Monday, 29 October 2012

Adapt and alter

Long ago I tried building a shop/house that I had designed myself. I didn't really know how to go about it properly and, sure enough, the plans foundered as soon as I reached the second storey! Yet certain things had worked and I found a few of them the other day, stashed away in a box in the spare bedroom.

I'd taken an ordinary panelled door, similar to the one below (left) and altered it by removing the upper panels (centre) with the help of a sharp blade. These I replaced with two rectangles cut from food packaging conveniently patterned like mini-frosted glass (I used the same idea for the skylight in 'A little kit bashing').

The rediscovered door is going to lead us from Charlie's kitchenette out into the yard. It replaces the MDF door that came with the Bon Marché kit. An extra alteration will be to remove the bar across the the threshold, so the ground floor tab fits under the door instead. At present the door is hinged on vertical pins (right), once the threshold bar has gone, I'll be able to swap them for standard hinges like those on the floor in the centre picture. By the way, it saves time and temper to glue the hinges in place with a contact adhesive first and then to tap in the little brass pins - preferably before the walls are assembled so you don't have to turn yourself into a contortionist.

I don't think that either of the MDF side doors looks right, especially when all the rest are genuinely wood-panelled. It's the only quibble I have with the kit; the MDF doors are fairly wide and completely blank on the reverse. However, both will make excellent dummy doors elsewhere in the house, so they won't be wasted.

What I particularly like about my 'new' door is the paint that I mixed from four separate Humbrol colours: emerald, white, cream and flesh. It reproduces the utilitarian mid-green seen all over the town in the 1940s and 50s. They painted it on railings, lamp-posts, factory gates, even on our council dust-carts (refuse trucks) - hence the general name'Corporation green'.

Because paint would have been scarce, like everything else soon after the war, my guess is that Charlie and son Frankie had a few friends among the council workmen who came to buy their boots and overalls from Brennans, and paid for them in part exchange with remnants of green paint that the Corporation wouldn't miss! 

Along with the door, I also found a length of card in the same green. It was meant to line the kitchen wall and has been scored with a fine ball stylus to imitate tongue and groove matchboarding. There's a matching length of moulding to neaten the top edge. I'm thinking this can go upstairs in the Brennans' main kitchen, next to the sitting room.
Yet more Corporation green from the stash. This square window should fit neatly over the sink  at the back of the shop. There won't be a view through it, only more frosted glass. . .

. . . but there are many patterns, and you can be sure none of them match in the Brennans' household. Below are two small plastic food trays that look like reeded glass.

One pattern is slightly larger than the other so I'll use that in just one of the square window panes, where Frankie's done a repair and couldn't manage a perfect match.

Finally, this touch of chinoiserie among the caboodle actually started out in Taiwan as a European-style display cabinet. I converted it to Chinese lacquer with a coat of black enamel painted directly onto the wood. Before painting, I removed the acetate glazing; it sticks back in quite easily with contact adhesive. 

When the enamel had dried, I painted the dragons and pagodas etc in gold with a very fine brush. I didn't need any varnish, but if you ever do apply varnish to gold paint be sure and test it first in case it runs - some of the golds do - and it's heartbreaking to watch all your artwork dissolve in front of your eyes. For the mother-of-pearl inlay, I cut up iridescent sequins and stuck them here and there, then I dulled the red-brown of the shelves with black ink.

The cabinet contains an exquisite crazed white pot bought from Elisabeth Causeret this year at Kensington. It also holds a small perfume sprinkler made of bone, two tiny clay birds from Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum, and an Aladdin's lamp off an old charm bracelet. 

The Chinese scene in the glass showcase is a gold-star find from a seaside gift shop. As children, my daughters were invaluable scouts for treasure among the tat. Never walk past one of those places without a swift look round, I can't resist them and Charlie's taste in curios knows no bounds.


Friday, 19 October 2012

Think electric

This past week I have been away in Suffolk, staying in a lovely cottage beside a mill stream, looking out across a huge water meadow. I can thoroughly recommend the soothing effect of watching cattle grazing and swans gliding by - with just the occasional appearance of a flashy little kingfisher for a change of pace now and then.

Martin Butler of Small World Products lives in rural Suffolk, in a village not far from Woodbridge. We drove to meet him in his new studio one afternoon and enjoyed a very amiable 'tutorial' on the dolls house wiring system. I left with a 3-Amp digital power supply, which can cope with 1-60 wired bulbs (that'll do nicely on my calculations for Brennans, plus plenty to spare). Other purchases were Grain of Wheat (GOW) bulbs on brown wires rather than white, which will look really authentic in a 1948 setting. I also got some ready-wired LED strips - less soldering for me - which can be stuck discreetly in recesses, window pelmets etc for a fill-in light where needed. 

With apologies for the rubbish focusing (my fault not the camera's), here is the ideal place for an LED strip, right at the back of the shop under the stairs, near the back door (the opening on the right). This is Charlie's kitchenette. There'll be a gas ring for the kettle, and a sink, and probably a dummy window. The main shop lights won't illuminate this area but a hidden LED strip will. And no worries about a harsh blue light, LEDs are available in warmer 'candle colour' as well.

Last week I taped the house and inner walls together with black duct tape to help decide precisely where the wires should run. Below is another fuzzy shot (sorry again), showing the entrance hallway and stairs this time. It's taken from the other side of the doorway on the left in the picture above. As you can see from the position of the stairs, I won't be able to feed many wires directly from light fittings through the rear wall to connect with the power supply.

Instead I shall have to use skirting boards and ceiling covings to carry concealed wires to the 12-switch power controller that I plan to site out in the yard. This is the special piece of kit I shall collect from Martin next month at Kensington. I'm going to have fun organizing which lights are to go on and off with each switch!

A by-product of the duct-tape exercise was to swap the interior walls between floors 2 and 3. The bedrooms on floor 3 seemed better candidates for having two separate doors. (That's a book you can see through the left-hand doorway, temporarily supporting the inner wall). 

On Floor 2 I will also gain a larger living room that reaches the full depth of the house in one corner, which would definitely be more interesting than just another plain flight of stairs seen through the side opening panel.

The caboodle this time is the art deco style plastic teapot that came with the wavy plate in my first dolls house. It's hugely out of scale - like the not-quite-so-old pearlised cup - and sadly it dwarfs any 1/12 table. But I love it, especially the colour, and shall find a place for it somewhere in the shop, possibly as a left-over from the Bluebell Tea Rooms.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Back to the front

I pasted the first of the fibreglass brickwork sheets to the front opening panel a couple of weeks ago. I used an entire sheet and left it to dry over twenty-four hours. Though it feels fairly thick, it folds back around the edges quite readily. In fact, I found it just as easy to apply as ordinary paper. And like all wallpaper, it should be glued thoroughly on the back (here with a PVA adhesive). This fibreglass brickwork comes with a realistic sprinkling of sand in the mortar lines, so I smoothed it all down by pressing the surface firmly with a soft pad made from an old T-shirt.

I laid the panel face down on some thick cardboard and cut out the windows from the back with a medical scalpel. Best not to try cutting while the sheet is still damp, it can pucker and tear. 

Scalpels and craft knives are great tools so long as you're careful not to slice your other hand (though I'm afraid most people tend to do this at least once!). When not in use, any cutting tool without a retractable blade should be stored with the sharp point pushed safely into a wine cork. Please don't be tempted to use the same old blade for too long; a blunt tool is actually more dangerous than a sharp one because it won't cut cleanly in one go.

Two more pieces of brickwork sheet were needed to fill in the rest of the front. The trapezium shape you can see sticking up is the floor section that slots into the bay. I fitted the bay window assembly on top to see the effect.

And having finished cutting out the window spaces, inserting the cream plastic window frames, and setting the shop front in position . . .

this is what Brennan's looks like so far. You could almost expect to see someone standing at one of those windows . . .

but no, because below is what it really looks like from the other side . . . 

 see, there's no one there after all. And so much more to be done!

Just a little caboodle this time, some of the antique shop stock from Brennan's pre-war days. On the floor is an eighteenth-century wine cooler or 'cellaret', I have it on Charlie's authority that early wine bottles were short and squat. The majolica fish jug and leaf dish are set on the spindly Taiwan table together with an eighteenth-century tea caddy (another lockable item, like the cellaret, apparently servants were not much trusted in those days).

Next time I shall probably be talking about amps, volts etc because I am due to visit the home of Small World Products, 


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A little kit bashing

I mentioned a little while ago that I had plans to add a bathroom on the top floor by building a partition. It will be a very dark bathroom unless I incorporate the window at the top of the stairs but then this leaves the top flight of stairs unlit. The obvious solution is a skylight and so I've been working out the best place to fit one.

This is a bit disorientating, isn't it? It's a view of the roof interior with the house balanced on the rear roof panel. That side wall is unsupported, apart from the tabs and slots connecting it to the roof and loft, which goes to show how accurately this kit is prepared because everything fits together very firmly (so far, fingers crossed!). From this angle you can also see the triangular loft space.

I'm cutting the skylight into the rear slope of the roof, quite close to the existing loft hatch. With a ruler and a set square, I've marked out a rectangle 5 x 7.5 cm (approx 2 x 3 in). That section of kit just visible on the right is the top floor, which I've lined up to make sure the skylight sheds light directly over the stairs.

After drilling a couple of holes in the middle of the rectangle, it doesn't take long to cut out the little piece of MDF with a jigsaw. This was done outside - and remember you should always wear a mask to protect against the MDF sawdust.

Like a proper skylight, this will be sealed with 'lead' flashing on the outside when I get on to the roof tiles. Inside, the 'glass' will be held in position with a frame of mini wood moulding. I found just the right frosted glass by chance, it's the inner tray of a pack of flatbreads - how's that for recycling?

Before I close today, here are a couple more pictures of the caboodle - both feature my favourite tables: a pine kitchen table with a drawer at one end; and a small gate-leg dining table in pale oak. I'm very fond of both. The kitchen table has a tiny squirrel trade mark stamped under the top. I bought it years ago in the dolls house shop in Fossgate, York. I wonder if anybody out there knows who the maker might be.

The wicker shopping trolley was made by C&D Crafts and the food and groceries came from Thames Valley Crafts, Chris-a-Liz, Trevor McAlister and Merry Gourmet. The trolley belongs to Edna, the 'help', who comes in for two or three hours daily (except Sundays) to keep the house in some sort of order.

This beautiful little gate-leg table was bought from J. Johnson at the Harrogate Fair back in the 90s. It opens and shuts perfectly and I'd love to have one or two matching oak dining chairs - with Rexine seats - to go with it. The retro electric fire is a Phoenix model painted here at home. 
Charlie's 'full English' looks as if he's using a whole week's rations up in one go, I'm sure breakfast was a lot more frugal in 1948. Items on the table are from Stokesay Ware and Thames Valley Crafts. Except the Fimo bacon, egg and sausages, which are served up on one of the original plastic plates from my Christmas dolls house all those decades ago. The plate's gone a little wavy with age but I still have the art deco teapot to match, which I'll show you another time.