Pollyanne Hornbeck's Haunted Dollhouse

Kit Kraft meets up with miniaturist Pollyanne Hornbeck to take a look at her most amazing haunted dollhouse.

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KK: There’s no mistaking this house has had a lot of love and attention over the years. How long have you been working on your dollhouse?

PA: More than 30 years. It started as a hobby I shared with my mother when I was in college and 19.

KK: It has been a steady hobby all these years?

PA: No. It was in my friend Chuck Foster’s (the DJ of the Reggae Beat on Sundays on KPFK) garage for many years until I got a big enough spot for it. So it was in storage for at least 5 years in which nothing was changed. Consequently having my dollhouse in Chuck’s garage so long inspired him to get into miniatures and now he has 5 dollhouses!

KK: Was it always a haunted house?

PA: No, it started as a pristine Victorian house.

KK: You built it from a kit right?

PA: No. In the 1980’s there was a guy on Torrance Blvd who built dollhouses out of his garage. I would drive by and dream and one day I met up with him and we discussed a house from ideas I had in my head. He did all the cutting and assembled just the most basic shell. From there, I added windows and doors, roofing, wallpaper. A lot of the fun is in the collecting of pieces and parts, then adding them to the house.

KK: It’s pretty amazing indeed! I recognize a lot of things from good old Kit Kraft, many of which were not intended for dollhouses. Have you had any help on it?

PA: Yes, my husband Thomas built this very sturdy rotating table with a 360 contact so that all the lights still lights when it is spun it and the wiring doesn’t tangle up. All the wires are in the legs of the table and so is the plug so it is extra deluxe. It’s made out of water pipes he welded together and an industrial strength Lazy Susan. And when I decided to make it haunted years ago, my practice husband, Bryan, ran copper tape and soldered wires to it on the base to electrify it. That is when I put in the hardwood flooring to cover the wires.

KK: What’s the most recent project you’ve done?

PA: I built the scary dead tree up front out of wire and Sculpey. Then painted it to look like an old birch.

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KK: It looks like there’s a lot of treasures up there. Also looks a bit like my workshop at home.

PA: I probably should get that organized. But then there wouldn’t be anything to discover.

KK: When did it change from that Victorian home into the amazing haunted house we see today?

PA: When I finally got a big enough place I got the dollhouse out of Chuck’s garage. Then I thought to myself what was I thinking? It was giant and I wasn’t into it. So I got a jigsaw and chopped off the back end of the house to make it shorter and decided if it was haunted I would like it again; then the redecorating began.

The windows were very carefully broken, some of the window trim was broken and reglued to look like it was falling off, I made the bed of nails and started painting up all of the fixtures and furniture to look old and rusty.

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And then the color. I impulsively repainted the house one night with a gray semi gloss thinking I could get rid of the shine later with dullcote lacquer, but it never was just right. I would always get a glare from a flash, so I picked out a custom matte mossy green color and had it mixed at Home Depot and then airbrushed that on. Then it looked too clean and I had to go in with browns and blacks and airbrush it to look aging, and dirty.

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I added skulls on sticks outside (inspired by the Tiki Room at Disneyland) and a graveyard in front. The tree out front has half full glass bottles hanging on it. That’s a very southern Voodoo tradition, people use to ward off evil spirits. It is said that this traditional practice was brought here by Africans during the slave trade. In the Congo, Natives have hung hand-blown glass on huts and trees to ward off evil spirits since the ninth century, and perhaps earlier. For my house I am trying to attract them.

KK: Looks like it’s working!

PA: I fill the bottles with a tiny syringe, it dries up, I fill them again!

KK: I love all of the details. One could spend weeks finding treasure in here. What are the downspouts on the sides made out of?

PA: Those are just flexi straws. With a little paint, they look real.

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KK: And the architectural details on the outside?

PA: Jewelry findings, metal stampings, little parts of things that look like they might work, resin and styrene model parts, I glue them on and paint them to match.

KK: Fooled me! The furniture, have you changed it over the years?

PA: I have been able to reuse a lot of pieces but it is always fun to find new stuff. Some of the pieces are very fine high end pieces and others are from the dollar store that I bashed and repainted. Some is custom scratch made and some are made from kits.

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KK: That miniature book collection there, those aren’t really books are they?

PA: Yes they are genuine books with tiny print accurate and readable, with a magnifying glass of course. They are printed using a real printing press and bound in leather and gold stamped and numbered. The best ones are made by bookmaker Barbara Raheb of Pennyweight Press. I have ones from a Scottish press and even a tiny Qur’an.

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KK: I see there are guns and knives and axes inside. I don’t think mini me would spend much time here! At least in one piece that is.

PA: There are also saws and hedge clippers! A lot of the knives, axes, saws, shears are very fine with real wood made by an English artist called Tom Thumb but most of the rifles are just painted pewter military miniatures.

KK: What are some of your favorite things in the dollhouse?

PA: well I have a tiny delicately painted Icon painting of St. Christina the Astonishing that a real Monk made, an oil painting by Suzanne Williams, a super tiny real ball bearing from some aircraft servo or something and my chandelier. And I am very proud of the tiny fluorescent bar light in the attic that is from All Electrics and almost perfect scale, even if it doesn’t fit into the Victorian theme!

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KK: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Pollyanne!

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Pollyanne Hornbeck at home in Los Angeles
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