Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Brass chandelier

The past few days I have been doing some boring things, like sanding stairs railings, and some more creative things, like wallpapering rear interior walls, which still isn't much to show. So today, as possibly the last project of the year, I made something that I had been planning for a very long time. More than a year ago I bought this part of an old petroleum lamp at a car boot sale:


I knew that it would make an excellent chandelier. I had a similar one in my old Victorian house (it will now move to Womble Hall).

I didn't take step-by-step pictures because it was just a hugely tedious job of fixing the chains, that, by the way, came from one of my treasure chests. I took a shortcut and used thin metal thread (of the kind you find on wine bottles) which I then secured on the inside with a plastic bead. I cannot fix the chandelier even temporarily in a room because it is heavy, and neither tack nor tape would hold. So here I just attached it at the edge. It will not be in this room, but at least you can see what it is going to look like.

It will eventually be in the grand hall, but, again, I cannot fix it yet, so in this picture I am holding it with my left hand, trying to take a picture with my right hand. Anyone who has tried this knows it is impossible. This is the best I can do.


The lights are just fixed with tape, but I will figure out how to make it better. They do look much better in reality than in a picture. This is a battery-powered set of warm lights. You can see the cord hanging down, but when I do it properly it will go through the ceiling, and the power switch will be on the back of the house.

I have a magnificent ceiling rose to go with the chandelier, a large ornate brooch. It will probably be some months before I can put it up since there is still so much preliminary work to do on the house. I haven't even painted the ceilings yet!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014


I am always saying that miniature-making is highly educational. I didn't know what a dormer was until I was building Helen Hall and had to buy some spare parts. Now I know that Helen Hall had gable dormers, while Womble Hall will have flat-roof dormers.

I enjoyed making the roof so much that I just had to go on and make dormers. I started by painting all parts, white on the inside and the same light green on the outside that I have on the house front. I must admit: I make a couple of mistakes with the sides and had to repaint. Then I put in window frames and glazing.

I glued sides with the front and immediately realised that I was making another mistake.

It would be much easier to add curtains before glueing the sides. So this is what I did with the remaining four dormers. The curtains are bits of lace. It won't be possible to draw curtains in the dormers, and I'd like to be able to peep into the rooms through the windows, so I didn't want larger curtains.

To make it neat, I covered the side seams with filler and when it was dry I painted over it. Here you can see the three steps:

This is what it will look like - so far just fixed with white tack:


I estimate that it took me 15 hours to make the five dormers (the window frames had been primed, sanded and painted before). I say "estimate" because some of the time they were drying while I was doing something else. It will take more time to attach them to the roof.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Slated roof, continued

I never got another box of biscuits for my slated roof, but fortunately I have immense supply of thin card from the recycling bin at work. I want to show the steps, because when you have seen the result you may not believe that I have made it myself. So here is if not the before, but at least the half-way through:

Yes, it is tedious, therefore I only did it now and then, not at one go. It doesn't matter that the slates are different colour because I will paint them anyway.

When it was finished and looked rather funny, I admit, it was time to paint. I considered red-brown brick tiles, but decided against them because they would contrast too much with the delicate light green of the walls. And anyway, a Georgian house would have slates rather than tiles. Jean Nisbett suggests a mix of gray, yellow and green to produce a good slate colour, which I would have never thought of myself. So I mixed white and black to get gray, then added yellow and green drop by drop, because it is very easy to overdose, and then you will have to throw it away. I got the mix I wanted very quickly and painted with a broad brush.

The effect I had not anticipated was that some slates raised slightly, which made the roof look much more natural. I couldn't have done it on purpose (I tried when they were still dry, but they wouldn't stay). I also, as Nisbett suggests, painted some random slates with a darker shade, for variation and a more authentic look.

And here is a close-up. 

Since I had some paint left I also painted the flat roof top and dormer roofs.

When the slates were dry I varnished them. All in all, I believe that it has taken me 16 hours to make the roof.

Now, once again, you may ask why I am doing the roof which will most likely be the very last part I add to the house, some time a year from now at the very earliest. Firstly, I like variation, and I have been doing interior work for quite a while. Secondly, I like seeing results of my work, and this result has surpassed my wildest expectations. Finally, when I have done almost everything and only have the roof left, it will be ready to attach.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Corridor floor

So far, the only room I haven't even started considering properly is the front corridor, with stairs leading to the attic. There is not much you can do in this room, and initially I even thought about getting rid of the partition. But it's there now, and I will perhaps have pictures on the wall. I hadn't planned any fancy floor until I started looking up Victorian floor patterns for other rooms and found something I could test in a smaller area.


It is not perfect: the pattern is not strictly repeated. I haven't yet sanded or varnished. Essentially, I just wanted to see whether I could do it, and obviously I can, with some more training and patience. I used two different stains: mahogny and dark oak, and I stained before cutting and gluing. This area took me about four hours. So if I decide to make a really elaborate parquet for the reception room or dining room, I know that it's just a matter of time.

Entrance floor

I have finally finished the parquet floor for the main entrance. It isn't a particularly exciting or creative project: just cutting stirring sticks and pasting in a pattern. I used a bit of the floor that I had in the hall of the Victorian house, but it was a much smaller surface so I have been adding a few squares every now and then.

I did not stain the sticks, but painted them with a scratch-repair pencil from Poundland. It was much easier. I used the extra strong all-purpose glue stick. When I have covered the whole area, I sanded it very hard, to make the surface smooth. It also made the colour less even, therefore more natural. After that, I stained it with light oak stain, just one coat, to take away the whiteness of the unpainted sticks. (See, I didn't notice it six years ago when I first made this floor, but I do now). Finally, I varnished it with at least three coats. It now starts looking the way I want.

 The entrance is far from finished, but you can see how the floor fits into the whole design.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Slated roof

I am feeling particularly creative today. One of my projects is still drying so I will show it tomorrow, but meanwhile I had some inspiration and started making a roof. Of course it will be long before I will need a roof, but as you may have noticed I like switching from project to project.

Some days ago I brought home an empty box of biscuits because I thought I might use the plastic for something, and I was too lazy to throw away the card box. We do not usually eat biscuits, but we had an end-of-term party for the students. I did use the plastic to make some plates:

I was about to throw away the box into the blue recycling bin when I realised that I had a much better recycling idea. Here is what I did:

This is just one flap of the box. From it, I cut three strips. Then I cut about half a centimeter along the pencil lines and curved the corners. I now had three strips of roof slates.


These were very easy to glue direct onto the roof, overlapping each row with half a slate. At least, much easier and quicker than doing it slate by slate, as I did with my Tudor house. And considerably cheaper.

When I have finished the roof - I will need about twenty times as many strips, so I will have to get another box of biscuits - and painted it, it will look gorgeous.

I wish I could say that it was my own invention, but I must admit that it isn't, it comes from Jean Nisbett's indispensable book A Beginner's Guide to the Dolls' House Hobby.

Back to priming

It was a sunny morning, and I decided that I would take the opportunity to prime the few remaining parts of the house, mostly banisters. It will be long before I come to making stairs and balconies, but it may be equally long before the weather permits working outdoors. As it turned out, I had overestimated the mildness of British December weather. It was ice-cold, and if I get pneumonia and die, it's the dollhouse's fault. But it is done now, and I am glad I did all the major priming in summer.

While doing this tremendously tedious work once again - and banisters are more tedious than large surfaces of walls and ceilings - my thoughts kept returning to the £25,000 house, although it doesn't deserve it. Did they prime the banisters? You can buy assembled stairs, painted and all, and that's what they did, I can see it. You can hang wallpaper without priming the walls, and that's what they probably did. They didn't even bother to put in cornices! You can possibly paint windows without priming them (although I found it hard), and it will save you hours and hours of priming, sanding, painting, sanding... But who knows, maybe they sent the windows to be primed and sanded by children in Thailand, and the postal costs added to the price of the house.

Anyway, a pile of primed banisters is not much to show, so I will instead share the most recent picture of the dining room where I have temporarily put in floors from another room and like it so much that I will perhaps leave it like this. The doors are obviously not painted yet, and I haven't decided whether they will be white or dark. The window is not properly inserted. Mouldings will be added. The ceiling will be decorated. There will of course be wall sconces, pictures and other details that the £25,000 house doesn't have.

I am making slow progress. But I am enjoying it all the more.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Reflections on professional dollhouse making

Last week I finally got an occasion to visit Windsor and see the famous Queen Mary's dollhouse. It is of course awsome, and I have made some mental notes about certain practical matters. But, frankly, if you have unlimited resources, engage three hundred best artists in the country, import any materials you need and commission any factory you need, I am not all that impressed. It is pointless to compete with Queen Mary's house because it is a unique piece of art. I am more impressed by myself making everything I have made so far, all on my own, and almost all from recycled materials.

It seems, however, that I am no longer the only owner of the "new" Downton Manor. One more is for sale now, fully furbished, for £25,000. And while Queen Mary's house took all those hundreds of people three years to complete, Walton Park has been finished in three months. And I think you can tell. 

Take the exterior. It's rather dull. They didn't even bother to paint the quoins. The roof is the same grey, no tiles. It seems that banisters have not been sanded properly to make them round and soft. 

On the inside, there may be parquet flooring, but I am certainly not impressed by the fact that it took 14 hours to make. Just 14 hours? That's hasty work. There may be fancy wallpaper, but they haven't done anything on the inside of the front panels which are painted in the same dull grey. Silk curtains don't save it. They didn't bother about the secret corridors. The ceilings are not decorated at all (and there are all those fancy ceiling roses to buy!). Everything looks great at first sight, but when you start looking carefully for those tiny finishing touches, they just aren't there.

There is very little furniture, and of course all of it is from expensive shops. The ad says "immaculate attention to detail", but I don't think there is. The rooms feel bare. The left room of the basement, where I have my best kitchen, is an empty garage with a fancy car. The joy of Queen Mary's house are all those thousands of tiny objects, all with a purpose, all in the right place. And, sadly, I believe that someone who pays £25,000 for a dollhouse is not going to work any further on it. Maybe add some more expensive trinkets. 

Ten years ago, I would have been full of admiration. Now I see what is lacking. I see the difference between a commersial gimmick and a passionate miniature-maker's project. My Facebook friends make much more interesting and sophisticated houses. We all know that it is easy to spend hundreds of pounds on dollhouse stuff. But there is no soul in this house, no love. And it is not meant to be loved. Like so much 1:1 property, it is an investment.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Another fancy wall

I am now at the stage where there is no particular order in what I do, so I am making another fancy wall, the one in the dining room. I tried it out earlier, when I made a chimney breast, but now I will do it properly. The dining room has a rear partition, behind which there will be another secret corridor. So I started with a bare wall.

The wallpaper I had used before was a low-resolution printout, just to test. I have now printed it out properly - it comes from Jennifer's printables, which is a terrific resource. First, I changed the wallpaper on the chimney breast, which I then pasted on the wall. Then I hung the wallpaper on both sides of the fireplace. I used lining paper to make the bottom panel.


I first planned to attach a wooden dado rail, but then I remembered the 1:1 wallpaper I had used to make the fireplace so I found it and made the rail to match the fireplace. It was much easier. 

There is a deliberate gap between the wallpaper and the ceiling where the cornice will be added. The floor is temporary.

When I have gone that far I realised that I needed to finish the rear corridor before it was sealed off. It isn't as crucial as in the basement because there is a back wall I will put in last of all. Still, I wanted to test what it may look like. I had by chance placed the Chippendale chest-on-chest in the rear corridor, and it immediately felt perfect (I have tested other pieces, and none felt as good).

I had not thought about the colour scheme of the rear corridors because it had felt less relevant, but in fact it is about time. So I tried various coloured paper and wasn't happy. Then I found some sheets of old wallpaper from the Victorian living room. It is worn out, and I would not use it in a front room, but for the rear corridor it was fine. Of course, no one will ever see the reverse of the partition once I have sealed the back wall, but for my own satisfaction I wallpapered it. I may even put up some pictures which no one will ever see. 


You cannot see it very well in the picture, but there is light in the rear corridor, and when I have fixed it properly, I am sure it will look great. 

Next, I made the side wall, pasting the wallpaper onto the white lining paper and adding the rail. When everything is properly fixed and finished, the ceiling painted, the floor put in, the doors painted, etc - I believe this will be a very grand room. 

It took me two evenings, about six hours altogether, to make these two walls.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A fancy wall

Today's project was a wall. Yes, just one wall in the reception room. I haven't done anything further in this room since the first attempt so it felt the right time to return to it.

The right sort of material to use for a wall is a old document folder that I have rescued from a garbage bin at work. By the look of it, it's at least twenty years old.


I cut it to measure, traced the window and cut it out.


I decided to use the old disposable table cloth that I had rescued at a party some years ago and that I had tested on a chimney breast and a back wall. It is exactly the colour I want, and it is slightly embossed which gives a nice effect. So I glued this quite thin paper onto the card. I used power glue stick.

The fold from the card is visible, but it doesn't matter because I will decorate on top of that. But first I added a white panel, cut from lining paper:


At this point, I needed to check whether the size was correct and the window was in the right place. It was, but I saw that the opening was slightly too small and had to be adjusted. Obviously the window hasn't been fit in properly yet.

I then glued on dado rails to separate the panels. There will also be a skirting board, but it will go in last of all, and I haven't painted it yet. But do you recognise what this thing is, that I have been saving for the past five years? And can you guess what I am going to do with it?

I must admit that it isn't my invention. I saw it in a book by Eva Malmsten. I have worked with this material before, and it isn't particularly cooperative. In fact, it is not cooperative at all. Where it is held by masking tape it will be covered by a cornice.

It isn't perfect yet, but I wanted to test the wall in its interior before I finished for the day;

I must say I am quite pleased with the result. All in all, it took me six hours.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Internal doors

Since I won't be able to finish the basement for a while I have happily switched my attention back to the main house. There are several unfinished projects there, and many, many things I haven't even started on.

Today I spent the whole day on just two internal double doors. Which gives you a sense of how long various tasks take when you do them properly. I didn't take pictures of every layer of stain I used on the doors, but it took four or five layers before I was satisfied with the result, the last applied with a cloth rather than a brush, for a smoother surface. I then had some thoughts and even did some research on whether the door frames should be stained as well or painted white. This time I didn't consult my Facebook groups, yet followed the advice I received when I made the front door: I cut surrounds from paper and tested. There was no doubt that the surrounds should be white. I am almost out of white paint that has lasted me six years (2,5 litres bought for a 1:1 decoration), but managed to scrape the bottom to paint the frames, and here is the result:

Of course, the floor is not finished, there is no skirting, no threshold, the doors need door knobs, and more (the staircase is just fixed with masking tape and white tack). But one thing was clearly missing. Such fancy doors need door pediments. You can get a dozen different models on ebay, but I didn't want to follow the easy path. Not just because all these pediments are expensive, but mostly because, as you may have noticed, I like challenges. I have made pediments for single doors from air-drying clay, but this was much bigger, and after a couple of failed attempts to make a mould I gave up and instead rummaged through my materials. And this is what I found:


Swiss chocolate is delicious, but there are also some practical uses. Look at the detail that the arrow is pointing at. Do you see a door pediment?

I cut it out and pasted on a piece of white card:


Then I painted it with the very, very last drops of white paint, and here it is:

Since I have just saved £15 by this simple project I can buy more Swiss chocolate!

Lessons from the basement

Looking back, I am very glad that the basement arrived when it did and that I decided to make the basement before I continued with the main house. It turned out to be a smaller, more manageable project, helpful for the future, almost like a pilot project where you can make some mistakes on a smaller scale.

I learned how important it is to try and try and try again before you fix anything. How important it is to calculate the order in which certain steps are taken. I learned that it is worth while taking the time it takes. Sometimes not even worth while, but imperative. For instance, it took me three days to glue the walls together, and there were just three walls. I should allow a week or more for the main house. Glue, dry, glue, dry. I know that the walls won't fit perfectly, and that it is ok, sooner or later, after a lot more work, they will.

I will now be more confident in making the stairs in the main house. I will definitely make more secret corridors. I know that it takes ages to sand the windows so that they fit the openings. And I know how to put in the glazing. I know how long it takes to paint the doors and to put them in, with surrounds. And I know that it is worth while spending time and effort to age and distress doors and walls to make them look natural.

I know that I need to think about skirting and other tiny details. I know that it will take me much longer than I had expected to put in lights, and I am still not sure whether I will wire or use batteries. 

It took me six weeks to finish the basement (or at least work on it to this point), but it doesn't say much. Some days I worked more than others, many days I didn't work at all. But if I say that it took me 106 hours to get this far I think it puts things into perspective.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Moving the basement

Due to circumstances beyound my control I have moved the basement from its legitimate place on the dining table. I had expected it to be more difficult than it turned out to be. I was of course obliged to remove all objects that weren't fixed, but after that I lifted the whole basement easily onto a tea trolley and rolled it through the house to my study. I am glad we live in a bungalow, and I didn't have to carry it up the stairs. But once I came to the door I had to tip the basement a bit because it didn't go through. Which made me think that once I have assembled the whole house there is no way I can move it from the study to the place where I eventually want it to be. But I cannot move it now, because... and so on. So I won't worry about it now.

The next step was to put the main house on top of the basement. I cannot leave the basement in the middle of the room because the room will be used by guests next week. I removed all objects from the main house and stared at it for a while. It stared back with its empty windows, uncooperatively. I taped it all over with masking tape (it isn't glued together yet). I didn't want to ask my husband because it would be more risk than help. He has a bad back, and I wouldn't like him to drop the house. I thought I might arrange a tea party for some students and ask them for help. But then I had to wait for the occasion, and I had all the hundreds upon hundreds of miniature objects all over the room. I had nowhere to store them. It's amazing how things always take up more space when they are out of their natural order. It's true about 1:1 things as well.

I stared at the house for a while and then I lifted one side of it and put it on top of the basement. Then I lifted the other side. Just like that. I sat on the floor contemplating my deed.

Then I put the fronts in place, and even the roof which I hadn't even touched yet. But suddenly you could the house slightly more finished.


Then I removed the fronts and the roof and put back all the million objects. You may have noticed that I keep doing this, removing and putting back, and you may wonder why I don't just put them away for a while. But I need to know how the various objects fit into the space. I have already made many alterations to my original plans because the objects changed my perspective.

What has happened now is that the main house is 20 cm higher up so it is much easier to see the ground floor. But the basement is almost impossible to see or to work on. I had to lie down on my belly to put in the stuff. Eventually the house will be on a display stand, which I have tried to buy, but since it is produced by the same manufacturer as the house, it is - surprise! - currently unavailable. I guess I can buy some inexpensive coffee table at Oxfam as another temporary solution.

As it is, I won't be able to work on the basement in the near future. There is not much left to be done, but it needs to be done while the basement roof is off, and it should preferably be a reasonable working height. So not until mid-January. Which is fine. There is a lot I can do in the meantime.