Thursday, 29 November 2012

Kensington Christmas Festival

Last Saturday, being inside Kensington Town Hall was the perfect antidote to our miserable November weather. Engineering works on the Circle and District line had closed the tube at High St Ken, which meant the added hassle of waiting damply for buses but we got to the fair in good time nevertheless.

I made for the Sid Cooke stand where Steve and Megan Messenger were already very busy. Steve reported a growing interest in the large houses, whereas in recent years most customers have favoured smaller projects; it seems people may be turning to longer-term, home-based hobbies again. I took the opportunity to check out the completed Bon Marché model and was re-enthused by the scope it offers. Charlie Brennan's shop/house will be terrific when it's finished!

All too aware that I must install the electrics before going much further, I went and collected my order from Small World Products,

It consisted of a 12-switch power controller and more lights of various kinds. At the left end of the switch board, there's a black socket for the jack plug of the 3-Amp transformer that I bought from Martin last month - anything that simplifies this wiring business is what I like. And see the round pea bulbs? They're just the right scale for the incandescent bulbs we can no longer buy in real life. They will go under wide 'coolie' shades in the kitchen and bathroom, where they can be seen in all their functional glory.

We went right around the main exhibition hall. Twice. So much to see, including a good number of international exhibitors. 

Though not my era, I love everything that Delph Miniatures produce. You name it and these specialists in modern miniatures can provide it, from a complete hair salon to an OAP's mobility scooter.

Another favourite was the Fine Design stand and all the marvellous animals and birds made by Annie Willis, using fur and feathers recycled from items found in charity shops and jumble sales.

I stopped by Ray Storey to purchase a pair of 2-armed downlights for the shop ceiling. Very old-fashioned, even for 1948, but  these are left over from the days of the Bluebell Tea Rooms and, like the blue-painted exterior that he inherited from them, Charlie Brennan has never felt the need for a change. See

Colin and Yvonne Roberson's is another stand not to be missed. Their son Tim has produced a faux-bamboo range and I fell for a chair and the neatest little umbrella stand to furnish the house hallway,

The bentwood chair below is French, from Piamini. We don't seem to reproduce mini bentwood furniture in the UK, which is surprising since the classic Thonet chairs were once a staple of restaurants and classrooms everywhere. This looks too pristine for Brennans, I'm going to 'bash' it by spraying it brown and replacing the seat with a solid disc.

On the practical front, I plunged into Jennifer's of Walsall, who occupied a whole room in the lower foyer. It was rammed with customers, all armed with shopping lists. This was serious mini shopping and I added a couple of glazed doors, more flooring and brick cladding to my luggage, plus a Chrysnbon bathroom kit. 

Upstairs at DCT Miniature Fashions, I called in for one of the most important items on my schedule: three undressed dolls (plus wig hair for the men), discontinued lines from the late Joy Parker of Swallowhill dolls. 

Now you can meet the very earliest versions of Charlie Brennan, his son Frankie, and Edna the daily help.  What attracted me to these dolls when I found them online (apart from the very reasonable price!) were their facial expressions. I wanted Charlie to be a genial sort of fellow; and both Frankie and Edna have strong 'ordinary' faces with distinct character, neither impossibly handsome nor too pretty.

So much for the brand new stuff, I have been uncovering a few vintage pieces as well, which I'll show you next time.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Up aloft

There are times when I find the sheer size of this shop/house quite daunting and long to have at least some tiny corner of it done! The smallest space is the loft up at the very top, and so I decided this could be the first place to attempt a finished look. It's basically a single strip of floor with a hatch cut into into it for access - and most importantly, for young Frankie Brennan to reach the leaky old water tank whose pipes regularly freeze up in the winter. 

The basic style of Brennans is postwar austerity, the era of make-do-and-mend. Surely it wouldn't be too difficult to paint a dusty floor on the top side of the strip and a discoloured ceiling underneath? And so I assembled my 'distressing' outfit:

The bench hook is a really handy device for pushing a piece of wood against while you are cutting or chiselling into its surface. In this case, I was cutting parallel lines into the MDF hatch cover with the V-shaped blade of a lino-cutting tool. As you can see, the bench hook itself simply consists of three wood offcuts screwed together at right angles to each other. It makes working with a blade far steadier and safer.

Lightly sanding a newly painted surface is an easy way of distressing an item but don't get too carried away and overwork the effect. And for a nice bit of dirt, I find that mixing odds and ends of poster (gouache) paints together produces a satisfying shade of sludge (if you don't have any old paints you can just as well use inexpensive children's water colours). If the old paints have dried out in their pots add a little hot water and leave them to soften a while. I like using gouache because it has good covering power and dries to a matt finish. You can create your own special effects too, for example, by spraying varnish into the wet paint or pressing crumpled tissue or kitchen roll into it.

All sorts of brushes are welcome for distressing, don't throw any away unless they are completely without bristles. Toothbrushes are great for scrubbing and splattering paint. One of my all-purpose favourites is a flat, wide, nylon brush that washes out easily and never sheds any hairs.

I began by painting the underside of the loft section with a matt ivory from a 40 ml tester tube. The old water stain from the leaky tank was produced with a wet tea bag and a handful of kitchen roll. The stain was created in stages and allowed to dry each time. You can change the shape of a stain by tilting the surface this way and that so it spreads. If it appears too dark then soak up the excess tea with a paper towel.

The rest of the ceiling extends over the lodger's bedroom. The lodger is a smoker and so I wanted to yellow it just a bit. I took another wet tea bag, squeezed it out a little and rolled it over the clean paint layer. 

You could leave these marks to dry as they are, but I only wanted a hint of nicotine yellow so I blended the tea into the background by rubbing with the kitchen roll. 

Finally, I slotted the loft piece into the top of the side panel to see how it looked. I'll have to reproduce the same colouration inside both sloping roof sections but I've kept the tint technique simple enough to repeat (I hope!).

The top side of the strip forms the loft floor and was treated to a few swirled layers of the 'sludge'. I don't know yet if I'm going to add joists. However, the water tank is in progress, that will eventually sit to the right of the hatch, over the horrible stain.

This rather dramatic angle shows how tight a space I have to fit the tank into!

Last week I promised that I would show you some more of Anne Dalton's ceramics. Here are four of them, including the posy vase, a candlestick and two beautiful examples of  painted fruits. The rug was embroidered by a friend, the colours are perfect with the china, I think.

Next Saturday, 24 November, is Kensington's long-awaited Christmas Festival. I have a few interesting orders to collect, but more about those next time . . .


Monday, 5 November 2012

In at the ground floor

I got two sheets of plain wood strip flooring from Jennifer's of Walsall at the same time that I bought my brick cladding from her. The planks measure 11 mm (7/16 in) wide, held on a backing sheet so after I've cut it to fit, I should be able to lift or slide out the entire floor if ever I need to reach the wiring beneath. The trick is to allow 1 or 2 mm (1/16 in) wriggle room all round the edge, which you can conceal under the skirting boards, so long as you don't fix them flush to the base.

I stained the boards with Colron's Jacobean Dark Oak wood dye; it's easy to sponge or brush over a small area like this. It came up really well, exactly the right colour, and the individual planks took the dye in a natural-looking way. If you want to highlight worn areas of floor, put some methylated spirit on a piece of rag and wipe away the dye to a lighter shade where needed.

Next came the exciting bit of trying the floor in its future surroundings (nothing is fixed permanently yet, the walls are just taped together - hmm, still looks awfully big though!). From this angle you can picture the front panel opening and also the narrow two-storey panel on the far right, which contains the house entrance door and fanlight. If you click to enlarge the image, you'll be able to make out the low side wall and railings that swing outwards together with the house door and doorstep.

I love the shot above, the floorboards stretching back from the shop entrance make it seem much more real as a space. Don't forget I'm adding a yard to this side as well (currently researching how to make convincing 1/12 corrugated iron from cardboard - the corrugations can't be too big, I need the right sort of cardboard!).

This picture was taken with the three entrance hall sections in place (the reel of tape is supporting the stair wall).

And this is the same area viewed from above. I have an idea to give the little hallway a colourful tiled floor, for relief from all the dark-stained wood.

The caboodle this time is a piece of furniture from Charlie's living room upstairs. My grandmother had a sideboard almost the same as this, and it's still in the family. This one - and most of the ornaments upon it - were the pride and joy of Charlie's late wife Molly.

I had to photograph from an angle to avoid reflections in the mirror and I'm afraid the ornaments on the left are not sharp, which is a pity because the Anne Dalton posy vase is beautiful. I shall post more of her ceramics another time - and in focus!

The brown slipware bowl and china shoe are the work of Muriel Hopwood, and since her pieces are rather rare nowadays I feel very lucky to have them. The art nouveau lustre vase was produced by Glassblowing of Greenwich. 

The bowl of fruit is lovely - a gift made by a South African miniaturist - I know oranges and bananas were seldom seen in England in 1948, let alone heaped up luxuriously in a bowl, so this is going to have to be a display of wax fruit if Charlie is to have it at all. 

I see from my statistics that this blog has reached viewers as far apart as Brazil, South Korea and Lithuania and I just want to say welcome to everyone who has visited so far. I hope you return often to see how the shop/house is developing. I shall be putting faces to Charlie, Frankie and Edna for you before very long - and the mysterious lodger too - so do drop in and make their acquaintance.