- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - The house in Chuck Keith’s basement is small, but it has been there for a large part of his adulthood.

It’s a dollhouse, one he started building in 1983.

“I picked a neo-Jacobean style because it was a forerunner of today’s ranch house, insomuch as they placed rooms and porches with an eye toward the view,” Keith told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1avbMLx ). “Old homes were just kind of static. … Jacobean people were crazy about little balconies and things.”

That explanation was important, since in no obvious way, shape or form does this classic doll dwelling look anything like what we think of as a typical ranch house. Instead, it is tall with a hefty pergola, steeply pitched roof with scalloped shingling and decoratively covered with what we think of today as “gingerbread,” circa the 1800s.

The original designer?

“It’s sort of a Chuck Keith,” the builder said with a quiet chuckle. “And I threw in a liberal dose of Victorian.”

As he spoke, the 71-year-old Indianapolis native and Air Force veteran was near the table where the 1/12th scale home rested on a wooden slab, a ruler, tape measure and packages of tiny antique light fixtures scattered around it.

Also, awaiting placement inside, was an impressive circular staircase that he had been advised to not even attempt to build.

“Don’t tell him he can’t do something,” cautioned his wife, Jane, proudly.

Also in the basement was a smattering of kites, hundreds of books, reference and otherwise, and some remarkably detailed model boats that, like the dollhouse, he hand built. Showing visitors a drawing for one boat’s hull that looked absolutely indecipherable, Keith - who is retired from Maxon Corp.’s research and development department - acknowledged he has seen a blueprint or two before.

“I recommend to anyone who starts a hobby, the dollhouse is a heck of a lot easier than a boat,” he advised.

Still, considering he began working on the dollhouse 31 years ago, he can’t say building it hasn’t been time consuming. After all, it was originally meant for his daughter Carol, who is now the mother of two of his grandchildren.

“My daughter grew up,” he explained.

In designing and building this dollhouse, which also features a stained-glass window he fashioned from a Christmas ornament, he has made it so the pergola and roof lift off, and the sides pull away to give greater access to its interior.

Ah, yes, its interior. To quote the Bard, when explaining why he has taken so long to finish it, “Ay, there’s the rub!” Keith wants it to be perfectly authentic, but so far, he has never been inside a pre-Jacobean house to check out certain vital details firsthand.

“Where I’m really stuck,” said Keith, who is slightly built with silver hair, “I have no idea what the real windows or woodwork is like.”

He is hoping to eventually get inside a pre-Jacobean dwelling to see for himself. Meanwhile, he entertains himself with thoughts of this dollhouse being the real thing, a dwelling located along the banks of the Ohio River and named Mussel Manor.

Back in the day, he explained, folks living in such places collected mussel shells to cut attractive buttons from them, showing off one such old shell that was riddled with holes. In the woodwork atop the dollhouse, he cut out a decorative image of an open mussel, paying homage to the house’s name.

These days, he has resigned himself to allowing his 7- and 5-year-old grandchildren to play with the unfinished doll house, too.

“I kind of have to hold my breath, but you know …,” he said.

Meanwhile, he still works on the basswood and mahogany dollhouse, Keith added, “when I get done snow blowing, or I’m really bored.”

As for when the dollhouse will finally be finished, he refuses to hazard a guess.

“If I had the information I need, I’d get it done this year,” he said, “but then, I thought that last year.”

___

Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com

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