Thirty-five years in the making: French Chateau dollhouse revealed

By Megan Bergman

Peach

Clarence Nelson, 89, of Taylors Falls, pictured with daughter Karen Nelson, of Minneapolis. Behind them is their French Chateau, which is under construction and set to be revealed at the Taylors Falls Lighting Festival Nov. 29. Photos by Megan Bergman

Clarence Nelson, 89, of Taylors Falls, pictured with daughter Karen Nelson, of Minneapolis. Behind them is their French Chateau, which is under construction and set to be revealed at the Taylors Falls Lighting Festival Nov. 29. Photos by Megan Bergman

Not many people can say they’ve built a French-style Chateau fit for a queen. And not just any manor house, but a dollhouse French Chateau put together right here in Taylors Falls.

Sweat, tears, time and maybe a belly full of laughs went in to creating this exquisite structure. Clarence Nelson, 89, of Taylors Falls, and daughter Karen Nelson, 56, of Minneapolis, have been grinding, painting and gluing away at their dream, more than 30 years in the making.

Three sections hinged together complete this masterpiece, which began with a vision 35 years ago when Clarence and Karen decided to recreate a French Chateau after experiencing the Dordogne Valley on a trip to Europe. They fell in love with the Chateau d’ Azay-le-Rideau of the Loire River Valley.

Deciding against making a replica, but to use it for aesthetic appeal and a concept, they got to work. Over time, father and daughter would complete different tasks or find something unique to put into it.

“I found this tapestry to hang near the grand staircase in Disneyland in the 1980s,” Karen said while taking it down from its place above the staircase.

Clarence designed the house from different European aspects of design they had seen in Chateaus and other buildings across Europe. He cut up old, almost antique accounting binders to create a masonry, brick look to the exterior, pergola pillars, and a mathematically designed cone-shaped roof are just some of the many intricate details he has mastered.

Clarence Nelson trying to find the perfect shade of  yellow for the kitchen.

Clarence Nelson trying to find the perfect shade of
yellow for the kitchen.

With a princess bed made out of a salad bowl, the stone exterior from accounting books and slate shingles from a dollhouse store in Edina, the dream dollhouse began to take shape.

Karen’s mother, Geri Nelson, was the one to light the fire to bring this long journey to an end. She had mentioned to Karen and Clarence to put it on display at this year’s Lighting Festival in Taylors Falls. Over the last three years, Karen had been driving up from Minneapolis to spend one day a month working on the project. But after her mother got the ball rolling for its reveal at the festival, Karen started coming up once a week since the spring.

She also started a blog, or “diary” as she’s called it, to document the different phases that brought the project together. It’s called “Project Le Nevar Dun” and contains links to different pictures of each area of the house. Her diary documents different hurdles, accomplishments and accreditations to people who have helped them along the way and the dollhouses that have inspired them.

The Taylors Falls Lighting Festival, held annually in downtown Taylors Falls, is celebrating its 29th year. This year’s theme, “Life in Miniature,” will showcase the finished 1700s-inspired French Chateau by this father-daughter duo. The dollhouse, along with the third grade miniature exhibit, will be on display at the 1852 Town House School near downtown Taylors Falls.

The festival runs from Friday, Nov. 29, through Dec. 1. For more information about the Lighting Festival and Santa Parade, visit www.lightingfestival.com for parking, maps and event times.

 

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