18th Century Doll House Display

By Christina Van Horn

The Van Horn Dollhouse comes to life in the Epsom Library.

The creation of this dollhouse was a family affair.  Over 30 years, Ralph Van Horn of Pittsfield built innumerable pieces of 18th Century dollhouse furniture kits on a 1:12 inch scale.  He meticulously constructed each piece.  The drawers open and close; the chairs and sofas are upholstered; and the three-sided folding screen was constructed with a museum gift card!  He labeled and signed each piece.  His wife, Maureen Van Horn, crafted tiny books, and, while traveling, always kept an eye open for memento miniatures, such as a candelabrum or a bowl.

Ralph amassed quite a furniture collection, but he never wanted to actually build a dollhouse.  He passed that torch to his oldest daughter, Christina, who lived in California.  With her then husband Dana Milner, she immediately went to work building the shell of this 18th Century home.

Once Dana had completed the shell and electrified it, Christina started interior and exterior finishing. (She splurged – the price shall remain undisclosed – on a handmade German chandelier, which is the only one that doesn’t work.)  In a two-year period, she applied wooden siding, shingles, windows, doors, flooring and moldings, always staying as true as possible to 18th Century styles.  She built the cornices and wallpapered and painted rooms, decorated fireplaces, and put together the staircase.  She set the dining room table with china and flatware and tiny goblets. Many years before the dollhouse was even considered, Christina had cross-stitched a depiction of the Warner House in Portsmouth, and had given it to Ralph. He kept it, and it is now a part of the house.

Bea Van Horn, Ralph’s mother, had given Christina dollhouse furniture over the years that wasn’t the right period for the house.  These pieces went into the attic as no Colonial house is without its upper “storage” story.  Bea made the red and white pillows.  The canopy lace in the master bedroom came from an heirloom nightgown Bea had given to Christina, who saved it.

Landscaping was difficult as the dollhouse supply shop was located in California, not a haven for New England foliage.  The birdhouse, however, was created by Gilbert Paige, formerly of Pittsfield, and Pittsfield Weaving donated the rugs.

(The dollhouse is currently on display in the Reference Room of the Library.)