Downsizing the dollhouse


Treasures: Fitting the doll collection and snowmen into a smaller home was a challenge for Shirley Ruth.

March 31, 2002|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Shirley Ruth moved into her Nottingham townhouse five years ago, the greatest thing about the area was that her son, daughter-in-law and 8-month-old granddaughter lived next door.

"Any time I wanted to see my grandbaby, they could just hand her over the fence," she said

For years Ruth lived in a large, older home in Baltimore. She liked her home, but her son was getting concerned about the neighborhood's safety.

Also she was baby sitting her granddaughter in addition to working as a hostess at the Johns Hopkins University Club.

Ultimately, her son thought she should live next door to him. So when his neighbor's house came up for sale, he suggested she take a look at it.

At first, Ruth was reluctant to even consider the place.

"I thought it would be too small for me," she said. No way would a two-story townhouse accommodate her antiques and prized collection of more than 300 dolls, snowmen figurines and other collectibles. "I need a place for all my treasures," she said.

But it seems she was looking at the wrong house.

The home for sale was a larger end unit that had a side entrance, instead of a front entrance. The main floor appeared to be a little wider than townhouses such as her son's next door. The fenced yard also was slightly larger.

However, the house had been vacant for nearly a year and she wondered what the place was like inside. Not to worry. The home was in nearly perfect condition.

"It was in move-in condition," she said. "The couple who lived in the house before me did all the work already," she said of the home, which, according to tax records, was purchased for $77,000.

According to neighbors, the previous owners bought the home from a bachelor who had painted the basement red and black and installed mirrored walls and stereo speakers in the ceiling.

The couple managed to turn the bachelor's basement into a cozy family room with pastel-colored walls. Other changes were made. Doors were replaced, shelving was installed. Every spare nook in the home was converted into storage space, even the closet where the furnace sits.

The kitchen was brightened with a fresh coat of paint on the walls and cabinets.

Not everything was perfect. Ruth liked that there were ceiling fans in nearly every room. But her youngest son, Robert, who still lives at home, is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and could not sleep in a room with a ceiling fan. "It would take his head off," she said, noting that the fan was removed.

Having done her best to get rid of any excess furniture and other belongings, Ruth was still left with some misfits.

An oversized couch never made it into the house. The movers couldn't get it through the door, so it sat in the back yard. The full-size freezer, however, did fit into the laundry room, but was so large Ruth could barely navigate around the washer and dryer. A refrigerator replaced it.

And what about all of those dolls? Where were they going to go?

In her previous home, the dolls decorated the dining room. But no single room in her new home was large enough. So Ruth put a little bit of her collection in almost every room.

Everywhere you look dolls line the walls, rest on benches, sleep in baby carriages and sit behind desks. "Bride" dolls smile in her bedroom.

And the snowmen have found a place on a shelf in the dining room. Pretty plates now hang from the walls in the kitchen.

Whenever her granddaughter visits, the first thing she does is play with the dolls, rearranging them into groups and seating arrangements she thinks will show them off to best advantage. She knows which dolls are for play and which ones are for show, her grandmother said.

After a place was found for everything, Ruth was satisfied with her new home. "At night you can hear the wind whistle in the trees and around the house and you feel so cozy and secure," she said.

When her son and daughter-in-law decided to move to Fallston two years ago, she was disappointed that her granddaughter would no longer be on the other side of the fence. Her granddaughter was equally upset at first.

"She told me, `Grandma, I don't like your house anymore,' " Ruth recalled. The little girl then said, "I think you should move next door to me."

But Ruth wasn't about to move again. "Grandma likes her new home," she insisted. "She wants to stay."

To make things better, Ruth made a bedroom for her in a spare room.

"She considers it her own bedroom," Ruth said. And although she can't see her every day, her granddaughter's visits take on added meaning.

But her granddaughter seems to have inherited one of her passions. "Whenever she comes over, the first thing she does is head for the dolls," Grandma said.

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