The dollhouse

From the age of 7 up until high school, I thought I would grow up to be a historical reenactor, working at Williamsburg, churning butter and wearing straw hats. I'm only telling you this because I trust you not to tell anyone else. It's pretty embarrassing.

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It all started with American Girl dolls. Micha and I got our first dolls in '88, back when they were still incredibly special and handmade in Germany. The dolls (Kirsten and Sam to start with) and their clothes were neat, but what I loved most were the miniature doll antiques that went with them.

Samantha's Victorian artist's box had actual tubes of oil paint, which thrilled me to no end. Real paint! In metal tubes!

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Coming from a family that supports a healthy obsession, my dad built my sister and I a 3 story dollhouse that topped out at 10 feet tall. So tall it can't fit through any of our doorways. It's still there, full to the brim with wallpaper, miniature quilts, little christmas trees during the holidays. I'm pretty sure my mom spent all of her disposable income keeping us stocked in doll sized hatboxes.

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Dollhouse kitchen


Dollhouse treats
I think my mom got a kick out of seeing me sprawled out on the living room floor, methodically dusting and straightening everything in the dollhouse when I was taking these pictures. I swear, I was not playing with dolls, 25 year olds don't play with dolls. I was playing with things inside the dollhouse. Which, you know, is kind of the same thing.

Again. Don't tell anyone, I'm trying to retain a smidgen of dignity here.

45 comments:

  1. my dear emerson ~ you are an old soul who should most definitely be swept away into doll-land any time you please! you are clearly connected to the charm of the past and your delight in how it touches you is purely delightful for all of us ...
    thank you ... and you're secret is safe here ~
    prairiegirl xo

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  2. I remember my American Girl Doll so fondly. I had Kirsten, too. My mom bought her for me because we decided she had the best accessories. So many good times playing with her, it makes me want to go home and get the trunk out of the basement :)

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  3. but wait--where's the doll? please tell me you still have her somewhere.

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  4. Aw...dignity isn't all it's cracked up to be.

    My daughter from time to time visits her dollhouses (that are still at my house) and dusts them. I think she secretly would like to play with them again. Don't tell her I said that

    -TJ

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  5. I'm 22 and I still play with dolls lol. They're called Blythes and aren't as childish...in a way. lol (http://thisisblythe.com)

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  6. Emerson,
    Within every woman is a little girl who is alive and well and ready to be spontanious. Play, enjoy, relive memories...at 50+ I am building, furnishing, and yes playing with my dollhouses. Of course to the rest of the world I'm just maintaining my treasures!
    Enjoyed your post a bunch!

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  8. Diane is right. I'm a mother of two, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to relive some of my happiest childhood memories with my daughter. I get to play with dolls, dress up clothes, puzzles, coloring books, a play kitchen, and sing silly songs. The magic doesn't have to end, you know. And (wink wink) your secret's safe with me.

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  9. Hi Amy, It's me again and I can't believe the co-incidences are still happening! Williamsburg...we loved it when we visited...so admired the families soaking up their heritage, and we stayed with a dear old lady who was 83 and still drove an enormous cadillac parked in her backyard which the chickens had made their second home! As for the American Girl Doll....Jan my daughter ordered one last year all the way from the US of A as a Christmas gift for her daughter Eliza, together with several items of furniture for her Dolls House....They arrived in the most beautiful packaging all a delight to behold !

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  10. How beautiful! I still want to be a historical reenactor, in a ghost town called Barkerville in B.C. What a great story-telling job that would be. A 10-foot high doll house. Now that's what I call a healthy obsession.

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  11. Oh my god thats the most amazing collection! the little paint box is awesome! I would love to see the whole dolls house, and the outside!!

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  12. oh yes, more peeks into that lovely world please. how amazing that you can just step back in time to your childhood. it's a good secret to keep.

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  13. I love this post...I am in love with dollhouses, old things, dolls, etc. I, too LOVE Williamsburg and would love to have lived in this time period.

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  14. doll house crockery! wardrobes! rolling pins! my parents didn't really buy us toys. i grew up in the country and we never knew we needed them. how could they!? i NEEDED these doll house treasures! can you post more photos? thanks!

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  15. Loved your post. What a lucky young girl you were to have such wonderful, giving parents. If I should ever have a granddaughter I so want to gift her with an American Girl doll. The accessories and your doll house are fantastically beautiful.

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  16. I had...have Addie and Josephine. And all the accessories. I would always set everything up so that it looked just so, and I would admire my decorating abilities...control freak in the making....

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  17. I'm drooling over that dollhouse. I must see more! :)

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  18. i love dollhouses and was quite obsessed with them as a little girl - not for the dolls, but the furniture. oh...i how i loved the furniture! one of my favorite places to gawk at dollhouses is at the chicago art museum...they have a fabulous dollhouse exhibit!

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  19. ...Oh don't you worry a bit, we got your back...*giggle*wink*

    ...And color me green with envy that you have that kind of home to always return home to - you are blessed!

    ...Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos too!

    ...Blessings... :o)

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  20. Oh, my, did you steal my entry? I haven't quite posted it yet, but I was essentially going to write the very same thing! Just, with different pictures, of course. :) And the paint box - OH my. That was also one of my favorites. Actually, that whole set, with the pine bean bag and the butterfly net and the sketchbook and the flower press, and her little sailor suit... It lured me into a world I had not a clue about (both early 1900s and New England tradition) and I was hooked. I wanted to become a historian thereafter.

    I recently cleaned out my parents house of unnecessary goods, and I was pretty mean about it, threw away tons. Nothing extremely sentimental, just lots of junk. And I have to admit, I briefly considered the AG dolls and extras, and couldn't do it - especially when I went online to see what they were worth, and found out that they have just discontinued Samantha! It broke my heart!

    So I spent a day and a half preserving them. I wrapped each outfit individually in tissue paper and bagged them in waterproof plastic, cleaned all the dolls, brushed their hair and wrapped them in a linen cloth, and protected the furniture and accessories with paper and bubble wrap. Now I've got 6 boxes and a trunk of AG history to give to my daughter one day. I hope she'd love them as much as we did!

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  21. Hi - just found this site by accident. You have NO IDEA how JEALOUS I am of that doll's house!

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  22. Can we see pictures of the whole dollhouse? My sister and our friend Jen also had slightly obsessive AG habits in the 80's and early nineties. Very elaborate story lines and activities. I recently found some dialogue that we had written down, I think we had written a play for the dolls...totally hilarious and ridiculous. I think it's a little sad how commercialized AG has become, it was so special before Mattel bought the brand, we were already interested in social history, (lots of trips to Williamsburg, granny boots, long skirts, gardening) but the dolls made it so real and available. I hope that my (future) children will someday be as interested and obsessive as we were!

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  23. ha! my dream job in college was to work at williamsburg! i just went to this amazing Swedish open air museum (like williamsburg) it's one of the largest in the world. you would have loved it. i need to go back and take photos.

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  24. Oh. My. God. As little girl, I lived for those American Girl catalogs. I would pore over them as if by memorizing each little thing, somehow I could make them spring from the pages. I wanted Samatha so desperately. The dream of an old chest filled with miniature dresses and tiny props was one that fueled my creativity for many years. It was the impetus for my creation of many a doll wardrobe, and when I learned of the existence of dollhouse kits I saved my pennies until I could buy just the one I wanted. It was a 2 story Victorian with a little white porch, and I filled it with tiny things, and even went so far as to make a special patchwork quilt, and little embroidered pillows. I am happy to say, that it now resides proudly on my daughter's dresser, and I get a special little thrill whenever I see her rearranging the furniture.

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  25. Your life is so cute.
    My parents bought me an American Girl Doll when I was maybe 10. I mostly just used her clothes on my cat.

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  26. I'm 48 and I still want a doll house!...AND I love legos even though my son is 18. They are stored in the garage but I'm often tempted to drag them out and play with them!

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  27. i used to have a splendid log cabin construction kit...and would endlessly build and rebuild wee housies in various permutations

    sadly the kit was up in the attic when the family home was consumed by the '83 bushfires

    these days i just make sculptural piles of sticks in our woods...

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  28. 1) Did you know they phased out Samantha? I recently found out and was truly dismayed. I ADORED Samantha and styled my hair exactly like hers.

    2) I wanted so desperately to work in Colonial Williamsburg that I came thisclose to applying to Wm and Mary. I snapped out of it and now I DO work in Williamsburg, but as a reporter who pretends CW is lame b/c everyone else thinks it is. I still secretly think it's awesome.

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  29. oh, samantha. i had samantha, too, purchased in 1990 with pennies saved in a construction paper-covered tin can. these shots are perfect!

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  30. Oh shoot. If i recall Samantha would have cost aprox. 10,000 pennies. That's a lot for a little girl!

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  31. You reached into my soul here, A.M. I spent time one elementary school summer playing a child at our local restoration village, and I desperately coveted the accouterments of Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. A few years ago I spent a couple of overnights at the American Girl store for a job, and the sheer disappointment at what it has become distracted me from any potential eeriness of being almost alone in a massive doll store at 4 am, A.M.

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  32. Amazing! I'm always stumbling across dollhouse furniture on eBay and thinking it's the real, life-sized thing... harumph! I wish antique wardrobes could be had for $5.99 plus shipping!

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  33. Hahaha! I laughed out loud at this post because it is so me :) I had both Kirsten and Felicity and loved them so dearly. My cousin, who is more like a sister to me, would eagerly inhale the catalogs and would strategize for months over the phone on how to best use our $2.50 allowance a week to purchase the accessories. Sadly, all these strategy sessions were pipe dreams because my mom thought the accessories were dumb and would not let me spend my money on them… I’m going to send her this post of yours and remind her of this injustice :) However, I did have almost all the dresses for both and several my Mamie (grandmother) made, plus I had this trunk my mom made for me. You must post pictures of this doll house!!! I need to start planning and visualizing now for giant doll house for my daughters that have not yet been conceived yet :) I had all these “extra” American girl books for each of the characters. For example, Felicity had this colonial cookbook & craft book and paper doll book that I cooked every recipe and did every craft out of, and cut out every paper doll. I went to Williamsburg, finally, three/ fours years ago and almost hyperventilated at the sight of it all! Those hats they wore with their little caps under them made me swoon; actually just thinking about all this makes me swoon. Fabulous post!

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  34. I loved reading this. I would have done anything to have such a cool dollhouse as a little girl - in fact I'd still love one! It's amazing to see that you and some of your readers also longed to work at Colonial Williamsburg. It was my dream! In fourth grade I made a model of the Governor's Mansion out of cardboard and construction paper and I remember drawing every brick. Don't get me started on the ginderbread cookies - I can smell them right now. I read the American Girls books and wanted to own one of the dolls SO MUCH and have a matching dress for myself. Amanda H.

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  35. ME TOO! ME TOO!
    I love miniatures. It makes me want to take a special Alice in Wonderland pill to become small and live in your doll house. I know you would play gently with respect!

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  36. Don't worry about "cleaning "your doll house.
    One of the quotes I love is:
    "Maturity is being able to be the right age at the right time."

    Soooo...
    Go for it. Indulge in playing in your doll house. That's the time you can celebrate your unique youth. We all know you wouldn't pull out your dolls during a job interview when you have to be your most mature.
    (Or would you?!)

    Enjoy being all the ages that live on inside of you. If you do, it gives us permission to as well!

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  37. I love this post and am jelous of your doll house. I too grew up playing with American Girl dolls (I had Samantha and Felicity). There is nothing wrong growing up to be a historical reenactor, I did! Ok sometimes I keep it a secret.

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  38. I love this story! Thank you so much for sharing this glimpse into the little girl world I loved--gorgeous miniatures, tiny handmade curtains in tiny bay windows...sweet little dolls for imaginative little girls. I say, go for it! Everytime I visit my parents' apt. in San Francisco, I venture into the garage with my mom to hang out with the dollhouse we made together in 1990...

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  39. wow! i have a very similar story. i was completely obsessed with american girl dolls when i was little. we also had a huge doll house my dad built in my bedroom. and my grandpa made furniture for my christmas presents every year. i poured over the magazines and would save my pennies to get the dolls and their accessories. i admit, i was into them even at the age of fifteen (i'm also 25 and the dolls are still displayed in my bedroom), though i didn't exactly tell everyone at the time... then one day i went to a living history village near where i live and now i'm hooked on living history! and i sew historical clothing for a living. i'm a total nerd and i love it! :)

    p.s. i'm delighted with your blog!!

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  40. My goodness we are kindred spirits! I too feel in love with Williamsburg at about age 8 when I first visited and thought for sure I would grow up to be one of the reenactors. This again happened when I visited Salem, MA and other such historical cities. I was about 8 when I got my first American Girl (Molly) and I was enamored with the tee-tiny accessories that went with them (Molly had a perfect little peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was just too incredible for words!). My collection eventually grew to include other dolls as I have no brothers or sisters so those dolls were much like my siblings sitting in their own chair next to me at dinner, etc... I did so much with them but mostly I loved reading their stories and playing with their detailed miniatures (I have also been obsessed with miniatures since a very young age). I have done my best to preserve them and look forward to maybe one day having a little girl of my own to pass them down to. Around Christmas time last year my mother passed by the American Girl store on 5th Ave and couldn't resist the Kaya doll so 20 years later, I got another American girl and the truth is I took her out of the box and played with her for a little while, I don't see anything wrong grown-ups with playing with dolls! I would LOVE to see more pictures of your doll house it must be a dream!

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  41. This is great. Great great great! My boyfriend and I just started a blog/etsy shop and I was prowling the internet for other good blogs when I came across yours. Reading all these comments -here must be a whole underground crew of now-adult-girls who were enchanted with Williamsburg. I went so far as to apply to William & Mary in the hopes I could study Historic Preservation and give garden tours on the side. Instead ... Southern California. Oh well.

    I had Kirsten growing up and I still love her sampler and wooden spoons, and tiny Christmas buns. But I simply won't admit that I can still fit into her matching dress. I won't.

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  42. I just had a sense of deja vu reading this.. growing up, my sister and I both had American Girl dolls. I had Samantha (because I thought she looked like me) and my sister had Kirsten. Our dad build us a 2 story dollhouse with an attic. We bought a bunch of doll dress patterns and sewed them dresses to give their wardrobe variety. It was good times!

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  43. Oh my goodness this nearly brought tears to my eyes it brings back so many memories of first me playing with my mums samantha doll (she got from my dad when my sister was born because she was named samantha . awesome right? ) and then me getting my own Kirsten doll later on. oh I would spend hours making things for them, brushing their hair, dressing them up, sewing clothes for them. *sigh* I miss them being handmade and looking that way. I love my doll still so much because she was one of the handmade ones.

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