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Rural Missouri Magazine

Dollhouse delights
Joyce Taylor’s miniature mansions offer hours of fun at any age

by Sylvia Forbes
photos by Jim McCarty

Joyce Taylor has lost count of just how many dollhouses she has in her home outside Fayette. She calls this one her “Cadillac House” because of the many options it has, including electric lights.

It’s been a long time, but Joyce Taylor remembers well the Christmas of 1946. At 8 years old, the biggest thrill in her life was to find a dollhouse from Santa under the tree with her name on it. Her dollhouse provided many hours of enjoyment, as she decorated the house and created furniture so her dolls could live there. For the next several years, gifts for Christmas and birthdays always included a piece of furniture or other item to add to her dollhouse.

Now, more than 50 years later, Joyce, a member of Howard Electric Cooperative, gets the same delight in playing with dollhouses she did as a child. Today, however, she owns dozens, in every size and shape imaginable. She still gets a thrill every time she acquires a new one, and she anticipates the fun of decorating the interiors and creating personal touches to make each dollhouse unique.

That first dollhouse wasn’t too fancy, but it was spacious — two stories tall and made of metal. Walls and floors of each room had been pre-painted with details, such as doorways, windows and flooring, to resemble the various rooms of a typical house. Joyce, who is employed by the Missouri 4-H Center for Youth Development as coordinator of global education, still has her first dollhouse, complete with all the furnishings she acquired for it as a child.

When her two daughters were little, Joyce spent time with them making dollhouses out of cardboard boxes. They made cardboard chairs and tables, too, and had fun coming up with ways to decorate. Cardboard worked well; it didn’t matter if things got bent or damaged, they could easily make more.

In 1980, when her youngest daughter was a little older and able to take good care of her toys, Joyce gave Lisa Jan her first real dollhouse. It was a kit. They put the three-story house together Christmas week. Every holiday she’d get another piece of furniture as a gift. She played with it for a number of years before leaving for college in 1989.

In order to keep anything from happening to it, they built a large wooden box with a glass front for the dollhouse to sit in. That way, anyone could still see the inside and enjoy looking at all the miniature items, yet the dollhouse wouldn’t be disturbed.

Joyce calls these boxes “house boxes,” and she has several of her dollhouses protected this way. Arvil Andrews, noted carpenter in Fayette, built one of her house boxes.

This finely crafted piano is decorated for the Christmas holiday, down to the music for “Silent Night” written in German.

Joyce has created some single rooms (rather than whole dollhouses), and has room boxes to protect these, as well. Joyce has created some clever single “rooms.” She has Taylor’s Tailor Shop, where a doll sits at a sewing machine, making a dress for a customer. Next to her is a basket with scissors, a spool chest and a dressmaker’s form. Behind the doll is a full-length mirror, and nearby are shelves with bolts of fabric, all in miniature.

At Joyce’s Flowers and Gifts, a cute, light-hearted miniature flower shop, people will see an ornate wire plant stand, easel and desk and several pots of flowers. Next to one wall is a hutch with dishes for sale and, next to another, is a glass-fronted display case with a variety of gifts inside. The top of the room has a border around it, created by gluing lace over a wide ribbon. It’s so well appointed that it’s easy to imagine walking in and buying flowers.

Another charming scene Joyce created is the Music Room. A bookcase contains a saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and French horn, and next to it a cello leans against a wall, waiting to be played. There’s also a banjo, snare drum, grand piano and an upright piano. On the music stand is a miniature copy of the sheet music “Second Hand Rose.” Joyce adds other touches including window treatments, in this case blue trim edged with matching thin blue ribbons tied in bows.

The most amazing room is a tribute to her family’s past Christmas holidays. The room is a copy of her living room, complete with couch and matching stuffed chair and end tables. In a corner is a Christmas tree, with presents underneath representing gifts that they have given their children over the years, such as a red wagon, sled, Raggedy Ann and dozens more.

On the wall, she has put up the same pictures of her family that are on the wall in her life-sized living room. She scanned them into the computer and reduced them until they were in proportion to the rest of the miniature room. Then she framed and hung them above the couch. In the corner is a fireplace, with stockings hanging in front and a miniature nativity arranged above.

If variety is the spice of life, then Joyce’s life is full of zest, because over the years she has acquired all kinds of dollhouses, from fancy Victorians to modern ones. Several of them were made by the late Hobart Wheeler, a Fayette resident whose hobby was building dollhouses. He offered them for sale at Lucille Thurman’s paint store on the south side of the square.

This dollhouse with modern furnishings sits in Joyce’s living room. It stands more than 3 feet tall.

Another was made by the late Sandy Lutz Mueller for her daughters. Joyce saw it for sale at the flower shop that Sandy’s daughter, Brenda, previously ran in Fayette, and bought it.

Her husband, Dick, bought her a dollhouse in 1995, along with some miniature velvet-upholstered furniture that her friend, Katherine Dickey, had found on a trip to Texas.
Another she acquired by accident; one of the secretaries at the 4-H office in Boone County mentioned that she had an old dollhouse that she was going to dump. Joyce’s response was to rescue it. “My goodness, you don’t ever throw away a dollhouse,” she says of the find.

One rather unusual dollhouse Joyce owns is a primitive or “rustic” dollhouse. She left it unpainted and furnished it with items that a 19th-century pioneer family might have owned. Yet another of her dollhouses is a “traveling dollhouse.” This two-story wooden dollhouse comes apart in several large pieces that fit in a long, yet slender wooden case, so it can easily be transported anywhere.

Joyce has modern dollhouses made out of molded plastic, several metal dollhouses of the same vintage as her first one, and even an amazing tiny dollhouse made from a matchbox.

One unique dollhouse Joyce has acquired is a tall book. The covers of the book open wide until they touch in the back, and then are tied together with ribbon. When open, the book transforms into a two-story Victorian dollhouse.

In 1989, Joyce chaperoned a group of 4-H members to Washington, D.C. As a thank you, they purchased a dollhouse kit at the Smithsonian Institution and had it shipped to her.

“I didn’t have the patience to even try to put it together,” says Joyce. “In 2004, I mentioned that I had the kit under my bed, and the host of a Japanese exchange student offered to put it together for me. Not only did he put it together, he installed electricity, with lots of outlets, so I could purchase lights and plug them in as I decorated.”

Joyce brings the most amazing details to her dollhouses. This desk is set up waiting for its owner to pay the bills.

She calls this her “Cadillac House,” because it has everything, including lighting. “I also call it my ‘cancer therapy house,’ because I had breast cancer surgery in 2005, and needed an outlet to keep me from dwelling on it,” Joyce says. This large, three-story house kept her busy, putting up wallpaper, painting trim, arranging furniture, making bedspreads and doing all the other little activities needed.

The “Cadillac” is filled with lots of fun details to discover. In the upstairs playroom, one can find a miniature dollhouse, along with a merry-go-round, train set, building blocks, tiny books and many other toys.

The kitchen is just as filled with amazing sights, from a thumb-sized toaster and spaghetti in a glass jar, to a hood over the modern range. A cake stand sits on the table, filled with tiny frosted cupcakes. On the counter, a set of knives sits in a knife block. In the nursery is a crib and matching dresser and rocker, plus teddy bears and baby bottles. The bathroom is complete with washer and dryer, tub and even bathroom scales.

The living room features a fireplace, a Tiffany lamp on a side table, a coffee table topped with miniature magazines, a desk to sit at for paying bills and letters ready to mail.

The many added flourishes make a dollhouse something special, rather than just a carbon copy of others.

“It’s especially fun for me to see what things I find to make items for the dollhouses. I’ve used buttons for pictures, a lipstick cover for an umbrella stand and computer generated designs for floor coverings, wallpaper and even a room divider. I usually make curtains out of lace and ribbon, and I turned an aunt’s quilted potholder into a bedspread. Wooden spools can become a variety of things, from flower pots to hassocks.”

For all her houses she makes her own curtains, bedspreads and pillows.

Just a few of the many amazing things that she has found to furnish her houses are a miniature player piano that actually plays “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin, a miniature Monopoly game with all the cards and money, copper pots, a porch swing, a carton of milk and an ironing board.

Joyce searches garage sales, flea markets and antique shops for already-made furniture, but also for objects she can turn into something else for the dollhouses. She never knows where she might find things. She came across some miniature mugs at Sam’s Drugstore in Fayette that were the perfect size.

Coming home after a hard day at the office, this doll relaxes in front of the fireplace with a glowing light for a fire. Details include a grandfather clock, candles and tiny magazines.

Her favorite place to shop for miniatures is Treasure Hill Doll House Miniatures in Millersburg. “I can’t allow myself to go there often, because I can’t resist starting to refurbish one of the many houses I have in the basement.”

Joyce grew up in Carroll County, and her family lived without electricity until she reached junior high school age.

“I remember coming home every day and flipping the switch to see if our house had gotten connected to electricity. Although the house was wired, the poles and lines hadn’t been installed to the area. It took about five months, but I came home one day and when I flipped the switch, the lights finally came on.” Her family finally got a TV in 1955, about a year before she left for college.

She headed to the University of Missouri in Columbia, majoring in home economics. Dick Taylor, a veterinary student, also attended school there. They met in February 1959, when Joyce and her friends were heading to the Baptist Student Center to decorate for a banquet.

Dick supplied the ride, and a little more than a year later, after Joyce graduated, they married. Dick continued veterinary school two more years, then they moved to Fayette in 1962 to set up a practice. They’ve lived in Fayette ever since. Dick currently serves as a director for Howard Electric Cooperative.

The Taylors had three children, two girls and a boy, who have long since grown and left home. Now they have six grandchildren: Lucas, Alex, Serena, Shayla, Taylor and Tré. She’s looking forward to continuing a dollhouse tradition with her three granddaughters.

Forbes is a freelance writer who lives near Fayette.

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