Thursday, July 8, 2010

Working From The Bottom Up

I left you last week with the promise of showing more of the vaulted ceilings in a later post. So that is where I will begin tonight. First let me remind you that I jumped in to building my Dream Castle Dollhouse after finding Nina's very inspiring blog about her Medieval Tudor Dollhouse Project. I must also credit her with the (to me) very brilliant idea of completing each room starting at the lowest level BEFORE adding the ceiling (which is obviously the floor of the above level) because it is so much easier to manage all the details while the ceiling is out of the way! I have always been inclined to think in terms of completing the whole shell first - more of a working from the outside in method - so it was truly a novel and EXTREMEMLY useful idea! But it really is a completely different way of thinking about the project for me.......I just have to learn to plan and think through and build or buy ALL the parts of each room before moving on up to the next one.

As I mentioned in my last post, my castle is made up of two tall towers, each with four floors, flanking the central Great Hall which is three stories tall, but only has two floors as the Hall itself is two stories tall. I began work on the towers first, beginning with the dungeons below the Chapel, and the stables on the bottom level of the Guard Room Tower. Now, in my imagination, neither of these rooms was where I had invested a lot of fantasy over the years. But once I had decided that the Great Hall would be above the kitchens, I realized that the chapel and guard rooms would need a "basement" level below them. The obvious choices were the dungeons and the stables. And because Nina's method makes SO MUCH SENSE to me, I was determined to get those useful rooms built and move on to the more "interesting" ones as soon as possible! So I jumped right in. But here I will have to confess that I have not REALLY stuck with Nina's method......I have MOSTLY finished the first level of rooms before moving up to the next ones....but not really in all their details. And I have cheated by moving on to the next room on the BOTTOM level before completing any of them! And I really bend the rules by leaving the ceiling removable for a very long time......! But more on that later.

So It was while I was trying to quickly get the dungeons (and the hidden postern stairs) built so that I could move up to work on the chapel where I had all kinds of exciting ideas roiling in my head, one of which was to paint a beautiful frescoed ceiling in the chapel, with vaulting and carved stone ribs and.....and ....and......that I realized that the dungeon level was going to NEED to be vaulted like a stone cave in order to be at all realistic. In fact, it was going to be the perfect place to PRACTICE making vaulted ceilings! In one of my books I found a beautiful photograph of the magnificent vaulted ceilings of the cellars of Fountains Abbey in the North of England. It had just the stone ribbing and brick infill look I was imagining. My version is only a pale imitation of the real one if you ever get a chance to compare.

So here are the beginnings of the vaulting. I cut arched shapes from plywood the length of the diagonal dimension of the room, intersecting at the center of the room. Here they are notched on the ends to fit around the beam that supports the floor above, and they only extend to the edges of the interior walls of the dungeon and stairway. But they are angled to appear as though they continue through the walls. I glue them to the ceiling board, leaving the whole piece removable by sliding it out. (So you can continue to work on it easily!)

When I was making this I had no idea I would be a blogger soon, and even less of doing a tutorial -so there aren't enough photos to really show the process. :(
Here you can see the corrugated cardboard cut to fit between the ribbing and glued in place. The corrugations allow you to crease the surface in the direction you want the rows of bricks to appear to line up. It is important to position the corrugations in the right directions relative to the vault ribs.

The ceiling was then given a coat of primer and a base coat of paint. I am using interior latex house paints because of the quantity needed and because I already have it in the colors I want to use. In this case I started with a light gray, but then realized the "mortar" would need to be a darker color to look realistic ie. old dirty and maybe mostly see, I couldn't decide if my ceilings were "dry stone" with no mortar - a really old method....or just really dark old mortar between the bricks. Either way it needed to be dark. So here is a shot of the dark lines painted on the corrugations, and the cross lines for the bricks. I really like the graphic quality of this shot........

Then I added the brick colors.....using a full range of earth tones mixed randomly to get a brick look.........

And I painted the mortar lines in the stone walls of the dungeons....and dirtied them up a bit. I think I will need to go back in and add another layer or two of grime at some point.....

Meanwhile, I was also starting on the stairs up to the next level, because you can't "finish" the bottom level until the stairs are done! And I realized that the inner walls for the stairs would need to be painted before the whole section could be closed in with the wall to the dungeon......So here is a view from the Great Hall through the doors at one end. The right hand door is the one down the stairs to the kitchen and dungeons. The center door leads to the chapel. The left hand door will lead up stairs to the ladies Solar. When we get there that is!

This is a view of the rather complex stair construction with the inner walls and dungeon ceiling removed. You can also see the first attempt of mine at making a faux stone floor on the dungeon level. Nina says to use "polyfilla" - a substance not available here and the closest I could approximate was to use "Bondo". I debated with myself long and hard about the need for that level of realism on the floor....and eventually decided to try it. I'm very glad I did! The layer of realism is really good! More details later......not sure I have a closeup of that! Anyway, you can see the hidden back Postern stairs in the corner, and the back dungeon in this shot.

This shot shows the same thing from a different angle, with a better sense of the two floor levels. The above level is the Chapel, in the back corner will be the Monk's cell with the hidden trap door to the Postern stairs. The Chapel floor level is lower than the Great Hall - allowing for the ceiling in the Chapel to be higher.

Well, you can ALMOST see the scribed stone shapes in the floor! When it is painted they show up better.........

Yes, I did upload this photo twice......sorry...... you get to see this ceiling detail again......

Meanwhile, I was also beginning the bottom level room in the Guard Tower. This was to be the stables. After all, every Knight must have his horses, a castle kitchen must have its chickens and a stable was in order. Here I must say I have indulged another very old passion of mine.......toy horses! I LOVE horses. Next to dollhouses (which I had) horse stables were the thing I most wanted to make when I was little. So once I got started the dreams all came rushing back to me......Stalls all lined up in a row, mangers for hay, tack hanging on the walls, and of course, the necessary steeds in residence!

Here you can see the beginnings taking shape, including the vaulted ceiling because this is on the lowest level of a big old stone tower!

Oh, and of course, first Ken had to bring the horses in to test the space for size.............

The noble steed..........

And the gentle palfrey.......

Before you know it the stable walls and the vaulted ceiling have been given their coats of paint. The stall partitions and mangers have not yet been attached.......

Even though the doors are still not done, the horses are right at home in their new stables.

They still don't have their tie-ups in place, so I'm afraid they are making good use of their freedom while no one is looking........

There are still a great many little details that are not completed in these lowest level rooms that will take me a long time to accomplish. But they will come to me in time. I am not in a hurry. Because I still have more bottom level rooms to build.....and none of my ceilings are attached I'm not REALLY moving up to the next level just yet........

but this is where I will END for now!

Vaulted Ceilings from the Bottom Up!


  1. Wow, the ceilings are fabulous! And your castle will be a big one, can't wait to see it come together :) And I have to admit that after seeing Nina's Tudor house, I've been also looking at Tudor items a lot - maybe there will be a Tudor house someday :D

  2. love the ceilings and how the stairs lead the door ;)

  3. Thanks, Ewa! I seem to have a "thing" for ceilings.....I can't just leave them plain!

  4. Thanks, Ira! My castle IS huge! But that is part of the fun of doing a castle....can't have a tiny castle! I love the older era dollhouses myself.....can't wait to see what you come up with if you do a Tudor one!

  5. Thank you Minnie Kitchen! I love to make the castle stairs...they are so satisfyingly like the stone steps in a real castle.....and they are easy to make which is why I have stairs all over my castle!

  6. From your description of the rooms in your castle, I am already fascinated, fascinated, fascinated :). Monk's Cell? Like in the Name of The Rose? Chapel? Like the one Queen Victoria prayed in? And dungeons...oooooh! By the way, have you ever watched the movie "Queen Margot"?

    I think you have a real knack for building stairs, Betsy, they are really beautifully constructed. I want a pair of sweeping , majestic round stairways for the entrance of my palace. I will ask you for advice when the time is ripe.

    Keep the ceiling open. You will never know. There is always something you want to redo, repaint, rewire. :). But those vaulted ceiling (have to go google it to find out more) is so well made. You are a builder ! And with your knowledge as a medievalist, this castle is going to be just spectacular!

  7. Hi Sans! Yes, like in the Name of the Rose....and Queen Victoria....only started in the time before the Crusades so it is VERY old! I am thinking the story is that the castle was originally an Abbey built on the site of even older caves.....where the Dragons dwelled and Merlin had his caves...So you see, I am getting all mixed in with mythology just the way the Medieval times did! I will tell the story in another post soon!
    As for the stairs...when it is blocks of wood glued together it is the simplest thing in the world to do...the only tricky part is cutting the corner ones that spiral up...but you draw a diagram and copy the shapes! That is why I love castle stairs so much...that and the sense of mystery they impart...disappearing into walls....!
    And as for the ceilings...I am learning that there comes a point that I have to glue them in if I want to make any progress on the next floor up! It is taxing my patience to try and finish the bottom floors first! I take too long figuring out just what I want and where I will get it from.....But I will show you more on that soon!
    I am glad my castle fascinates you too! It has become my obsession since I started it in February! It is going to keep me going for a long time!
    I have not seen the movie Queen Margot....I presume that I MUST? :):) I will try to find it....! (That and 'My Name Is Red')