Sunday, 31 August 2014

Rough estimates

Today I have moved most of the furniture from the Victorian and Georgian houses and from the nursery room box to the new shell. The lower part of the back wall is fixed with masking tape, and not all internal walls are in correct position.

It is hard to take a good picture, and you almost cannot see the attic floor, where there will be, left to right, nursery, servants' room and guest bedroom.

Yet moving in and moving around has helped me to understand how much space I have and which space will be best for which room. Although I have made several drawings and a 3D model it is next to impossible to visualise what it will look like. In the coming few days - or likely weeks - I will move things around, because I need to make some major decisions before I can go on. For instance, where will the fireplaces be, since I must make chimney breasts and plan the rest around them. I must decide where the lights will be and which light goes into which room and how many more ceiling lights I may need. (Other lamps can be put in later).

Most important, this is the time to choose the interior decoration. Because I am bringing together Georgian and Victorian styles I can have the best of both. A classic reception room (to the left on the ground floor) and a crammed Victorian drawing room, just above. I will probably paint the entrance hall and the reception room, but wallpaper the other rooms.

I was sceptical about the two small rooms in the middle of the second floor and even considered taking the partition away, but that left me with two ridiculous doors side by side (this is one of the changes in the new model). It suddenly occurred to me that one of these will make a perfect bathroom, quite logically next to the master bedroom.

The rear rooms are clever since they create a sense of additional space. There are stairs in one of the rear rooms that cannot be seen from anywhere so I am not sure yet what it is for. But for instance, the book case, one of the first pieces I made many, many years ago, that would look too large and clumsy in a front room, looks perfect through the arch. Well, it looks perfect at the moment; we'll see whether I am still happy next week. I have also, tentatively, put some cupboards in rear rooms, but I am not sure it will work when the doors are in place. Rear rooms and fake door are always interesting. I may add some fake doors.

It is all very exciting, but also a bit sad. The Victorian house is a mess, and the Georgian house is empty. When I have made my decisions I will have to put everything back, and it will take months before it can be moved in permanently. It feels a bit of a betrayal of old, faithful friends. But that's the way it is.

If you wonder why there is no kitchen, it will be in the basement that hasn't arrived yet.

Saturday, 30 August 2014


If you are following my blog you may wonder where all my grand building plans have gone. Well, firstly, I have been away on holiday for two weeks. Secondly, since I came back I have been priming the parts, which takes a lot of time and isn't particularly spectacular. It is a boring, but peaceful work, and I have had luck with weather and could be outside. I have now primed almost all large parts, run out of paint and therefore primed some small parts. I am not going to B&Q on a weekend so it will have to wait. There are other things I can do. On the house, I mean. I have plenty of non-dollhouse-related things to do.

The long priming sessions have been tremendously useful because they gave me time to get thoroughly acquainted with the parts. I still haven't received any instructions, but I have identified most of the parts and have a vague idea where they go. There are some complicated bits such as staircases and balconies, but it will be some time before I get there.

At the moment, I have assembled a shell.


The side walls are still drying, but I now can see the dimensions of the house, and where the doors and windows are, and I can start planning the rooms. I can even try putting in some furniture.

It turns out that the improvement the manufacturer has performed is quite substantial and, among other things, has removed some nice features. Never mind. I just need to plan slightly differently. Where there was one large room there are now two small, and where there were six small attic rooms there are now three. There are some interesting back rooms that I haven't yet figured out how to use.

I believe it will take me some time to play and plan. There are two radically different ideas about decorating first or assembling first. I believe I will need to plan every step and then decide the order in which I will take them. I am sure I will make mistakes. Hopefully not fatal.

I can paint all ceilings now because I know which side is the ceiling and which is the floor. I will have ceiling roses in some rooms, and I know how to make them. I have been saving cheese lids for a while. Some yoghurt lids are fine too.

I will most probably make floors on separate sheets to insert into rooms. I may be able to use some of the floors from the Victorian house or the art gallery.

In any case, there will be some interesting development soon. Do come back!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Planning the house

I am sure experienced dollhouse makers will laugh and say: Of course, everyone knows it! But I have come up with this idea myself. The thing is that my new house will eventually replace several of my existing projects: the Victorian house, the Georgian house and a couple of room boxes. Which means that it requires very careful planning. I believe that there will be enough rooms for all the zillions of things I have. But because I already have all these things I need to make rooms to accomodate the things. Normally it would be the other way round.

What it means is that I need to decide, for instance, where in the new house the dining room will be (for the Hepplewhite table), what kind of floor I want in this room and what kind of wallpaper. I will most probably have the same floor and paper as in the Georgian house, for after all I once chose both carefully for this room. It will be more difficult merging drawing rooms, while separating the Victorian drawing room from the Victorian study. I have two bedrooms and two four-poster beds. You see the problem.

The good news is that, since I gave away Helen Hall, I can use the same floors and paper. On the other hand, I really want to use some of the floors from the Victorian house.

Anyway, although it will probably be months before I get there, I need to plan the interior carefully. I have drawn several plans, but I don't find them helpful. Therefore I have made a 3D model.

It is of course clumsy because I just took a cardboard box and put in cardboard walls and floors. By mere serendipity, the model is more or less half-scale, therefore I can use my half-scale furniture to test. I can also print floors and wallpaper in half-scale. And experiment.

I am sure there is clever software for this, just as there is for 1:1 planning.

The three floors are the middle of the house. There is also a basement, where I will have the kitchen and the scullery, and an attic with six small rooms: nursery, servants' rooms. These will be easier to plan when I have done everything else.

Testing colours

I will not describe every piece I have sealed and primed: this will be a neverending story. I sealed one window today, just to test.

Let's say it takes me half an hour to paint this window with one coat of paint. It's a low estimate, I believe it's more (will take time with the next one) because it is a very delicate job. Prime, sand, prime again, first coat, second coat... Let's say roughly four hours per window. There are twenty-eight windows in this house (basement not counted). Simple maths. When I made windows for my modern house, there were just nineteen, and they didn't have to be primed. (They had to be cut to measure instead). I don't remember how long it took, but I know it was many evenings. But I am not in a hurry. I still haven't received assembly instructions.

What I did today was test the facade colour. Yesterday I bought a tester, which miraculously was just about enough for two coats, although I may have to paint another one.

I painted the ground floor with sandstone paint. I thought the pattern looked stony. The pictures of Downton Manor on the web are all the same. I suppose people who have made this house don't call it Downton. I will call it something else when the house reveals its true name to me. If you are reading this and have, or know of, other pictures, please share. But even if I am building from kit I want my house to be unique. That's what it looks like after I painted on top of the sandstone. The paint is deliberately uneven. When it was even it didn't look natural.

I painted outdoors, on the garden table. I used two pieces of hard foam to hold the frame. One site that I have read recommended to put painted pieces on spagetti while drying. It may seem a good idea, but I believe it is unethical to use food for anything other than eating. 

I am pleased with my achievement today. It's not a lot, but it feels a good start.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

A dream come true

Frankly, I had given up on my dream. I missed the deadline when I could get my money back, and really, I wanted my house, not the money back. So I waited and waited, getting phone calls and emails from the seller and the manufacturer, promising that soon, soon, next week, any time now... It sounded like one huge conspiracy.

And yet - this mythical time has come. Two huge packages (and one more, the basement, still to be delivered, soon, very soon...).

Now that it's here it's intimidating. For one thing, there aren't any instructions. Yet. Soon, any day. The reason for the delay was that the manufacturer had been improving the kit, to address customers' comments. That's what she told me, and it must be true because all dollhouse sites that sell this kit say that it is temporarily unavailable due to manufacturer's improvements. The manufacturer ensured me that I would be the first proud owner of the new model. It will only be widely available in October, for Christmas. The implication, however, is that there are no instructions, and I know for sure that even the most experienced dollhouse maker cannot assemble such a complicated structure without instructions.

I have waited long enough, and I am not in a hurry. Meanwhile, I am researching dollhouse assembly. The first thing I did of course was ask all my Facebook groups, and I immediately got loads of helpful advice. The most important was that my kit is made of MDF (medium-density fiberboard; imagine: a week ago I had no idea!) which must be sealed before you do anything with it. It makes sense: despite the fancy name, it is pressed sawdust and will soak up any moisture like a sponge. But I am glad I asked. What I actually asked was whether it is better to assemble first and paint then or the other way round. I can see the advantages and disadvantages. The websites disagree on this, and so do my Facebook friends. My Tudor house was assembled, and it was quite a job to paint it on the inside. Likewise, my Georgian house gave me some headache. My modern house has detachable walls, so it was relatively easy. When I built the Playmobil house I worked from ground floor upwards, decorating one wall at a time before assembling it. This will obviously not work with the new house because at least the shell has to be in place. But I believe, and the experts confirm, that the exterior walls and as much as possible of the interior should be decorated before assembly.

Some time in the distant future when I come to that stage, I have a wonderful guide in these tutorials. I will not do it exactly this way, but there are lots of good ideas.

So far, I need to seal the MDF. I went to the huge store where I hadn't been since our early days in Cambridge. Already then we noticed that the salespeople were not the brightest representatives of the noble British nation. This time, to my inquiry, the young lady promply said: "No, we don't sell it anymore". What do you mean, you don't sell it anymore? No, they had changed everything in the store last March and since then they didn't have MDF sealer. Fortunately, there was an older male assistant nearby (I know I am now sexist and ageist) who said, of course they had it, and what did I want it for. Dollhouses weren't part of his world.

I also bought glue, filler, masking tape, sandpaper and a new mini roller. I have started a file for bookkeeping. It will be very interesting to see how much it all adds up to when I am done. What I forgot was white spirit to clean the brush. The effing sealer is of course oil-based. I hate oil-based paint, but not much I can do about it. Staffan was an angel and went to the local petrol station to get white spirit, only to discover that they didn't have it (as any Swedish petrol station would), but Tesco did. Meanwhile, I took the first piece, identified in the parts list as (19) small front, outdoors, but even so the fumes of the sealer made me high in no time.

This is as far as I have got. There are about three hundred thousand parts in this kit, although not all must be primed, some must be stained. What a wonderful life I have in front of me!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Dealing with antiques

I have now started to have a closer look at the miniatures I bought last week in Stockholm. Mind, I know that there are scores of fake antiques out there, made in China and skilfully aged. I know too little to be able to judge. However, this is what I have found out about the half-scale stove:


You cannot see it very well, but it says "Skoglund Olson Gefle". Some research on the web, performed by my excellent research assistant (Staffan, my husband), yields the following. Skoglund & Olson was a prominent ironware factory in Gävle (Gefle with old orthography), the city where Staffan grew up. They produced stoves, fireplaces and all kinds of hardware, and they also produced iron toys and miniatures, notably cars and stoves. Another source warns that a lot of fake Skoglund & Olson toys are nowadays made in India and sometimes sold as antiques. It wasn't expensive, but people do not always know what they sell. I like it anyway. It fits nicely in my half-scale kitchen, although it is wrong style: the kitchen is early Victorian. Does it matter? I may make a half-scale Swedish kitchen one day. I have many times built a roombox around one particular piece.

Another beautiful item is this drop-leaf table that some vandal has spoiled by gluing on whatever it was, apparently plates and pots.

I have many times removed marks after glasses and plates from 1:1 furniture, but whoever vandalised this table made sure the glue would stay forever. I didn't want to scratch it so I dissolved the glue carefully with nail polish remover, then sanded with fine-grain sandpaper and soaked again and again in teak oil. It is still not perfect, but the worst stains are gone. I will repeat the treatment a couple more times.

This piece is signed and marked, and I am trying to find out something about the maker and the mark. All ideas welcome.

The table will go into my Swedish kitchen, to replace the made-in-China-and-wrong-style table. Of course I will have the replace the chairs as well. Maybe I can get some from Kotte Toys. Any idea which chairs would match the table?

Finally, for this round, I have scrutinised the wardrobe. It has no marks, but it looks old (see above, looks are no guarantee of authenticity). It was broken, but the tiny nails that hold the door and work as hinges were still there. It is extremely delicate, and I was anxious not to break it. A small piece was loose where the nail had been, and I glued it carefully.

Inside, there were some holes that I believe indicate that there used to be a shelf. I may make a shelf from balsa.

 I managed to put the door in place, but the nail didn't get in all the way, and I didn't want to force it.

It is hard to estimate the scale. It is 13 cm tall, including the ornament, so it is closer to 1:16. I don't do 1:16 scale, but I may put it somewhere in a way that wouldn't be conspicuous. I may also put it on a low chest of drawers, as a cabinet. But it is still a mystery where it comes from. If you know or have an idea where I can find out please let me know.