-payment only.  But this is just a sad example that one can wait too long to act.

My second example, is from dealings with a wonderful shop called Small Wonders Miniatures. Amazing shop with even a separate category of items, called Wartime. Two years ago, I found the site via a dollhouse magazine and my wishlist soon became endless. I fell in love and when I say in love, I mean it VERY strongly, with some items in particular. Like a gasmask and box for it. Now you must realize that I have scoured all internet shops for wartime things and NOONE sells a gasmask, only an empty box. No problem finding that! But I never ordered the gasmask, the waste bin for food disposal meant for pigs in the country, the black out curtain kit for a sewing corner, the Kodak camera, dried eggs can… Because it all cost a fortune together and shipping starts at £6 for items up to £20, even if they weigh absolutely nothing. The next £10 you spend, will make the postage to £10 all in all. And however I did my math, I was always forced to take things out of the shopping bag, to end up below £20 and I still thought the £6 shipping bad.

After I paid for my umbrella stand, which will not be with me for a long time, first having to be made and then shipped from Malta, I felt that it was time to buy one more thing. The gasmask and box. Happily I found the shop, even without my misplaced notebook, and to my horror I went over the five wartime pages over and over again, without finding the gasmask and box. Gone was also the Kodak camera and the waste bin is sold out. I contacted the owner and she had nothing but sad news. There was a lady, who made the gasmasks and other quality items. But before Christmas she announced that she was quitting making dollhouse items. The owner of Small Wonders…, bought all her items, but the gasmasks sold out right away. Now I almost hit the roof. I wanted to rip out my hair because this item is a MUST in a Blitz house. In my mind I have the perfect  picture of my hallway. You go in through the doors, and on the wall is a coat rack. On that one hangs an ARP helmet and the gasmask!!! No way I can go without that!

So, I swallowed my pride. And wrote back. I asked if I could have the lady’s address because if a lonely Swedish mum writes and says what her plans are, well, can one really be that callous and say no to making ONE more gasmask? I did not put it quite like that though, but the answer would not have changed. No name, no address. Just a message saying that the owner of the shop had asked the lady if she would be willing to make just for her, a couple of items for her personal use. And the lady had answered that she was getting rid of all her supplies. So end of story. But not so for me. My daughter, who claims that I am an idiot, said “just make one yourself”. I told her that I do not have the eye sight for it, nor do I know where one could find the proper supplies for it. I also informed her, that years ago, I bought a Jane Harrop book about the 1930s and 1940s, and sure, she shows how to do things, but I have no way of getting the supplies at all. So nice book to drool over, but it can’t help me practically.

The first thing I did, after buying that book, was going to her page to see what it was about. She had kits, but more for furniture than things like a GASMASK! Now, in my sorrow about the gasmask and box being gone forever, I headed over to Jane Harrop’s site, just to drool over pretty things available to make, for the handy person. And lo and behold: SHE HAS MADE A GASMASK imageKIT! Yes, yes, yes. I could almost have kissed her. I was jumping for joy and ordered it right away. I have never seen Jane Harrop’s kits, but I love her book and I love the fact that she has reasonable postage, contrary to all the other shops, so I will recommend her any day, even if I can never assemble the gasmask kit. But, we are plenty of hands here at home. If I can not do it, maybe someone else can? If nothing else, I guess I have to send it over to my missionary son in England, and have him do it, since he used to paint Warhammer figurines from Lord of the Rings.

So, if I can say one thing today, it is: Hurry slowly when it comes to dollhouse things and having a themed house. You need to do a lot of research to create the real thing. BUT when you see things which are evidently scarce, go for it. If nothing else, sell it on eBay or Etsy, if it does not fit in to your scene. There will always be other happy recipients of the items.

 

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