Living Between the Lines

The Doll’s House

This is the second of my scheduled re-runs covering my absence from the computer. This post was first published on 27th September 2010.


I have always been one to make something out of nothing, in the creative sense I mean. I wouldn’t like you to imagine I am prone to hysterical outbursts at the slightest provocation!

So, given a few cardboard boxes and some egg cartons when the kids were young, I’d disappear with boxes and children for a bit, returning with a space ship or a sweet shop or anything else that our imaginations could dream up.

So confident were my children that I could make them anything they wanted rather than buy it from a shop, that my eldest daughter, when three years old, once asked me if I would make her some roller skates out of a ‘Corn Flakes’ packet. Even I had to admit defeat at that.

I also used to make and sell soft toys; cuddly lions and tigers, floppy bunnies and teddy bears. You get the picture. There were always the rejects of course, the bunny without a tail, the teddy with the wonky eye and an under stuffed lion. With so many little ones of my own, these less than perfect wan’abees always found a home. Hence our toy cupboard housed an assortment of odd but strangely appealing soft animals, some of which survive to this day.

Alas, the same happy fate did not await ‘The Doll’s House’.

I once made a wooden doll’s house for my three young daughters the eldest of whom was just four. It was 1984. We had little money to spare. In fact we had no money to spare, just lots of odd bits of wood in the shed for some reason.

For a couple of months before Christmas, I worked on the doll’s house on our dining room table. The table  was not in tip-top condition before I began sawing and hammering upon it. Afterwards, well, let’s say it needed some work.

I had to work indoors. You can’t go banging about in a shed down the garden when you have a baby and a toddler or two running around.

So, the doll’s house grew. I really pulled out all the stops on that house. The roof lifted off and various walls ‘opened’ on hinges. I furnished it with miniature tables and chairs and elegant sofas, all fashioned from bits of old wood I found lying around in the shed. I had some help with the stairs, not being particularly skilled in carpentry myself and then I papered and painted as though this were a full size project. I hid it from prying eyes beneath a cloth.

Toddlers don’t see much if you are clever.

Christmas morning was a picture as the elder two of my three young daughters unwrapped the doll’s house. They played with it all day, taking out the furniture and the little dolls (I had made a tiny doll family as well) and rearranging things to their taste.

Judging by this photograph, I think the younger one had received a woolly hat from Santa as well. She is now the Fashion Designer by the way.

Zoe and Elizabeth examining the new doll's house Christmas 1984
Zoe (in bobble hat) and Elizabeth: Christmas day 1984

Over the years the house was played with by all five children. It was redecorated and renovated several times and the doll family grew. Strange additions appeared from time to time, Beetlejuice lived in the spare room, Thundercat came to tea and He-Man landed on the roof and abseiled into the garden on a shoe lace. Little boys have their own way of playing! Lego furniture made its appearance and my daughters’ own soft furnishings found their way onto the beds and sofas. All in all, it had a pretty good life, that doll’s house.

Sadly, years later, when we sold our house and waited to move into the next, the doll’s house went into storage. It was a shabby pretence of its former self by then having been played with, not only by my own children but by many friends and visitors too. I had harboured visions of renovating it one more time but, somewhere in the move, between storage and transfer to our new home, it vanished. Perhaps it is best that it remains a happy memory along with a papier-mâché ‘Tracy Island’ and a ‘Jurassic Park ‘ landscape.

Until recently, I thought I was the only one who missed it. I knew that my daughters had enjoyed it that long ago Christmas day but I really thought I was the only one who had watched with such excitement as it was unwrapped.

The other day, my eldest daughter was reminiscing about Christmases past.

“You know mum, the best Christmas present I ever had was that doll’s house you made for us,” she said, “I loved that doll’s house.”

I was so amazed. How wonderful is that? To think that all these years I thought it was only I who missed it, only I who had eagerly awaited its unveiling after each renovation. Her words made me think – maybe I’ll make another. You never know, our grandchildren might feel the same way about it.

This time I don’t think I will be sawing wood on the dining room table though.

Just pass me a hammer please …

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Lora

    You know, I really wanted a little girl so I could make her a dollhouse.

    One time I told my father in law, who is handy with everything but keeping a job, that he should make dollhouses. Even if it’s just for his grand daughters and his friends’ children and grands. But he said that no one would want a doll house anymore. It’s not what children play with anymore.

    I disagree. They are gorgeous and timeless and when I was little I wanted one more than anything. The couple that I did have (a Barbie-type house and a Fisher Price one) were my absolute favorites. You can do anything in a doll house. Be anything.

    When you are a little kid- especially a little girl- it feels like you don’t have much control over anything. But when you’ve got a dollhouse, you are the mom, the queen. Heck, you are a god(dess).

    Love this.

  • Lisa Lavis

    A wonderful story….. and a super photo! A tear came to my eye when reading Liz said it was her favourite present 🙂 I bet my mother doesn’t know the Emu doll was mine! x

  • Patricia

    My children share these lovely thoughts too…isn’t life just the best?
    Each of my kiddos got to assist my husband in ripping down walls and rebuilding this 1913 cottage into the lovely home it is today…each built their own bedrooms, painted and decorated…we had a penguin room, and evening sky room with stars and moon and a cat on the fence and then a poisonous frog/jungle green room…They each built projects for something at school too…We have 3 doll houses still…they all count these as their greatest achievements in joy!

    Thank you for this wonderful sharing

  • Deborah Barker

    Patricia: Ah, I have visited your blog and seen the dolls house that your librarian daughter built. It is beautiful. As I said on your blog, the three rooms you describe sound amazing and I can only imagine them.

    Perhaps I will start the re-build sooner than planned!

  • Mark Bathurst

    Hi, a great post and well worth re-launching it! It’s a cute story and I enjoyed reading it for sure. It should be an inspiration to all parents, including me as I have 2 daughters of my own! Your style of writing really appeals to me – easy to read and light-hearted with the odd comical chuckle thrown in. Keep it up, I’ll be back to read more!
    Cheers Mark
    @cajuzi and @markbathurst

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