Minnesotan puts 20 years into creating replica of childhood farmhouse
Not only did Margaret Kiehn recreate a dollhouse replica of the farmhouse, but she also made most of the furniture, including bedding.
MOOSE LAKE, Minn. — Margaret Kiehn loved the old farmhouse that she grew up on so much that she recreated it.
Her parents, Daisy and Elmer Lindstrom, bought the dairy farm and 120 acres outside Rush City in 1944 when she was 5 years old. Kiehn estimates the house was probably built in the late 1800s and never had indoor plumbing. Her grandparents came from Sweden. Her father didn't speak any English when he started school.
Kiehn loved life on the farm.
“It was a good life,” said Kiehn, who now lives in Moose Lake. “We didn't have any money, but we had lots to eat.”
Not only did Kiehn recreate a dollhouse replica of the farmhouse, but she also made most of the furniture, including bedding. She didn't make the potbelly stove or the piano.
All tiny in scale, the project was no small feat. With the help of her brother, Kiehn took exact measurements of all the rooms. It took several years before the project began.
“I began after my own kids were out of school around 1982,” Kiehn said. She completed the project around 2002.
She worked in the evening after work or during a spare moment. She often got lost working on the current project, not realizing it was already midnight.
She painstakingly began building the furniture first. She got creative when it was time to build the small kitchen chairs. They were wood, painted green with a round back, common at the time.
“I dug up little pine tree roots and made a frame. I knew how I wanted it,” Kiehn said. “I put them over it until they dried. The middle pieces are toothpicks.”
She said the idea just came to her one day as she was digging in her yard and battling tree roots. She had tried bending dowels to get the distinctive shape, but it didn't work.
Her favorite piece was also the most difficult to make. As was common in the early 1900s, the kitchen had a Hoosier cabinet. It was a little kitchen workstation with plenty of storage. They were popular because some homes didn't have built-in cabinets at the time.
Kiehn created the slide-out shelf covered in metal, similar to a giant breadboard. She flattened a pop can and used the shiny inside for the top of the shelf.
She also used a small piece of fabric and glued toothpicks to the front for a bread storage area. The little door is called a tambour roll door. Kiehn's version slides up with a little coaxing.
She even included the built-in flour bin/sifter in one of the cabinets. Kiehn estimates that piece took around 40 hours to complete.
Kiehn built about 25 miniature pieces. She also made tiny pillows and pillow cases and quilts for the beds. One bed is made of wood, the others of metal. Her brother's bed has a patchwork quilt with half-inch squares. The pillowcases have embroidered flowers. She built a wall phone and an ice box. She soldered the tiny metal racks for the inside of the ice box.
The structure of the home included its own challenges. The roof shingles were made of a very thin piece of wood. She had to apply one row of shingles at a time and weigh them down to prevent the edges from curling. She also had to use a tiny drill to make holes for the nails to prevent the wooden walls from cracking.
She decorated the walls and floors with vintage wallpaper pieces and vinyl flooring. The kitchen is painted yellow and the living room is green.
One year, Kiehn recreated her family Christmas tree and lights. When she went to remove the lights, some of the wallpaper was damaged.
Her father died in 1968 and her mother moved out later. The siblings sold the property, which grew to include 200 acres, in the late 1990s. The buyer was only interested in the property and not the home.
The siblings rescued and reused some of the original maple wood flooring from the kitchen, a few pieces of trim board and a built-in shelf unit. Kiehn had her pieces repurposed into a small hutch in her living room.
Kiehn is hoping to hand the replica house down to her children or grandchildren to keep it in the family.