Willie Wright made this doll house for his granddaughters during the 1980s. His daughter, Penny Wright Wiley, still has the house on display in her home. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Big hands are creating small details on dollhouses designed for adults
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Published in the Hannibal Courier-Post
June 3, 1981
Some doll houses are for children, others are constructed by and built for adults. Willie Wright and Phil Haag, both of Hannibal, are adults building their own miniature worlds.
They have worked together for the last six months, sharing the secrets they have learned from experience.
“When you first start you don’t know where to go or what to do,” said Wright, who is now working on his third doll house.
Haag began his work with miniature furniture, which he carefully assembled with an eye for detail. His first doll house was born out of a need for a place to display his doll-size furniture.
Wright was instrumental in getting Haag started building his first house. “You can do it if you want to – all you have to do is try,” Wright says.
Wright’s hobby began last fall when he visited a shop in the Lake of the Ozarks which featured doll houses and furniture. “Don Cole (who owns the shop) said, ‘Let me sell you a set of plans, you go home and cut it out and let me know what you need.’ It was like a set of blue prints – nothing to tell me how to construct the house,” Wright says.
After cutting out the wood for the frame of the house, he found he needed a few windows, siding for the house, doors and a staircase. He ordered these items from t he supplier, and the total for the first order was $164.35.
“These were just a few things I needed,” Wright says.
By this time, however, working in a miniature world was in his blood. Instead of paying $3.90 for a window which didn’t open and close, he made his own that did. He bought a staircase for $14.95 plus shipping, but instead of using the one he purchased, he copied it and made his own.
Experience has been the best teacher, Wright says. He has experimented with several types of wood, and has now settled on basswood, which is smooth and doesn’t split when cut to the tiny proportions needed.
He initially was taught to apply siding to the house with hot glue, but found that it causes wrinkles and fails to adequately fasten the siding to the structure. Now Wright uses contact cement for this purpose.
So far, probably the most exasperating part of building the doll houses has been applying the roof, Wright says. “It took 22 houses to put on the roof – there are probably about 2,200 shingles. I glued them on using hot glue – one at a time,” he says.
Wright has taken great pains to make sure his doll houses are built right. “If I have a question about how something should be, I look at the outside of my house to see how it’s done.” He uses his ruler, square and level to assure every part is square, just as carpenters do when building a conventional house. “If you don’t get it right, you’re done for,” Wright says.
Once the doll house is complete, the decorator moves in. In wright’s case, it is his wife, Bonnie, who carefully finishes the tiny details which make a doll house a doll home.
“What do you cover the floors with?” was the first question she asked. She has found that doll house wallpaper and floor covering books are available, but she has had problems finding wallpaper the right Height for the townhouse her husband built.
“The house has 10-inch ceilings, and the wallpaper comes in eight-inch pieces,” she says. Conventional wallpaper is seldom suitable, because the print must be extremely small to be in proportion.
She has learned to make lamps from beads, tiffany lamps from ping pong balls, and how to make lace curtains from strips of lace fastened onto dowel rods.
Once the house was built and decorated, it was time to show it off. Wright carefully lifted it off its stand in his basement workshop, and began balancing it up the steps. The doll house just barely made it through the only exit from the basement.
“I never gave a thought to the fact I might not be able to get it out of the basement – I go up and down the stairs all the time, and if someone as big as me can get up the stairs, I ought to be able to get the doll house up, too,” he theorizes.
He took the doll house to the downtown Commerce Bank – where he is branch manager – for the first public showing, and bank patrons were impressed. He hopes to have a booth in Central Park during the Fourth of July festivities, and plans to put up for sale the three doll houses he is now constructing.
Future plans call for building a doll house for each of his five children, and one for his wife, who intends to extensively decorate it.
Wright feels that building this doll house, which consumes most of his spare time, is the answer to a life-long ambition. “It’s a challenge – I always wanted to build a house, and I did – a miniature house,” Wright says.
Mrs. Haag summed up her husband’s work with his doll house and furniture: “He made every piece – no one knows just how much of himself he put in it.”