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.


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