A Wonderful Dollhouse Before & After: The Restoration Begins

Welcome to the 769th Metamorphosis Monday! When I was growing up, I never had a dollhouse. Did you have one when you were little? I never even remember seeing a dollhouse when I was little, I guess none of my friends had them, either. I didn’t really become aware of dollhouses until I was much older, but once I did become aware of them, it made me really wish I had had one growing up.

One day many years ago while I was out antiquing, I came across an adorable dollhouse that was all decked out for Christmas. I didn’t purchase it that day, but I could not get it out of my head.

Victorian Dollhouse in Christmas Tablescape


You know when something haunts you and you can’t stop thinking about it? Well, I think that’s a good sign that it’s meant to be yours. I’m so glad I went back for it. It was decorated for Christmas but the wreaths and garland were all badly deteriorated, so I redid those. But it really needs a full renovation inside, too.

A Visit From Santa


When Elena, a lovely BNOTP reader, contacted me a few months back to say that she was about to start the process of renovating her childhood dollhouse, my ears definitely perked up. I couldn’t wait to see the house and what she had planned for it! Elena said, “After I made the bookstore book nook, I decided to pull the old doll house out of the garage where it was stored uncovered for decades. Mice and bugs had been living in it and although I had boxed up the furniture and accessories, the mice destroyed several pieces of furniture and some decorative items.”

Books about Books with Booknook of a Bookstore


Bookstore Book Nook is available here: Bookstore Book Nook. See my post about the book nook here: Building a Cozy Bookstore Book Nook for My Bookshelves.


Elena said, “I started collecting miniatures when I was ten or so. I used to display them on the bookshelves in my room. As I collected more and more, they were taking over all the shelves so my father decided to build a doll house for me. It was probably mid-seventies. He built most of it by hand, so much of it is not quite to scale. It never had exterior doors due to that fact, but I did manage to find some things that worked out.” (Photo below of Elena’s dollhouse back in the day.)


When Elena started thinking about how she wanted to renovate/restore her childhood dollhouse, she initially thought she would purchase all new furniture for it. Elena said, “I was going to use some new furniture, but when I put it in the house (a new dining room set) it made me really sad. I decided to keep it all original, maybe I will add more decorative items but I am keeping most of it the same including the dolls. These are the photos from when it was new–I probably took the photos in the late 70’s, early 80’s.”

It looks like the dad is working hard churning butter in the kitchen.


The dining room as it appeared when the house was new in the 1970s… Notice the wallpaper as we go through the photos of how her dollhouse looked when originally built by Elena’s dad.


I think this may be the living room because I see fireplace tools there alongside the fireplace. I like the pretty damask wallpaper.


An upstairs bedroom…awww, I see a kitty on the bed. ♥


Here’s the nursery…notice in the corner there’s a spiral staircase leading up to the attic rooms above.


As Elena mentioned, the dollhouse had been stored away in her garage for many years, so there were a lot of repairs to be made.


Here’s a view of the other side of the house. Elena said, “The front of the roof swings up but has no brace piece to leave up, so there are no other photos of that area.”


Elena opened the top and shared this photo of two of the attic rooms.


The photo below shows how the house looked before Elena began restoring it. Looks like the wallpaper is starting to come off in all the rooms, and the staircase has lost some of its balusters.


Elena began the demo process of removing the wallpaper.


Elena said, “I thought the wallpaper would be difficult to remove, but all I had to do was sponge some water/white vinegar on it and it came right off! I picked the wallpaper I used in the dining room because I thought that the chair rails would not come off. My father used a lot of epoxy so I had no clue that they would just come right off!”


Elena removed the old staircase railing that was missing balusters and the ceiling medallion that was on the verge of falling off. She had already removed some of the wallpaper in this room, as well.



Elena said, “The floors were wood so I used Murphy’s oil soap to wash it out and some stiff brushes to clean the roof. Especially glad I found something to fit in the door and French door openings!”


Remember the circular staircase? Elena said, “My 12-year-old mind was upset when there was no way to get up to the third floor. My father placated me by building a circular stair. It was falling apart and every time I went to do something, it got worse. So I had to remove it.

Later Elena wrote, “I have completed the kitchen, dining room, and girl’s bedroom. The center hall is almost done, waiting on my husband and son to wire in a replacement chandelier and glue in a replacement ceiling medallion. About the circular staircase, Elena said, “The circular stair was a hoot! My father made one by hand with dowels and slats. I think it was to appease my 12-year-old mind, “but HOW are they going to get up to the third floor?” Well, it totally fell apart so I found a vintage kit on eBay and made one myself!”


These are the parts Elena planned to use to rebuild the circular staircase.


Here’s how the staircase looked as she was constructing it.


Next, she gilded the details of the staircase.


Elena said, “I have to be insane to have done this–the detail in the chair rail was so nice, but you could not see it. I painted it by hand with a fine detail brush.”


Wow, amazing how it’s coming to life!


Beautiful! Can’t wait to see it in the house!


Behind the wainscotting, you can see the wallpaper that will be going above it in the same room. I have so many photos of the finished house to show you, I will need to share those in a separate post tomorrow. Please stop by tomorrow morning to see the finished house–it turned out beautifully! Looking forward to all the great Before and Afters linked for this week’s Met Monday!


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  1. Oh – How fun! it looks like a full on renovation – what a great idea! I actually had a METAL dollhouse when i was a child….

    I currently am “holding” a beautiful dollhouse that a family member made (a nephew), they were downsizing for a move and were going to give it away! Uh NO! so I now have that (it is huge – i will say). I am adding to it – along with my granddaughters…. it is a beautiful addition to “the grandkids” room, and will one day go back to the grandchildren of my nephew. Until then I get to enjoy it and add to it.

    • You are creating invaluable memories with your family Maggie! I had a Liddle Kiddle vinyl doll house when I was really young. That probably started it all!

  2. SharonFromMichigan says

    I never had a dollhouse when I was young, but my best friend next-door had one that her grandfather made for her. I would spend hours & hours playing with her dollhouse. I now buy old beaten up dollhouses at garage sales & rummage sales & enjoy spending the winter months bringing them back to life. I’ve brought three back to life so far. One was sold at my church’s Christmas market (for charity), one I gave to my husband’s cousin’s little girl, and one I was commissioned to repair & bring back to life. It seems like I get more enjoyment out of renovating them & giving them away (lol). I have a Christmas dollhouse that I built from a kit that I plan on donating to a local charity that raises money for foster kids so they can raffle it off. Dollhouses are just so intriguing to look at and work on – I totally understand the attraction to them! 🙂

    • I tried building one from a kit when my kids were younger, but neither of them showed much interest so I ended up selling it in a yard sale. I always wanted one that had an impressive exterior, after I recuperate from all the work I put into renovating my childhood doll house maybe I will try a kit!! I love that you donate them to such good causes!!

  3. WOW! A lot of work. I have a spiral staircase in my bedroom which leads to a loft. Elena I will keep you in mind if it ever needs to be repaired. I wish I still had my childhood porcelain bride doll.

  4. First off I love that Elena’s dad built her a doll house and put the spiral stairs in! I had a doll house when I was a young child, probably 4 years old, but it was back in the early 60’s and a store bought one. I still loved it as a child, but man what I would have given for a homemade on from a dad. Looks like Elena is doing a full on remodel and it is looking fabulous! Love that she is keeping with the original items as much as possible, so nostalgic! I also love all the different rooms her doll house has and that grand staircase! Even attic rooms. Love it! Can’t wait to see it all done! Hugs, Brenda

    • When I finally moved the doll house into a more permanent location I started furnishing it with some newer, more grand furniture and I got incredibly melancholy. I almost started to cry. My husband and son thought it may have been that I was done with the renovations but once I replaced the original furnishings I felt MUCH better. You are spot on with the feelings of nostalgia!!

      • We can never underestimate the powers of long ago emotions! Especially with things like this that are so sentimental. I’m glad you kept moving forward and realized you just needed the “old” things back in their place! Huge hugs, Brenda

  5. I love doll houses too, my mother in law gave an old one she bought somewhere to my daughter when she was little and I kept it and gave it a makeover, and gave it to her daughter, my granddaughter. You can see my renovations here:
    Such a fun and wonderful gift, have fun redoing yours Susan!

    • Oh My!! What a lovely doll house! The exterior reminds me of Tara, but the interior and furnishings are SO wonderful!! Something even younger children can interact with, which is SO important!!!

  6. lynn kopatich says

    I have a lithographed tin dollhouse from the 1950s but it is not mine. Mine hit the trash heap many years ago and I bought this one on Ebay in 2015 to use as a display at the Reid House in Matthews, NC. I decorated the house for 10 years and I added window wreaths, a Christmas tree and as much furniture as the house would hold. It was quite a hit with so many tea guests because they had a similar dollhouse when they were young. There was a dollhouse shop near my home and I bought a wood shell (already built) and finished it for my granddaughters in 1994. It was alot of fun but I’m certain they no longer have it. I also have a daddy built wood dollhouse built in the 40s that was donated to the Reid House and no one wanted it so I brought it home. It is a huge house and needs total renovation. Not sure if I will ever get that done.

    It was wonderful to see Elena’s daddy built dollhouse. It’s alot of work to bring a dollhouse into the current era but yours looks really good. Thanks for showing what you have done.

    • It was definitely a labor of love!! My husband liked the original as it had the feeling of folk art. My father did not buy a lot of stock doll house lumber and fittings even though he had access to them. I originally wanted to replace the interior doors with correctly sized ones but we were afraid I would demolish the whole house! He passed away in 1998, so working on it made me feel close to him, and brought back wonderful memories of him working on it.

  7. Love your “yellow” dollhouse, it reflects your blog header perfectly! Thanks so much for having us over! Have a great week.

    • I am completely smitten with the exterior of Susan’s doll house! I did not realize how well it goes with the blog header until you mentioned it! Hopefully my renovations will spur her on and we will see hers in an up coming Monday post!!!!

  8. This is AMAZING! Elena is doing a masterful job. Can’t wait to see the rest! I never had a doll house as a child but always wanted one! I dare say Susan’s renovation of hers will be next!

  9. Thank you SO much! If it wasn’t for Susan sharing her book nooks, I never would have thought about renovating it. When I posted my book nook on my facebook page, a high school friend posted that it reminded her of when my father was building the doll house. We would sneak into the basement work room to see what he had accomplished! Her memories made me bring the doll house out of the garage and start the rehab!!

  10. After I posted my comment about dollhouses, I realized it was likely difficult to understand. I meant I decorated the Reid House for 10 years and used the dollhouse as a display piece.

    I’m certain my dad put the tin dollhouse together for me as it was a Christmas present. But my dad built a treehouse for me, not a dollhouse. Dads are very special.

    • OH MY!!!! You are bringing back MORE memories! My Dad built the doll house for me, but also built a tree house for my brother, haven’t thought about that in years!!!

  11. Oh the memories!! I did have a dollhouse and I loved it so much! Elena’s is beautiful! And a working light no less. I love the gorgeous wallpaper and chair rail – wow! What a wonderful dad she had to not only make the house, but put in the circular staircase too. This is such a happy story – thanks so much to you and Elena for sharing it. Can’t wait to see the finished product. And thanks for hosting. Happy Monday!

    • Thank you so much! I was totally amazed that the lights still worked, ALL of them! Didn’t even need to replace a bulb!!! I do not want to give too much away so I will explain more about the lights in the next post!

  12. What a wonderful labor of love by both Elena and her dad! Can’t wait to see more. Thank you for sharing this very special post.

  13. SO glad you have enjoyed it so far!!

  14. Oh, how I love this post! I have been obsessed with miniatures since I was 5!(61 yrs ago). I had a Liddle Kiddles dollhouse & collected many, many miniatures that I was gifted by a great grandma & grandmother. I still have porcelain dogs from the 1950s, tiny trolls from the ‘60s, & more. I have begun collecting cabin/camp/Northwoods & Native American miniatures since we bought a lake house 7 years ago. So much fun!
    I love the restoration you have begun & look forward to the after photos!
    I also look forward to seeing how Susan adds to her darling house!

    • I do believe that the Liddle Kiddles Cape Cod vinyl doll house started it all for me!!! I also had the vinyl troll house that looked like a cave!!! How I wish I had kept those as well!!!

  15. A wonderful restoration full of so many memories. I love the back story on the circular staircase–even an opening up to the attic. Usually the staircases stop at the ceiling. I had a metal dollhouse in the 50’s, probably put together by my Dad (not my Mom). I don’t recall the furniture I had, but I still have a few of the dolls that came with it. Furniture and accessories really bring the rooms to life and Elena’s refurbish of the dining room is exquisite. Don’t mice make such a mess and wreck everything? This post brings back memories for sure. Can’t wait to see the finished dollhouse. It’s like a miniature HGTV episode!!

    • What wonderful comments, and yes the mice reeked havoc!!! I lost 2 dining room chairs, the kitchen work table and the top of the original kitchen hutch. The one thing that really bothered me was the dining room tablecloth that my Grandmother crocheted! The first one she made was a little thick so she made another with really fine thread. Well the mice loved it, but at least I have one of them. I guess it could have been worse, the poor father lost his pants!!!!!!

      • Oh that is so sad to lose the furniture and anything cloth, especially since your Grandmother crocheted the tablecloth! It sounds like everyone was involved in making you the best ever dollhouse. I’m so glad that you are capable of doing a renovation. I’d have the paint all over the place. It’s going to be a wonderful treasure. (For me, the mice got into my porcelain dolls. It gave me the creeps, maybe even a bit of hysteria(!), to think they were climbing all over them. Washed everything and had to patch a few holes in cloth dresses!)

  16. I love Elena’s doll house and the restoration – especially the gilding on the circular stairs and the lovely painting on the panels. What a labor of love. I’ve always wanted a doll house, and this makes me want to get one to restore, but I don’t think I have that skill set. 😉 I was struck by the way the unrestored house had the same type of wear a real house has after being unoccupied for years – peeling ceiling paint, etc.

    There’s a museum close to me – the High Point Museum (NC) that has an amazing collection of miniature rooms. You can see them online, I think. They’re called Meredith’s Miniatures and they are incredible.

    Susan – thanks for sharing this great post. (And, also, thanks for the tip last week about the shutter magnets – I have needed those since moving into this house 2 years ago, but never thought about simply replacing the cracked ones!) Have a great fall week!

    • So funny, while I was doing the restoration I thought the same thing. While the house was a mess I was dying to suspend a miniature bucket of paint from the center hall second floor, like Kevin did in Home Alone 2 Lost in New York!!!!! It’s almost the same thing on a much smaller scale!!!!

  17. I never had a dollhouse nor knew any kids that did, but I am so intrigued by this reno and can’t wait til tomorrow! The peeks today are so incredible.

  18. franki parde says

    HOLIE SMOKE!! That is a work of art! Our Botanic Gardens just displayed “antique doll homes”…this one “takes the cake!!!” franki

  19. Susan,
    Love the doll house!! In fact, I liked up mine decorated for Halloween today…
    Thanks so much for hosting this lovely party each and every week!! I really appreciate the time and effort that goes into it along with visiting all the links and choosing Features!!! Thank You!! I hope you are having a great week!!

  20. I like your dollhouse decorated for Christmas and the one so carefully restored. Yes, I had a metal dollhouse and enjoyed playing with it a lot. I can still it in my memories.

  21. Memories like yours are what prompted me to restore my doll house!!! I still love looking at photos of the older metal doll houses!

  22. Elena, thanks for sharing. I didn’t have a dollhouse as a kid, I played with a small tin covered sea chest and put my coveted stuff inside. However, I love miniatures. I have good news. Try http://www.miniatures.com. They have a catalog to order anything your heart desires. Sometimes they have a contest that will blow your mind. Such talent. There are miniature clubs who make amazing things.
    Susan, does this mean we are still little girls at heart ?

    • Thanks for the tip, I will look into it!!! I definitely need more decorative items. Young at heart is a GOOD thing!!!!!

  23. How adorable! I never had one either but my ‘rich’ cousins did and I still go back to that time and dream when I see one or the furniture that goes in one. Being in the antique business, I’ve sold some accessories and even a house at one time….too much renovation for me to tackle but I still dream!!!!! I love everything miniature!

  24. Oh so do I!!! A couple pieces on a shelf, a small grouping in a curio or cabinet, a single room box all make great decorative accents. Although be careful! In my case they took over my entire book case, my mom started freaking out so Dad built me the doll house!!! LOL!!!!

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