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Animal House

Early last summer Huxley had a rough day at school, a day where his teacher suggested that he should have extra exercise to work off some of his energy. As if I had sensed that, I had already on the way to pick him up from school decided to start a large project for him, something involving wood, made by using power tools by me and lots of sanding by him. So, the idea of his animal house was manifesting.

But let's step back a little bit. Last year I used to drop him off at the Waldorf school every morning. He used to be the first child there and I always went into the class room with him. In the initial months he wished to have me sit at the play kitchen table while he would prepare me a cup of pretend tea. During the late spring months he developed a fascination with the "doll house" there. I put that word into quotation marks, because he never played with dolls in it. He loved to play with the little bits of furniture an take everything out and put it back in. I wanted to have one for our home as well. Something beautiful with wood, large so that it can hold a number of rooms, with an attic (because I love the mysteries of attics and Huxley too has a fascination for them). 

Online I found my favourite one, the Ostheimer Farmhouse, which was just out of reach for us, especially as it had to be shipped up from the states and across the border. Then I saw Seri's Dollhouse and thought to myself that even though I am not a woodworker, I should be able to create something along those lines. I had watched my own dad make many things in his workshop.

On that early summer day I brought Huxley home to have his nap with daddy watching over him and went to procure some wood. Not an easy task I realized as the regular home improvement store chain only had boards up to 12" wide and I wanted something a bit larger. There is an immense amount of skills involved in building with wood. It is not for naught that men working with wood spend countless hours in their shops (grin). 

Eventually I ended up at a lumberyard where I purchased one sheet of 8' x 4' piece of Oak-veneer Playwood in 1/2" thickness, which really measures 1/4". It cost about $60 and I had it cut into two four by four foot pieces to fit it into the back of the mini van. 

At home I first made a rough sketch and played around with a measuring tape to visualize the size of the house. Then I made a plan to figure out how to lay out the pieces to waste the least amount of wood. I set up the work bench in the back yard, got out the Jigsaw and after drawing my shapes onto the wood started to cut them out. For the window openings I used a small hole saw attached to our drill and made holes into the rough middle of each window. I wanted to preserve the cut-outs to turn them into shutters. 

It was challenging, but not really hard. Huxley watched and it was a great exercise for him to learn to stay back when the tool was in use, far back! I also unplugged the saw at the end of each cut! I think that is the most important part when working with powertools around children. I also ensured that I used goggles and construction gloves. 

Sitting on the back porch we sanded all the pieces and chatted together. Of course Mami did most of it, but Huxley was really proud to help. To construct the house I used nails. Not a very elegant solution, but I wanted for him to help me hammer them in. We used way more nails than necessary, but looking at the house I will always remember the summer of 2008 when we worked in each nail. 

I did make a calculation error when I cut out the front part of the roof and cut it too narrow. Something I felt made the whole house look very bad and just didn't work with my design. I then re-cut the piece. I guess there is something to the notion to "meassure twice, cut once". Who would have thought… Huxley also told me he wanted for the stairs to be inside the house after we had already assembled most of it. It was a challenge to cut those openings and they are certainly not elegant. 

Now, let's have some views of the house as it is right now:

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Front view with attic roof closed
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Front view with attic roof opened (you can see the wood filler used to cover up some of the uneven cuts made by the jigsaw (not me of course… grin..) 
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Side view showing some of the windows and the stair holes

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One of the features very important to me, was to make a house so that it could be played with from all sides. I made a very large door on the back wall to allow little hands to reach in and play.

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Back-view, observing the action in the house. looks like there are some dinosaurs visiting.

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A house of course needs furniture. Huxley had wanted a large table for months, before I was possessed while(!) cooking dinner to quickly go and cut some pieces of wood and make a table and six chairs. All I did was cut down a pine board and used some square piece of wood cut into lenghts. Nailed the board to two table legs and voila, a table. 

At Christmas time I included a set kitchen furniture in Huxley's advent calendar and now the house has a kitchen and dining area. 

We have left to do:

Make stairs (although Huxley is now talking about an elevator… oh-dear)
Install shutters and small doors (hinges got purchased yesterday after the Ostheimer way of tying them with leather straps did not work)
Paint the house (Huxley's dearest wish and my job to source non-toxic paints – I'll keep you posted on my finds)
Build some beds, complete with mattress and bedding
Putting in some carpet on the inside (something I hope to weave with Huxley in the summer time)

This was mainly a Mami and son project, but Daddy did help holding and sanding a little. For us it is very important for Huxley to see that you can make and build anything. It makes going to stores easier too, as when he points something out that I really don't want to buy, he is starting to say that we can just make it at home. 

And just to clarify. It is not a doll house! But to just call it a house might not tell you that Huxley wants his animals to live there. His knights go visit there too, but it does belong to the animals. So I have been told.

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