‘Really tiny’ house for sale. Victorian dollhouse being auctioned for charity

12December 2020

As soon as Linda Besk saw the dollhouse at a Washington County Historical Society fundraiser, she knew it was underpriced.

The yellow Victorian farmhouse with green trim was selling for $350; Besk says it’s worth at least 10 times that.

“It’s immaculately constructed, and it’s fully furnished,” she said, during a recent tour of the miniature house. “The interior is decorated to perfection. Look, the windows are double-hung, and they open.”

Linda Besk straightens the laundry on a clothesline, part of a dollhouse on display at RM Realty in downtown Stillwater on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2020. Besk purchased the dollhouse and has put it up for auction with the proceeds going to a nonprofit. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The dollhouse had been given to the Historical Society for its fundraiser by friends of its creator, the late LaVonne Derousseau, a retired schoolteacher who spent hundreds of hours constructing it.

Derousseau, of Oakdale, died in July from complications related to pancreatic cancer. She was 77.

Besk, a longtime supporter of the Historical Society, said she told Executive Director Brent Peterson that the dollhouse was priced “too cheap.”

“I said, ‘Brent, you can’t sell that for $350,’ ” she said. “He said, ‘Well, if it’s so cheap, then you buy it.’ … I went home, got my checkbook, came back and wrote him a check.”

Besk, a Realtor for RM Realty, decided to auction off the dollhouse for another charity she supports: Hope House of the St. Croix River Valley, an adult foster-care home in Stillwater for people living with HIV/AIDS.

It’s listed for sale on the online auction and sales site eBay; bidding ends on Tuesday.

The kitchen and dining room are seen in a dollhouse on display at RM Realty in downtown Stillwater on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2020. Linda Besk purchased the dollhouse and has put it up for auction with the proceeds going to a nonprofit. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

In the meantime, people can view the dollhouse through the window of RM Realty at 124 N. Main St., Stillwater. It is lit at night and spins on a revolving platform.

“I come down every night and turn on the lights, and I come back every morning and turn them off again,” Besk said. “There’s a QR code posted in the window, so people can bid on it as they stand there admiring it.”

When it came time to set up the dollhouse in the window last week, Besk called on her 10-year-old granddaughter, Evelyn Kozlowksi, to do the honors. Evelyn is the daughter of Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski, Besk’s son.

“Evie Rose is really detail-oriented, and she’s got these tiny little hands,” Besk said. “She was able to put this whole thing back together, and she didn’t want any help. It had to be her way.”

One of Evelyn’s interior-design choices was to leave items strewn around the attic, Besk said.

“She threw a bunch of stuff in the attic, and I said, ‘Don’t you want to kind of straighten that up a little bit?’ ” Besk said. “She said, ‘It’s an attic, Grandma.’ ”

Besk made two additions to the house’s design: a tiny outdoor Christmas tree and a miniature RM Realty sign in the dollhouse’s front yard.

“You’ve heard of tiny houses? This is a really tiny house,” she said. “Whatever the market will bear.”

For dollhouse hunters, Besk has created this listing: “A farmhouse-style Victorian, three bedrooms, one bath, main-floor laundry, surrounded by exquisite gardens.”

It even has its own cast-iron washing machine with a tub that opens and a mangle that pivots; it retails for $66, she said. “When I first got this, I knew enough about miniatures that I knew it was pricey, but I had no idea,” she said. “The washer was the first thing I looked up. There’s a shop online, and you can find anything.” She estimates that the house has about $1,500 worth of furnishings inside.

A passerby pauses to look at a dollhouse on display at RM Reality in downtown Stillwater on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2020. Linda Besk purchased the dollhouse and has put it up for auction with the proceeds going to a nonprofit. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

“I still think it needs a dog or a cat,” said her husband, Bob Turrentine.

“Honey, I’ll show you where you can buy one,” Besk said. “It’ll cost you about 50 bucks.”

Derousseau, a talented seamstress, sewed all the tiny curtains, pillows, quilts, tea towels and lace doilies in the house. “She even made the sheets hanging on the clothesline,” Besk said. “My girlfriend Amber was up the other night, and she put two little bottles of champagne in the basket by the bed. She said, ‘If I had to sew like that, I’d need champagne.’”

Derousseau spent three winters constructing the dollhouse and its Lilliputian landscape, said Sandra Witte, her best friend and longtime housemate. It is one of three she completed; she also completely renovated a fourth and half-finished a fifth, Witte said.

Derousseau, who taught at Eagle Point Elementary School in Oakdale for 30 years, started working on dollhouses as a wintertime hobby after she retired in 1999.

“She would work for two, three, sometimes six hours a day,” Witte said. “Her first one started as a kit, but you’d never know it was a kit when she got done because she’d add rooms, she’d add spindles.”

Derousseau worked with “miniature drills, toothpicks, tweezers, you name it,” Witte said. “She had all these woodworking tools. She even bought a jigsaw.”

Derousseau delighted in leaving a surprise in each dollhouse. “She would put things in cupboards that you wouldn’t even see — canned goods, dishes, you name it,” Witte said. “She loved doing that.”

To make the flower garden, Derousseau, an avid gardener, drilled tiny holes in a piece of wood, dabbed drops of glue inside and carefully “planted” miniature flowers in each hole; the design mimicked the gardens outside their townhome in Oakdale, Witte said.

Witte, who lives in Stillwater, met Derousseau when they both got jobs working at Eagle Point Elementary in Oakdale; Witte was a media specialist, and Derousseau taught fourth grade.

Derousseau always planned to donate her dollhouses to charity, Witte said.

She estimates that the one Besk is selling is worth $3,000 to $4,000.

Besk said she hopes it ends up in the lobby of a children’s hospital or a Ronald McDonald House.

“I would love to see this in a place frequented by children to lift their spirits,” she said. “It’s just so enchanting. It just takes your mind off everything else.”

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