Growing up in northeastern Ohio, I was always surrounded by natural beauty: woodlands and wide open meadows; rivers and rocks; farms, fields and fences along miles of quiet country roads. My mother was an artist with a love of antiques and my father a weekend writer with a flair for American history. Often on Sundays, they took my brothers and me on long drives in search of a "century home" which they could make their own. Those tours of old houses ignited my interest in early American architecture.
I began making miniature rooms when I was 10, and as I grew older, the models became more elaborate and I more serious about architectural accuracy. When I was 24 and finished with college, I set up shop in a small barn on my parents' 80 acre spread, a "Gentleman's Farm" in Geauga County, Ohio. Around my unheated, weathered wood studio, I grew a garden which attracted a tame crow and a stray cat. Through the window of my shop, I could watch them wander the rows. Whenever I needed a break, I'd take a walk through the fields out to the lake.
Starting a business called Historic Houses in Miniature, I crafted dollhouses for both collectors and children. I made almost everything with hand tools and ingenuity, because ready-made parts like windows and woodwork were not available. I studied the development of American architecture, beginning with the simplest homes of the early settlers, like the Saltbox or Center Chimney Colonial, progressing to sophisticated structures copied from English architects and expressed in the Georgian and Federal styles; then branching into uniquely American designs during the Age of Romanticism, such as Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival. I wanted to make models of all of them!
My very best dollhouse was a whole year in process. After weeks of research, I began a replica of a Georgian Colonial, the most popular form though the Eastern Seaboard of Colonial America. Georgian architecture came with the British, who'd developed the style based on design principles of classical Rome. The emphasis was on bilateral symmetry and order with little adornment. Houses were usually two rooms wide and two rooms deep, with gabled or gambrel roofs and multiple chimneys, since each room held a fireplace. Early examples were usually brick with wood trim, but wooden buildings became more common as lumber was readily available in the New World. As the 18th century progressed, the style came to include elaborate cornices, pilasters and entabulatures across the facade. However, after the Revolutionary War, Americans turned away from British influence and developed a new style called Federal. But even in those buildings, the influence of the Georgian period is apparent.
I made my model in 1/12 scale from 3/8" plywood and crafted the lighter interior woodwork with hand tools. I used very few ready-made parts. Each of the eight rooms was inspired by careful study of old drawings and photos. I strove to create an authentic replica, while adding a few personal touches, such as four paintings done in the naive style of a Colonial artist. The house is fully enclosed with four walls, but the front and back walls swing open on hinges. The third floor or attic can be removed. I covered the exterior with putty and paint to achieve the appearance of brick, and all the roof shingles were cut by hand. Though I loved making this model, I was glad to complete it just in time for the Bicentennial Celebration of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1976. I named the dollhouse American Classic.
Now, I'd like to pass this model along to someone who appreciates art and architecture as much as I do.