A (small) Victorian affair: Dollhouse is Ocala woman’s labor of love
Gail Anderson poses with her large 3-story, 10 room dollhouse that has thousands and thousands of intricate details inside and out at her home in the Ocala Preserve in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, August 16, 2021. Anderson fashioned her dollhouse after an 1880s home and it is a masterpiece that is 35 years in the making. She was able to finish it as a project during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is even wired for electricity for the lights in the home. In 1986, Anderson bought the dollhouse (which was originally pink) from an arts and crafts store named Wee C in her home town of Elgin, IL. She later moved it with her to Indianapolis and then to Ocala. She said that during the move to Ocala with her husband, one of the movers dropped it and essentially ruined it. But Anderson saved all the pieces and started over on her redesign. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
For much of the past year, the former teacher has dedicated countless hours to completing a Victorian dollhouse, a labor of love she began roughly 35 years ago.
With meticulous attention to detail, the home is an authentic replication of what a typical middle-class home looked like in the late 1880s. All ten rooms are chock-full of curated, historically correct to-scale furnishings, wallcoverings, and household items, right down to real silver candlesticks, a crystal chandelier from Belgium, and drapes from Ukraine.
The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, which kept Anderson home for most of the past year, coaxed her into completing the two-story home.
“It kept me sane. It was therapy,” said Anderson, who received occasional assistance and lots of encouragement from her husband of 52 years, Gary.
The couple, who met in college, moved to Ocala three years ago from Indianapolis.
“It forced me to think about a much simpler time,” said the mom of two adult children. “Before the internet and the modern world.”
The 74-year-old’s passion for all things miniature was ignited in the early 1980s during a family trip to England, where they discovered a show featuring awe-inspiring miniature homes. Anderson was hooked.
According to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the genesis of miniature homes can be traced back to wealthy Europeans in the late 1500s. Back then, the homes were exclusively for adult play, and not only showcased finely made furnishings but also served as symbols of wealth.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, German toymakers produced a variation of the “baby” house—now called a dollhouse—for children.
“It’s been a popular hobby over there for years, and it still is. Queen Mary had one,” said Anderson, who immediately began attending miniatures shows after returning from England.
It was a 1986 visit to a shop in Elgin, Ill., that started the Ohio native on her journey as a miniature home enthusiast.
“It was a display piece, but I talked them into selling it,” said Anderson. “I love the Victorian era, so I decided to focus on the 1880s.”
She did her homework too.
At first, Anderson delved into books and periodicals, culling valuable information about the period and learning what a home from that era would look like. The advent of the internet was a Godsend.
“I researched and researched,” said Anderson. “When the internet came along, that made things much easier.”First, she painted the pink exterior a deep green with white and red trim. Then, she began the task of filling the four-bedroom home with reproduction décor and furnishings. Anderson worked on the house on and off for years but put it aside for roughly ten years at one point.
Now the finished project includes a parlor featuring a piano with a bust of Beethoven, a phonograph, and matching wingback chairs and couch, along with a real needlepoint display. The baby’s nursery has a wooden crib with a lace canopy and a wooden riding toy.
“All the woodwork in the home is walnut. I laid the flooring myself,” said Anderson. “The crib is hand-carved.”
The home’s exterior is surrounded by lush landscaping with bushes and trees; a push mower leans against the house.
The finely furnished dining room is set up for an afternoon tea complete with china and a raspberry sponge cake. A cat sits in a chair. There are real tintypes on the wall, and Anderson fashioned the tablecloth from an antique handkerchief.
Meanwhile, the kitchen features a wood-burning stove, a butter churn, copper pots and pans and myriad knick-knacks and goods. There is also a maid’s quarters with a single bed, bookcase, desk and chair, and a sewing room with a wooden ironing board and Singer sewing machine in the back.
The attic has a roll-up rug, a dollhouse, a lonesome teddy bear, a wheelchair, a Christmas wreath, an old sled, and other treasures from the bygone era.
Along with all the authentic reproductions, in true teacher fashion, Anderson decided to include things that would entice visitors to look inside each room with a critical eye; modern-day items are conspicuously placed beside old ones.
For instance, the bathroom has a hairdryer and straightener, the attic a television, and the baby’s room a package of Pampers.
“I wanted to encourage people to look at everything in the rooms,” said Anderson. “It forces them to study everything in them.”
She also cleverly placed photos of family members in the home, and a note in the middle of its interior section, detailing its history and how it was finished amid the pandemic.
Now that Anderson has finally completed her miniature dream home, she’s content to just enjoy her creation for a while. Her two young granddaughters will see it for the first time when they come for a visit in October, but Anderson says the home is best enjoyed with the eyes and not so much the hands.
“It took a lot of time and energy, and now I just want to enjoy it,” she said. “I don’t know where it will end up.”