Sunday, 5 April 2020

Locking the door

When I finished repairing the front door, I knew that I still had a challenge to face.

The door opens inside. I have two wild beasts who are curious about what is going on in this box that I of course put there exclusively for their pleasure. They have no problems pushing the door open, and it is incredible that a large tom cat can squeeze through this tiny door. But he can, and has done so on several occasions. Now that I have restored the interior I don't want it to be ruined again by a naughty feline.

So I must think of a way to lock the door from the inside.

A hook like the one I used for the fronts is far too large for this delicate door. But I don't think there are locks available in this size either. After long contemplation of various options I decided on a simple bar. It is not historically correct, but for once I need to consider practical details rather than authenticity.

For brackets, I used the metal-enforced tape that they fasten paper bags. Cut small bits and bent into shape. Glued with the strongest glue I have.

Again, I admit that it doesn't look authentic, but I need to protect the house from invasion of monsters.

If I can think of a better solution later I can remove it. But for now it's just what I need, and I don't have to put a piece of cardboard in front of the door.

Monday, 30 March 2020

House restoration: front stairs

I was reluctant to deal with front stairs because I remembered the pain of assembling it the first time. I had completely forgotten that I had repaired it once before, after an attack by wild beasts. It gave me courage, and I took out the broken parts for inspection.

I also remembered that the stairs had been broken once again before the removal so I cannot blame the movers for this particular damage. The pieces had been packed in a moving box.

A couple of steps were missing.

I found one, and I believe I saw another one somewhere so I will probably find it among my supplies three years from now, but it is easy to make a new one.

Doing it a third time made me more confident.

What I did this time was enforce the seams with filler, just to make the whole structure more stable. As I have mentioned before, there is a major flaw in this design because the front stairs must be removed every time the fronts are opened. I have considered getting rid of the stairs altogether, but they do add a nice feature. So it's a matter of making them solid.

If you wonder why I haven't removed the LED light and battery - it is the only light still working. Probably because it traveled packed in a box.

I had to cheat slightly with the upper rail, but I did it the first and the second time as well. Filler is useful.

But at this point I once again decided that the back arch was unnecessary. The structure seems stable.

So all I did was add the horse heads. One was lost, but fortunately I had a spare.

I think the horse heads add an interesting feature to the facade.

Now I need to figure out a smart cat-proof way of attaching the stairs for easy removing. Maybe velcro?

Thursday, 26 March 2020

House restoration: roof

Mending the roof is a huge project, and I have realised that it was a piece of good luck that it had come off because it is much easier to do the necessary repairs on a table rather than reach over balancing on a ladder.

The roof is covered with slates that I made from card. I am full of admiration for people who make individual slates or tiles from clay, but I think my method works fine.

Some of the slates appeared to be missing.

But on closer inspection they have just shifted.

Not a single one was missing, all because they are strips rather than individual slates. So it was just a matter of gluing them back.

By the way, I have found a perfect tool for the kind of repairs I am dealing with.

I think it came with my cellphone, to attach protective film to the screen. It has proved handy for spreading glue under unstuck paper or card.

As I was looking at the roof contemplating possible improvements it suddenly struck me that I should have made scores between slates. Isn't it the most obvious thing? How come I had never noticed it before? So I went all over the roof with my bone folder and metal ruler. Yes, it took me an hour, but look at the before and after and see whether you think it was worth the effort.

I have already spent 2000 hours on this house (yes, I do keep a log) so another hour is not a big deal.

At some point I may rust a few slates here and there. And maybe let some moss grow in between. But it is another project.

Now that I was finished and happy with the outside it was time to turn the roof over and inspect the inside, that is, the attic ceiling.

All three attic rooms have Adam paper ceilings, which were badly damaged. I considered removing the paper altogether and leave the ceilings bare, but it would be a shame. As you see, two window sills are missing in the dormers. The sills were not part of the original design, but I added them to be able to put flowers and ornaments and even lights in the dormers. I never got that far so now is a good moment. Of course, these will need to be permanently attached so that the roof can be opened without the objects falling out.

Actually, one dormer had come off, so this was the first thing I had to mend.

I now see that apparently I used double-sided tape when I attached the ceiling paper, which was probably the wisest thing to do then, as I was working inside the rooms. Now I can do it easier.

Remembering the pain of gluing on the roof, I scratched and sanded the grooves. Then I glued back the paper.

As I mentioned, two window sills were missing, and I found one, while the other was definitely lost, so I made a new one. I wanted the sills to put some objects on them that would be visible from the outside. They need to be firmly attached, upside down.

So when the roof is on and closed, you can see objects through the windows.

Unfortunately, I cannot glue on the roof yet because I need to do some work on the back, and I cannot move the house on my own. Since I am self-isolating*, like all responsible citizens, it may be weeks before I can get help. But it doesn't matter. The house looks really nice now. Nobody would guess it had been broken.

I will now move inside again. Come back soon.

* In case you wonder why, we are right now, March 2020, in the middle of a pandemic.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

House restoration: grand halls

After successfully restoring the facade, I now return to where I left off on the inside, the upper corridor.

As I mentioned, I could not save the ceiling, but fortunately I had more of the fabulous Adam paper so it was just the matter of measuring and cutting carefully. There is a stairwell, and an opening needs to be cut out neatly. Last time I cut it on the wrong side.

There was no way I could replace the torn wallpaper. I didn't have any more of this paper. I could of course use a different wallpaper, but it would mean working in awkward spaces under the stairs. Last time I did the wallpaper before I inserted the stairs. So I just re-attached the torn paper the best I could. It will be hidden behind the breakfront.

This corridor didn't have any ceiling light before because I couldn't find any I was happy with. But some weeks ago I made a lamp at my miniature club, and I think it goes well into this interior. To attach it, I had to drill a hole in the ceiling, pull the cord through the hole and fix under the floor of the room upstairs. Once again, this is a situation when you are glad your floors are assembled on card that can be removed. Remember: never glue your floor directly on the room base!

In the rear corridor, I have a chest of drawers with all kinds of bric-a-brac on it, as Victorian chests would be. I will add all small items when I am done with repairs. The rear corridor used to have lights, which will be another major thing to deal with. But for the time being, the whole second floor is restored, and some people have moved in.

The mistress of the house keeps the distance of six feet from her daughter, the granny is teaching her granddaughter to wash her hands, the maid is dusting the corridor, and the gentlemen are drinking whisky, which doesn't protect against virus, but is a pleasant pastime. (The tiny bottle contains real whisky from Scotland).

(In case you, my dear reader, are reading this ten years from now and wonder what it is about: right now we are in the middle of a bad coronavirus pandemic and told to take all kinds of precautions).

I now move my attention to the two grand halls. They are hugely important because they are the first thing you see. The upper hall was in relatively good shape.


The window had come off, but fortunately wasn't broken so I simply pushed it in. Some of the tiles had also come off, but I just glued them back on.

One newel post at the back was broken.

It is a pleasant surprise there was only one, because the whole staircase is delicate and would be very hard to mend.

Finally, the large ceiling rose (a brooch) had come off.

I used the strongest glue I had because it is quite heavy.

I have now overcome the urge to squeeze every piece of furniture I have into Womble Hall. I used to have several chests and tables along the walls, which realistically made it impossible to pass. Now I think I will just have one on each side.

A lot of objects and ornaments can be added in this room, and as with other rooms, the floor needs sanding and polishing.

Meanwhile, I came to what I had been avoiding all the time: grand entrance hall with broken stairs.

This was the first thing I saw when I unpacked the house three months ago, and it made me quite frustrated. Now, after all restoration work I have done, I am much more sanguine. Not a disaster, just something that needs doing. After all, I did it once, and nothing was really broken.

Some floor boards had come off, but I found them and glued them back.

I also thought that, unlike the other rooms, it made sense to sand the floor at this stage, before I put in the stairs. So I did, a bit.

Then I took a deep breath and glued the stairs.

And that was it.

Nothing to feel anxious about.

There are many details to be added, including mirrors and pictures. The back door on the right opens into a corridor where I have a cabinet with stuff on it. There used to be light there that needs to be mended.

I probably need to explain the lopsided chandelier. It's very delicate antique pewter that I am reluctant to bend back into shape before everything else is in place. But I will one day, and I will either find the missing candles or make new ones.

So, against my fears, the two halls didn't demand too much effort.

Next: the roof. It will probably be more problematic.

To be continued.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

House restoration: front doors

The two front doors were totally smashed.

In the past few weeks I had to protect them with cardboard to stop my cats from getting inside. Don't ask me how a large tomcat can squeeze through this tiny door, but he can.

The lower entrance door was the least intimidating. I had to remove the threshold to insert the hinges back into their holes and then glue it back carefully so that the door could open. It opens inward so I will need to think how to prevent the clever felines from pushing it and getting in.

Anyway, this door was straightforward. In the fully restored house, it will be under the front stairs.

The main front double door was more problematic. It was expensive so I definitely didn't want to buy a new one, but the front door is a feature people see first so it was important that it looked good.

One part of the surround was broken, and since it was the easiest thing to fix that's where I started.

I waited several days before I ventured to deal with the rest, and when I did it was surprisingly simple. Two hinges were missing, but easy to replace.

The door knocker is a bit of an earring, but I cannot find the thingies I used for handles. I will think of something.

So - after all the anguish, the front is done!

Now, either back to interior, or maybe mend the roof? And the front stairs.

To be continued.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

House restoration: facade, part 2

Join me in my triumph: my plan worked! After 24 hours in clamps, the wall was - well, I won't say like new, but it was pressed together. You could still see the rip, but now it was easier to deal with. The inside almost seemed straightforward.

I sanded the rip as smooth as possible, but the problem was that I didn't have the right paint. This paint was something I mixed back then, and there was no way I could mix the same again. I had two options. I could hang wallpaper that would cover the rip neatly. The issue with wallpaper on a surface with windows is that it is quite difficult to cut the paper neatly around them. Back then I did it on flat surfaces, and it was hard enough. So I decided against it. I can always do it later if I change my mind. The second option was to repaint the whole surface, and that's what I did. I have a vague memory of being dissatisfied with the colour anyway (or maybe I am making it up, to justify my decision). In any case, I genuinely believe that the new colour is much nicer as well as more authentic. It is called Duck Egg Blue and would probably be used in a Victorian house, rather than the earlier bright baby blue.

You cannot see the rip unless you look very closely, and who will ever do that?

On the front, I had a similar problem.

It was easy to sand the rip, then cover it up over with filler. But how can I find the right paint? I bought it at a hardware store in Cambridge seven years ago, and I have no idea what it was called.

Just to test, I painted over with the closest paint I had at home.

It probably looks tolerable in the picture, but I knew I would get irritated every time I looked at it. Therefore I went to my local paint store. It is a small store, very friendly, and they got quite interested when I explained what I was doing. I took the pediment with me to show them what I needed. It was the only loose bit.

They used some clever device that was supposed to recognise the colour and provide a code. However, the lovely salesperson said it wasn't 100% percent reliable, and indeed when we looked at a strip it was totally wrong. We looked through everything close, and another person was summoned, and finally we decided on the best match. Now, I was expecting a 50 ml tester, like I used to buy in the UK, but it turned out that their smallest testers were half a liter. By then they had mixed my paint so I couldn't say I didn't want it. Moreover, they had run out of half-liter white jars, so they gave me 0,75 l for the same price.

I now have this paint, with the pretty name "Nostalgia", that will last whatever remains of my life, while all I needed was a few drops. Ah well, all my future projects will be nostalgic.

I was actually prepared to paint over the whole front, since I had all this paint, but believe it or not, the match was perfect. Human eye is still better than electronic devices. And half of the rip would be hidden by a pillar.

Now that the wall was repaired, I could deal with the pillars. Several pillar caps were broken.

If I had a laser cutter I would cut them, and if I had a 3D printer I'd print them, but having neither (yet), I had to use my imagination.

Cardboard, filler, paint - and you wouldn't see a difference, unless you were looking very, very closely and also knew what you were looking for. I am quite proud of myself. 

I did the same with all pillar caps that were badly damaged, otherwise I used filler. And really, there are faults on real houses as well, particularly on old houses. 

The final steps were the pediment and the railing. A bit of the railing is missing, and I don't think I will find it among my stuff as I have already sorted all supplies. 

Not much I can do right now, but I see a couple of solutions I could try.

And I was right: I feel SO MUCH BETTER now that the facade is restored.

Next: front doors.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

House restoration: facade

Suddenly I realised that I get upset every time I see my dollhouse with its broken front, and inevitably I see it constantly because it is in my living room. So I decided it was time to interrupt my interior repairs and deal with the facade. I have carefully avoided it, but when I have done it, I know I will feel much, much better.

The front has been rather badly damaged.

The pillars and their supports are broken, as are the pediment, mouldings and roof rack. The doors are broken too. Fortunately, no pieces have been lost - at least not that I have discovered so far. 

I cannot do anything before I mend the broken wall.

This must be the worst damage, and once again I cannot believe they transported the house without any protecting packaging. Would they transport a glass cabinet without wrapping it?? Well, no use lamenting. What can I do?

The material is MDF which is pressed sawdust. Each piece is made of many layers. It should be impossible to break. (No use lamenting, didn't I just say).

There is no way I can press the broken layers back together. After lengthy consideration I decided that the only way I can do anything at all, short of cutting and replacing the whole broken bit (which I know I have no skills to do), was to carefully chisel away as much of the internal layers as possible without damaging the external layers. I could hopefully then glue the remaining layers together and if needed fills the gaps with filler. Then sand and paint over.

It took me a couple of hours because it is of course an awkward place to work on. I considered unhinging the front and working on flat surface, and I may still need to do it. But so far I worked standing on a chair at uncomfortable angles. I realised far too late that I should have used a mask because inhaling MDF particles is not good for your health. I made sure I vacuumed properly afterwards.

Eventually I started noticing that I probably did more damage with my scratching and decided to give it a go. Plenty of glue and strong clamps.

I believe I need to leave this overnight so I cannot do any more on the house today. My major concern is how to keep my cats away. They try to get inside the moment I look another way.

I will of course report whether this effort was successful.