While many people were deciding what to do with their downtime during the pandemic, Dawn Nolan worked on finishing her dream house.
Nolan, 66, finished remodeling a grand and ornate Civil War-era Southern plantation dollhouse, one she’d had for 18 years after inheriting it from a distant relative. An antebellum Southern Classical Greek Revival mansion that would be inhabited by a large family of means, the dollhouse includes grand entryways, six Corinthian columns, chandeliers framing 13 rooms and two long porches on the front.
The house had been in storage for years, with Nolan pulling it out a few times to see all the pieces she had to work with. Nolan, a freelance bartender with few parties to serve and a Christmas decorator, kept busy over the summer by driving to the facility where the dollhouse is stored and working six hours a day for four or five days each week.
“It’s been in storage or a sheet’s been covering it for a long, long time and nobody wanted it because it is huge,” Nolan said. “I grew up with a dollhouse, and I wanted it. Last year, I worked on the outside of the house and this year since we have COVID and I wasn’t working much, I demoed the whole inside.”
With five fireplaces and enough space for seven dogs and two cats, the house sits on a 4-foot-by-9-foot platform. The actual house is 7 feet long, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.
The details are many, such as the six milk bottles in a carrier near the front step, the candy dish with tiny green-striped peppermints and a brass watering can for the numerous flowers, along with the small copy of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” on one of the two extensive patios. There’s also a butler carrying a martini tray, and the dining room contains knives, forks and spoons along with napkins.
“I saw pictures of it when she was working on it, and I was so impressed by what I had seen and I was so excited to see it when it was finished in person,” said friend Dawn Friestroffer, who owns three dollhouses. “You can see the time and effort that went into remodeling that house. I had never seen anything quite like that except maybe in a museum because of the scale and size of it.”
The dedication to craftsmanship shows in the small details that include planters, chandeliers and tiny doorknobs on each door. The roof is shingled, and there are 12 glass 18-panel windows, along with three dormer pane windows.
“Dawn is creative and you have to have a very creative mind and imagination to appreciate the detail and the artistry in a dollhouse,” Friestroffer said.
The details include wallpaper and carpet or wood flooring in all the rooms. The wallpaper was a taxing task as Nolan had to remove all the furniture and then cover the walls with the nimbleness and patience of a surgeon’s fingers.
“I had the furniture and I first had to figure out where all of it was going,” Nolan said. “Then I had to figure out what wallpaper was going to go in which room, and that was the hardest part.”
Before that, she had to sort the furniture and figure out what fit into what room. She had no idea she had items for a music room or a game room, which now has two men shooting pool and drinking cocktails.
There’s approximately $5,000 worth of furniture in the house, which has been insured for $10,000. Finding period-accurate pieces takes research and even more patience, she said. The house originally started in the early 1990s from a kit and is called a “Rosedawn Southern Plantation.”
Nolan said she comes from a long line of artists. An interior design major at Purdue University, she can redesign clothes, create some paintings and loves to make wind chimes. The house was a challenge.
“I had to take everything apart like a real house,” she said. “I think a real house would have been easier to do.”
It was made especially difficult considering Nolan’s never had the house located at her own home, instead working out of a storage facility. That’s the next part of the house’s story, as now Nolan would like to sell it.
Nolan said she’s got 50 other projects on her list, as well as work, to keep her plenty busy. She knows someone out there would love the house.
“I really would like to find a home for it other than this warehouse where nobody can see it,” she said. “I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn nice and now it needs some love. I love it, but I want somebody to enjoy it, and maybe I can visit.”
Those interested in the home can email Nolan at [email protected]