Sunday, 23 September 2012

A new dimension

Today it's been pouring with rain, so no chance of doing any more sanding outside. The blue shop front is a real chore with seemingly endless moulding to tidy up around each window but I suppose it is the most ornate feature of the building and the rest should should be comparatively quick and easy (touch plywood!). I have also primed the small flat roof section in dark blue and off- white. Yesterday I assembled it temporarily with the house front taped into position behind.

 Well, that gave it a completely new dimension, as you can see.

My next task is to work out the wiring, so when I go shopping for all the technical stuff next month I should know exactly what to get and where it will go (hmm!). Studying a flat plan is OK up to a point but there comes a time when a 3D survey is necessary. With the help of a few strips of masking tape, the possibilities and snags become clear. In the case of the shop window, I was pleased to discover the hidden space directly above the display area. It's ideal for concealed lighting, although care will be needed with the wiring on the hinged sections (this house has a side opening too, which swings back to reveal the stairs and a narrow glimpse of the first two storeys).

The caboodle in this post consists entirely of paintings. Uncovering the things I've collected is like a mini-Xmas and certainly a spur to getting the project done. 

I showed one example of my mother's work last time and here are four of her finished pictures, all oils. The other item is an unusual find I made one year at Kensington, beautifully painted by Aartje Derksen; it's a Dutch seaman's chest (the lid has been propped up to show the traditional design). These are part of Charlie Brennan's antique stock, currently jostling for space in the shop with mundane objects like army boots, paraffin heaters and job-lots of china plates. We can only hope they'll find a safe home, one day.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

A touch of colour and some of the caboodle

Following all that dutiful surface preparation with wood primer and dilute PVA, this week I decided to treat myself to a touch of colour! I hadn't done the shop front, so I primed the MDF section using handy 40 ml tester tubes of the paint I've chosen for the shop's top coat. Straight away, 'Chas. P. Brennan & Son' began to take on the tired post-war look that I'm after.

The matt duck egg blue serves two purposes. First, it can easily be made to look faded and distressed. And second, before Charlie Brennan converted the place into an antique/curio shop in the early 1930s, it had been the Bluebell Tea Rooms (note the ambitious plural) and he hasn't bothered to change the colour since. The cream interior might even date from the same era but it's hard to say because the purest white paint soon yellowed in those days, especially with the help of coal fires and nicotine.

Of course, this coat is only the primer so I have still got to work on all those fiddly mouldings and rebates. I guess sharply folded sandpaper may be the best thing to use.

I promised I would show you some items from my collection built up over the years. I have to say there's been no rigid plan behind these purchases, other than the timeline 'England 1948', which means anything suitable of that date or earlier.

The bed is a Roberson but I'm afraid I don't recall the maker of the dainty feathered hat hanging on the bed knob. If you happen to recognize it, I'd love to know, it was one of my first purchases. The wonderful Fair Isle pullover was a commission hand-knitted by Isobel Hockey. The equally wonderful fully-jointed toy monkey was also a commission, made by Moira Carter.

The 'pipecleaner' dog is one of Judi Noakes's Petite Pets. His name is Rex and he belongs to Charlie's son Frankie. The dog is a German Shepherd although back then he'd be called an Alsatian. Frankie's in charge of everything outside in the yard and Rex keeps guard over it for him.

Behind the dog is an artist's easel, accurate to the last tiny screw and nut. Somehow, once again I have no note of the maker. The work-in-progress however is my mother's, who also supplied me with several finished framed paintings that I'll put up another day. Finally, the Oxford Dictionary on the bed is from the stock that I used to sell myself. Charlie is a keen crossword puzzler, so it's always close at hand together with the morning paper and a big mug of tea.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The story and the plan

I’ve been looking at ways of adapting Bon Marché to fit my background story. Although the shop/house is late-Victorian/Edwardian style, I’m going to set it much later, in the year 1948. What had been an antiques and curio shop before World War 2 now has government surplus army boots, coats, blankets etc mixed in with the original stock. And according to the slogan over the door: 

We buy anything useful 

they also buy and sell all kinds of second-hand things for a post-war population still living on a shoestring. There was a similar shop to this in the English town where I grew up.

A trial fitting of the floors has given me ideas for a slightly different interior plan, especially on the top (attic) floor. Up there the lodger’s room must share the overall space with the bathroom, which means adding an extra partition at the top of the stairs. Luckily, there is a tiny loft space in the apex of the roof that solves the problem of where to put the water tank. The tank will remain dry – I’m not taking reality too far!

Seeing the floors in position, I’m reminded how closed-in dolls house rooms can seem and how important it is to have a well-planned lighting layout so that the rooms don’t turn into dark little caves. In Decorative Dolls’ Houses, Caroline Hamilton (who co-founded the Kensington Dolls House Festival) gives loads of hints on both lighting and creating illusions of space. Of all my dolls house books, I’m finding this one the most inspirational at the moment. It was published by Ebury Press back in the 1990s but there are used copies available on sites such as I’d recommend every miniaturist to get their hands on one, it's guaranteed to fire you with enthusiasm.

So, as you can see, I’m still very much at the thinking and planning stage, though I hurried outdoors in the recent fine weather to give the MDF a coat of primer on both sides – very whiffy, and best done outside or with doors and windows open.

The plywood sides and front will be sized with a coat of PVA glue in preparation for the fibreglass brick cladding bought from Jennifer’s of Walsall last Sunday at Epsom Racecourse. I’d studied all the options beforehand. Standard brick paper’s too thin; brick slips are expensive and have to be applied one at a time; and brick compound impressed with a stencil is something I just know I’d get in an endless mess with. My solution was six sheets of Jennifer’s Red Flemish Bond, see, and I love the darkened brick tones with a slight hint of sootiness (the Clean Air Act of 1956 was still eight years away).