Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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Restoring my Triang Dolls House No 76 by Robin Lowe


My new Triang Dolls House No 76 was bought off Trade Me - a New Zealand equivalent to Ebay - from Julia, of Mt Pleasant, Christchurch. The dolls house had originally belonged to her mother Adeline in England when she was about 5 years old, in 1942. Adeline remembers her mother talking about the postman trailing up the hill to deliver it. They then lived in Lancaster, up a hill called Canon Hill. She was a very lucky little girl as toys were hard to come by during the war years. It eventually became Julia's house. Adeline's mother shipped it out to Toronto, Canada in the late sixties when she was having a clear out. Julia thinks the roof must have been damaged, as her father changed it and put in balconies. Adeline was upset as she wasn't consulted.

Julia then had it shipped out to New Zealand in about 2002. Julia had hoped to pass it on to her children, but she had no girls and the boys were not at all interested even when their father painted it blue. Julia remembers painting it pink as a child.

Julia's mother recalls that it had lighting, although there was none when Julia had it - her Dad did attach a light to the roof with a battery. The house had no roof, as it got lost during the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch in 2011. The roof would need to be rebuilt as it originally was.

The house had a grey roof, painted to look like tiles, made in stiff cardboard, with two chimneys, one on either side. The chimneys were made of wood, painted cream, with two chimney pots in each, also of wood and painted red. The chimneys had spikes on the bottom to put into the roof. There is only one chimney left now. Around the windows in the house was painted brown. The centre part of the roof at the back was open and there was a wooden frame to hold a bike battery which was wired to the little lamps in the house.


The house as it was (February 2010)

There was a lot of restoration to be done to both the interior and the exterior - quite a challenge, but fun. The back is not original, instead being of peg board.


The house comes with some furniture and two small dolls - a father figure and a girl child.There are two rooms - a large one at the top and a smaller one at the bottom. On the right at the bottom is a garage and on the left is a sun room that Adeline used as a wash house. The original parquet flooring is still in the house and the two side rooms (the porch and the garage) had red brick-like flooring.


The house had to be collected personally, as Julia was too busy to pack it up and have it couriered. Christchurch is in the centre, pretty much, of the South Island of New Zealand and I live in the North Island of New Zealand. Fortunately for me, my sister Kathryn, who also lives in Christchurch, volunteered to collect it and have it shipped north. She had to negotiate quake damaged streets (badly damaged) in order to collect the house. Another obstacle was boxes to pack the house in. Because of the continuing devastating earthquakes in Canterbury, and people having to shift out of their earthquake damaged houses, boxes were impossible to find. Tony and I had to source boxes here in Masterton, dismantle them and ship them to Christchurch.


Not long after purchasing the house. I received an email from Julia informing me that the roof had been found, if I wanted it. That was a bonus. This meant that instead of building a completely new roof, we only had to rebuild part and restore the existing original.



The roof as it was when it arrived


The day dawned when work was about to start on the house. How to remove the two layers of paint from the house without damaging the original underneath, if indeed the original was still there. I started by using a very sharp craft knife, carefully attempting to remove the overpaint. I managed to lift a few pieces of paint off, but generally the over paint was determined to stay. After days of trying and getting nowhere, I had to re-think the situation. I wasn't too keen on using chemical paint stripper, but to my delight, I managed to find an environmentally safe water-based paint stripper available here in New Zealand under the trade name of Environmentally Safer Coating Remover. It is water based, non inflammable, user friendly, replaces toxic chlorinated and caustic products, reduces health and environmental risk, and is biodegradable. What more could I ask. Carefully I applied a thin coat of the remover and then using a thin spatula began to lift the top coat of over paint. It worked like a charm, so using this method I removed all of the top coat. Then, I applied a further coat of the remover and again using the spatula, I removed the next coat of paint. To my delight, I uncovered the original paint work of the house, including the floral decoration around the front lower window. Unfortunately, the two over coats of paint had leeched onto the original paint, but I was able to match up the colours fairly accurately and see how the floral decoration should look. The next step was to sand the house in preparation to re-painting.


There were numerous visits to our local Resenes paint shop looking for paint charts to match the paint, followed by more visits to purchase test pots. At last I was ready to start painting. What a difference to the bright blue colour the house was when I purchased it.


There was a scrap of the original wallpaper left on the lower room walls. I very carefully removed it using water and my fine craft knife. I scanned it into my computer, cropped out a square of it and saved it to my desk top. The next step was to bring up Microsoft Word and copy and past it many times on to the Word document. This gave me a sheet of the original paper reproduced. The sheet was then sprayed with artists' Fixative Crystal Coat, to keep the new paper from running. I was very pleased with the result and it is now pasted on to the lower room walls. Adeline informed me that the large upper room had been papered in a similar paper, only pink. There was nothing of that left on the walls, so I couldn't reproduce that paper in the same way. Fortunately for me, there is a function in Word 2007 that allows you to change the colour of pictures. I used that function and came up with a reasonably good wallpaper of the same pattern, but in pink. It may not be the same pink as the original, but not too bad either. I now have both rooms papered in reproductions of the originals.

Turning my attention to the brick flooring in the garage and the porch, I decided that although some of the flooring in the garage is damaged, I would leave well alone. It is in reasonable enough condition to save. The flooring in the porch though has more missing than is there, so I repeated the same process as I had done for the wallpaper and have reproduced the paper for the porch flooring. It will be loose laid, so that the original can still be seen.



Original lower room wallpaper   Original porch flooring



The flooring in the upper and lower rooms, although suffering some damage, will be left as they are. Any damage can be concealed by careful placement of the furniture and mats.


The next step was the windows. They had been repainted a very bright red. Adeline thought they should have been a metallic brown. I began removing the paint with the craft knife - no need to use paint stripper this time - and discovered that actually the windows and frames were originally a soft grey. There was quite a bit of rust on the windows which had to be carefully scraped off before giving them a coat of rust killer. Back to Resenes to match up the grey - by now I am becoming well known in Resenes - and then home to commence painting. Following that, I had to source clear plastic to insert into the windows and make up curtains of 1930's material to also insert into the windows. I was at a loss to know how to go about doing this, until I found on the internet, videos that clearly demonstrated how to do it. This was found on Shed on the Pond where Lee Higgins is restoring a Triang 61. I have a lot of 1930's material and among it I found some pretty organza material that has made up nicely into curtains. This was probably the fiddliest job for me, but the windows now look really good.

The house was now ready for the floral decoration and the pseudo timbering of the upper front, as well as the roof restoration. This is where my husband Tony came into the picture. He is an artist, plus he enjoys building tiny miniature houses. The remaining part of the roof was carefully taken off and ironed to straighten out the bulges and then put back on. Tony then proceeded to measure out where and how the new part should be, and made several templates before being satisfied with the result. He then framed it up, cut out the roof parts and scored the tiles into the cardboard, before putting it all together. We do have a problem with the roof as the floor of it seems to be much thicker than it should be. We suspect that Julia's father might have replaced the original with something much thicker. This is making the roof look not quite right, we think. At this point we would dearly love to be able to see another Triang 76, but alas, we can only go by pictures and they don't show up the roof flooring clearly.


Frustration was to follow. The grey paint couldn't be matched. Tony spent hours mixing grey, black and white paint and finally in desperation, he added some yellow. Eureka!!!! That did the trick - or nearly did. This was about as good as we were going to get. It must be remembered that the paint on the existing part of the roof had faded - and not evenly. It had been damaged also and children had scribbled on part of it. The new part of the roof looks very new in comparison, in spite of our attempts to make it look old.


The next step was to reproduce the Tudor style timbering. The part that remains on the front of the roof is still intact, but we needed to make some for the upper front of the house out of cardboard. Fortunately we have pictures of other Triang 76 houses that show the outline and with the timbering on the roof to copy, we are able to make the rest. Matching the dark brown colouring wasn't difficult and soon we had the timbering in place. All that remained to do was to make a back for the house from ply and attach the roof. We were able to acquire an off cut of 3 ply wood, from which a good back for the house could be made. This was painted to match the rest of the house and attached to the back. A second chimney was made, using the original as a pattern and then painted to match.





Finally, in mid May, the house is finished. How different the house looks now.



At last I am ready to furnish it. The furniture that came with the house is of a more modern era, but is perfect for a 1960/70s New Zealand made house that I have. I already have some Dol-Toi and Spot-On furniture of the correct vintage that I can put into the Triang house, plus a family of small dolls that appear to be German Caco dolls, so these are used to furnish and populate the house. The bedroom furniture is Dol-Toi, and the kitchen furniture is Spot-on. The fireplace came with the house and I have used a handmade lounge suite in the meantime, until I can source something more appropriate.



The bathroom furniture is a Lundby set that is really too modern for the house and will be replaced as well, when I find something more appropriate. The lighting in the house is watch battery operated and does the job well.


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