Sunday, 24 February 2013

Samuel van Hoogstraten room box

This project took me over a year to complete - not because it was particularly time or energy consuming, but because it demanded a lot of clever engineering. It all started when I went to an exhibition at Fitzwilliam Museum called Vermeer's Women. I am partial to Vermeer (who isn't! But I've been to his house in Delft, and it makes you twice as partial). In addition to Vermeer there were several of his contemporaries in the exhibition, and I made a new acquaintance: Samuel van Hoogstraten. Especially one painting, The Corridor. It is so profoundly enigmatic, even beside Vermeer's enigmatic women, that I kept coming back to it - in fact I went back to the exhibition several times just to see it. And already the very first time I said to myself: this is a room box project.

What I didn't know during my first visit was that van Hoogstraten actually made room boxes. As you can see from this painting, he loved optical illusions, and he made a room box, or a peepshow box, in which he painted the inner walls to look like three-dimensional objects.So my reaction to the painting was in fact not off the point.

My project was thus to make a three-dimensional copy of a two-dimensional painting that pretends to be a three-dimensional space. So how do you do that? There are three vertical surfaces in the painting and three sets of frames (and people say that metafiction is a postmodern invention!). It means that I needed two partitions in my box, with a door each. But unlike the painting, my box would hide something behind the walls that you could see if you looked at the right angle.

I started with a three-dimensional model, making the two walls out of cardboard. The floors were easy to copy, just finding the right colour of paper. The back wall has cream-coloured wallpaper made of a paper table cloth that I have used repeatedly in various projects. I put Girl with a Pearl Earring on the back wall for inpriration. It comes from a sticker booklet I bought at the exhibition.

Quite soon I found exactly the right bit of fabric for the table cloth, and I had a candlestick from another house. I also put in a pewter pitcher, just because it fitted in. I put up more Vermeers on the walls. The frames were 30-pence frames from thrift shops that I painted with a mix of gold and copper. And I just happened to find this magnificent mirror right then. Hiding behind the wall and looking at herself in the mirror is an enigmatic Vermeer woman.

So far so good. But believe me or not, it took me ages to find the right materials for the walls. I tried paint and I tried paper, and it looked wrong. Then finally I found what I wanted. Here is the back of the box with the side walls decorated. I made the chair with bits of wood strip and chopticks for legs. Today, after a period of advanced furniture making, I would have made it better, but it looks authentic eenough to me.


The next steps were to make the walls. This is where the clever engineering bit comes. There are flaps on the sides and on top. The back of the walls will not be visible, except in the mirror, and the edges of the farther wall will be hidden by the front wall, so they don't have to be neat, which is cheating, I know, but there are enough challenges with this project. I used dado rails for door posts

The front wall has the opening shifted to the right for a better effect.

What you cannot see inless you peep into the box is that the mirror reflects a painting on the opposite wall. I think van Hoogstraten would have loved this trick. The enigmatic lady is both looking at her own reflection and the reflection of the painting.

The enigmatic lady will make a brief appearance just to show you what she is like. She does have a pearl earring.

This is the finished box. Sort of finished, because I am sure there will be improvements. I still have not decided whether I will have light - strong light coming from the right, as in the painting.

Think: this photo is a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object that represents a two-dimensional painting of a three-dimensional space. This is what I call postmodern!

Friday, 22 February 2013


Although you can easily print anything you want (and soon you'll be able to print anything in 3D) I still find it most interesting to recycle. For instance, magazines often have advertisements with covers. For my music room box, I made a set of music magazines.

The same magazine had ads for many other magazines, and I made some - only those within my sphere of interest. You can't open them, but they have nice matching back covers.

My husband subscribes to New York Review of Books, and I have just salvaged an ad he was about to throw away.

There isn't an awful lot of challenge in making this, and it doesn't take more than half an hour, but I think it's fun. These are vintage covers from the past 50 years.

Modern sofa

For my yarn shop I wanted an interesting sofa. It is important to have a sofa in a yarn shop so that people accompanying crazy yarn shoppers can sit down and browse magazines. I have made several sofas for my various projects, and from making the Chippendale sofa I learned some useful tricks. I made the frame from cardboard, and I had nice flowery fabric. Rather than glueing on the fabric, as I did with the Chippendale sofa, I fixed it with tape, as many dollhouse books recommend. I used doublesided tape to fix the fabric to the surfaces.


However, I could not think of an interesting, unusual way to make arms and legs. I could simply make padded arms with fabric, and I could use beads for legs. And then I had an idea. I have this set of wooden blocks that I have already used for all kinds of purposes. They would make perfect arms and legs. I just had to glue them in pairs.

I made the seat and back cushions from corrugated paper, the kind you find in boxes of chocolates. I wish I could say it was my own invention, but it wasn't. I found it in a book. It's much easier to cut and trim to the necessary size than foam, and you can make it as thick as you want.

 I am glad to be able to use what I learned from making the Chippendale sofa with this one. 

For the back and bottom, I photocopied the fabric and glued on the paper. Fabric would have been intidy.

Here is the sofa in the shop. Now I must make a coffee table to put in front of it.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Chippendale cabriole chairs

This kit didn't come with my original bargain from ebay.I bought it from an online shop as I was buying supplies. This is not an x-acto kit from the 1970s, but a modern one from Mini Mundus in Germany. They have most of the x-acto miniatures, but not all of them.


As usual, I stained the bits first. But for this miniature you have a sand the legs. And sand. And sand. Because they have to be round.


The instruction sheet was as good as in the x-acto kits, but the paper was new and crisp, not old and yellowish. I started with the seats, which was easy, but then came the alignment. I had to do it several times before I got it right.

Assembling the back was also quite a job.

Gluing on legs was not as difficult as I thought it would be. That is, after I had figured out which side should be on the outside.

Arms were easy, but needed som  parience because glue had to set before you could continue. In this pictures you see clearly that the stain I am using is too pink. So I used another coat, and then varnish.

The fabric provided with the kit wasn't particularly inspiring.

I rummaged through my materials and found a bit of creamy satin. Even though it doesn't have a pattern I think it fits better. I took this picture to show how the final detail makes a huge difference.


Here are the chairs in their room. I am not sure they will be in this room, but so far this is the best way to dispay them.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Chippendale wing chair

For this project I didn't have any instruction sheet, and somebody had started it and left unfinished. If I hadn't made the sofa I wouldn't have had a clue how to make this chair and what all the templates were for. You might think there is no big deal upholstering a miniature chair - try it next time!


The person who started on this project had assembled the legs and apparently given up on upholstery. The smaller templates were torn so I had to make my own. I wasn't sure it would work, but it did.

I knew how to make the sides since it was more or less the same as the sofa: first the edges, then the inside, then the outside.The bottom and the cushion were also easy.


But then the trouble began because I couldn't figure out how to make the back, and the sofa instructions were not helpful because it was a completely different construction. I sat for a while staring at the bits. I know I made it wrong because there was a template left so obviously I missed at least one step. But nobody will ever know.

The chair and the sofa go well together, but I am not sure what else will fit in this room. It feels crammed. Even though it is correct scale it feels that the firniture is too massive for the room.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chippendale sofa

This piece turned out more complicated than I had expected because there were many steps that had to be taken in correct order, and no shortcuts. In this case, I am not sure whether full-scale furniture is upholstered this way; I need to explore it. The fabric that followed with the kit was this dull blue. I have searched images of Chippendale sofas, and none were this colour, but many were flowery. I bought these bits of fabric in a charity shop. They are apparently meant for quilting.

 As usual, the first step was to sort out the pieces and read instructions carefully.

I am now good at aligning, but this was tricky since the back legs are curved.  It took quite a long time to assemble the base. When I made the chest of drawers, I used new stain that I thought was too pink. I didn't think that this stain will go well with the sofa, so I simply painted it dark brown and varnished.

The sides took a long time as well. First glue bits together. Trim the template.

Cut the fabric, glue onto template and then glue to the sides. 

Cut the fabric after templates and glue. Cut and glue. Because of the shape it demanded some dexterity. And patience. After every step, the glue had to set.

Then I glued the fabric over the base and seat. It was relatively easy, no curves. The back cushion was more challenging.

As was the back. I made an improvement at this stage. My mother always said that you shouldn't try to improve French recipes and knitting patterns, but I thought it was untidy to leave the back of the sofa itself and the back of the cushion as they were. I didn't want to use the flowery fabric because I need it for another piece of furniture, so I used a plain bit. It used to be the lining of a curtain and looks just appropriately old.

Now I glued the sides to the base. It was nervous, so I hurried to glue on the back which made the whole construction more stable. You can see how right I was to use plain fabric for the back. It would have looked sloppy. I am surprised that the otherwise so particular instructions missed this detail.

According to instructions, the bottom had to be in the same fabric, but I saved it again and used the plain one. I glued on the bottom, and then it was just wait overnight to let it dry.

Next step was to glue on the legs.

And put in the seat and the back cushion. 

Here is the sofa in its room. I am not absolutely sure yet that it is the right place, but I think it is. The fabric goes well with the wallpaper, and the sofa hides the ugly floor skirt. The cabinet will most probably move into another room.