Between November 1977 and Nov 1978 we would produce three more houses, this time on commission. When we returned from the NAME show in early November we had two years worth of orders, but only a little money, so we went to the bank to take out our first loan. Naïve as I was, I was thrilled that they were so willing to loan me the $1000.00 it would take to get us through to our customer’s next payment. Biding time at the loan desk we stared at a poster for home improvement loans, featuring an unusual Victorian house with twin towers and a third floor center cupola. Our little lightbulbs flashed on, as simultaneously we decided that house would be our next mini production. The ad campaign was over, so the bank gave us the poster (you can see it in on the wall behind Noel wiring the house in our studio in the photo below). Months later we would discover the photo was a concoction of the advertising agency—the original house had one tower and a cupola, and the art director made a mirror image of the one side, flipped it, et voila! a house with twin towers.
As you can see, wiring a dollhouse requires a lot of ingenuity, especially if you are of the school of thinking that believes electricity is basically magic, a theory we proved again and again over our years of wiring mini-houses. We didn’t bury the wiring in the walls, as we decided electricity wouldn’t have been built into these houses, but added later. That allowed us to run wiring from each light fixture across the ceilings, snake it down the corner walls under u channel basswood strips (substituting for metal electrical conduit), and, eventually down to the power supply—bell transformers in our early houses—in a drawer at the base of the house. In a house as large as the Rainier, this became a major puzzle. As a rule, we tested each light fixture before and after installation, then went on to the next. Eventually clumps of wires from 2-3 rooms would be braided together, attached to smaller wires , then squeezed through a hole drilled in the bottom of the house. All that spaghetti was eventually woven into two bundles of wires that wrapped around the neg and pos screws on the bell transformer. Volts and amps were never a part of the equation—if we had too many wires, we added another bell transformer.
To test the final outcome we would wait until dark, wire the transformers onto household electrical cord and plug it into the wall. More often than not, the electricity gods were kind to us, and all the lights went on. Sometimes not, as with the Rainier. Noel then spent days tracking back, tinkering with mini lightbulbs, re-braiding different clumps together, and changing transformers until we had lights that would stay on reliably. Other times we just unplugged, went to bed and tried again in the morning to find everything shining as it should. Our mini friends are not doubt howling with laughter and/or horror that we could be so blase about electricity, but neither of us seems to have a single ion of electrical thinking in our brains. The houses were what was fun.
Once all the lights were working, we called the client to arrange for a delivery date. The buyer indicated on the phone that there might be a problem getting it into her house, but that she’d “arrange for maybe a crane, or something.” Sure enough, it wasn’t going through the narrow entryway, so we drove around back and parked at the bottom of an ivy-covered hill below her patio door. She had some burly men on hand, and together we negotiated it up through the ivy (all the while I’m thinking snakes live in ivy), over her railing and in through the door, but then where? The only space large enough was her coffee table in the center of the living room, surrounded at fairly close range by a couch and a couple of chairs, and that’s where she wanted it. The house, at close to 5 ft. tall, 30 in. w X 4ft. l, ate all the space in the room. We sat down and had some iced tea, bumping our knees on the house as we tried talking around it. The customer was thrilled, and allowed as how her friends and family wouldn’t be much fun if they couldn’t enjoy the house when they came calling.