The Astolat Dollhouse: A labor of love

The Astolat Castle dollhouse is a modern recreation of a palatial castle which took more than thirteen years to complete. This miniature masterpiece was the handiwork of Elaine Diehl, a well known miniaturist who resides in Colorado. The castle dollhouse is nowastolat5 owned by Dr. Michael Freeman and his wife Lois Freeman who have loaned the resplendent miniature to the Nassau County Museum of Art at the Tee Ridder Miniatures Museum where it was on display from 2005 until recently. It is unclear where the dollhouse is on view currently but miniature lovers can see the dollhouse at a variety of websites like this video.

 

Currently appraised at more than $1.1 million, the Astolat Castle Dollhouse stands nine feet tall, weighs in at more than 600 pounds and the dollhouse and all the miniatures are completely handmade. The inspiration for the dollhouse according to creator Elaine Diehl was Idylls of the King, a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Idylls of the King is composed of twelve narrative poems about King Arthur and his love Guinevere.

 

The amazing miniature castle has 29 rooms and seven floors complete with staircases, parquet floors, fireplaces, a wine cellar, a wizards tower, music room, library, grand ballroom, an an armory. The scale of detail in each room of the dollhouse makes it hard to identify it as a miniature when looking at photographs of the rooms because the interior décoration and the furnishings are so realistic. The dollhouse furniture and accessories total more than 10,000 pieces some of which were created by some of the top miniaturists in the world including Warren Dick, Pete Acquisto, George Becher, Frank Balestrieri, and Laurel Coulon. The exterior of the castle which is made of hand created faux carved stone took over a year to construct. The dolls who take up residence at the castle are also worksastolat2 of art and include Ladys in Waiting, a Wizard, and illlustrious knights in armor. The dollhouse construction is also unusual from most dollhouses in that the design allows for 360 degree viewing. The lighting is also of note as the electric lighting provides both day and nightime settings. The scale is 1:12, the most popular scale for dollhouses.

Diehl did not restrict the interior décor to simply baronial style but provided an eclectic approach to the design including Asian, Tudor, Spanish, English and Victorian decorating touches. In creating the castle, Diehl approached the construction and design with a sense of fun. In an interview with the Courier of Prescott, Arizona, Diehl stated, “ It’s been a wonderful hobby, I used to not be able to wait to get home from work so I could play. The hours slipped by so easily, I would look at my watch and it would be three in the morning. With this hobby, you can be in control of your own little world. In real life, you don’t have all those choices available to you.”

Note: While not everyone can devote thirteen years of their life to the creation of a astolat3dollhouse or have the wherewithal to commission miniature works from world renowned miniaturist, it is still possible to create a dollhouse or miniature castle that both children and adults will enjoy and will be handed down generation to generation. To get started check out the Magical Dollhouse where you can choose from small cottages like the Storybook Cottage Dollhouse Kit or the English Tudor Mansion Harrison Dollhouse Kit, or the Victorian Garfield Dollhouse Kit.

Dust Dollhouses & Art

Dollhouses and miniatures have long been seen as a form of art and miniature architecture. Since dollhouses were first made, leading artisans have been involved in their creation with many dollhouses taking their rightful place in leading museums around the world. The creativity and artistic designs that go into miniatures and dollhouses continue to amaze and provide a wonderful outlet for both children and adult artistic endeavors. But a dollhouse covered in dust and dirt as a form of art – that takes a little getting used to. Maria Adelaida Lopez, who cleaned houses as a way to pay for her masters degree in art, has created a series of dollhouses using discarded dollhouses and cardboard dollhouses that she made and then covered with dust and dirt from her vacuum cleaner.

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After you get over the idea of putting dirt all over dollhouses you can begin to see the haunting statement and a sense of loneliness projected by the collection of dollhouses by Lopez. She calls her collection the “Housekeeping Project” and sees the art pieces as representative of domesticity and humanity at the elemental level. Perhaps the collection should be seen as an ode to the Age of Litter which appears to be a combination of a throw away culture combined with a need to make homes antiseptic and germ free. Or maybe the dust dollhouses are the cataloging of a trashologist or a form of recycling and repurposing cardboard, dirt, and old toys into art.

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According to Lopez, she came up with the concept and ideas on how to fabricate the dust dollhouses while living in Minnesota. As an artist and a former house cleaner she saw the dollhouse series as a representation of homes that have been lived in for years but are now abandoned and there is nothing left but the dust and memories. Sort of the American dream gone wrong and an example of the burst housing bubble with homes in foreclosure and abandoned.

The process of creating dust dollhouses starts with simple cardboard miniature structures which Lopez made or with damaged dollhouses which she takes apart. Added architectural elements such as decorative items, windows, doors, and window boxes are all removed. Then Lopez begins the process of covering the remaining structure with dust and dirt until the dollhouses look monochromatic and gray in tone. Lopez states she is looking for viewers to get a physical experience from her art dust dollhouses and hopes the see the poetry in the ugliness. As she states in a poem about the dust dollhouses, “To clean themselves: purification of the soul. To pick them up: my job.”

Miniatures at the House on the Rock

The House on the Rock Resort near Madison, Wisconsin gives miniature and dollhouse lovers a unique way to enjoy both a top rated resort and miniatures and dollhouses galore. At the House on the Rock, visitors will find lodging, spa, restaurant, golf and a roomful of dollhouses and a another with all the trimmings of a miniature circus. The House on the Rock is the creation of Alex Jordan, a reclusive and wealthy individual with an interest in architecture and electronics. The original Japanese House built originally as a wilderness retreat in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, is perched on the Deer Shelter Rock, in a forest area in Wisconsin. rock

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After completing the original house over the next several decades, Jordan added other buildings such as the Mill House, the Gate House, streets, and gardens. His interest in electronics resulted in varied collections and displays such a display of automatic music machines, nautical exhibits, and miniatures. The story goes that Alex Jordan, while a reclusive individual, decided to open his collections and buildings to the public in 1959 because the revenue from tours allowed him to continue his development of the site. The site was sold by Jordan in 1988 and the complex was continued under the new owner who added to the exhibits with a Spirit of Aviation exhibit and a Transportation Building. Some of the items in the collections are antiques while others are reproductions.

Now a popular resort, the House on the Rock features an entertainment complex including the Streets of Yesterday with a depiction of an middle America now from the twentieth century, the Heritage of the Sea which houses nautical exhibits including a 200 foot wooden sculpture of an imaginary sea creature, the Music of Yesterday exhibit, swimming pools, restaurants, golf course, and an indoor carousel. Two of the most popular exhibits are the Doll House Room and the Circus Room. Billed as one of the largest collection of dollhouses in the world, the miniature homes have been meticulously crafted and include examples of many of the popular architectural styles. There are over 200 dollhouses within the collection and each doll house is fully decorated and furnished. There are even dollhouses suspended from the air to a beautiful backdrop of stained glass windows. The Circus Room located in the Mill House includes a background of ever playing circus music emanating from the lilliputian 40 piece band and a 80 piece orchestra, a miniature pyramid of elephants, and a full size circus wagon. Additional collections include a doll exhibit and a toy collection. Most of the exhibits are decorated for Christmas during the holiday season including visits with St. Nick. For more information on the House on the Rock and its exhibits visit http://www.thehouseontherock.com

Printable Miniatures

If you or your children are into dollhouses and miniatures there is probably a wooden dollhouse or shadow box in your home. Less permanent dollhouses and miniatures can also be fun and can provide a creative experience for you and your family.  The Internet now provides us with a variety of sites where you can find printable miniatures, dollhouses and dollhouse items. The printable miniatures can be used to create miniature villages, be used in model train layouts, added to an existing dollhouse or shadow box or make a fun collectible all by themselves. These printable miniatures bring back a nostalgic reminder of the dolls and miniatures that used to be provided by woman’s magazines for the children in the household.

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A good way to find great printables is to look on Pinterest. Because Pinterest is graphic based it is a quick way to see the printables in a display and choose the ones that interest you. One good Pinterest collection is provided by Denise Ferrari where the focus is primarily on printable miniature books, and food items. The Pinterest collection also points to sites and you tube videos where you can get information on how to create your dollhouse books using printables.

 

My Small Obsession website also provides links to a variety of mini size printables located at http://www.mysmallobsession.com/free-mini-printies.html. Here you will find links to dollhouse furniture printies, miniature wine and liquor labels, printable dollhouse quilts that would look great as wall art, dollhouse flooring including marble, wood and area rugs, dollhouse calendar, kitchen appliances and a kiddie pool. The Dollhouse Decorating blogspot is a great place to find printable dollhouse wallpaper with small pattern designs.

 

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Lesley Shepherd who writes a variety of articles on miniatures for About.com offers a great list of sites on miniature printables on her About Miniatures website. Here you will find links to such treasures as a printable miniature toy circus based on an antique circus revolving toy and a toy theater, the originals which are on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Another site recommended by Shepherd is the Odissey Paper Models website where you will find both printable buildings, dollhouse furniture and accessories. There are a variety of free downloads including printables for parquet flooring, bedroom accessories including lamps and rugs, terracotta tiles, and small scale miniature buildings. Each product provides a difficulty scale, the number of parts and measurements.

 

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Once you have made your decisions about what printables you want to attempt take time to check out an article called Tips for Making or Working With Dolls House Printables and Paper Miniatures also by Lesley Shepherd. Here you will find information on the different file types available for printables, recommendations for the best paper to use for your projects, construction tips and the best way to paint your finished miniatures. Using free printables to create miniature items can be a fun and creative undertaking for you and your family.

Smallsea: an Edwardian town in miniature

In Carmel, California there resides a miniature town called Smallsea that represents what an Edwardian English seaport would have looked like in the 1900’s. The brainchild of Diane and Howard Birnberg the dollhouse town includes the basics of any town such as a church, shopping areas, a river, an old Mill, a brewery, town hall, bakery, and a farm. The tiny metropolis also includes more than 1,500 dollhouse dolls, miniature horses, carriages, and examples of early cars and buses. A variety of miniaturists, artists and dollhouse vendors have contributed to this work of love. Located in the Barnyard Shopping Center in Carmel, the miniature collection can be seen Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5:00 PM or by appointment.

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The display has drawn notice from around the world and has been written about by such publications as Dollhouse and Miniature Scene Magazine, American Miniaturist, Dollhouse Miniatures, Dollhouse Magazine (UK), Miniature Collector Magazine, Carmel Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Monterey County Herald.

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Smallsea came about after one of the creators Diane Birnberg fell in love with miniatures on a visit to a dollhouse shop in London called the Singing Tree. Diane was in London for a business trip connected with her money management business in Chicago. During the visit to the dollhouse shop, Diane spent time talking to the owner of the shop about the world of miniatures and dollhouses and a new passion was born. She particularly became enchanted with an English Georgian dollhouse. After returning home she told her husband, Howard, about her new enthusiasm and he promptly bought her the Georgian dollhouse for Christmas. The Georgian dollhouse became the inspiration for Smallsea. Nine new dollhouse buildings soon followed all created by Carol Olsen and Leon Pitt of Think Small in Chicago. Soon after, Diane who has a degree in art history and her husband, Howard who is an architect decided to try making the dollhouse buildings themselves. They started with renovating old miniature buildings and dollhouses then moved on to making them by hand from the start. Their first unique miniature is the Explorers’ Gentlemen’s Club which remains part of the Smallsea collection. In addition to creating the miniature town, the couple also created a story to add to the romance of the collection, about the inhabitants known as the Twelfths whose existence was discovered by nine year old Lady Anna Truloe Lamson in 1905.

 

After retiring from the financial world in 2008, Diane and Howard relocated to Carmel, California and they continued with their avocation for miniatures which now has 36 buildings. All of the miniature buildings are based on what real shops, homes and buildings would have looked like in the London area in the years from 1900 to 1905. The full collection contains newly constructed miniatures and a few antique dollhouses and buildings the couple picked up at auctions in England. Future buildings are expected to include a rectory, restaurant, department store and a schoolhouse. A virtual visit can be made to the town of Smallsea at www.smallseamini.com. At the website one can also read about the history of the imaginary miniature inhabitants of the town, the Twelfths who according to the website have lived in different areas of the earth since the beginning of time before coming to Smallsea.

Kim Saulter: A Miniaturist in Profile

Kim Saulter of Healdsburg, California is known as a fine miniature sculptor who creates all kinds of things miniature using polymer clay. Ms. Saulter is also a confirmed miniature lover who has been collecting and creating her own miniature dollhouses, shadow boxes and other small buildings for more than twenty years. The mother of five, she still found time to begin experimenting with polymer clay as a sculpting medium for miniatures about five years ago and has been busy ever since. Her favorite miniature buildings are shops that she fills with her handcrafted small items.

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Kim has now become the author of a blog on miniatures where she provides updates on her latest projects so her many admirers can see what she is working on. Her main focus is on kitchens which are the perfect background for all the small pieces of art that she sculpts. There is incredible attention to detail in her miniatures and in her dollhouse settings. With a focus on shabby cottage interior design, the rooms just make you want to move right in and enjoy the delightful repasts of pies, cupcakes, fruit and blueberry muffins.

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She loves miniature kitchens so much she even wrote a book about them called Miniature Kitchen Loves and Sweet Inspirations that depicts the most wonderful dollhouse kitchens you have ever seen filled with her own miniature masterpieces including baked goods, utensils, food, cookbooks and even appliances large and small. The book is a wonderful inspiration if you are looking for ideas to decorate a dollhouse kitchen. The color photos make you want to go just that little bit farther to make dollhouse rooms come alive.

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For further inspiration, you will want to check out her incredibly adorable miniature campers. Campers could be the next big thing in dollhouses – everybody is going to want one after seeing Ms. Saulter’s fun miniatures. Her dollhouse sized campers – (all of her creations are in the popular 1:12 scale) are pink, girly, vintage and filled with roses and polka dots. She has created a vintage trailer and a portable pastry wagon with miniature balloons! Even the hubcaps are pink.

 

In addition to her blog, and her book and her postings on Pinterest this miniature artist has now started her own publication called MINI-OLOGIE MAGAZINE. At this point the new magazine is not available as a subscription but is priced per issue. MINI-OLOGIE is issues four times a year with the most recent issue being her Holiday 2013 Keepsake issue. Check out the magazine at http://www.miniologie.com/

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You can visit her blog called It’s a Miniaturists Life at http://kimsminiatures.blogspot.com/ or visit her postings on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/kimsminis/it-s-a-miniature-life/.

Heroes and Dollhouses

There are some magical people out there who spend their free time constructing dollhouses for children who are sick or disadvantaged. This includes our friend Anne at Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer and a growing number of individuals around the world who have learned what a dollhouse can mean to a child when struggling with a disease or poverty in their lives.

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Consider Earl Hurshman who as a retiree and a widower found he had too much time on his hands. According to Earl after fifty years of marriage to his wife Bernadette he is still in the habit of asking her advice. He visits her grave on an almost daily basis taking her favorite flower a red rose and at 81 he found himself asking her what he could do with his time. He claims her advice was quick and responsive and told him to get off his bum and do something worthwhile. As a retired steel fabricator who had always been good with his hands and loved wood working, Earl came up with the idea to build dollhouses so that low income parents and grandparents could give them as presents to their special children. At this point he now uses almost his entire Social Security check for the dollhouse kits, paints and miniature items he needs to make others happy. Earl states that he needs very little for himself, “I live modestly and I don’t need anything, I don’t want anything.” He considers his dollhouse giving a mission and he doesn’t just hand them out without getting to know the individuals he is creating the dollhouses for. Earl finds families for his dollhouses through flyers that he puts up around town and through referrals from friends. According to Earl, once I find a family, “I meet with them first and find out a little bit about their situation.” And he loves the hugs. In 2013 Earl created twelve completed dollhouses to give away. He makes sure to include fire stations and barns for boys in addition to more traditional dollhouses.  Earl thinks Bernadette would be proud of how he spends his time.

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Another individual who is creating his own magic with dollhouses is Ken Christopherson who builds dollhouses and miniature barns from the start to give away to sick children in hospitals like the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas where he lives. His idea to make dollhouses for children who are gravely ill comes from seeing children in the hospital when he was visiting his wife Cecelia who is a survivor of breast cancer. To date Ken has created 62 dollhouses and barns cutting each piece of wood including every piece of furniture. The completed dollhouses stand approximately two feet tall and each one takes approximately 100 hours to complete. The barns which are a big hit with boys do not contain traditional farm animals but dinosaurs and other scary creatures. Both the dollhouses and barns are specifically made so they can fit easily on a patient’s tray table so they can be played with from their beds.

 

Recipients of the miniature masterpieces include Kenedi Groves age seven who is awaiting a heart transplant who states that, “I love my dollhouse, it’s special to me.”

 

Making your own dollhouse dolls & doll clothing

There is a plethora of information out there if you are handy and want to create your own dollhouse or adapt a dollhouse kit to make it unique. If you are interested in having a one of a kind dollhouse family for your dollhouse it can be hard to find helpful resources. What if you want a family of dollhouse sized bunnies or bears or correct period dolls at the right scale to fit your dollhouse? You might want to think about making your own dolls or in creating clothing for your dollhouse dolls that individualizes your dollhouse family.

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If you want to try your hand at making your own dollhouse family of dolls it helps if you have either artistic skills or sewing skills or both but there are resources for the beginner. There is a wonderful vintage book called Dollhouse People: A Doll Family You Can Make by Tracey Campbell Pearson. Using fairly basic sewing skills and the directions in this book you can make simple dolls either in a realistic mode or in whatever style or animal you like. The basic supplies include scissors, needle, straight pins, pencil, paper, ruler, and an iron along with fabric, trim, thread and yarn. Pearson’s book does give very good instructions on how to sew using the assumption that you have never picked up a needle before. There are also patterns that can be traced and then used for cutting out the fabric shapes for the dolls. She includes patterns for a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and two children and an infant. In addition to dolls, Pearson also supplies instructions for making clothes for the doll people.

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Maybe you are better with clay than fabric. Then you will want to check out directions on creating dollhouse dolls using polymer clay or epoxy putty provided by Lesley Shepherd on the About.com Miniatures page. Lesley provides instructions on making either fixed or posable miniature dolls. The basis of both types of dolls is a wire armature and then the head, feet, hands, and torso are created separately. Instructions include information on sizing, proportions, and ideas for padding the doll and for making wigs for the dolls. Some experience in working with clay and artistic talent is required for this project.

 

Another resource is the book Making & Dressing Dollhouse Dolls in 1/12 scale by Sue Atkinson. This book details how to sculpt porcelain dolls using modeling clay and pipe cleaner bodies. There are also great patterns for miniature doll clothing covering many historical periods. Even if you are not up for creating dollhouse dolls you will get great ideas for making doll clothing in historical periods that fit your dollhouse style adding realistic detailing to your dollhouse. In addition, the great color photographs are perfect to use for ideas for a dollhouse with authentic period style.

 

Top Selling Dollhouses/ Miniatures for 2013

Want to know what’s hot in the world of dollhouses and miniatures? We have the latest figures on the top sellers by volume for the Magical Dollhouse for 2013.

Dolls looking for homes turned out to be the top seller at the Magical Dollhouse, with the Modern Doll Family, the easy care vinyl doll family with movable arms and legs, coming in first. This popular item includes a mother, father, daughter and baby girl. There must have been a lot of dollhouses out there without tenants.

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Next up are a couple of traditional dollhouses in the Victorian style which remains the most popular type of dollhouse hands down in dollhouse sales across the country. The Beacon Hill House Kit from Greenleaf is the most sought after with its mansard roof, and myriad ornate Victorian details, three stories, all in the 1:12 scale. Buyers love the winding staircase, bay windows, three fireplaces and the elegant porch.

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The Arthur Dollhouse Kit is the next most popular purchase in dollhouses. It is also by Greenleaf and appeals to buyers because of its smaller size having only four rooms, easy build instructions, lower cost, while still being an elegant Victorian home. The Arthur Dollhouse is recommended by the Magical Dollhouse as a great first dollhouse for collectors. The dollhouse features silk screened windows, Victorian gingerbread detailing and precut parts. The dollhouse being a smaller size is much easier to use for display purposes in smaller home where a large dollhouse would overwhelm the space.

Also in the top list of best sellers is the grander Pierce Dollhouse kit. Also a Victorian style of home, the Pierce contains six rooms, an attic and a secret tower room. It also offers a winding staircase, two fireplaces and a wrap around veranda.

The next most popular dollhouse in volume sales is in another arena all together. The Majestic Mansion Dollhouse by Kid Kraft is definitely a child’s dollhouse and is meant to accommodate fashion dolls such as Barbie. The dollhouse stands over four and a half feet tall and is perfect for multiple children to play with together. It is sturdy and durable and contains both wood and plastic in its composition.

Other dollhouses on the top ten list include Greenleaf’s Victorian Buttercup Dollhouse, the Finished Colonial Dollhouse and the Finished Farmhouse from Real Good Toys both in the ½” scale. To furnish all these dollhouses buyers overwhelmingly chose the economical Full House of Dollhouse Furniture kits and the sturdy Wooden Block Play Furniture set.

Make sure to share pictures of your completed dollhouse project on our Facebook page and let us know if there are different types of dollhouses, dollhouse families or miniature items you would like us to add to our inventory.

300th Dollhouse created for Kids Battling Cancer

“My daughter grew up in that dollhouse,” says a mother who lost her child to cancer. The dollhouse which was donated by Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer, allowed this child and her mother to play out events such as the daughter’s graduation from high school, her prom, her wedding and her children in the miniature walls of the dollhouse, events the daughter did not live to enjoy in real life.

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Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer is a one woman effort started by Ann (who likes to remain anonymous) after hearing what children go through while dealing with cancer from her daughter Faith, an experienced nurse and soon to be nurse practitioner in the field of oncology. According to Ann, the stories of bravery and the pain of the procedures children endure in the fight against cancer broke her heart and she wanted to do something that would help bring a little happiness to their lives. In January 2014, Ann created her 300th dollhouse which will be donated to the Hope Foundation in New York. Ann started her first dollhouse for kids with cancer in 2006 and she has been making these miniature versions of hope ever since. Ann’s goal with her dollhouses is to provide children with a toy that can stimulate their imagination and help take their minds off the procedures and pain they are dealing as their bodies fight cancer.

 

Working in partnership with The Magical Dollhouse and its generous patrons, Ann gets to work on a new dollhouse for a child with cancer as soon as a customer donates a dollhouse for the cause. According to Anne, she can create a completed and furnished dollhouse in a week’s time. Each completed dollhouse is painted, decorated, furnished and provided with a dollhouse family before delivery. Dollhouses are created for both boys and girls though in general, there are not as many donations of miniature buildings appropriate for boys as there are for girls. To personalize the gifting, all dollhouses are first donated to doctors working with children with cancer. Each child that receives a dollhouse believes it is their doctor who is giving them the dollhouse further cementing the bond between doctor and child. Dollhouses are also donated to play rooms in children’s oncology wards, Ronald McDonald Houses, Bereavement Centers and for fundraisers for cancer research. Therapists at bereavement centers use the dollhouses for role playing with children who have lost siblings to cancer.

 

Dollhouses for Kids Battling Cancer is not an organization or a nonprofit. Ann does not accept financial donations and because of the expense and difficulty she cannot ship dollhouses to individuals or organizations. Most of the dollhouse kits are donated through the Magical Dollhouse website with the price of dollhouses subsidized and shipping of the kits to Ann being donated by Greenleaf Dollhouses. Once a dollhouse is complete they are driven to their destination by family and friends and other volunteers. One individual volunteered to drive from her home in Chicago to pick up a completed dollhouse at Ann’s home in New York and then drive it to its final destination. To purchase a dollhouse kit or other items for the cause go to Dollhouses for a Cause. You can also follow Ann’s mission on her facebook page