Sunday, December 19, 2010

This old barn

So, one of the (far too many) other things I collect is old toy barns. I especially love old German ones, and have a collect of perhaps 7 or 8 of them. Yes, yes, I don't know exactly  how many I have. Sad, isn't it? However, I do have the excuse that I've packed them up while we're doing the never-ending renovations on our real old house, so I can't get to them to make a real count. Still, they're one of my great loves.

Anyway, yesterday morning we went to our local favorite flea market in Lambertville, NJ, for a walk around the very cold air. We didn't really expect to find much, it being less than 30° when we got there, but there were a surprising number of dealers, and besides, we both needed the exercise. So, imagine my surprise when I spotted the back of a small building sitting on a table. From the front, as I knew it would be, it was an antique German barn. I picked it up, intending to ask the price, then saw that it had a tag -- $15! My husband made a grumbly face -- not because he didn't want me to get it. No, he was grumpy because he didn't see it first, as he would've bought it instantly as a last-minute Christmas present for me. Have I mentioned how much I love my husband? We have a perfect collectors' marriage -- he can collect whatever he wants, and I can collect whatever I want (within obvious reason).

Aside from the obvious missing door and a few small cracks in the wood, the barn is in remarkably good shape. The paint is spectacular, faded just enough in all the right places to be interesting. The litho paper decoration appears to complete and in extremely good condition -- one of the harder things to find in good shape on these old barns. I'm really happy with it, and I will probably just leave it as it is, unless I can find a really good picture of the exact same barn with the missing door (and can find a way to make a believable replacement).

You can bet it will be part of my Christmas display this year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dustballs and mouse turds and shag rug, oh, my!

Today was cleaning day. No, not my real house. Whyever would I want to clean my real house? I've gotten used to the catfur tumbleweeds and cobwebs. I think they add ambience... No, today was cleaning day at Mystery Manor. I've been wanting to do this all week, but I have to admit I approached it with a bit of trepidation. What if I ruin it? What if all the paint comes off?

With a few encouraging words from Ann Meehan ("This is definitely a good house and it certainly can be brought back to its original look. I would wash the floors with a sponge with a small amount of water and then dry them"), I got started. After coughing my way through clouds of dust, sweeping out mouse droppings (actually less than I expected) and bits of wallpaper and carpeting, as well as destroying one sponge and consuming half a roll of paper towels, I could see definite improvement.

Herewith, pictures of each room, before and after.

First floor, lefthand side:

First floor, righthand side:

I also was able to easily strip all of the wallpaper from this room. Thank goodness, because the original stuff, which you can just see in the before picture, was hideous!

Second floor, lefthand side:

Second floor, righthand side:

This last is the best floor in the house. There's very little damage and the colors on the parquet are still fairly bright. Most of the windows were intact around it, so it was protected fairly well. With the exception of the pink-shag-covered floor, the other two floors are in okay shape, but will need additional cleanings. As for the pink shag rug, well, at least the cat perch is gone (poor Havoc!). The rug was glued on and I tried using a blow dryer to soften the adhesive. Unfortunately, all that did was blow dust and powdered glue back in my face. So, I resorted to brute force. There are still a few bits of rug clinging stubbornly to the floor, as well as a splotch of what looks like white paint in the middle, but I think even that's an improvement. Of course now the missing part of the floor is even more obvious, but what good is a challenge without the tough bits, right?

The outside of the house held a few surprises. When I cleaned the base in the front, I found little sprouts of painted grass on the front steps. I'm not sure if they're original to the house or were a later addition, but I think they're utterly charming:

The front base and parquet trim cleaned up pretty well, but will also need a few more passes. I'd cleaned a bit of it yesterday, so the before doesn't look nearly as bad as it did.



The biggest surprise of all was finding more parquet trim around the sides of the house. The trim all looked solid black when I started:

And this is what I found after cleaning:

After I've cleaned the floors and parquet trim a few more times, the next step will be to carefully oil them. That should improve their appearance considerably. Another pleasant surprise for me was to find that all of the baseboards are intact. I had thought some were missing, but they were just covered up by the "new" wallpaper. There were also a few additional pieces of trim stashed away in the attic. Not all the pieces that are missing, of course, but the more original trim I have, the happier I am.

I think the next step will be another cleaning of the floors, more cleaning of the outside, and stripping the remaining wallpaper. I think that should probably get me all the way to Christmas, since I've actually got to spend some time wrapping presents and decorating the house!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In the beginning....

...was an old dollhouse. This particular old dollhouse was made around 1890 for the FAO Schwarz Company. The actual maker of these houses is unknown, thus the name "Mystery House." The Mystery Houses are known for their distinctive "tramp art" trim and painted parquet floors. For a better idea of what this house should eventually look like, take a look at this one. It's smaller than my house, but the details are very much the same.

Here is my house. The front facade of the house is missing one of the doors (which, sadly, contained the original front door) and several windows. It's also been painted yellow, with the trim painted dark gray. Still, lots of the original trim remains. The original wallpaper is mostly gone, but the floors (except for the top one on the lefthand side) are intact. Unfortunately, part of the floor of the second floor room on the left side is missing -- it's currently covered by spectacular pink shag carpeting. Alas, the carpeting will have to go. So sad...

This is one of the rooms. The original wallpaper is mostly gone, and I'll be removing the "new" wallpaper as soon as I determine the best method. On the right you can also see the original door with its original trim. This house has both of its interior doors, definitely a plus. From what I can tell, the original front door (on the missing side of the house's front) is also the same pattern, so at least I have a template to work from.

Here you can see a better view of the parquet  flooring and painted details around the base of the house. It really needs a good cleaning, but I'm holding off on the household products until I can figure out the best way to do it that won't damage any of the original details. You can also see that most of the original baseboards are also still there, along with some of the original interior window trim, and the original front step.

While the front of the house has been repainted, the sides and back are still covered in the original paint. It's kind of sad how happy this makes me! I absolutely love the original color, and I'm thrilled that so much of the window and tramp art trim is still there. I'll need to get some replacements, but the fact that I have originals to work from will make that a bit easier.

The back of the house is very plain, but as you can see, the paint is also original. Unlike the front, the roof in the back has not been repainted.

Here's a closeup of the back roof. You can still see the original painted shingles. 

And look -- I already have a tenant. And he seems to love the pink shag carpeting!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The adventure begins...

So, there I was, very early this past Monday morning at our local auction house with my dear husband, waiting for the auction to begin. As I wandered around, trying to stay warm and wake up while re-examining the various lots of stuff, I nearly tripped over a large stereo system with massive speakers -- you know the big that "wall of sound" takes on a whole new meaning. As I looked past the behemoth, I could see what appeared to be an old, very sad doll house tucked behind the speakers. I looked closer. The trim on the corners of the house triggered something in my mind...a particular style of doll house that I'd seen in a few books and on some websites. It reminded me of the trim that was used exclusively on what were dubbed the "Mystery Houses" made for FAO Schwarz in the late 19th century, but I really wasn't sure. A few minutes later the auction began. The first lot, the massive stereo system, passed with no bids, restoring my belief in auction-buying society. The next lot up was the dollhouse. The auctioneer started at $20...dropped to $10...dropped to $5...and I put up my hand. Any other bids? Nope. The house was mine.

Hubby looked at me a little curiously, but as soon as the crowd moved down to the next lot, he helped me pull the old house back out of the way. It was massive -- easily 3 feet wide by at least as high. It was missing one of its two doors, and some of the trim and windows were gone. Most unfortunately, part of one of the second floors was missing, and was covered with pink shag pile carpeting. I still wasn't sure it was what I thought it was until I looked more carefully at the filthy floors. There, under layers of dirt, were the telltale "parquet" floors. It was, indeed, a very rare Mystery House. I was floored. I've always wanted one of these houses, ever since I saw pictures of one on Ann Meehan's website, but given the prices I'd seen on them (usually well into the thousands), I figured it was one of those things that would have to wait until we hit the ever-elusive lottery. But there it was, sitting in front of me, and I'd bought it for the remarkable sum of five dollars.

It was a struggle getting the house into our car along with the rest of our auction purchases -- mostly trains and diecast cars, but also a lot of vintage Star Wars toys, and some other assorted eBay-bound stuff. Honestly, I wasn't sure it was going to fit, but after some repacking, rearranging, and tossing of boxes, and a liberal sprinkling of curses, we managed to get it all into the HHR. The house is now sitting in the middle of my kitchen, distracting the cats. I have to find a place to put it so I can start working on it, and then I have to figure out where to start. I think cleaning will be the first step -- after I get rid of that awful shag carpet. I'm hoping to get pictures taken tomorrow -- I'll need to get it up off the floor and onto a table for that, with my husband's help, of course. Fortunately my husband is thrilled that I'm so happy with the house, and is generally supportive of all of my hobbies, as I am of his. Now if I can just get the cats to sign a non-aggression pact, we'll all be a lot happier. Especially since I had to set up a fortress in front of the house after Misha-the-still-a-kitten got stuck in one of the empty windows yesterday and took off a bit of window trim in his panic. Cats. Can't live with them, can't kill them without figuring out what to do with their bodies...

And so it begins.