Little house

Published 5:24 pm Friday, March 22, 2013

A doll washes dishes at the sink in a dollhouse created by Bobbie and Fred Appleton.

A doll washes dishes at the sink in a dollhouse created by Bobbie and Fred Appleton.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Fred Appleton is no sissy.

Sure, he’s spent a lot of time with his wife through the years, messing about with dollhouses.

Even so, it would be hard to justify calling a man a sissy who had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross flying seaplanes from a U.S. Navy cruiser in the Pacific during World War II.

Bobbie and Fred Appleton

Bobbie and Fred Appleton

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So what if he enjoyed making miniatures like the dollhouse and shadowboxes that adorn the small den of the Lake Prince Woods room inside the home he shares with his wife Bobbie.

“Does that make me a sissy?” he asks a visitor.

No, sir!

The Appletons’ Suffolk home has some of the mementoes one might expect from a man who served in the military during both World War II and the Korean War, finally leaving the service as a lieutenant colonel. It’s easy to find models of the airplanes he flew, for instance. But those models are simple compared to the complex and engaging work it took to build and furnish the dollhouse that sits on a table with a rotating top in the corner of the den.

From the cedar-shake roof to the tiled patio out front, the eight-room, Georgian-style structure is a study in fine detail and finer patience. Each room is wired for electricity, the planks that make up the exterior façade are individually applied, and the wallpaper in each room took both sets of Appleton hands to hang.

“This was a team effort,” says the loquacious Fred Appleton, who is quick to point out how much the little house and its furnishings owe to his wife of 62 years.

Bobbie Appleton made the tiny wicker furniture that sits in front of the house. She made many of the decorations that adorn the interior walls. And she made the bedding, rugs and wee pillows that are scattered about the various rooms and much of the furniture and fixtures that give those rooms their character.

“You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to glue tiny drawer handles,” Bobbie Appleton says. “They kept sticking to my fingers. A lot of the little things, like the handles on drawers and all, I had to hold onto with tweezers.”

The project was originally intended as something to keep Fred Appleton busy in retirement. As her husband prepared to retire from New York Telephone 30 years ago, Bobbie Appleton wanted him to have something to do with his spare time. In 1983, just before he retired, the couple visited a dollhouse factory near where they lived in New Jersey and bought a kit to make a basic dollhouse.

The house took almost two years to build, Fred Appleton says, and he and his wife worked on the interior “for a long time.”

The care they put into the project is readily apparent.

The kitchen is outfitted with tiny pots and pans, a wall calendar and a dog sleeping on a rug. Through a door, there’s a dining room whose table is set with handmade silverware just three-sixteenths of an inch in length and whose chairs have matching upholstery.

“The only thing I didn’t do was plumb the house,” Fred Appleton chuckles.

And the devotion to tiny things did not end with the completion of that dollhouse. A wall in the Appletons’ den displays several shadowbox-type vignettes with similar details.

A general store, a child’s bedroom, a hat shop and a living room decorated for Christmas all exhibit the same talent, patience and attention to detail that characterize the dollhouse.

“I never sat without doing something,” Bobbie recalls.

And nobody ever called her husband a sissy.

Susan Stone contributed to this story.