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The Little Belle — a half scale dollhouse by Jim Marcus and Lew Kummerow

Earlier this summer I went to a sale at Peg’s Dollhouse in Santa Rosa and bought what might be the coolest dollhouse I’ll ever own. Peg buys and resells old stock and estates, so she’s guaranteed to have stuff you can’t find anywhere else. When I visited her shop once before I got a bunch of old furniture kits and building supplies including the hard to find Littlewonders Lumber flooring strips I’m now in love with. This time she was selling off the contents of Studio 7, a Bay Area miniatures shop that closed about thirty years ago. The stock has been in storage ever since.

The Little Belle was up on a shelf but even without being able to get a good look at it, I knew I wanted it. Peg asked for $100; I handed over cash.

After I paid for it I realized I’d seen this house before, in an old Nutshell News article from 1980. Even then, the Little Belle was no longer in production, so I knew my chances of ever finding one were slim to none. Still, when I read that article a few years ago, I’d told myself I would find one someday. Apparently the gods were listening!

Two Little Belles pictured in the June 1980 issue of Nutshell News

The Little Belle is a front-opening, half scale dollhouse (1/2″ = 1′) that looks like a San Francisco rowhouse. This house is unique because the front was cast from plaster, using a mold of a facade hand carved by Jim Marcus. I didn’t know who he was or the significance of owning a “Jim Marcus house” until after I bought the Little Belle and started researching it. There’s very little information about Jim’s dollhouses online, so I decided to post everything I’ve found out about the Little Belle to document the house’s history.

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Half scale book roombox (part 2)

With the book roombox’s wainscot finished, I moved to the upstairs. I didn’t like the clunkiness of the piece of wood anchoring the top of the staircase, so I used fan pieces to make a decorative cover for it.

Sprayed this with semi-gloss black to match the stairs. Geoff wasn’t around so I did it myself this time, with uneven results. After the paint dried I ended up sanding it and repainting it by hand with my matte black acrylic paint.

We’re getting close to the “putting it all together” stage. Since this floor is like a loft and it’s open on the left side, I thought about adding a railing to keep the little people from falling off. I used my micro drill to make three holes that would accommodate toothpick spindles.

Here’s how that would have looked.

After I’d gone and made the holes, I realized that adding a railing there meant there wouldn’t be enough room for the resin pedestal I’d been planning to put to the side of the bookcase, and I really wanted to use that. So I filled the holes back in.

Wood filler was not the right way to do this. I tried staining the holes with a stain I thought would match the rest of the floor, but it only resulted in a dark space around the holes (the woodfiller itself didn’t “take” the stain at all) and then I had to stain the rest of the floor to match, making it darker.

After doing all this I remembered the trick my dad taught me for filling nail holes in stained wood with a wax stain pencil. I ended up doing this to fill the holes and it looks better now, but I still have a darker floor. I stained the bottom floor to match it, but if I had a rewind button I’d go back to those lighter floors. Oh well.

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Half scale book roombox (part 1)

I’ve been working on a half scale roombox made from an embossed book box I got at Pier 1. I’ve seen boxes like this at Michaels before but they always seemed kind of chintsy. These are really nice, though, with heavy leather covers and leather-lined insides. I got both colors — the black one is big enough for a two-story scene, while the maroon one, when I get around to it, will be one (tall) scene with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

As I described in my last post, I started by making a spiral staircase out of a wooden fan.

Once I knew where the top step would be, I made a floor out of pieces of basswood. These are two 1″ wide pieces with a stained 1/4″ piece in between. I decided to stain the middle piece because it was slightly deeper than the 1″ pieces (I was using scraps I had on hand) and I thought it could look like a beam.

I covered the other portions of the ceiling, including the top inside edge of the box, with a leathery gold scrapbook paper from my stash.

For the floor, I used a sheet of wood veneer from a batch I got off eBay.

I didn’t want to cut into another sheet of veneer, so ended up with a thin strip of floor uncovered at the back of the second floor.

I cut a small strip from the piece leftover from the stair hole, and used this on the left edge of the floor. The rest of the blank area will be covered up by the bookshelves. These are Houseworks bookcases I’ve had lying around for about 10 years — I bought them for the Fairfield and didn’t use them. Never throw anything away!

Here’s the general idea.

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Half scale spiral staircase made from a wooden fan

I recently bought two embossed box boxes from Pier 1 with the plan to make them into half scale roomboxes. The black one has about 9 1/4″ of vertical space inside — big enough to break into two stories in half scale. I had been wanting to try making a spiral staircase out of a fan as shown in this tutorial, and as luck would have it, Pier 1 sells fans too!

I started by taking apart the fan and cutting off the slats about halfway up the design. I used nail scissors to cut them, then sanded with an emery board.

At the bottom of the design, I made a hole to accommodate a 1/16″ dowel using my new micro drill. (This was actually larger than any of the bits that came with the set, but I was able to use one of the bits from the power drill in the micro drill.) Below on the left you can see a slat with a hole, and on the right a pencil mark for the next hole.

I then cut a few slats below the hole and measured them to make sure they would fit in the roombox. This was easier to visualize in centimeters. The roombox is exactly 6cm deep, which meant my slats couldn’t have more than 3cm between the dowel and the outer edge, since the spiral staircase goes all the way around.

(Does that make sense? If the complete staircase is a circle with a diameter that can’t be larger than 6cm, then the radius has to be 3cm or smaller.)

Anyway, the slats I had cut were a bit too large.

I cut them down a little bit more. It’s not as pretty with the flower at the edge cut up, but now the space from the hole to the edge was just 3cm, which meant the staircase would fit in my 6cm box.

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