Friday, December 19, 2014

Thank You

In the past year, there has been some debate in the miniature community regarding ethics.

Is is okay to copy another miniaturist's work for sale? What about just making a copy for yourself? Is it okay to make a cast of someone else's design and copy it to save money? Is it okay to copy someone else's dollhouse and blog about it? Should we use special tools like laser cutters and 3D printers? And is it ever okay to not credit someone for their original work?

Regardless of your take on the above questions*, there is a deeper issue at hand: we can, and should, remember to show appreciation for other members of the miniature community.

I would like to take a moment to thank the following people. Without them, I would most likely never have tried to build a dollhouse on my own (let alone two...and I have another planned) and certainly wouldn't have such a rewarding hobby.

Thank you, Lea. Without "Le Grand Livre de la Maison Miniature", I definitely wouldn't have been able to build the house in the book (although I altered the design in several places) and would probably never have realized that scratch building doesn't have to be limited to people with "real" woodworking skills.

Thank you, Brae. Not only is your blog an inspiration to many of us, your generosity in sharing techniques and sources takes much of the guesswork out of making miniatures. Although I might have eventually riddled out faux cement on my own, I am completely hopeless with Word and would never be able to create my own printed miniatures without your tiny magazine tutorial.

Thank you, Pepper. I probably wouldn't have made my own lamps for the bungalow without your tutorial, nor did I know about the (apparently known to everyone but me) technique for aging wood with steel wool and vinegar. You are the reason the bungalow roof looks 94 years old (the age of the "real" house).

Thank you, Josje, for sharing how to make a sofa from scratch. I couldn't have copied my own sofa without your help.

Thank you, John, for being hilarious and for sharing a tidbit about wrapping wallpaper around the edges of inside walls for a neater finish (especially helpful in the bungalow since the roof lifts off!).

Thank you, Giac, for kind words of encouragement to not only me, but to everyone else (don't think I haven't noticed the nice comments you post on everyone's blogs).

Thank you, Norma (my first follower!), for taking the time to encourage so many of us.

Thank you, Emily, for sharing your techniques. Although most of them, i.e. making doors from scratch, are way beyond my skill level, having this information widely available will encourage further innovation, which in turn is good for the entire miniature community.

Thank you to every blogger on my blogroll. If I am following your blog, it's because I like your work (yes, I'm still having trouble with comment forms and have no idea why, since there is no pattern to it).

And a big THANK YOU to all of my readers, whether you are a regular reader who comments occasionally or just someone randomly dropping in to look at that 1:12 Cornballer I made. Obviously I can't thank everyone by name (since I only know who comments), but a few regulars come to mind: Fiona, Karin, Elizabeth, Kristine, Tony, Erik, Mini Dork, Mad for Mod, Stephanie, Marisa, Ilona, AM, Andy, and Simon.

Thank you all for being awesome.

*My take: 1. I don't sell my miniatures, but I would never copy another miniaturist's work outright unless he or she either stopped making the item I wanted or passed away. 2. I might make something inspired by another miniaturist, but I wouldn't make exact copies of someone else's original miniatures. 3. No - and I'm on a budget! 4. If you're going to copy someone else's house, at least be respectful enough to keep it offline. The house from "Le Grand Livre de la Maison Miniature" is meant to be copied by the reader, but it's a rare exception. 5. I have never used a 3D printer or laser cutter (I don't even use power tools), but since they can do things traditional tools just can't do at such a small scale, I am in their favor. 6. Never. I am a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Walt Disney: Miniaturist

I make no secret of my appreciation for Disney. Earlier this year, I even posted one of my favorite cartoons, "Out of Scale", pitting Chip and Dale against everyone's favorite hothead, Donald Duck.

Like many Southern Californians, I grew up with annual trips to Disneyland (so did my mom), and had an annual pass when I lived fairly close by. Recently, I found out that not only was Walt Disney an avid collector and creator of miniatures...but that Disneyland was likely inspired in part by Walt's hobby.

According to a Walt Disney Family Museum blog entry, Walt saw the legendary Thorne Rooms in San Francisco in 1939 (revisiting them years later at the Art Institute of Chicago) and was collecting miniatures by 1947. Ever the storyteller, Walt came up with the idea of a touring exhibit of historical dioramas, and went so far as to consult with Eugene Kupjack (yes, THAT Eugene Kupjack).

Walt called it "Disneylandia."

You can pick your jaws up off the floor...the project was scrapped. Sort of. According to an earlier blog entry, Disneylandia grew into a theme park - Disneyland. (There were, of course, several other influences, which I won't get into for brevity's sake.) At one point "Lilliputian Land" was slated to appear between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland...this, too, was scrapped (giving a realistic range of motion to nine-inch-high mechanical people wasn't yet feasible). But, the concept lives on in the classic Fantasyland attraction "Storybook Land" (one of my favorites...I dream of seeing the Disneyland Paris version).

In the meantime, Walt built the Carolwood Pacific (a highly detailed, small-scale railroad) in his backyard (it was dismantled long ago, but the barn lives on in Los Angeles' Griffith Park)...going so far as to make his own scale-model pot-bellied stoves...eventually making 100, two of which were purchased by Mrs. Thorne herself. (A year after the railroad was installed, "Out of Scale" was in theaters. I doubt it's a coincidence.)

He didn't stop there: Walt also built his own miniature scenes. The best known is probably "Granny's Cabin", built in 1949 and based on a set from "So Dear to My Heart".

Recently, I spent a week in Florida and was able to see Granny's Cabin at Walt Disney World. As of this writing, it's on display at Disney's Hollywood Studios, inside the "One Man's Dream" exhibit...along with a 1/8 scale mechanical dancer on a tiny vaudeville stage (an early robotics experiment built by Imagineers; mentioned in the second blog post) and a number of unbelievably detailed scale models (this being Walt Disney World, castles at various Disney parks are well represented).

It's nicely done. It's not a "dollhouse" in the traditional sense, but a large, multi-roomed diorama - the facade is picture-perfect, but much of the exterior is bare wood, there isn't a conventional "roof", and the top has clunky vintage electrical cords snaking across it because - gasp - way back in 1949, long before perfectly scaled LED bulbs existed, Walt Disney went to the trouble to light his painstakingly crafted cabin with full-size electric lights. (To this Los Angeles native, it looks like a film set shrunken down to the size of a coffee table.) The level of detail in the cabin is especially impressive when you consider that it was built at a time when most miniaturists had to make everything by hand, i.e. milling tiny floorboards or turning spindles on a lathe (no Lawbre or Houseworks components in those days - heck, even Tynietoy houses had most of their details painted on). In spite of the challenge this must have posed, the interior of Granny's Cabin looks as though it could be a real place.

I do hope someone notices the sharp contrast between the diorama's plain wood shell and the detailed kitchen interior (although this blurry, badly lit snapshot does not do it justice).

There you have it...Walt Disney collected miniatures (he owned more than 1,000 by the mid-1960s). Sometimes he made them himself. And miniatures were a likely influence in the creation of Disney theme parks worldwide.

I'll leave you with a quote from the man himself: "My hobby is a life saver. When I work with these small objects, I become so absorbed that the cares of the studio fade least for a time."

Well said, Walt.

P.S. A special dollhouse was commissioned for Hong Kong Disneyland - you can read the story behind this very special creation (and see jealousy-inducing pictures) in the April 2006 issue of Miniature Collector.

P.P.S. This blog post features a picture of what appears to be a grown man playing with dolls (they look somewhat familiar, but I'm no doll expert) in a haunted dollhouse...the man is Imagineer Ken Anderson, who was working on the Haunted Mansion at the time. In the picture, he is using an early scale model and dolls to test a two-way mirror effect.

P.P.P.S. Update 12/20/14 - Storybook Land has been updated (IIRC, the last updates were from "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid")! The three mills from the Silly Symphony short "The Old Mill" have been put into storage to make room for Arendelle! I can't wait to see this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Making Retro Figural Lamps

Some things aren't easy to find in miniature. I love the look of retro figural lamps and wanted a few in the bungalow for character and charm (it is possible for midcentury modern to look a little TOO clean).

Using Pepper's lamp tutorial as a starting point, I got to work. First order of business was to cut four identical bottle caps to the same size.

Next, I cut four matching pieces of aluminum tubing, drilled holes into four wooden discs (off-center to allow room for figures), glued the tubing into the holes, and added lamp harps from Falcon Miniatures (sold on Miniatures Marketplace). I also trimmed the lampshade spiders to fit the caps (wire cutters worked just fine - they're not too thick).

The lamp on the far right is being test fitted with an LED bulb in this picture.

On to shade coloring: I cut out pieces of parchment to cover the caps, tested a few colored pencils on a scrap of paper, and held my figures against the test paper to see how they looked. When I found two colors I liked, I drew a subtle, very 1950s looking starburst pattern on the parchment, sealed with clear sealer, and carefully glued it into place.

The figurines I used for these lamps are by V&R Miniatures. They're handmade (no molds!), highly detailed, and beautiful (and surprisingly inexpensive for the high quality).

Now I just need to install these in the house!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

1920s/1950s Kitchen

When I planned the bungalow kitchen, I wasn't sure if I should be true to the house's age and do a 1920s kitchen, or do more of a 1950s kitchen to fit the mostly midcentury modern furniture my imaginary (modern-day) inhabitants own. And what about appliances? Older kitchens often don't have the original refrigerator or stove for safety/product lifespan/energy efficiency reasons (in my experience, old stoves are somewhat prone to gas leaks).

Finally, I stumbled upon pictures of the adorable in-room kitchenettes at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, built in 1927 (originally an upscale apartment house). Then Retro Renovation led me to a few companies making new appliances that resembled their midcentury predecessors. Bingo.

I had been eyeing Town Square Miniatures' white 1950s kitchen set, since the oven and refrigerator look similar to their GE, Smeg, and Big Chill counterparts. But, I wasn't sure about the sink cabinet until I found the "hex tile" and "subway tile" papers (both made by Itsy Bitsy Minis) that I also used in the bathroom. Perfect. (Well-maintained sinks don't often NEED to be replaced, so an original sink paired with newer appliances made sense.)

I also bought a few packs of Houseworks' fancy dresser drawer handles, flattened them slightly (so I could re-use the existing nail holes), and painted them black. I then carefully pried out the silver-tone drawer/cabinet pulls, carefully pried out the sink (not an easy task), and removed traces of glue from the sink area.

I covered the countertop with the subway tile paper, taking care to line up the black "trim" tiles with the top of the backsplash and the edge of the counter (this took some cutting and pasting, but was well worth the effort). I also used black "trim" tiles to outline the sink (a detail seen in both the Chateau Marmont kitchenettes and in my grandmother's midcentury kitchen). After the glue dried, I coated the new "tile" counter and backsplash with clear gloss glaze, reinstalled the sink, and attached the new handles. (The bottom center of the sink cabinet can be removed and used as a separate cabinet, so I could do that and put a little curtain under the sink instead, as is often seen in older kitchens. It's not permanently installed, just in case I change my mind.)

I love this kitchen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Move-In Ready!

The bungalow's interior is ready for its imaginary occupants. (I'm not sure I can honestly call the house "done" since I plan to mount it on a base and add miniature landscaping...and most likely a matching garage. I'm still deciding on the exact layout, so I'm planning to work on furniture/accessories for a bit and come back to the base by the end of the year.)

View of the main room and kitchen (experimenting with furniture placement in this picture):

The finished kitchen. I decided to move the cooker because I've cooked in aging kitchens that had the oven/stovetop wedged into a tight's kind of a hassle. I slightly doctored a Town Square Miniatures kitchen set to give it a mixed 1920s/1950s look and will detail that in a future post (the oven hood was handmade out of balsa wood, and the cabinets are House of Miniatures kits). The subway tile and hex tile, which are repeated in the bathroom, are papers from Itsy Bitsy Mini.

I really wanted a claw-foot tub for this house. So, in spite of the fact that the antique-style toilet would probably never pass California's water usage requirements (in case anybody didn't know, we have a severe water shortage and get so little rain that half the state is basically wildfire tinder), I used Chrysnbon's Victorian bathroom kit. I've decided that this is a "lovingly restored" house with re-grouted tile, clean-scrubbed fixtures, etc. - but I might add more storage to the bathroom in deference to the modern family living here.

Bedroom 1. I know exactly what I'm going to do in here. (It's hard to tell in the pictures, but I used textured scrapbook paper for the walls in both bedrooms to create the illusion of grasscloth wallpaper.)

Bedroom 2. Still making decisions, but I do have a growing selection of accessories for this room.

Check back soon for more.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Floor Plan

Hi everyone - there will be a proper update soon. In the meantime, here's a shot I took while working on bedroom layouts (just so you know I have, in fact, been working on the house).

The interiors haven't been installed in this picture, but it does show the room configuration - two bedrooms on one side,  the kitchen and bathroom on the other, and a big living/dining room in the middle.

The house that inspired this project is one room deeper in real life, and the bathroom is probably between the bedrooms (I found a floor plan for a very similar house about 30 miles away, built around the same time, that has this configuration). But, this dollhouse has a fairly large footprint, and I haven't even mounted it on a base yet. Knowing I needed to keep the project a manageable size, I shrank the house's depth by several inches during the planning stages. Hence the need to place the bathroom next to the kitchen.

More to come.

P.S. I am still having issues with not being able to comment on blogs (and often have trouble reading a select few of them). If you are on my blog list and have updated in the past few months, I am definitely keeping up on your work.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Go ahead, touch the Cornballer. You know best."

I love "Arrested Development", so I have to sneak a few references to the show into this dollhouse. (If you haven't seen it, "Arrested Development" is a brilliant, insanely detailed, wickedly funny sitcom about a wealthy Newport Beach family who lose everything when their patriarch, George Bluth Sr., gets arrested for defrauding shareholders.)

One of the show's many recurring jokes is the Cornballer, a fry-at-home hush-puppy device George invented in the 1970s...which was promptly banned because it caused severe burns (which didn't stop George from continuing to market the Cornballer in Mexico).

Of course, I had to make a Cornballer (out of basswood, illustration board, wood putty, aluminum paint, and a toothpick). It's definitely not a perfect copy - my attempts to copy the fryer basket weren't successful, so I omitted it and have decided that this particular device has been broken for years but the family living in this house still haven't gotten around to tossing it in the scrap metal recycling bin.

I also couldn't resist making a few more related items: "Boyfights" videos, a copy of "The Man Inside Me", a 45 of "Big Yellow Joint", and copies of the "Balboa Bay Window" (unfortunately, I have not yet been able to get a clear, full shot of the issue in which a 10-year-old Buster Bluth explains why he wants to marry his mother).

The imaginary people who live in this house are NOT members of the Bluth clan (you won't find Teamocil in the medicine cabinet, a dead dove in the freezer, or a stair car in the driveway), but since they live in the same geographic region, it's plausible for at least some of these items to be found in their house.

I also made one more accessory referencing the show that isn't pictured here. I'm going to unveil it later, after the interior is finished (it's not a scale model of the banana stand - I'm not that good yet).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Completed Exterior

I FINALLY finished the bungalow's exterior.

The "solar panels" are made from leftover Greenleaf greenhouse roof panels and black illustration board. I painstakingly marked off a tiny grid of 1/8" squares on each piece of mat board with an ordinary mechanical pencil and coated the whole thing with several layers of Mod Podge. (This was also an easy way to conceal a large area of badly warped roof shingles.)

The front porch in place (again). I can't help it; I just love how this house is shaping up.

Now to get started on the interior...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Exterior Preview

I know it's been a while since my last post, but I promise I've been working on the exterior, schedule and weather permitting. Here's a little sneak peek (please ignore the shadows):

Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bungalow Porch

I can't imagine a bungalow without a porch, can you?

To make the porch, I cut a base (dimensions are based on where the inspiration house's porch lines up with the windows), then dredged up enough geometry to riddle out how long to make the porch roof pieces (matching the roof angle, of course). 

After gluing and puttying the roof pieces together (I also scored the undersides to look more like boards), I cut and glued the trim in place and painted it white. Then, I cut the support beams and attached them to the base (using staples AND glue for extra stability). 

Next, I glued the tops of the beams to the underside of the porch roof. After more drying, I shingled and aged the roof.

Next step: making the plywood base look like old, worn poured concrete. Taking inspiration from Otterine's concrete "breaker", I applied a thin layer of wood putty, sanded it once dry, then applied two thin layers of hard-finish Mod Podge (it was the closest thing to gel medium I had) to smooth it out even further. Then: paint!

I think the porch needs some more dirty washing, but I already love how realistic it looks.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Finishing the Roof

I routinely find myself puzzling over ways to have realistic room layouts in a dollhouse while still having the contents be accessible. In a real house, it's not unusual to have furniture against the outside walls, but this is a problem if you have an open back wall (as with American-style dollhouses) or a front wall that swings out (as with English-style dollhouses).

However, this re-booted bungalow solves that problem very neatly. Since it's a single-story home, I designed it so the roof could simply be lifted off for access to the interior. (It's working much, much better than the complicated, multiple-opening-panel approach I tried first.) 

So, the roof structure is complete, the shingles have been applied and aged, and it's on to the next steps.

I had some shingles in my stash, but they weren't uniform enough in size for all of them to be used. However, I did have some Greenleaf clapboarding strips as well. They didn't quite work for the siding, but their near-perfect uniform width was just right, and the grain and shading varied just enough to suggest a real, old roof with the odd replaced shingle. So, I sliced two and a half bags of clapboarding strips into shingles - it was a lot of work, but well worth it.

Following a tip on Pepper's blog, I opted to age the shingles rather than staining them, since this house is based on a real, early-20th-century house that doesn't appear to have seen much, if any, updating. Below, you can see the bare birch shingles on one side of the roof with the other side still wet from its first round of aging solution.


After two rounds of aging, the roof looked pretty similar in color to the inspiration house's actual roof. There were a few spots where the aging didn't take, so I strategically covered them with some "moss" I had. The shingles have warped up in a few places, but I have some ideas for covering them that I will address later.

The finished roof. More to come...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tiny Versailles!

And now you know why work on the bungalow has been so slow for so long...I've been hard at work on a top-secret, micro-scale project.

This is Phase 1 of a 1:144 Versailles. Except for the tiny LEDs (which were a disproportionately huge pain in the behind), this is all illustration board, Bristol board, clay, and pre-made 1:144 windows/doors.

I must have been out of my mind when I decided to do this...I am wiped out and STILL need to finish the side wings, the garden facade, the interiors, and (a small portion of) the grounds.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Donald Duck and Dollhouses

Even if you think you don't like cartoons, you might enjoy "Out of Scale" (below), starring Chip, Dale, and everyone's favorite loose cannon, Donald Duck. This is one of my very favorite cartoons, largely for the scale-model plot (also, it's funny).

(Perhaps not coincidentally, Walt Disney had a 1/8 scale train in his backyard, built the year before "Out of Scale" was made!)

For extra fun, "Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers" had an episode featuring dollhouse antics:

And as long as I'm posting about Disney...

I have a long-running desire to surround a miniature house with realistic landscaping, which I blame on Disneyland's Storybook Land (side note: I would LOVE to know how they weatherproof those tiny houses - not to mention how to electrify a very tiny, apparently freestanding outdoor structure). Every setting is so finely detailed and enchanting that you might forget you're not three inches tall. I'm planning to landscape ALL future builds (except for select urban settings) because it really adds to the magic.

Sadly, the equally tiny Safari Adventure that stood at the Disneyland Hotel was removed a few years ago. I sometimes wonder where those little boats are now...if I ever have a back garden again, I'd like to try building something like this.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Roof: Part 1

Gluing the roof structure together (with a little help from Charlie Brown and Snoopy). More to come...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Starting Over...Again

For a while now, I've felt a bit burnt out on the midcentury house - I think I made the design, with multiple opening panels, a bit too complicated for my skill level. I just can't seem to get it right, and it's much more frustrating than I've let on.

So, I'm going to put it aside for now. I may come back to it in a few months, or a few years. But for now, I've begun another project (one I'm sure I can handle).

Here's a clue (and it's NOT a Tudor/medieval building!):

Monday, February 3, 2014

How I Brick a Chimney

1. Make egg-carton bricks for an earlier, and MUCH smaller project - the back of the fireplace in a room box. Realize I have neither the patience nor the coordination to make thousands of tiny identical bricks for a bigger project.

2. Decide against using individual bricks for the same reason no one ever builds an unreinforced masonry chimney in California anymore - one sharp shock and the whole thing could collapse. Build a chimney out of plywood and glue it to the house.

3. Order brick slips (Richard Stacey's, of course) from the UK.

4. Attempt to use broken brick pieces and scraps of (real) slate (saved from making the downstairs fireplace) to make a clinker-brick base. Hate it. Scrape it all off with a putty knife before the glue has a chance to dry (but save the broken brick pieces in case I ever decide to try it again).

5. Start gluing brick slips in place the regular way. 

6. Run out of brick slips two-thirds of the way through (I just HAD to use so many of them on the screened-in porch). Order new ones.

7. Open package of new brick slips and realize that, since they're from a different batch, they're a different shade of red. ARRGH!

8. Think "the hell with it" and start gluing them on anyway.

9. Quickly realize the different bricks create a subtle and believable "repair line" - such as might be seen on a 94-year-old, unreinforced chimney after earthquake damage necessitates some work on the house. (If this house existed in real life, it would have been rattled by earthquakes in 1925, 1933, 1948, 1971, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1999, and 2010...and I'm not even counting smaller quakes, which happen all the time. I have yet to live in a house built prior to 1970 that showed no evidence of earthquake damage.) Instantly love it.

10. Finish gluing on the brick slips. Allow to dry.

11. Seal brick slips with a 1:1 mix of glue and water. Allow to dry.

12. Break out the mortar and a very old, very tiny trowel that inexplicably turned up in my late grandfather's tool kit. (Pity I'll never know where he got this thing - it's awesome.)

13. Clean off excess mortar throughout the mortaring process. Continually acknowledge that I need more practice at this, since I'm not very good at it!

Next up: adding the siding. It's about time I made some progress on the exterior.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Workspace and a Midcentury Fireplace

It took a while, but I'm finally settled in enough to resume work on the California house. Progress might be sluggish for a while because I've decided to rip out and redo a couple of things (I know, I know...but it doesn't look right yet).

Some time ago, other miniature bloggers posted pictures of their workspace. I didn't, due to the fact that at the time, I was building my French townhouse in a dark, dusty, cramped garage. Thankfully, I now have twice as much space, allowing my sunny new living room to double as a workroom.

Working on furniture placement for the second bedroom (using the master bed as a placeholder).

Some months ago, I found this tiny Malm-esque fireplace in a secondhand store. Details stamped on the base indicate it was made by Durham Industries around 1980 (the company also manufactured cast-metal Holly Hobbie miniatures), although I couldn't find any information on this piece specifically.

Malm fireplaces are still made by the same Santa Rosa-based company that created them in 1961, making this a perfect fit for a California house remodeled in 1962. It's about 1.5" wide, so it's technically 1/24th scale, but it's so cute I don't care. It was originally gold-tone, but I painted the base black (to resemble lava rock), painted the inside black, and painted the outside sky blue.

I was thrilled to discover that the pipe did, in fact, open into the fireplace proper, making it very simple to thread in a "flickering fire" LED from Evan Designs (it's much more realistic in real life).