WHIDBEY ISLAND — Upon close inspection, it resembles a house like any other.
A grand house, too — a three-story dream home with a sprawling spiral staircase, eight rooms and tasteful furnishings. Evidence throughout the house tells a story of an owner who is a passionate musician, a bookworm or an artist, or perhaps part of a talented family that utilizes the music room, the art room or the well-stocked kitchen.
But take a step back and the illusion is broken. This mansion is only three feet high, despite its detailed, lifelike rooms crafted with the smallest of features that only a dedicated builder with an obsession for details would think to include.
The artist and creator of this miniature dollhouse is Emmalyn ‘Lyn” DeShong. She crafted it as a labor of love over many years.
And now that she’s passed away, her close friend Shirley Viall is looking for a good home for the tiny house. Viall has undertaken the enormous task of sorting out her friend’s possessions and cleaning DeShong’s house, and so far the trickiest question has been what to do with the dollhouse DeShong had been working on since 2001.
“People who’ve seen it know it’s really not a toy,” Viall said. “It’s a work of art.”
That’s why she wants it to go to a place where it can be admired, viewed, preserved but not touched.
Selling it doesn’t feel right, so Viall said she wants to donate it to a place such as a senior home, library, children’s hospital or museum.
The director of Coupeville’s Island County Historical Society museum, Rick Castellano, stopped by for a look. Unfortunately, the miniature home didn’t suit the museum’s historical requirements, he said, but he was impressed with the workmanship.
“The detail and craftsmanship that went into this is stunning and of the highest quality,” Castellano said in an email. “I hope it will find an appropriate home where people of all ages are able to enjoy and admire it for years to come. ”
Ideally, the house will stay on Whidbey Island, Viall said, but she’s been looking out of state as well.
Along with the challenge of preserving DeShong’s work, Viall has had to deal with the loss of her good friend, whose health took a turn for the worse after a broken hip and stay in the hospital.
DeShong’s friends describe her as faithful, passionate, strong, artistic, humorous and unique in every sense of the word. DeShong loved her son, her cats, her church and her friends, they say.
“If she liked you, she really liked you,” Viall said. However, if she didn’t like you, you could have been St. Patrick or Mother Teresa and DeShong wouldn’t have cared, Viall said.
DeShong’s self-reliant nature and knack for building meant that in her own home one is always within arm’s reach of something she built or designed. She constructed the floor tiles, sewed clothes, crafted pillows, painted the stained-glass windows and framed her own artwork. DeShong even drew and designed the blueprints for her life-sized house, being sure to add ramps and walks all along her walls for her cats to roam wherever they pleased.
Friends who witnessed DeShong weather many of life’s challenges and tragedies became close to her, including Joan Bowers, who knew her for over 35 years.
Bowers said she introduced DeShong to the hobby over 20 years ago. It eventually became a partnership and a way to pass time.
They used to go to a now-shuttered store in Seattle years ago that offered affordable miniatures, and they’d spend hours searching for the perfect small pieces to fit in their respective houses, Bowers said.
“I’ll tell you something — it’s been a pain in the tush having her gone,” Bowers said.
DeShong and Bowers agreed that when they got invested in the hobby in the early 2000s, prices were much more agreeable than they are today.
Even though they had access to hobby stores back then, DeShong still built most of the miniature pieces herself. She selected and cut the wood for the house frame, wired the lights, designed and upholstered furniture and more, making the dollhouse a true one-of-a-kind creation, according to her friends.
Bowers has no answer for when DeShong “completed” her miniature dollhouse. “I don’t know if a dollhouse is ever completely done,” she said.
Bowers used to bring visitors by DeShong’s place to see her dollhouse, telling them they’ve got to see it.
DeShong would be nonplussed by the response her house inspired.
“She said, ‘I never thought anyone would want to see it or anything,’” Bowers said. “I said, ‘Honey, they’d love to.’”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling paper to the Herald.