Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Capturing My Homeland in Miniature

In the spirit of Andy and his posts about English period style, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my homeland's distinctive architectural styles, since they are the inspiration for the next house I've started (in spite of not having ANY space for it...).

I was born in my homeland's largest city, where several generations of my family had roots, but have gone on to live in several different areas. Most of my relatives had modest, but well-built, little bungalows, although one had a very Asian-looking house.

I have countless memories of surviving Spanish buildings (and more than a few terrible imitations of Italian architecture), Tudor-esque cottages that could have housed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, huge castles (no joke), Norman houses with little turrets, and a tiny hobbit village, complete with round doors. There was even a small, fairytale-esque house with a very steep, ramshackle roof, protected by a small moat (one legend claimed it was a witch's house). And believe it or not, you can live in a house overlooking a canal, if you can afford to shell out a million dollars or more.

There were a few Chinese and Egyptian-influenced buildings, believe it or not. And if you know where to look, to this day you can find houses with a Hawaiian "Tiki" influence.

So...have you figured it out yet?

If the "bungalow" clue had you thinking Australia, you'd be mistaken. If the clues about various European styles coupled with the hobbit village, canal houses, and "witch's house" suggested England...guess again. If the Asian and Hawaiian buildings made you wonder if I grew up on a small island in the Pacific Ocean...nope, keep trying.

I'm a Californian.

Much like our culture, our architecture is largely a hodgepodge of different styles, adapted to suit changing tastes and our (mostly) warm, sunny climate.

Although "California" conjures up Hollywood, Charles and Ray Eames, and even Barbie's Malibu beach house...California has a longer history than non-Californians realize. California doesn't "feel" old the way that London and Paris do because until modern construction techniques existed, earthquakes, fires, and floods routinely destroyed entire cities. San Francisco, founded in 1776, was devastated by a massive earthquake (and the ensuing fires) in 1906, thus making the rebuilt San Francisco a very Victorian-looking city. Los Angeles, founded in 1781, has also seen many old buildings reduced to smoldering rubble by disasters, or simply torn down for re-development.

So...what IS a Californian house? The answer depends on who you ask, but our homes do tend to have certain features:

  • Californians can - and do - spend lots of time outside because the weather is so good. Our homes usually have at least one patio - and Craftsman houses often have huge front porches.
  • This is earthquake/fire/flood/landslide territory. Our homes are often made of fire-resistant materials (i.e. stucco is MUCH more common than wood siding), we're not big fans of open storage (open shelves + earthquake = big mess), and houses with basements are FEW and FAR between. (We also don't often have finished attics - maybe a crawl space for access to ventilation ducts, but the only finished attic I have ever seen was in a large Victorian house.)
  • Open floor plans and big windows that let in lots of sunshine are pretty much the norm in all but the oldest houses. (French doors and sliding glass doors are also very common.) We also tend to use a lot of white paint to reflect all that sunlight (even when it's not required by a landlord).
  • "California" and "midcentury" go together like peas and carrots. It's not a coincidence that the majority of the Case Study houses are in and around Los Angeles.
  • We have our own version of Craftsman style - you can see the William Morris influence in the stained glass windows and Tiffany-esque hanging lamps, but the fireplaces are more likely to have tiled facings, stone is often used in place of or in addition to brick, and we're not ashamed to paint original wood trim white (though some of us go to great pains to restore old wood to its original appearance).
  • Little old bungalows and cottages, many of which have been bulldozed to make way for larger, flashier homes over the years, are now highly coveted. If you want a house with character, it won't come cheap.
  • Lots of us have solar panels...and some houses even had primitive solar heating way back before natural gas was commonly used!
It's beginning to look like I will eventually have to leave my home state (long story). I always wanted a cute little Craftsman I'm going to build one that I can take with me.

Two weeks ago, I began building the first room out of leftover plywood from the French townhouse. It won't be a "pure" Craftsman bungalow - the house will have Craftsman bones, but with some "midcentury modest" and "1920s beach bungalow" touches. I've already incorporated some details from real houses belonging to family members and friends. Also...I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew, since it's another scratch-build...based on plans for a real house! Have I mentioned my complete and utter ineptitude with carpentry and power tools?

This is a BIG project (and I mean that quite literally, since I plan to give it proper landscaping as well, which means a large base). I knocked out the French townhouse in a few months, but this house may end up taking me a couple of years.

I'm looking forward to comparing notes with Emily at Architecture of Tiny Distinction as the project progresses...she's building a bungalow from a kit, combining elements from American and Australian bungalow styles. Her project already looks much different from mine (go see the incredible things she's already done with the door and windows!).

But, so far, it's going surprisingly well. Photos to come soon...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Room Box

Well...technically an old, battered room box I gutted and remodeled. This room box is going to be sitting empty for a while, since I plan to gradually fill it with Halloween-inspired minis (vintage-cute Halloween, not scary Halloween), and the best ones can be a bit expensive!

Because of its small size, I decided to make the moldings myself.

Take a chair rail, a baseboard, some "window mullion" scraps from a previous build, and a balsa wood sheet...

Measure, cut, and glue carefully...

All done! 

(Note: the "paintings" in this room box are scaled-down copies of Black Apple prints. No one's ever brought this up with me, but I just want to put it out there: I support handmade artisans and encourage others to do the same. If you're copying someone's artwork for your dollhouse, help them make a living and buy a print or two. Long-dead and/or extremely wealthy artists don't need your money, but please remember these are very tough times for self-employed creative people.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Night: Exterior

Last evening photo of the townhouse (until I can fix the chandelier in the music room and move the house away from the wall to shoot the facade).

Despite not having extra space, I'm already working on another mini project. (I know, I know - I should fix the chandelier first.) Photos to follow at a later date...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Night: Bedroom

I might've used too much clear sealant on the ceiling and walls, but I like this room.

(The music room chandelier isn't working, but once I get it fixed, I'll post a picture.)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Night: Living Room

I'm still not sure about that pool table in the background.

(Kindly forgive the lack of a view from any of the windows - I'm pressed for space, so the townhouse is up against a wall for the foreseeable future.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Night: Bathroom

I think the bathroom looks pretty much the same at night.

I was tempted to do an April Fools' post about building St. Trinian's in miniature, but then I started thinking about actually doing that. Huge crumbly Gothic building with lots of medieval weapons? It won't be in the budget anytime soon, but maybe someday.