During the winter of 1996, Deanna was joined by her 80-year-old father, Fred, who only planned to stay the winter. Well, Fred stayed seven years. To keep himself busy, he built his first wooden boat model in the winter of 1996. The guests loved the ship and appreciated the workmanship of this senior citizen, and Fred expanded his repertoire to more ships and dollhouses of all kinds.
Fred ultimately built five dollhouses, the last one was built in 2002. Each dollhouse has a name, as unique as the house itself. During the summer of 1999, the models were moved to the front porch for the summer visitors. These dollhouses became a stopping point for the visitors passing by the house, horse and buggies and the Cape May trolleys. It was wonderful that Fred found a way to share his senior years with our guests. Fred passed in July 2004.
As the cold weather descended in December 2004, Deanna moved two of the dollhouses to warmer ground, as the weather takes a toll on the indoor dollhouses that sit outside year-round. Deanna was beginning to plan her Christmas decorations for Antoinette’s, she received a call from a lady about buying a dollhouse.
This lady had seen the doll houses on the front porch during a Horse and Buggy tour. Would we be interested in another one? Her husband Carl, retired from IBM in upstate NY, had made one but had no place to put it. He carried it downstairs to sell it at his yard sale but the roof fell off in transit. Deanna graciously went to see what this house looked like. Well, Carl did a lovely job on this Victorian doll house.
Deanna explained to Carl her dilemma that the dollhouses need to stay outside and that they must be made weatherproof. The remaining ones on the front porch were slowly deteriorating but Deanna didn’t want to remove them because the sentimental value and pleasure they give the guests, especially the children. Carl immediately agreed to winterize the dollhouse he made by adding exterior paint and stains to both inside and out.
With Carl’s enthusiasm, Deanna recalled the excitement her father experienced while making these houses. Carl’s dollhouse proudly sat next to Fred’s houses and they made a lovely sight together. Deanna saw a Facebook post recently, celebrating Carl’s 88th birthday. He’d be proud to know his dollhouse still sits here 17 years later, with new neighbors Dorothy and Ellie (keep reading to meet these gals).
Over the years, new dollhouses found their way onto Antoinette’s porch. In 2013,
as the summer was winding down, Deanna got an email from a stranger who wanted to downsize her possessions and asked if she was interested in a dollhouse. She offered to bring it down from her home on her next trip to the shore. It arrived a week later, and to Deanna’s surprise, she donated it to the collection on the front porch.
The outdoor dollhouse collection clearly needed new life after 18 years. When the woman went to find Deanna in the house, she saw her name over the first-floor suite – Filomena (Deanna’s mom was Phyllis, the American version of Filomena). Wow, what a coincidence!
In March 2021, after a difficult year facing the COVID-19 pandemic, we began repainting the outside of Antoinette’s.It was long overdue, especially the front of the house with the Victorian architecture. By the end of March, the porch and front fence was finished. Sadly, when we moved back Freddie’s last dollhouse, Deanna decided that her dad’s 20-year-old dollhouse needed to retire. It broke her heart, but it was time.
Deanna began researching what was available on Facebook marketplace. She was happily surprised to find a few that could replace Fred and Filomena. She was convinced that Claire in Roseland, NJ had the perfect dollhouses. She was now 91 and ran a dollhouse store for 35 years. Deanna had a friend who happened to be close by and made a stop to evaluate the dollhouses for her. Unfortunately, these dollhouses were “Cadillac versions” and sadly not suited for the front porch, plus the price was also Cadillac money. The friend saved Deanna a 150 mile trip up north.
Deanna continued her search and after a 100-mile journey to Woodstown and Lumberton, NJ, she happily loaded up her two new dollhouses.
Deanna’s favorite, of course, was Ellie. This dollhouse was bought by a mom for her 2-year-old daughter, Ellie. Sadly, Ellie preferred her plastic model and after two years of sitting around and only used once, it was time to sell it. Ellie was welcomed to Antoinette’s porch.
Ellie’s mom reached out to Deanna, to thank her for naming the dollhouse Ellie. “We are so happy that her dollhouse found you,” she said.
The second dollhouse Deanna found was Dorothy. Grandma Dorothy made this dollhouse for her granddaughter Allie several years ago. Like Ellie, it too sat too long without any care or attention. Although the roof was not finished or the inside was incomplete, it would be perfect to sit next to Ellie.
Deanna also heard from Allie, who said her grandmother is so happy that her dollhouse is on display and that the dollhouse legacy continues to honor Freddie.
Recently, a 6-year-old girl noticed the dollhouses across the street and asked her mom (who lives at the Coast Guard base) to see them. With great pride, Deanna welcomed them to see the new dollhouses on the front porch.
Deanna misses Freddie’s dollhouses and Filomena (Phyllis) on the front porch, but she is now on a second generation of Dollhouses in Ellie and Dorothy. Deanna is a third generation innkeeper, operating the longest running guest house in Cape May.