Friday, May 28, 2010

Then The "Lightbulb" Went On!

Improvements on the Lovely Old Dollhouse were now well underway. There was something needing to be done, and being done in every room and wall and ceiling, inside and out. It was as if, once the first step had been taken, an AVALANCHE of steps followed! I would start on a project, simple enough in itself, but to finish it, I would first have to work on another area... and so on, and so on...I am sure most of you have experienced this dilemma! And still being new to this re-building world (at least in miniature scale) I was more than happy to start project after project after project without finishing ANY of them right away. This is something I am good at anyway, but it is even MORE fun in dollhouse land. And sometimes , once the project was started, all sorts of good ideas would show up that just HAD to be added and eventually will make the project better than originally planned.....but meanwhile require a CHANGE of plans!

So you may recall that in order to complete the new staircases, I realized I would first need to complete everything in the room behind them, including the front door. In my mind I was thinking I would just re-build it the way it was originally. It had been just a plain, unadorned piece of plywood with two floor to ceiling openings, one on either side for "windows" (as with all the windows there was no glass), set beneath a beautiful "fan light". This resembled a commonly found design in Colonial houses of this region. The door itself had been painted a beautiful bright blue. The only part remaining was the "fan light" which was firmly attached to the front of the house. But of course, I couldn't re-build it JUST the way it had been! I was going to make the windows glass (eventually) so I needed to build frames for them. And in researching this style of doorway (in that beautiful book full of pictures of old Vermont doorways) I saw that the windows never went all the way to the ground, but stopped at wainscoting height. So I would need to build panels beneath them. And the door itself would need to be a paneled door, not just plain....and the trim at the top would need to be improved in order to balance the new panels at the bottom.... So you can see, it got quite involved.....but this is what it is looking like now.

And then the new fireplaces in the house had all made the original one look just a little too PLAIN to be the parlor fireplace! It surely needed to be the grandest one in the house! After all, that is the way it would have been back in the times the house was built (presuming that this is a very old house as its design suggests)! So, after browsing that old book I was able to come up with some authentic design ideas to copy on my parlor fireplace that would make it grander and balance the wainscoting (which has by now been replaced) and now looks like this.....

But don't hold your breath because it is NOT all done yet!

And the stairs that need to remain removable for the time being, now have the walnut stain on the upstairs flight too, and the upstairs wainscoting has been partly finished. To the right you can see the beginnings of the bathroom wall tiles too.

As you can see, I have been busy and the projects are expanding at a great rate! And you may remember, dear readers, what got me started in the first place... that lovely flickering fire in the fireplace of that dollhouse in the museum exhibit. I have not forgotten, and now that I have my fireplaces started, I planned a trip to the miniatures shop to look for flickering bulbs. I think I was truly NOT planning to "electrify" the whole house. I was thinking that I might do as that exhibit house had done and "light" the rooms with a single low watt light bulb for each room strung at ceiling level behind a section of trim. I thought that since it was an old house - they wouldn't have had electricity back then it was really just about being able to see well in each room....or so I thought! Until I went in search of flickering fire light bulbs.

I went to my nearby miniatures shop and found some flickering light bulbs. And some "glowing coals". And the switch and the transformer that they would need to work right. And they would also need a little strip to plug their tiny plugs into...... which came in a set with a whole BUNCH of tiny plugs and wires....all waiting for little lights to plug into them.....and then there were some REALLY CUTE tiny lights that hardly cost anything at all because they were second hand.....

So I came home with the whole package and a whole new set of ideas!

Here's the kitchen fireplace with the glowing coals lit (sorry the photo is so dark.....I wanted it to really show the coals). I haven't hooked up the flickering lights yet ...I'll need to "build" the log fire part first to hide the lights behind...(amazing the parts you don't think about until you're in the middle of the project!) and the fireplace needs to have the bricks painted etc., etc...

But the part that REALLY made me smile was attaching a tiny light to the ceiling of the downstairs hallway to light the front hall! I just can't explain the magical feeling when that light went on! Something so simple as a little light could make so much difference in the feeling of the tiny world I am just became so REAL! Just like magic.

Of course, it was right about then that I realized that I was going to have to "electrify" the whole house! I was going to have to figure out WHERE to run the wires to the plugs. I was going to have to figure out HOW to run the wires through the old walls..... and how MANY lights and plugs I would need...... but that was all part of the excitement. I didn't care how long it would take, or how difficult it would be.....the lightbulb had gone ON in my head, and there would be no going back.

Little tiny real lights in dollhouses are just plain MAGICAL

and I wouldn't dream of not having them!

So, the "Lightbulb" went on!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Next Step Is Simple

The next step was simple, or so I thought. The stairs were the obvious next project once the fireplaces had been roughed in. You may recall that I had never been happy with the stairs in the original arrangement. Don't get me wrong - they were very nice stairs and very well built by my Grandpa, but they got in the way of playing in the dollhouse! They slanted in a straight line from right to left going up across the open side of the hall room in the downstairs and in front of the two small rooms upstairs. They were positioned for ease of access to little people being MOVED up or down them, but playing in the rooms behind them was always awkward. And they had no railings. Because they were sometimes in the way they got wiggled loose pretty early on in our acquaintance. Then we could swing them up and down, like a drawbridge, sort of out of the way. This eventually caused them to simply come out altogether, and then they had to be kept track of, like the chimney which had also become detached. I wonder sometimes, whether somewhere in an attic or on the top shelf of an old closet there is a small pile of dollhouse parts.......and what someone who might find them would think........

So the Lovely Old Dollhouse had no stairs. And the big empty hallway looked like this:

This was an opportunity to start fresh and build the stairs just how they ought to be!

For starters, there would need to be a turn at a landing part way up so the stairs could fit along one side of the hall. To do this I would need to cut into the hall ceiling to make the new opening for the stairs at the top. And this in turn would make one of the small upstairs "rooms" into the upstairs hall landing instead. I liked that idea, as I had always thought the two little rooms were too small to be more than a bathroom, and only one of those was needed.

You must realize, dear readers, that I was still very new to this dollhouse re-building world. I had not yet gone to the internet to look anything up! There was a miniatures store in a nearby town and I knew there were kits for stairs, but I was fairly certain that a ready-built staircase would not easily fit the old house's dimensions. I was completely prepared to build the whole thing myself from scratch.......with the exception of the stair spindles perhaps. So I did.

I bought some very thin plywood with a nice smooth finish for the structure. And the treads are also made from the plywood. In retrospect, I maybe should have made them from solid wood stock so the plywood layers would not show. But I didn't. You can see the layers of the plywood on the ends of the stair treads.

Here is the framework roughed out and temporarily in place.

And here you can see it with the treads positioned in place.

And here's the second floor stairway roughed in - which had to take a slightly different position and required some fancy cantilevering to hold it up.

It was at about this point that I realized that BEFORE I fixed the stairs in place "permanently" I was going to need to finish ALL the details of the rooms BEHIND them! That meant completing the missing wainscoting panels and door trim in the hall, not to mention the front door itself! And the painting of said trim and paneling... and doorknobs..... and the windows of the upstairs hall, and the paneling....and the painting.... which meant deciding about colors and trim details. And it meant making the stairs "removable" for the time being. Maybe this wasn't so simple after all!

So I got to work on the missing wainscoting panels. Remember the box of dollhouse scale "lumber" that my brother had made for me all those years ago? The one that has moved with me for thirty five years and counting? I opened the box and found more pieces of planed pine wood in the correct dimensions to match the wainscoting I had built in my teen years! Eureka! What a feeling of profound satisfaction that gave me! The very same wood! So I carved it to look as much like the other panels as I could... ie. a bit rough and unrefined.

And for the door frames I decided to follow the inspiration of that book with the beautiful old photos of Vermont houses, albeit a bit crudely. I found some moulding trim in the lumber store that had a nice rope-like carving along the middle which I thought would make an elegant header for the doorways in the hall.

As for the paint, I had always loved the smokey blue color the hall was originally, and tried my best to match that color in a new paint. And rather than use the expected white paint for the trim work, I love to use a soft dove gray. It goes so well with the blue and has an old and moody feel about it. And this IS an old house, isn't it? Hmmm. That reminds me that I really haven't decided how modern I am planning to make this "Old" house! But no need to decide right now!

So here we have the hall with the new (and old) paneling and new door trim and paint.

And the side where the stairs will go.... with the removable stairs removed and only some of the paneling and trim in place. And the walls still the original blue........

And you can see the opening I cut in the ceiling for the stairway

I did make a trip to the nearby miniatures shop for the spindles for the stairway, and the newel posts because they are so superior to anything I could make myself. I have had to attach only some of them in order to keep the whole stairway removable while the rest of the work is done.

This is the upstairs stairway - the whole unit slides out! And you can see the second floor hall paneling under construction behind it......

And here is a view of both the stairways temporarily in place.

I decided against painting the stairways to match the hall trim after seeing several examples of unpainted wood staircases in the book of old Vermont houses. Not only from there, I also took inspiration from the beautiful walnut paneled staircase in George Washington's Mount Vernon. In the old days of this house's era, it was not yet fashionable to paint all the woodwork white. I have always prefered the look of the dark wood, so I decided to stain the stairs a dark walnut color.

Here you see the stairs temporarily fitted in place.
It remains to be seen how detailed I will get with the trim on the stairs and the under stairs closet. And the floor may need painting too. You can clearly see the "ghost" of where the stairs used to terminate... a savings of about two inches of space in the hall! And the stairs will have to remain temporarily in place at least until the new front door is built.....

The next step was going to be simple.

Or so I thought at first.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Someday Came Last Summer

The Lovely Old Dollhouse did eventually come back to me. My nieces had played with it and on it and in it, much the way my siblings and I had done many years before, and in the process had lovingly parted it from some of the frailer pieces. The front door was gone, as were the stairs and the chimney and the hinged half of the roof. I am sure some of the loose pieces were carefully taken off and put aside to protect them from greater harm, and as is the way of things, once separated, they never found their way back together again. I can truly say that this did not matter to me. I knew that "Someday" I would re-build the missing and broken parts, and perhaps even make them better in the long run. I never had been happy with the way the stairs were in the beginning. To have them gone was really a blessing. I would not need to argue with my conscience about destroying them later!

The Lovely Old Dollhouse did come back to me, but that did not mean I had any time to fix it up or do anything with it at all. It, too, sat in my studio, year after year, waiting. Until one gorgeous day early in October when I was packing everything for the big MOVE, and something inspired me to carry the house outside into my garden and take photographs. (I was photographing everything in my world, knowing I was leaving so much behind.) I even brought out some of the bits and pieces of furniture and dolls and set them up and PLAYED with them for the first time in FOREVER! It was a magical afternoon, and my faithful camera recorded much of it for me to share with you. You have already seen some of the photos........but here are some more anyway!

The house all set up!

The parlor, with just a hole where the chimney should be, and furniture hiding the missing wainscoting panel.

The kitchen - with no appliances! A VERY old fashioned place!

The Play session was LOVELY but brief. A thunder shower was threatening. I had to scurry and bring it all back inside. And besides, I had serious packing to do with less than two weeks left to pack up a home I had lived in for twenty years! But you know the dollhouses were ALL coming with me. And after this magical afternoon, I was more sure than ever that SOMEDAY I was going to find the time to fix up the Lovely Old Dollhouse.

So we moved. Me, the cat and all my houses, starting over in a much smaller space! The new house needed my attention. My boys (now out in the world) needed my attention. But gradually, and oh so slowly the dollhouses began to get my attention. It crept up on me, but "Someday" finally came!
Last summer.
The Folly still had only half of its shingles when my older niece came to visit me last June. She had just been visiting with my Father (her Grandfather) and his partner on The Cape and told me of an exhibit at a museum that was full of doll houses. She said it made her think of me! (Imagine that!) I was intrigued. And I decided I HAD to go see that exhibit. So I did. That very next weekend - which happened to be the last weekend of the exhibit.

And I'm SO glad I did! The dollhouses were Wonderful! They were created by a woman (and her husband) who lives on The Cape and runs a small independent school - I think it is called The Storybook School. Her work is full of imagination and artistry and magic. The biggest dollhouse was hand built and painted in the most beautiful vibrant colors and patterns! They had REAL stained glass windows! And flickering fire in the fireplace! And all the rooms were lighted and filled with an amazing assortment of items - not all to scale - but lovingly collected and full of character. And the clincher was that the dollhouse livingroom was inhabited by a family of small teddy bears! It made me realize that there were NO rules when it came to dollhouses. There was really no need to be of a particular period, authentic and precise in every way. I hadn't realized it, but my own timidity in starting on my own dollhouse was in part because I thought it would need to be made "perfect" in a way I couldn't imagine. Silly me! This was freedom! I Knew it was TIME for me to start on the Lovely Old Dollhouse!

So I did. Not the very next day, but the very next week saw me making the list of essential repairs. There would have to be new stairs and a new front door. The roof and chimney would need to be re-built. It would need a base to elevate it off the ground a little bit. And on the inside it would need the missing wainscoting in the hall and parlor replaced. And doors on the upstairs rooms. And the windows all needed glass. And trim. And paint. The list was long. And would have been daunting except that I was just SO EXCITED to be finally working on it!

I built a small base first thing, and attached it to the bottom of the Lovely Old Dollhouse. Then I started on the chimney. I planned to re-build it just the way it had been in my youth. It attached to the outside of the house at the parlor end, and had a small strip of trim at the top edge. It was painted brick red, of course. (We used to drop things down it and pull them out the opening in the parlor!) But something happened as I was building that chimney that was unplanned. I thought about the period and style of house that The Lovely Old Dollhouse was modeled on. In this part of the world they are called Colonial Houses - built during the time of the Colonies - known as Georgian in other areas. And a house of that type, built in the eighteenth century, would have had more than one fireplace. More than one chimney for that matter. There would have been a huge old fireplace in the kitchen as this pre-dated the invention of the cast-iron cookstoves. There probably would have been a fireplace in the best bedroom at the very least. Hmmm. You can see where this is going..... I had to decide HOW MUCH different I was going to make it from what it was in my childhood. Maybe this wasn't going to be so easy after all. But then I remembered that I had always wanted to make it different. I already had made it different by adding doors and wainscoting many years earlier. This was NOT the time to be fainthearted! So it was decided. There would be fireplaces in the kitchen as well as the parlor, and one in each of the bedrooms, because once you add the kitchen chimney it is just silly not to add the upstairs hearth as well.

I pulled out my trusty jig saw and bravely cut holes in the walls of the Lovely Old Dollhouse, upstairs and down. Then I built little firebox inserts for each hearth out of thin plywood, to resemble the brick shape of the fireplace. At this point I remembered to take a few photos of my progress.......

The parlor fireplace and the master bedroom

Close-up of the parlor firplace

The second best bedroom fireplace - roughed in

And the huge kitchen fireplace opening

Kitchen fireplace with the hearth and the old fashioned beehive oven - before painting

The details of the mantel pieces I decided to vary on each fireplace. I have an old book called "Historic Houses of Vermont" that is filled with beautiful photos of the architecture of the area from the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, and I copied my mantels from ones shown in that book. Because everything was hand built back then, it wasn't unusual to have a lot of variation within one building. Of course, my versions are much cruder than the real ones. I decided I was going to allow myself to approximate the originals, not going for perfection as much as trying to capture a resemblance, in keeping with the somewhat rough work I had already added in my teen years.

Here we have the parlor mantel with the beginnings of the new design.

And the second best bedroom mantel

And the master bedroom mantel - plainer because it was built first

And the kitchen hearth - just waiting for the fire!

Did someone say fire?

Could it be that instead of just one flickering fire in the fireplace we will now need FOUR? I guess it is time for a daring trip to the miniatures shop for some supplies! For now that I have started re-building the Lovely Old Dollhouse, there is no stopping me!

So you see,

"Someday" came last summer, after all!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Folly For The Folly

The Folly sat "completed" except for the shingles for the longest time. As I am sure you know if you have ever built a little house from a kit, it takes weeks and weeks to get even this far! The winter of its inspiration was over, spring arived, the outdoor garden beckoned and then took over and the Folly waited.
At some point during that summer, after a daring visit to that dangerously tempting miniatures shop, the stove arrived, and a few plates as well.

And a lovely Chinoiserie screen for the upstairs dressing room - because it is nearly impossible to go to the miniatures shop and come home with only two items! And a little brown dog has taken up residence - he is waiting for his master to come home and start putting the shingles on the roof before winter arrives. (The dog came from the tea bag box! :)) But his master is taking his time because shingles are sort of daunting, especially when you've never done them before and there are so many other things to distract you! And before you know it, it's winter again! And that means (for some of us) Christmas!
So what does a lover of all things miniature who is really still in denial about her dollhouse obsession do at Christmas time? I am sure many of you know this answer because you find yourself in the same make miniature ornaments, of course!
And in my case, this year I got carried away making some tiny worlds I had been fantasizing about (and collecting pieces for) for many years. You must, dear readers, please forgive the very unfinished pictures here, and use your imagination to really get the whole picture, because alas, I have not FINISHED these ornaments! And most of them are not HOUSES so maybe they don't quite fit in my blog......but here they are anyway.....I call them my "snowball" ornaments because they are supposed to look like snowballs with little "worlds" inside, and maybe they will look like snowballs when they are finished!

Skating by moonlight...

Fairy by a forest pond.....

Tea in the garden.......

Close-up of tea in the garden.........

Moonscape (useing toys my boys left behind)....

And my favorite....Santa's parlor (not yet DONE)

I had to make a chair for Santa........

And then another for Mrs. Santa...........

Here they are just waiting for Santa and Mrs. to get home.......

Here is a better shot of the whole snowball.....and why, yes that is a lovely painted ceiling they have! It looks familiar you say? Well, you may have seen this ceiling painter's work before in this blog! And not even very far away............

In the Folly, which is SLOWLY getting its shingles.........

But, alas, I did NOT pay correct attention to the directions when it came to the shingles! It said VERY CLEARLY "stain shingles before applying". I was impatient. I wasn't sure what color I wanted the shingles to be. I thought "how hard will it be to paint them once they are on the house?" Well, I will have to find that out the hard way! I am (fairly) certain I want to make them a dark slate gray color, with a pattern row or two of a purple or blue slate color....maybe even both! ....which was a common style here in this part of the world during the Victorian era. So you can see, it will be hard. And painstaking...and slow......WHEN I get to it!

The front has almost all the shingles done......I was making such good progress before I got distracted.....but more on that in another post!

The kitchen has a cupboard that needs a coat of paint too.....

And the parlor has a fireplace with a large (perhaps too large?) gilded mirror above it .....and the lovely old easy chair has found its way here! It looks as though the builder has moved in while he works on the roof.....I wonder if the Poet knows.....

No matter! He can stay if he wants to. Just as long as he gets to work on those shingles!

And the little brown dog is waiting for someone to light a fire in the fireplace......

Just a little Folly for the Folly.

If you follow me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Just A Tiny Preview

Tonight I am giving in to the temptation to show off a couple of the tiny things I have been working on most recently.
Toss chronology right out the window for starters. Historical eras and order of creation are all jumbled together in this vignette. We are leaping way ahead in one sense, and way behind in the other. But no matter, this is the magical dollhouse world where we can warp time and bend rules and build whatever we like! And I have been building!

To begin with, here is the lovely little green velvet settee which will grace the Lovely Old Dollhouse when it is ready. I made it completely from scratch, modeled just a little on one we had when I was growing up. The fabric is velvet with a glittery gold thread in its weave, and I only had just enough scraps to fit this tiny creation which made me wonder if the dream of the sofa was there in the scraps long before I realised that was what they were for....

And I am so PROUD of my tiny scrap of needlepoint I just completed! I really don't know what I am doing yet, and have ordered some books but meanwhile I remembered a book I had with full size 1:1 scale projects and it gave me some starter clues. I only missed a few stitches - it is done on 28 count canvas with 2 strand embroidery floss. I drew the design myself!

Here it is close-up! It is going to be a tapestry pillow for the green velvet settee.

And then there are a couple of tiny books I made a little while ago - also covered in velvet. And while the pages are printed images of medieval books of hours - the images are not very good - too faded and blurry. I need to perfect my methods. But when the books are closed it doesn't matter how blurry they are!

So there you have it....just a tiny preview!