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Local woman shares passion for doll houses

by Kim Tiefenthaler
Landmark reporter

In 1989, Barbara Whitters was out with her friend, Shirley Adams, buying furnishings for a doll house that her friend just had made, when Barbara decided to purchase a farmhouse kit of her own. This purchase would lead Barbara to discover a passion she hadn't known could exist in her hobby of crafts.

Twelve years later, Whitters is still actively pursuing her love for the craft of building and decorating doll houses.

"I had always been a tomboy, playing with cars and trucks, not dolls, so my girlish childhood didn't surface till late in life," stated Whitters.

Whitters, who has created various crafts from water and oil color paintings to macrame, has found doll houses to be her greatest hobby.

"Working with wood has given me more satisfaction than anything I've done," said Whitters.

On Sept. 26, Whitters spoke to over 30 women at First Christian Church in Platte City regarding her love.

She explained how the first kit (the farmhouse) bought with her friend cost Whitters $156 and took her 107 hours to build. While Whitters followed the kit as far as the architectural aspect, she made certain revisions to the house which weren't included in the kit.

"I furnished the house completely and dressed it up for Easter, complete with ham dinner on the table, and an Easter egg hunt in the yard," explained Whitters.

To this day, Whitters has built 10 houses and three room boxes. Her biggest adventure came with the purchase of a southern mansion kit. Whitters decided to disregard the kit instructions, also known as "kitbashing" and design the mansion to her imagination.

She explained that the windows went from bay type to long windows, typical of a true southern mansion, the balcony was extended the entire width of the second floor, a side addition was installed for a kitchen and a study, as well as a grand curved staircase. Throughout the mansion, you can see Barbara's personal touches such as a needlepoint rug, counted cross-stitch bedspreads, and wicker furniture.

Whitters had invested $5,200 in the mansion during its construction. Today, she estimates that the mansion would value $8-10,000 on the market.

"My decision to make the bedspreads and wicker furniture is all a part of the challenge. When you get into buying those items they become expensive and there's not a lot of variety," said Whitters. "When you do it yourself, you're able to have more options and it's more gratifying when you add your personal touch."

In each doll house, Whitters has her signature item placed at a various spot throughout the houses: A mouse.

"It just popped into my head one day. I had a mouse laying around and thought how cute it was and decided why not use that," explained Whitters.

Other projects that have been brought from a kit to reality include a haunted house, Santa's parlor, which was donated to the local historical society, a summer cottage, and Auntie Malia's fruit stand.

In 1994, Whitters ventured into the unknown and built a log cabin without the use of a kit.

Following the log cabin, Whitters decided to build a 1930's style road diner and filling station from scratch.

"I don't hang around filling stations very often so I went down to Eddies Filling Station (Bud's 66) in Platte City to get ideas on what I could duplicate," said Whitters.

She purchased two gas pumps and filled them with "gas" and built a telephone box that was placed in between the two buildings. The diner is outfitted with three booths upholstered in red leather, a counter with stools, a jukebox, a back bar housing the grill, hot pots, sink and a chef.

Each of the models Whitters has built is a scale of one inch equals one foot.

After building the diner and filling station, Whitters continued to use her imagination to build a bunny rabbit bakery in a small roll-top breadbox and Whitters Gallery, which is a book box, made from a volume of books entitled "The Book of History." She bound the books with glue, added a door and windows, and turned it into a gallery carrying fine china, silver and objects of art.

When Whitters was asked how she found items for each project she responded with a smile, "your junk is my treasure."

Whitters stated her next project is a 200-year old English cottage. She will begin building the cottage once the materials she ordered from England have arrived.

Barbara's husband Paul has given her constant support in her hobby since day one.

"He supports me 150 percent and always has. He gives me encouragement to do it and do it well," said Whitters. "He lets me play with my toys."

Recently, Whitters traveled to St. Louis for a doll house show to participate in a workshop. Throughout the years, Barbara has traveled to 15 shows across the U.S., including her annual visit to the international doll house show in Chicago every year.

Barbara concluded by saying, "I plan to do this as long as the good Lord lets me."