Earlier this year, my 7-year-old granddaughter (B) talked with my wife about wanting “Popeye” – that is, myself – to build her a doll house. After a brief discussion, I thought I could do it but would not be able to start until September, when I was to retire.

A Promise

September came, and I had somehow forgotten about my promise until B came to me and asked when I was going to start building her doll house. Then she said, “Popeye, it is okay if you don’t want to build the doll house, I will understand!”

What do you say to that? We went online and looked at various kits, and of course, she wanted the pink house with all of the trimmings, which looked like a mansion out of the Victorian era. I ordered the kit and it arrived a week later, a 48-pound box of wood!

My Hobby May Not Save the Day

To step back for a moment, I do have a hobby of making things and have always had a workshop for that kind of purpose.

I have built toy chests and blanket chests, basement rec rooms with cabinets and built-in tv areas with book shelves. Each time we moved to a new home, a workshop was the first thing I’d set up. But I had never had to make a doll house, and so I had no idea what I had signed up for.

A Request I Could Not Refuse

I opened the kit box and found 28 sheets of wood, all of the doll house pieces drawn on them. My job was to ‘simply’ cut out the pieces and put the thing together.

Since I’d never attempted that kind of project before, I thought I’d read the directions first. And good thing I did.

They indicated that I ‘might’ need to consider painting, staining and varnishing the pieces as well as wallpapering the rooms before assembling them. The box also contained the roof shingles and Victorian clap-board siding, along with the spiral roof tops and interior stairs for the three-story house.

I have now gotten to the point of starting to assemble the major parts that have been prepared, putting together the interior walls with flooring, and the outside walls.

I want to mention that the instructions are written in another language (a form of English, but in doll house terminology) so I largely try and figure out what goes where by looking at the black-and-white pictures.

The Lessons So Far

Here are a few things I have learned so far in this process that may help you when taking on such projects:

  • Try and get a copy of the instructions online ahead of time so you can determine if this is something you can actually do – and in the time-frame needed.
  • Find someone who may have done such a project and talk with them about their experience. Ask for any helpful hints they may be able to pass along, like: “You are crazy,” or “It will take longer to build this then building your own home,” or “When it is finally finished, it will be very rewarding, and nothing beats the smile on your little person’s face.” Stay focused on the last one.
  • When the box arrives, go through and mark each sheet with the number that corresponds to the outline in the instructions. Most have markings that are very difficult to find without a magnifying glass. Mark the sheets on areas that you will not be using.
  • Don’t start by taking apart all the pieces in the sheets – you’ll get them confused! Only remove the pieces as instructed.
  • Absolutely do the stain, painting, and polyurethane of the interior parts before assembling them. This may need to be in stages.
  • Have music in the background to keep you calm.
  • Take your time: this is a process not an event!
  • Most of all, focus on the end result and try and have some fun with it along the way.

What projects have you taken on for the benefit of a child or grandchild that were challenging but rewarding? Would you do it again? What do such projects give back to you? Let’s have a discussion below.

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